Great Britain’s Ethan Vernon lines up at the Tour of Britain with the aim of mixing it up in the bunch sprints. As a first-year U23 in 2019, he was the lead-out man for Matt Walls, who took a fine second into Birkenhead, and Vernon himself mixed it up on the opening day in Scotland, with 14th on Kirkcudbright, a stage starting in my own city of Glasgow.
After a 2020 season that saw just three race days due to both the pandemic and Olympic track commitments, Vernon has again accrued only a few UCI race days thanks to Tokyo being rearranged, but he’s not exactly been shabby.
I have to go in with the mindset that after winning at l’Avenir, I can win the worlds too
10th on one of the Mallorca Challenge stages pre-Tokyo was followed up with a terrific sprint win at the Tour de l’Avenir. With his road legs getting better and better, he makes for a dangerous rider for the WorldTour sprinters to watch ahead of the race. I called Ethan the day before the race began to find out more about him.
“It’s been a pretty good season, at least at the backend. I did the Mallorca Challenge as part of my Olympics preparations. I didn’t really expect much but it was good to get that race in. we had a good group of boys there and had some good times, even if we didn’t quite nail the sprints at the end. Things have ended well though with the Olympics and l’Avenir.”
Curiously for a team pursuit rider, Vernon has adapted well to being a sprinter on the road, rather than the pure TT riders or future climbing GC stars we have seen in the past (although he’s very good at TTs too).
“I had a background in BMX and was always quite good with endurance and the sprints. Then the track came, and then when I got to the junior level my TT really came on quite a bit. The sprinter side of things is just how I’ve developed. It’s nice to have options and see where my career takes me, but there is something about the thrill of leadouts and the sprint. I like fast sprints with big bunches, but I enjoy all types, every sprint is different really, you know?”
In my preview for the Tour de l’Avenir, I was rather concerned about the downhill sprint stage the organisers included. If you listen to the rider dispatches from both Ethan and GB Academy coach Matt Brammeier, the stage was just as crazy as I believed it could be. Yet Vernon would reach the line first, with teammate Lewis Askey (Groupama-FDJ Conti, soon to be WorldTour) coming home in third. It was by far Ethan’s biggest road result.
“A few people complained about the sprint, especially with what happened last year with Fabio Jakobsen in Poland in a downhill sprint. We were going 90 km/ph. I guess the BMX skills really came to the fore there! Pre-race, I did expect to be involved in the sprints. We lost Sam Watson before the race to a collarbone injury and Lewis came in to replace him. I’d not actually raced with him before on the road, even if I knew him from the junior academy and knew him as a person for quite a bit. I saw on the early stages he would be a big help. On the day I won, he really fought for me. He set a really high pace that no one could come around after positioning me well, and it was great he could get third too.”
As well as recounting his previous Tour of Britain experience, Ethan says he has very good legs now he is back into the road racing groove, and he says he and his fast team are hoping to show themselves well across the eight days of racing.
We have a lot of fast guys here who have experience on the track, so that bodes well for the finals. There are going to be opportunities here for sure
“I was Walls’ leadout man in 2019. Leg-wise, I’m feeling better than I was in l’Avenir. I’m hoping to go well here, since I was getting stronger every day in l’Avenir. he last stage was actually my strongest day leg-wise. We have a lot of fast guys here who have experience on the track, so that bodes well for the finals. There are going to be opportunities here for sure.”
Goal-wise, I thought the worlds course in Flanders could be good for a rider like Vernon, and he is hoping to go in with a winner’s mindset. He laid out his plans to end his season, including a return to the velodrome.
“Well I’m here at the Tour of Britain to compete against the big sprinters. Then there’s the worlds, where we will have a strong team. I have to go in with the mindset that after winning at l’Avenir, I can win the worlds too. I’m hoping to do the TT too. I’m really looking forward to the next races, I have good form now after l’Avenir and I have the endurance to match the speed from the track. I think the back end of this season will be good. Then I think I’ll end the year with the track worlds.”
For Vernon, the idea of a rainbow jersey is his dream pro win, and when I pushed him a little, he did specify his biggest dream is a road win over the world titles on the track.
“I’d say the world champs, that or the Olympics. But I like the idea of wearing a jersey, so the eainbows would sway me towards the worlds. I think with there being so many disciplines on the track and therefore so many different world champions, a road world title would feel a little bit more special.”
U23 Cycling Zone wishes to thank Ethan for taking the time to answer my call and my questions. I wish him all the best for the Tour of Britain, the rest of his season and beyond. If you want to get to know him better, I’ve linked a more in-depth article with The British Continental that Ethan did here. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram too.
Featured photo: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com – Tokyo 2020 Olympics – 02/08/2021 – Cycling Track – Izu Velodrome, Izu, Japan – Ethan Vernon of Great Britain.