How are you feeling, and how does the dynamic feel amongst the group this year?
“It’s a different approach to normal this year due to COVID for me, that knocked me back over Christmas, so now here I am jumping in at the thick end, some fresh meat for the grinder. I’ve needed to do a couple more stage races to get the miles in the bank.
“The biggest difference is the squad makeup. For three, four, even five years we’ve had a very similar group with a few guys changing. This year it’s three or four guys completely new, for some of them it’s their first shot at the Classics, so that’s the biggest change. I feel it needed to be done - we’ve been knocking on the door, we’ve been good, but realistically we didn’t actually deliver a lot over those years, so it’s good. They’ve stepped up to the plate straight away. That’s made a big change.”
How has it felt not being at the Classics?
“It’s been strange for me. The Classics are races I never get to watch on TV - pretty much my whole career, I’ve been there racing them. It was even a bit frustrating watching them, but obviously I’ve had to take this different approach. It’s exciting isn’t it. These guys are young, they’re going into the races all guns blazing, they’re excited, it’s what you want and it’s what you need in these races. Pure passion and emotion. You feel that with them and see it in how they race. Step by step let’s see where they can go, but you’d sit back now and say why can’t they go on to be at the pointy end and one day win these races. Jonny [Narvaez], Tom [Pidcock] and Ethan [Hayter] are three young guys who can really go all the way. I believe that.”
What are your experiences of racing with Tom?
“Tom’s impressive. The first thing that hits you is his level of professionalism - when I joined the team at his age I had no clue about anything: diet, training, nothing. I just rode to the cafe. I thought I trained hard but I didn’t have a clue really. You look at him now and his approach is so professional. It’s clear what he is: he’s a winner. He may not have won yet, he may not win for a couple of years, but long term essentially he’s a guy who can turn up to these races and other races throughout the year and deliver.
“And he’s a nice guy to be around. He’s bouncing off the walls. After San Remo, he was just buzzing, not because of the result he got but because he never thought he could be in the final with those superstars. It’s exciting to see how excited he is. A lot of people can look from the outside and think maybe he’s a little cocky but they couldn’t be more wrong. He’s a grounded, genuine, down to earth kid.”
What can we expect from you tomorrow and how is your shape?
“Catalunya was brilliant. I was close to the best I’ve ever been to be honest. Physically it was a tough, demanding week but you buzz off the results. When the guys are performing like that you naturally raise your level. It was great to be a part of that 1-2-3 - it’s a part of history, it really is.
“But this week has been tough. I was sick after Catalunya and I don’t feel close to 100%. It’s not ideal. A week ago I’d have said it would be nice to try and get into the final of this race and play a role but now that seems unrealistic. I knew that before I flew here and I still said to the team I want to be there, I want to be with the group, the guys, and we can decide on my role closer to the race. It looks like it will be more of a support role which is a shame because leadership opportunities don’t come around too often but you’ve got to be realistic. If you’re at 99% in these races, it’s not enough. And when you’re supporting guys who, when I can sit here now and say I honestly believe they can do something special tomorrow, then I’ll support them to the best of my ability.”