Features Interviews

New directions: what next for SEG Racing Academy’s British riders?

Joseph Doherty speaks to SEG Racing Academy's three British riders about the team's closure and their search for a new contract

Many, including myself, were taken by surprise when the vaunted SEG Racing Academy announced a few months ago that it would be closing its doors at the conclusion of the 2021 season.

The Dutch UCI Continental development team has produced masses of pro talent over the last half-decade or so, and has been crucial in guiding some of the top riders in the world. Along with teams like Hagens Berman Axeon, Zalf, Colpack, TRINITY Racing and others, they formed a core of development teams with no ties to any set WorldTour team. The team’s closure will be a loss on many levels: under-23s will lose a place to race; juniors will lose a team to move to the next level with; and the pros lose a very well respected team to scout and procure talent from.

The 2021 roster includes three Brits: Harrison Wood, Sean Flynn and Tom Day. On behalf of The British Continental, I got in contact with the guys to find out how their season has been going, how they reacted to the news of the team’s closure and how they are getting on with finding employment for 2022.

Harrison Wood in the combativity jersey at the 2021 Tour Alsace. Photo: SEG Racing Academy

Harrison Wood

Harrison Wood will be familiar with listeners of The British Continental podcast after being a diarist for the show during the Baby Giro. Beginning his under-23 career in 2019 on the roads of France with AVC Aix-en-Provence, Harrison came aboard the Academy for 2020. Now in his second year with the team, Harrison cracked the top 20 on GC at the Baby Giro this season and was 13th overall at the Tour of Rhodes, on a less-than-suitable parcours for his skillset.

As a third-year under-23, Harrison is seeking a team with a good calendar that can give him as much visibility as possible, as the Devonian climber heads into his last season at this level in 2022. Whilst nothing is confirmed, it seems he has found that new home already, which is great news.

Last year I was really a passenger in the race just following and surviving but this year I feel I really made a step up, getting into breakaways and being there for the finals

How would you describe your 2021 seasons so far?

I think I’ve had a fairly good season. It started quite well in Rhodes picking up some nice results whilst also helping the team to some really good results too. I was happy also with my performance in the Giro. Last year I was really a passenger in the race just following and surviving but this year I feel I really made a step up, getting into breakaways and being there for the finals, which is nice. I also helped the team on quite a few stages and we were always really close to the win.

Aosta and Alsace didn’t really go so well for me that’s for sure. I was able to find some good legs on the queen stage of Alsace and was in the breakaway so that was nice. It was also great to be in the break in Druivenkoerse Overijse and able to ride at one point in the front with Allaphillipe and Remco. That was quite special.

I’d like to know a little bit about how you identify as a rider and strengths and weaknesses?

I would definitely identify myself as a climber just because of my build and weight but I feel I can be competitive also on the punchy parcours. I’m for sure aggressive too, always trying to get into breakaways or on the attack, something I carried over from my racing in France. I’m a strong team player and in a lot of races, I’m trying to help the guys in the sprint leadouts or controlling the peloton for example. Weakness-wise I think it’s for sure that explosivity and sprinting ability. It’s improved the last year but not enough to really ever compete in a final of a race or something when 50 or 60 guys are coming for the win. 

Harrison Wood at the 2021 U23 Giro d’Italia. Photo: SEG Racing

What are your goals for the remainder of the season?

I’d like to get a good result at the under-23 national time trial championships. I was top 10 as a first-year under-23 and quite close to the podium so I think that it is realistic to aim quite high there and show I have a good time trialling ability too. 

I think in life you have to accept that these things cannot be changed and you just have to focus even more on racing hard and going for results

How did you find out about the team closing at the year’s end and how did you take the news?

We found out on a call with the SEG management before Alsace. It came as a shock for sure. Sadly, I had lost my Grandad only a few weeks before so it was a really hard month for me. Of course, it’s not nice but I think in life you have to accept that these things cannot be changed and you just have to focus even more on racing hard and going for results going forwards. 

How have things been going in the search for a team for next year? 

