“I think I’m one of the chillest, most relaxed people when it comes to racing. There’s not a lot that really bothers me.” Ben Chilton, the towering 6′ 6” road and Cyclocross rider, certainly cuts a very easy going figure during his interview with The British Continental.
I’m still quite young, just starting at the road career, it’s my second year
Off the back of a season where he rose to prominence as the overall winner of the National Circuit Series, the 20-year-old from Derby is clear in his belief that he races well when there is no pressure, his easy going philosophy bringing him results in not only National A races, but overseas too.
“Most of my approach to cycling is that,” he continues, revealing it was, characteristically, a surfing holiday and a laid back approach which brought him his crowning glory, an awe inspiring solo win at the National Circuit Series round in Guildford.
In an exhibition of power and bike handling on the technical course back in July, Chilton lapped all but three riders over the 50-minute race, but revealed he was close to not starting due to injury. “I caught a nerve in my knee, so I’d had the last two days off the bike trying to recover,” he explains. “I was like, oh, I’ve entered it, and after I was going on a surfing holiday and a bit of a training camp down south. I may as well go down and race it as I’m going down anyway. I went in with no expectations and on the day the legs felt really good, so I took advantage.”
I fractured my kneecap last November, so I had two months off the bike, so it was a pretty shit winter. Then it was more of a see what form I can get back to as quickly as possible really
The Guildford victory proved to be the catalyst for his bid for overall National Circuit Series glory, although it was not something the 20-year-old had in his sights leading up to the competition. “I fractured my kneecap last November, so I had two months off the bike, so it was a pretty shit winter. Then it was more of a see what form I can get back to as quickly as possible really. I did the crits last year and I was alright with them, nothing special really, maybe cracked the top twenty once. I started off well in Otley and Ilkley. Maybe that boost of confidence helped to carry it through.”
Having taken the series lead in Guildford, he crashed at the following round in a wet Dudley, the technical figure of eight course claiming him as one of its many victims. Although Chilton’s primary goal was the individual rounds, he had started to look at the overall standings as a secondary aim. “I’ve got to get back up and try and salvage it, keep my losses to a minimum,” were the thoughts going through his mind as he battled to a crucial 18th place.
With further top tens in Colne and Sheffield, where Chilton made a select five man break amongst winner Finn Crockett, it was down to the final round on a technical Newark circuit to decide the overall. “I really enjoyed the course last year. I was going in hoping for another big result,” revealed Chilton, who had one eye on the overall, but primarily, as he had done for the entire series, was hunting for the race win. “I’d done the calculations and worked out what was what, what he [Matt Fox] needed to do to beat me. I wasn’t going to play cat and mouse, I was just going to try and get a decent result.”
The best form of defence is probably attack
The 50-minute race was one of the most exciting the National Circuit Series has seen, with Chilton and Fox’s Wheelbase CabTech Castelli team taking the race by the scruff of the neck and attacking from the gun. “The best form of defence is probably attack,” says Chilton, who claimed the overall title with a 5th place finish in a group containing winner Alec Briggs and rival Fox. “It clearly worked!” he adds, noting that he still has a lot to learn tactically, after only his second road season. “It [the win] didn’t quite come off, but I held onto the overall. Maybe I could have got a different result if I played it differently, but this season’s mainly been about learning. I’m still quite young, just starting at the road career, it’s my second year.”
Chilton remains most pleased with his Guildford win, as opposed of the series overall, the spectacular victory homage to his aggressive style. “The overall was a bonus from some good rides. I’m happier with the win and the way I rode at Guildford than I am with the overall,” he noted.
