It would be easy to have missed Bradley Morgan at last week’s Tour of Britain. Finishing 99th overall, he was some distance from the podium his Team Sky namesake stood on. But by finishing a gruelling Tour of Britain 14 months after his very first bike race, the Velosure-Giordana rider has a story to rival any from the yellow jersey-winning kid from Kilburn.
Morgan was a talented teenage skier who chased selection for the Winter Olympics, racing full-time with Great Britain for several seasons. Cycling was merely a means of staying fit in the summer. "I never did more than an hour's training," he says.
However, the lack of funding in the winter sport led to him step away. In May 2013, he got down to some proper training on the road bike that had been sitting in the corner. "I've always enjoyed it and watched it as a fan,” says the man from Chorley. “I just thought I'd have a go at it and see how it went."
In his first race last July, a cat 3/4 affair round Preston Sports Arena, he was second. Local bike shop owner Bill Nickson Jr helped out him with equipment and race selection. “I was a total novice,” Morgan says.
The novice’s physiological prowess quickly became clear. Late last year, former British road race champion Bill Nickson Sr signed him up to the UCI Continental team Velosure-Giordana for 2014.
“The whole year has just been an unknown,” Morgan says. “I think that's how the team has taken it with me, as a sort of an experiment,” he says.
His start was far from ideal. Over winter, rather than putting in long training miles, Morgan spent a couple of months in Chamonix, earning money as a ski instructor. With the mountain roads covered in snow and ice, he could only ride on the turbo.
Thrown back into the racing season, the learning curve was even steeper than the mountain slopes he’s used to tearing down. Everything was new – from bunch racing and training structure to riding hard on the bumper of his team car, and the dark art of sticky bottles. “I've hard to learn really quickly, how to understand racing,” he says.
His first professional race was the Ras. Morgan was encouraged by feeling stronger as the Irish race went on, finishing just outside the top 30 overall.
But the swift change in schedule took its toll on the 23-year-old. After the Edinburgh Tour Series round at the end of May, he was out for two months, suffering with a stomach bug and chest infection. "I guess going from no cycling to eight-day stage races and events every weekend took a lot out of me," he reflects.
Morgan feels his skiing background was crucial to making the switch so speedily. "I was living away from home from the age of 18. In ski racing, there's not a lot of funding, so you have to do a lot for yourself: looking after yourself, cooking for the group – it’s the whole package.”
His experience on the slopes has transferred well to one part of his new sport: descending. “I enjoy speed. I've got a lot more confidence going down by myself – being around other people, that sort of knocks it a little bit.”
Aside from the two-wheeled lessons, there’s also the matter of fitting in with the team. "Only having done it for a year, it's hard for me to gain respect. So that's what I've been trying to do: slowly work my way in [with Velosure-Giordana] and not do or say anything stupid."
An onlooker until recently, Morgan admits to feelings of awe, racing alongside Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and company at the Tour of Britain.
“I had a moment on the first lap of the first stage [in Liverpool] where I thought that to myself and nearly rammed into the back of a load of riders. That was the moment that it clicked: you’ve just got to block it out."
Once he settled down to business among the WorldTour’s best, Morgan spent a lot of time in survival mode. “I've not ridden these sort of distances all year and I'm doing them back-to-back at the Tour of Britain. I’ve enjoyed it." He saved his best performance till last, finishing 30th in the circuit race carve-up around Westminster.
Morgan aspires to a long-term career in the sport. But with the future of Velosure-Giordana uncertain for 2015, it remains to be seen whether a Tour of Britain finish is the pinnacle of Morgan's rapid-fire rise in the sport or a mere base camp.
Even job-hunting is another part of the ongoing learning process: until recently Morgan didn’t realise he’d have to do the rounds with his CV. “People told me to do it last week: no point waiting because the [team managers] won’t come.”
"If I’m lucky enough to ride on a team as good as this next year, I'll be giving it a better go than I've done this year.”