Alex Dowsett was stood on the Champs-Élysées for the end of the Tour de France, but not in the manner he had hoped.
He was watching from the sidelines as a spectator, not as one of the protagonists. Later, his Movistar comrades mounted the podium as winners of the team classification; they tried to get Dowsett up on stage too, but it wasn’t allowed. “It was good of them, it made me feel like I’d contributed,” he says.
The Briton abandoned his debut Tour de France on stage 12, unable to properly recover from a crash that wrecked his ability to help the team and its leader Nairo Quintana.
His race started strongly; Dowsett was 13th in the prologue and the only Movistar rider to briefly make the front group in the Dutch crosswind split on day two, a case of being on the left hand side of the road, with Quintana on the right. He soon dropped back to chase for the Colombian.
Dowsett’s Tour went awry 50 kilometres from the finish of stage four in Cambrai, as he shoved off the road while attempting to move up Quintana and company, sustaining a bad elbow injury.
“They put six stitches in, cleaned it up and I had a local anesthetic. It seemed to really knock the wind out of my sails,” he says. “The next day, I just had nothing. My heart rate was ridiculously low in comparison to how hard I was trying physically. I never really got back from that.”
It meant that his body regularly fell short of what his mind demanded. Dowsett knew he was capable of more, but couldn’t perform to the best of his ability. “It’s horrible. It’s the worst thing in the world,” Dowsett says, reflecting with a few sighs. “You just feel useless because you have to say to your team ‘I haven’t got it, I don’t really know why.’ Obviously they’re saying to me it’s been quite a big trauma to my arm and that can really have an effect, which it was clearly having.”
“It’s a funny one. I don’t think I’d have been a great deal of use anyway once we hit the mountains, but that was never the reason for me going to the Tour. So it was such a shame that I had that crash.”
“Any other race, I probably would have pulled the pin with an injury like that. But because it’s the Tour de France, you battle on till you absolutely can’t battle on anymore.”
Once back in Essex, Dowsett didn’t shut himself away from the Tour. “I kept an eye on it whether it was on TV at home or from Twitter, but only when it was convenient," he says. “Finishing it is still definitely the big one for me. Hopefully there’ll be a Tour coming up that’ll have a decent length, technical time-trial in it too. The Tour is definitely unfinished business.”
His testing Tour was the latest episode in a topsy-turvy 2015 season, where lows and highs have come in quick succession for the Movistar man. First, he broke his collarbone while training in January, forcing a postponement to his Hour Record attempt.
However, when Dowsett made his bid in early May, he raised the standard to 52.93 kilometres. A maiden professional stage race victory, sustained on minimal road training, then followed at the Tour of Bavaria.
“It’s been definitely my most successful season. But also I feel like I’ve been chasing my tail the whole time,” Dowsett says. “After Germany, I had about three weeks to turn it round for the Dauphiné. That made life quite difficult because I was trying very hard to do the two things you shouldn’t: lose weight and train hard in a short space of time.”
“So, yes, I feel like I’ve been constantly chasing my tail. I’ve done a good job with it… But next year, I think I can be a lot better for the Tour with much better preparation which will be not doing an Hour Record.
Nevertheless, with time on the 26-year-old’s side, appetites are understandably whetted for a second Dowsett pop at the Hour Record; his own standard stood for five weeks before Bradley Wiggins raised it. Is the new figure beatable? “I think it is, but the stars would have to align for me. 54.5km is a big ask.”
Will he go for it in the next twelve months? “I don’t know,” Dowsett says after a brief pause. “It takes a lot of preparation. We’d have to up the planning a lot, just up everything really because Wiggins has set a really good benchmark. I don’t think it’s completely out of my reach but it’ll be tough.”
Nevertheless, Dowsett is keen to give it another go. He indicated his desire to return to Manchester for his next Hour Record ride, adding: “I hope, as Wiggins said, everyone will keep staying at sea level or Switzerland for it and no one up goes up to any high altitude tracks.”
“I know a world record is a world record, but it’s quite nice for it to be, at the moment, a very level playing field.”
Whatever happens this season, Dowsett’s future is secure. Last autumn, he signed a new contract with Movistar, keeping him there till the end of 2017.
The Essex-based rider has come a long way since his Team Sky departure four years ago. That brave move, in search of opportunity, looks increasingly shrewd as he has carved out a niche for himself and become an important part of the team. He can even keep up with most of the chatter. “I can speak cycling Spanish and understand 90 per-cent of it. When they move onto politics or whatever, I’m a bit lost though,” he says.
How is Nairo Quintana as a leader? “Really good. He appreciates it, he always says thank you, that goes a long way. I’ve always thought that if they appreciate it I’d give them absolutely 100%... I have worked for some leaders who would expect it because they were a better bike rider to you, in their heads. A few leaders out there are ignorant.”
“Movistar is a cool place to be. It’s like a family. Well, in Paris at the end of the Tour, it was like a nursery: all the riders with their girlfriends and all their kids at the hotel. And we all went off to dinner together.”
Alex Dowsett was talking to Rouleur ahead of the launch of performance and events company Cyclism.
Dowsett received his Aeroad CF SLX the day before the Tour de Suisse. One of the first of the new model to leave Koblenz, it served briefly as the Movistar rider’s training bike (“It was quite novel travelling to races with a bike,” he remembers), but gained its first outing in a competitive fixture: a minor event called the Tour de Suisse. “The first ride on this was at the Tour of Switzerland. I hit 118kph on it in one of the passes. I was very confident in it. I was at home on it straight away.”