2023 continued to bring results for Chilton. Following on from the Circuit Series, he took part in a two week trip to France, organised by Loughborough based coach Phill Maddocks. “It felt more like going for a holiday with a group of mates with a bit of racing rather than going there purely for results. Everyone knew each other and we’re all based in the Midlands,” says Chilton, who took victory in the Ronde Finistérienne – Plounéour, as well as a host of other good results during the trip. “I won one race, got a Sprint Jersey, a KoM Jersey, a most combative, 2nd overall, White Jersey, then an 8th or 9th at an Elite Nationals,” he reels off. “We did a few Elite Nationales and some top end amateur races, which are still insanely hard. It was a pretty solid two weeks of racing with some good results as well. It was a nice way to end the season.”
Chilton’s impressive results from the trip proved he is far more than a specialist over an hour, and led to him signing for the Team U Charente Maritime squad for 2024. He will join fellow Brit Dexter Leeming-Sykes in the squad, following in the footsteps of former Cycling Sheffield rider Adam Mitchell, who recorded a number of victories for the team this season.
On the flats or on a drag, when it’s just about raw power, the ball’s in my court. It’s something I’ve got to work with, just play to my strengths
Chilton says that he enjoys a tough race, “attritional” the word he settles on, predictably enjoying an attacking affair. “Some days the climbers can hand it to me,” he says, when asked if his tall, rangey physique affects him. “On the flats or on a drag, when it’s just about raw power, the ball’s in my court. It’s something I’ve got to work with, just play to my strengths.” He adds, in a predictably matter of fact, relaxed manner.
Before Chilton moves to France in February, he plans to race a full season of cyclocross, a discipline with as much importance to Chilton as the road. “Either, neither, both!” He answers when asked if is more of a cyclocross or road rider, testament to his ability in both.
Chilton forms part of an exciting group of young riders at the head of Cyclocross in the UK, achieving National Trophy and UCI podiums in his first year out of the Junior ranks before missing most of last season due to a fractured kneecap.
“Cross is a long season,” he explains, having already raced all three rounds of the National Trophy to date. “With France next year I’m hoping to carry my cross form over into the road season, hopefully by peaking a little bit later. That’s the plan and it should help me in the long run.”
Chilton had just arrived in Belgium last November before his knee injury hit, although he remains undecided on whether to return this winter. “I need to see how the form comes along. I don’t really want to go out and get my head kicked in, I think that will just demotivate me. So it’s more if a go out when I’m happy with the form I’m on, when I know I can get some good results, that’s when I’ll think about going out there.”
Chilton’s priority is currently getting back into form, using the National Trophy to find his legs. After modest performances in the opening two rounds, Chilton found better form at his home round in Derby with an impressive 4th place on a traditionally fast course, perhaps achieved with the help of the pressure being off. “They’ve been a bit shit really!” He argues of the first two rounds, offering some mitigation. “I spent a minute and a half in the pits waiting for a bike [at Thornton, where he finished 23rd]. Both races were hampered by mechanical problems and a lack of legs at this point in time.”
I’d love to make it to the WorldTour, but I know that’s it’s rare
After fracturing his knee in Belgium last November, Chilton found himself without a team at the start of the year, having left the then Spectra Wiggle squad. “I was unable to walk, never mind ride a bike,” says Chilton of the time he received an offer to ride for the Ribble Collective, a group of individuals showcasing sponsors outside of a traditional team setting. “There’s nothing else like it in the UK,” sums up Chilton, who enjoyed the freedom the role gave him. “It was a move with the promise of some financial support. It was no pressure and see what I can get out the year. Without the Ribble contract I can safely say I wouldn’t have had this year as good as it was. It motivated me to get back on the bike when I was injured.”
A lot has changed for Chilton over the past 12 months and It is remarkable to think that he is still only 20, having been at the forefront of the sport in the UK for the last two years. Predictably, he is relaxed about the future. “I’d love to make it to the WorldTour, but I know that’s it’s rare. So go as far as I can, see if I’m cut out for it.” He is set to get a taste of the life of a full-time cyclist next season, although it may suit him best if he just sees it as another holiday.
Featured image: Olly Hassell/SWpix.com