Journals

Journals 2022: introducing… Colin Sturgess

We chat to Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling sports director and all-round cycling legend Colin Sturgess about his winter training, bipolar disorder, his coaching business and Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling's new squad

We are welcoming a new batch of journal contributors in 2022. Five of our eight contributors have so far been unveiled: Ollie HucksFlora PerkinsNathan Hardy, Abbie Manley and Alice Lethbridge. Our sixth is Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling sports director and all-round cycling legend Colin Sturgess…

Colin Sturgess probably needs little introduction to most readers. He is one of the behemoths of domestic cycle sport, whose achievements and incredible life story are deserving of a book rather than these few words of a prologue.

In case you somehow don’t know, however, Sturgess was a prodigiously talented athlete in his prime, on both track and road. Victories in the individual pursuit world championship in 1989 and the British national road race championship in 1990 are among the many outstanding achievements in his illustrious palmares. More recently, he has established himself as a highly-respected sports director, helping to steer Dan Fleeman to success in the 2017 Rutland–Melton International CiCLE Classic at the Metaltek–Kuota, before overseeing Connor Swift’s national road race win while managing the Madison Genesis team in 2018. He is now in his second year as sports director at Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling, a role he carries out while running his own coaching business, Champion Cycling Services.

I still get days where I want nothing more than for the skies to cave in on me, days where I feel lower than Dante’s Ninth circle; and conversely days whereby I feel invincible

His path to success has been far from linear. His struggles with bipolar disorder, which went undiagnosed for the early part of his life, contributed to the break-up of two marriages, alcoholism, and a suicide attempt. It’s an aspect of his life he has spoken eloquently about on the Yorkshire Grit podcast and other platforms.

We’ve never met him in person – one day Colin, one day – but behind the scenes he has been an incredibly supportive advocate of The British Continental. From our very early days at the end of 2018, he was in touch with us, giving us encouragement and the inside track on domestic racing, to the extent that he even wrote race previews for us back in 2019. From what we can tell, he is a modest man with bags of generosity, who cares very deeply about the domestic road racing scene. We were understandably delighted, therefore, when he agreed to keep a journal for us this year.

Here’s a little interview with him before he opens his journal account…

Colin with James Shaw at the 2021 Tour of Britain

How has your winter been going? I understand you’ve been out in Calpe for a long stint of training…

Winter is going amazingly well thanks. In as much that I am doing everything possible to avoid it! I’m afraid I don’t take well to cold and damp anymore (never did to be honest having lived for long periods of time in Africa and Australia) so I’ve skipped over to Spain, and based myself in and around Xabia and Calpe. I have a friend, Pete Murdoch who has a boutique cycling themed hotel up in the old town of Xabia (Blanca Bikes) so I spent a month or so there and now have moved down to Calpe in the Ribble Weldtite/Champion Cycling Services villa. I get to ride my bike daily, plan for the upcoming season, and do some coaching work before the season proper kicks off. These couple of months set me up for the year; it’s so important for me to stay fit and healthy and immerse myself in the sport.

I would never ask a rider to do something I can’t or wouldn’t have been able to do myself; and that still stands today

How important is it to you to continue to train? 

It’s very important. It does me the world of good mentally, physically and emotionally. I also take a certain sense of pride in being able to hold my own with the guys I DS and coach. I would never ask a rider to do something I can’t or wouldn’t have been able to do myself; and that still stands today. So, if I ask the Ribble boys to do seven hours then I expect to be there at the sharp end after seven hours. Yeah, they kick my arse on some of the steeper bergs, but I’m sound on the flats and sidewinds. But most importantly it helps with something you allude to in a later question.

You returned to road racing in 2019, competing in the CiCLE Classic. How did that go? And do you still have any ambitions to race?

2019 was good fun. I came back from backpacking through Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam at the end of 2018 and didn’t really know what I was going to do with myself. I considered going AWOL again and just bumming around, but started to ride the bike a bit more; then Rob Orr and I rented the villa in Calpe and I got reasonably fit. So a good mate, Dave Williams at Kuota set me a target of a stage win in masters Tour of Malta, which I agreed to. Went there, won two stages (including the fastest TT time, Elite or Masters) and second on GC. Then Colin Clewes very kindly put me in the East Mids selection for Rutland along with Russ Downing, Rob Orr, and another lad. I didn’t exactly have lofty ambitions, but thought I could scuttle around and if in good shape slide into a top 20. But! Rookie errors… I didn’t fuel properly, and faded. Thoroughly enjoyed it though, don’t think I disgraced myself, and got to ride a race that didn’t exist when I was pro, and at the age of 50/51. I’d love to think I can still hold my own with the bunch these days, but in reality I’m 78kg, 53, and hold down a job looking after my riders which is far more important to me than scratching around in 40-60th at Klondike. However, I’d love to do TTT champs with the Ribble boys!