It’s going well. I’m talking with Marco Doets and Pim Lightart often and we have spoken about potential options so I’m optimistic and happy that I already have something sorted for 2022. That takes off some pressure. 

It’s your third season at this level, are you feeling pressure to try and find somewhere with a very good calendar to try and show off more of the legs you had at the U23 Giro in order to have a crack at getting a pro deal?

For sure the calendar is really important. I know I go well when I can do a lot of racing and really get into that rhythm of racing. I’m looking to have a really good calendar and good support. The support at SEG was excellent so I’ve learnt a lot which will help me going forward with the aim of getting that pro contract in the future.

Sean Flynn. Photo: SEG Racing Academy

Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn started the season with dual objectives on both the road and mountain bike. But he knew he had to choose one, and the road won out midway through the year, which is his third at the under-23 level.

After focusing solely on the trails in 2020, Flynn has been a fantastic one-day racer this year, scoring top fifteens at the Coppa della Pace and GP Marcel Kint, and, after he answered my questions, he then took 12th in Omloop van Het Houtland, 8th in the Dorenomloop Rucphen and got two top tens at the Ronde de l’Isard.

What’s even more incredible is that had he known the Academy would close its doors, he may have opted for the mountain bike instead. He’s had interest for next season, and after his recent results, I’d be shocked if he is not signed up soon. But nothing is sorted yet for him

How would you describe your 2021 season so far?

At the beginning of the year, my focus was still split between MTB and road, so at first, the aim was just to learn and gain experience on the road while continuing to perform at a high level on MTB. However, this was proving more difficult to balance than I had expected, with results being below expectations on the MTB and at the same time I wasn’t spending enough time on the road to gain the necessary experience to start improving my results.

Then came a hard decision. I believed I had to prioritise one discipline in order to get the most out of myself. In the end, I decided to focus on the road as I was getting a real buzz off the racing and wanted to commit to it and see how far I could get. I am happy with my decision because I am already starting to see my results on the road improving and I’m really enjoying myself. But the door to MTB or cyclocross is definitely not closed and I will always have the option to return to them in the future.

I am good on short punchy climbs and I’m a better sprinter than I used to give myself credit for

I’d like to know a little bit about how you identify as a rider and strengths and weaknesses?

Coming from MTB I was very open-minded about what my strengths and weaknesses would be on the road. I knew I would be a good all-rounder but this year has allowed me to see that I am good on short punchy climbs and I’m a better sprinter than I used to give myself credit for. I’m suited to the classics-style races, especially those with some climbing also involved. My weakness at the moment is my experience but I am learning fast and with that my results will improve.

What are your goals for the remainder of the season?

My goal is to show what I’m capable of in order to gain a place on a good team next year. I have a varied and busy calendar for the end of the season, so I hope to use this to get some good results and performances. My results have been solid but I’m looking to break into the top 10 of some big races and race more for the win.

Sean Flynn at the 2021 Tour of Rhodes. Photo: Nassos Triantafyllou

How did you find out about the team closing at the year’s end and how did you take the news?

The news came as a big surprise to me and it was very disappointing as I was in the best place to develop myself as a road rider. I had the plan to take this year to learn and gain as much experience as possible so that next year I could get some good results and be more of a leader in the team. It was also especially disappointing as the news came soon after I made the decision to stop MTB and had I known this would happen it may have swayed my decision.

How have things been going in the search for a team for next year?

I have had some interest but no concrete offers so I am really looking for something that can help me continue with my development towards the top of the sport. Luckily I have the SEG agency still behind me and supporting my search for a team. 

What was the reason behind your year off from the road and how have you found getting into the rhythm again? Results are starting to come with the 12th place in GP Kint and the other races in Belgium and Netherlands you’ve done!

As I mentioned before, until this year my main focus was MTB. Being part of the British Cycling system meant that, in 2019, I had the opportunity to ride some road races with the senior academy road guys which I really enjoyed and the plan was to do similar in 2020. However, Covid meant that many races were cancelled so there weren’t any races where I was able to step in, plus I had quite a packed MTB calendar at the back end of the year, so there wasn’t really any time to race on the road anyway.

