Alex Dowsett: The Importance of Being Angry
The last 12 months have brought Alex Dowsett a Commonwealth Games gold medal, a national 10-mile time trial record, and two yellow jerseys. His best season yet? Movistar's talented Brit begs to differ...
Alex Dowsett remains one of the most engaging riders in professional cycling, and increasingly among the most successful.
The Movistar rider added a Commonwealth Games gold medal to his palmarès by winning the men’s time trial in Glasgow, and rode into the yellow jersey of race leader both at the Tour of Britain and the Circuit de Sarthe. Add his obliteration of the British 10-mile time trial record to the equation, and it’s possible to conclude that 2014 has been Dowsett’s best season yet. Does he agree?
“It’s a funny one,” he says. “It’s difficult to know how to judge it.” Many other riders would perhaps consider the achievements previously stated and accept the implied compliment that he has enjoyed a career-best campaign; not Dowsett, at once the unashamed Essex boy with a well-documented love of fast cars, and the thinking man’s rider who has twice stepped outside the bubble of British Cycling/Team Sky to plough his own, successful furrow - with Livestrong as an under-23, and more recently with Movistar.
Take his analysis of the Commonwealth Games, for example. Having stood atop the podium in Glasgow, one might be forgiven for considering it a more satisfying result than winning silver in the same event in Delhi four years earlier. Right? Wrong.
Alex Dowsett meets his public at a ride out in Richmond Park for YourBikeTravel.com
“I would say I was happier with my Delhi silver medal than my Glasgow gold medal.” How so? Dowsett explains: “You go in to that not expecting anything. If you go into a race and you already have a silver medal, you’re perfectly capable of winning, and you’ve trained for the win, it comes as a relief. It’s a ‘job done’ mentality.” There is an underlying logic to Dowsett’s argument that undermines any suspicion of a wilfully contradictory stance.
There is, however, an intriguing dichotomy at the centre of Dowsett the rider. His greatest successes have come either against the clock in textbook demonstrations of his mastery of the controlled effort, or in blood-and-guts, death-or-glory rides where passion, and on more than one occasion, a sense of having been wronged, have served to fuel his fire. “It’s been like that right from the start,” he concedes, with a knowing half-smile. “When I won the Junior Tour of Wales, it was because of some injustice that had happened the day before.”
The last time your correspondent had run in to Dowsett was at the launch of Canyon’s new bike in Leeds, just days before the Tour de France. There he was simmering under a similar sense of injustice, having missed out for a second time in two years on the opportunity to race on home roads in the sport’s biggest international competitions; Movistar having added insult to the injury inflicted by British Cycling’s failure to select him for the Olympic Games by overlooking him for its Tour squad with a Grand Départ on British soil. “I race better when I’m angry,” Dowsett confided on that occasion, thinking ahead already to the Commonwealth Games and the sweet revenge of victory.
Dowsett took greater satisfaction from his silver medal winning ride at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi than his gold medal performance four years later in Glasgow. pic: ©Alex Broadway/SWpix.com
He laughs at the phrase now, one repeated publicly after another ride fuelled by the need to right a perceived wrong. Dowsett responded to the misfortune of a double puncture on stage four of the Tour of Britain by riding into yellow two days later with an epic 150km breakaway ride with IAM Cycling’s Matthias Brändle and Tom Stewart (Madison-Genesis). “Angry isn’t the right…” he tails off, smiling broadly. “It was more because I couldn’t say ‘pissed off’ on national television for fear of my mum listening to it.
“When something’s really annoyed me, like at the Tour of Britain,” he continues, “that double puncture and the nonsense that surrounded it just got me really geed up to go and do it again. I saw a stage win just taken away from me there. Things like that get me fired up."
British crowds in particular will know how well a fired up Dowsett can ride, whether in crit races (his blistering ride to lap the entire field at the London Nocturne in 2011), time trials (this year’s decimation of the national 10-mile record), or on road stages. Those who lined the ascent of Ditchling Beacon on Dowsett’s sole day in yellow at the Tour of Britain, when he was paced by Movistar team-mate, Giovanni Visconti, in pursuit of a fast-disappearing lead group containing eventual winner, Dylan Van Baarle (Garmin-Sharp), left a lasting impression.
“I had the whole, ‘wow, that just happened’ feeling on the breakaway day when I got into yellow. And there was a different, ‘wow, that just happened’ feeling up Ditchling Beacon. To have crowds there, I’ve never known…” he tails off as he relives the moment. “The day I was in yellow, I didn’t really hear Wiggo’s name chanted once; it all seemed to be for me, whereas on the previous day, I was in a break without Wiggo and people were still cheering for Wiggo. It was pretty surreal to have that turnaround as well.”
Cheers for Dowsett replaced those for 'Wiggo' as the Movistar man ascended Ditchling Beacon in the leader's yellow jersey at the 2014 Tour of Britain. pic: ©Alex Whithead/SWpix.com
If he shares some of his more accomplished countryman's contrariness, with Dowsett the contradictions come with smiles, rather than scowls (when Rouleur speaks to him, Dowsett has just finished a morning riding with amateurs in Richmond Park). Despite his success, many of his answers are underscored with a healthy sense of irony (occasionally at the expense of his inquisitor: claiming the Rouleur Combativity Award at the Tour of Britain, is, he reveals, “my career highlight”). This is a rider who, despite the gold medal, yellow jerseys, national record, and, lest we forget, Grand Tour stage victory, does not take himself too seriously.
So what does 2015 hold for Dowsett? “The Tour,” he answers, unhesitatingly. It is the obvious omission from his CV and another perceived wrong he seems determined to right. And what of the shorter stage races? At 26 and with four seasons in professional cycling’s top tier, is he ready to assume the responsibility of leadership for the WorldTour’s flatter, week-long engagements?
“The Tour of Britain has given me great confidence in the fact that I am actually capable of winning these races,” he says. “I need to work a bit harder, I think - work on my climbing, and ensure that I don’t get into the jersey [only to lose it]. I’ve progressed well. Last year, I held a jersey. This year, I’ve held two yellow jerseys, but lost them as quickly as I’ve got them. Next year, I know what I need to do, where I need to improve to get those jerseys and to hold onto them.”
The off-season gives Dowsett only a short time to relax. The 'regime' and 'big weeks' in the saddle will soon beckon.
He sips his coffee, but declines cake. The few weeks of the year in which a professional cyclist can eat what he likes have already passed, he confides. The ‘regime’ has begun again, and the ‘big weeks’ beckon - seven-day schedules containing up to 35 hours in the saddle, along with specific gym work. Depending on the advice of his coaches, he will train on home roads, or in Alicante or Mallorca with his company, YourBikeTravel.com.
Dowsett’s guests take their farewell and hit the road, and shortly after, so does he. For many, the unseasonably sunny morning in Richmond Park will have been a day to remember - the chance to ride with one of British cycle sport’s bona fide stars. Dowsett, clad head to foot in Movistar kit, his vastly expensive racing bike wearing training wheels and scars of a season, are visitors seemingly from another planet; the unattainable standard to which they aspire. It is to Dowsett’s credit that he wears his talent lightly, that the smiles come naturally, and that the job of a professional cyclist plainly does not strike him as hard work.
Just don’t make him angry.