Frankly, the best thing I can do is to kick the shit out of myself on the bike… then I’m pretty much guaranteed an even keel!

You’ve spoken very eloquently in the past about being bipolar. How has being able to talk about your own mental health issues helped you, and others around you?

The whole bipolar thing has been quite a revelation over the years. I was diagnosed later in life, initially misprescribed meds, then waited years for therapy. The best thing I’ve ever done (NB: this is a personal thing, and isn’t for everyone, I must stress this) is to have come off all meds, and concentrate on health, riding my bike, CBT, and just realising that there’s no shame or weakness in having a mental illness. Yeah, I still get days where I want nothing more than for the skies to cave in on me, days where I feel lower than Dante’s Ninth circle; and conversely days whereby I feel invincible. But it’s knowing the signs, the signifiers of mood swings that allow me to ameliorate them without medicating. Frankly, the best thing I can do is to kick the shit out of myself on the bike… then I’m pretty much guaranteed an even keel!

Colin delivers a team talk before the 2021 Otley Grand Prix

You recently set up your own coaching business, Champion Cycling Services. What prompted that, and how has life as a coach been treating you?

So just prior to the pandemic and lockdown, Rob Orr and myself set up a small company called Champion Cycling Services, with the premise of offering coaching, freelance DS-ing, consultancy etc. Obviously I am now contracted as Ribble Weldtite DS, and Rob has his own investment in CCN/Fire, so we are concentrating on a few select riders being coached – we aren’t looking to be a massive company; we want to keep things sustainable, and one-on-one as much as possible. We’ve managed to place a quite a few of our riders into Conti teams (both women and men) and I love the satisfaction riders get from achieving goals and wins. Ribble Weldtite have been immensely supportive with this, and it’s a combination that works well not just for me, but also Tipper who has JTP Coaching.

And you’re back as sports director with Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling this year. The squad has undergone a lot of change. Any riders in particular that you are looking forward to working with. Or is that an unfair question?!

I am, and very pleased to be back with the Ribble Welditie Pro Cycling guys. Obviously 2021 was a year of rebuilding after pandemic hit 2020, so we had a reduced UCI and BC calendar, but this year we’ve upped the ante cautiously and are stepping back into it with a careful approach to overseas racing. Let’s not mince our words – Brexit has made things very complicated and costly for smaller teams, and the double whammy of Covid has decimated many a budget! This said, we have signed some guys that can and will compete on the ‘big screen’. Stuart Balfour, Alex Peters, both Tanfields… Red Walters, Ross Lamb, Peckover and King, Finn Crockett. Pair these lads up with our existing riders and we have a strengthened squad, and one that other teams will need to respect and watch.

I feel we can win and be competitive at all levels, and we are targeting the domestic scene once again. This may sound retrograde to many, but I want my guys focused on winning UK races in order to present results to overseas race organisers

I feel we can win and be competitive at all levels, and we are targeting the domestic scene once again. This may sound retrograde to many, but I want my guys focused on winning UK races in order to present results to overseas race organisers. No good applying for decent races in Europe when all you can offer is a 14th in a regional A! (That’s very much tongue in cheek, but the premise is this: we are a UK team, so let’s be the highest ranked UK team. Then let’s go overseas and get those UCI results to cement that claim.)

I’m a big believer in respecting race organisers and making sure we as a team do the same, so we will be going into the National Road Series to win. As for who I’m most looking forward to working with… all of them!

And what are your hopes and expectations for the team this year? Can it repeat the type of eye-catching performances that saw James Shaw grabbing top GC results and Matt Gibson showing his class in crits and the Tour of Britain?

I think we can. We don’t have that pure GC contender that James Shaw brought to the table, but we have Balfour and Peters; two riders that I rate very highly and I feel can and will perform outstandingly. We have Charlie and Harry Tanfield, again riders that can ride out of their skins in many disciplines. We have Ross Lamb who brings a level of experience from the tough Belgian circuit, and some exciting talent in Red, Kingy, Finn, Ollie. And let’s not overlook our stalwarts like Cam Jeffers, Zeb Kyffin, Si Wilson (OAP), Tipper, Rich and Will. It’s a rounded and bolstered squad – and one that I believe in. Yeah, I’d have loved to have had a budget to have signed a couple of other lads we were in talks with, but that’s the nature of Conti teams… restricted budgets and restricted racing calendars. So, in short – keep an eye out for our guys in the National Road Series, the Tour Series, National Circuit Series, TTs… the whole gamut. I predict many wins for Ribble Welditie Pro Cycling this season.

Find out more

Follow Colin on Twitter.

Follow Colin on Instagram.

Check out Colin’s coaching business, Champion Cycling Services.