I am a fast learner, so I have really enjoyed this challenge and I think my results clearly show the progression I’ve made since the start of the year

I must say that I really missed the road racing in 2020 so that was definitely a contributing factor in encouraging me to get back onto the road in 2021. I feel that my lack of experience on the road, partly due to a year off in 2020, has put me on the back foot this year a bit, as I still had a lot to learn at the beginning of the year. I am a fast learner, so I have really enjoyed this challenge and I think my results clearly show the progression I’ve made since the start of the year and I’m sure I have what it takes to continue on that trajectory!

Tom Day. Photo: SEG Racing Academy

Tom Day

Tom Day is very different to his two compatriots, being a rookie at under-23 level and having lost a lot of his last junior season in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. The gap from juniors to under-23 is not easy to bridge, and when you only get one UCI race day in your junior career, that transition is even harder.

Tom’s been working for others for the season, which is to be expected of the younger riders, especially when you consider some of the pro prospect teammates he has this year. That being said, he raced into the top twenty in the individual time trial at the UCI under-23 race Flanders Tomorrow Tour, and that netted him 17th overall.

Tom was yet to find a contract for 2022 at the time of the interview, but his team have now announced he has found a place with Home Solution-Soenens, a Belgian squad stepping up to Continental level for 2022 who have only got under-23s on their 2022 roster so far.

How would you describe your 2021 seasons so far?

As the newbie in the team, it’s been a steep learning curve and a big jump from junior to under-23 racing. It’s a whole new approach where you are working for the team in all aspects; chasing down breaks, leading out, getting in the early breaks to name a few. That’s also difficult for a first-year under-23 rider when the level of riding and length of race has increased so you need the fitness to be able to achieve all those things. I’m happy that I finished most races with no time lost and helped to support the team where I could.

I’d like to know a little bit about how you identify as a rider and strengths and weaknesses? 

My specialism is the individual time trial so it was great to show what I could do in the individual time trial at the International Tour of Rhodes and Flanders Tomorrow Tour, where I achieved a top 20 place as a first year U23. With Covid hitting the race calendar hard last year and the early part of 2021, I felt my race skills have needed brushing up, something I’m starting to gain confidence with.

What are your goals for the remainder of the season?

We have a packed race calendar for October so I’ll be heading out to Belgium and Holland for the remainder of the season with a few ITTs thrown in for good measure.

I’m pretty disappointed to have my contract cut short to be honest

How did you find out about the team closing at the year’s end and how did you take the news? 

2021 was all about earning my wings and learning the ropes in the under-23 peloton so I’m pretty disappointed to have my contract cut short to be honest.

How have things been going in the search for a team for next year?

I’m looking to continue racing at UCI Continental level next year so I’m hoping to secure a place and sign a contract as soon as possible.

I’m excited about new beginnings next year and I’ll be starting 2022 with more confidence in my abilities

You’re a few years younger than the other guys. How have you found adjusting to life at the team and the under-23 level? As you’ve worked for others a lot and not been able to chase too many individual successes, how important were those great few days at Flanders Tomorrow Tour for your confidence?

I’m hoping my performances in the individual time trials have shown a glimpse of what I’m capable of, beating a lot of older riders in that discipline. For sure, there haven’t been many personal opportunities for me this year, but I’m really pleased to have supported my teammates the best I could and feel I’ve learnt a lot from my first year season in the under-23 ranks. With every closed door, new doors will open, so I’m excited about new beginnings next year and I’ll be starting 2022 with more confidence in my abilities.

I wish to thank Tom, Sean and Harrison for taking the time to answer my questions, and I wish them all the best for the rest of the season and their contract searches. I also wish to thank David Soteras at SEG Racing Academy for coordinating, as always, and reiterate that both David and his team will be sorely missed at this level. To keep up with the guys, you can find Harrison on Twitter and Instagram. Sean’s Instagram and Twitter accounts are also linked. Likewise, click to find Tom on Instagram and Twitter.