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The only Brit at Deceuninck-QuickStep: James Knox Q&A

In-depth
28 Feb 2020
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Words: Joe Robinson

James Knox is 24-years-old, from Cumbria and the only British rider at Deceuninck-QuickStep, the world's best cycling team.

Cyclist caught up with the Kendal-born rider in January to discuss a breakthrough Vuelta a Espana, rooming with hero Philippe Gilbert and his previous life as a National Champion fell runner.

Cyclist: You had a whirlwind Vuelta a España last year, fighting for the top 10 on GC before eventually finishing 11th after a crash on Stage 19. How do you reflect on it all?

James Knox: I’m extremely proud of that result. It was only my second Grand Tour and the first one I finished. Even at the time, when I dropped out of the top 10 on the penultimate day, I wasn’t disappointed. The whole time it seemed surreal, the way I kept jumping up the GC, day after day. It was a special race, especially considering my only goal was to reach the finish. 

And I must say, just the feeling of reaching Madrid was almost as good as the 11th place. Just seeing the finish line after three weeks strikes you with this overwhelming relief because you think it will never come. It felt euphoric crossing that line. It’s pretty conceivable that I could retire in 10 years time and that could still be the best Grand Tour I’m ever a part of. 

Cyc: Did that result, alongside a good 2019 in general, act as proof that you belong in the WorldTour?

JK: I don’t take it for granted, but I feel that what I did in 2019 was proof I’m a pretty solid pro. Honestly, though, I don’t feel like a proper, proper professional cyclist yet. Experience speaks a lot in this sport and I’m not like the older guys who have earned respect. Just because I’ve managed a few nice results, it’s not enough. You need to maintain the right attitude and keep plugging away.

Cyc: You roomed with Philippe Gilbert at that Vuelta. You have spoken before about how he was your hero growing up, so did it feel strange to suddenly find yourself racing alongside him?

JK: It was really strange. As a kid I watched him being the world’s best rider. I was only 16 when he did the Ardennes clean sweep [in 2011] and that made him a hero of mine. He felt mythical at first, but then you just become friends, teammates and equals. 

He was a great guy and we will miss him this year. He was good for advice. He didn’t cram anything down your neck; he was easy-going and gave you the odd snippet when you needed it. 

He also led by example. He would be calm and relaxed and then, on the road, he would change. He’d have this killer instinct to get things done – an ultimate professional.

Cyc: This will be your third season at Deceuninck-QuickStep. Can you tell us the secret to why it has consistently been the world’s most successful team?

JK: Roll back the clock to December 2017 when I attended my first training camp and I was petrified, joining a team of legendary status in cycling. In many ways I didn’t feel I deserved to be here. I kept asking myself if it was really happening, but then you get on with it and realise the team has an amazing atmosphere and you’re part of it.

There’s a huge team unity here and it’s more than just the riders. Patrick Lefevere has built a team of staff that works tirelessly to make it comfortable for us – it’s almost like a family. That ultimately means when we race, we really give our everything for them and it produces the results. Wins then produce a great team atmosphere and it continues in this positive cycle.

I also think a lot of our success is because the team has nothing to prove. We have nowhere near the biggest budget, the team has been at the highest level for over two decades and, in that time, it has basically won every race going. The success has been so consistent that the team can almost sit back and say, ‘Here we are, you know who we are, and if we win, we win.’

Cyc: Does the team’s success also stem from the belief it has in young riders? 

JK: Absolutely. The team is quite rare in the way that it gives young riders a chance because they think in two, three years’ time you may be the real deal.

Looking at it from my perspective, I never came into the team with any hype, but I was given opportunities from the word go. They would say, ‘See how long you can stick in the main group today,’ or, ‘It’s a hilly day, you have a free role.’

Cyc: You didn’t get into bike racing until your mid-teens. Why was that?

JK: Actually I always rode a bike. I climbed Mont Ventoux aged 10 and Alpe d’Huez at 11, and I was obsessed with watching bike racing on TV and read all the books, played the video games – but it was running that I took seriously.

It turned out I was a bit of a natural at fell running so from 11 to 15 I was training four times a week and racing at the weekend. I won three or four consecutive national championships and I went a good few years without losing. I was quite dominant, actually. 

But when I got to 16, I was no longer as dominant and I wasn’t enjoying getting beaten by guys who hadn’t been able to get near me a few years prior. I think I took running too seriously too soon, so I stopped to give cycling a go.

Cyc: You recently moved to Andorra to train at altitude more regularly. What’s the biggest thing you miss from home back in Cumbria? 

JK: I really miss Patak’s curry paste and sauce. When I go home I always bring back loads of Bhuna paste and Marmite to Andorra, and lots of mint sauce too. 

I also miss the friendliness of northerners. When I go back home, you can just have a natter on the train home, which is refreshingly nice. It’s lovely to go home and be with people who are just generally quite cheery.

Palmarès 

Jason Knox
Age: 24
Nationality: British 
Honours 

2019
11th, Vuelta a Espana
8th, UAE Tour
10th, Tour of Poland
3rd, Adriatica Ionica Race

2018
1st, Stage 1, Adriatica Ionica Race (TTT)

2017
2nd, Liège-Bastogne-Liège Espoirs
5th, Ronde de l’Isard
8th, Tour de l’Avenir