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Luke Rowe interview

Luke Rowe Interview 02
James Witts
27 May 2015

Team Skys' 24-year-old all-rounder tells us why Wiggins should've been at the Tour.

Cyclist: You’re just back from the Tour of California [2014]. What are your thoughts on another successful outing with Team Sky?

Luke Rowe: It was a long month on the road as I flew straight from the Tour of Romandie. Our ambition there was to win the race with Froomie, and we did that. That got the ball rolling for Brad’s victory in California. There was pressure to win as it was a really big race for one of our main sponsors, 21st Century Fox, but we had a plan and carried it out well. You look at the team on paper and it wasn’t the strongest, but every guy was 100% committed. The crowds were great, too, though lacked the knowledge of many nations’ supporters. There was a lot of ‘woohing’ but little else.

Cyc: How did you cope with the 40°C+ heat?

LR: We had a couple stages out in the middle of the desert and there’s no hiding, especially when you’re riding on the front and pulling the team along. Being battered by the sun for five hours is pretty hard and you’re limited in how you can keep cool. Like many teams we used ice socks down the backs of our necks. You get a woman’s stocking, fill it with ice, cut it in sections and stick it down your top. We also have those highly transparent Rapha skinsuits. They’re a bit too revealing for my liking but they do help with cooling.

Cyc: How do you feel Sky performed over the Classics season?

LR: It was a step up from last year. We were competitive in the final stages of every race and we won a semi-Classic [Ian Stannard at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad] but everyone focuses on us not winning a monument like Paris-Roubaix.

Luke Rowe Interview 01

Cyc: What about your own performances?

LR: Personally I really stepped up this year. Two highlights were 11th at Het Nieuwsblad and 31st in Roubaix. That result probably doesn’t do me justice as I was racing for the team… but that’s what the Classics are about.

Cyc: In stage races you’re a willing domestique, but you seem to come alive at the Classics…

LR: It’s the brutality and ruthlessness I crave. A stage race settles down, six chaps break away, inevitably they’re caught and it ends in a bunch sprint. But Classics are so unpredictable. OK, the stronger guy wins but there’s always a random on the podium. You watch it on TV and it seems so calm but it’s actually one step away from physically fighting on the bike; in fact, I’ve been punched numerous times on the bike. People don’t realise the extent of how much you have to fight for position. You also need to unleash short, sharp bursts of no more than five minutes rather than the 20-minute threshold-power efforts of stage races. If they said, ‘Do you want to race Roubaix tomorrow?’ I’d do it. For me it’s the best race in the world.

Cyc: Who are your Classics heroes?

LR: I liked Peter van Petegem [the Belgian who won Flanders twice and Roubaix once]. He was small and aggressive. I went over to Roubaix to watch for the first and only time in 2004 when Magnus Backstedt won. He was living in Wales at the time, so I looked up to him as well, being local.

Cyc: Team Sky are perceived as having a near-military approach to sport. Is that true?

LR: The guys go the extra mile, that’s for sure. You see the opposition set-up and see ours, and you feel we’re putting in that extra bit of effort and thought. I’ll give you an example. Before an important time-trial, each rider is given a card and it will list exactly what time to do everything. So it will say get your kit on at this time, start your warm-up now, do these efforts. A monkey could sort himself out with that guidance – if he had to, of course. You’d also ride the TT before and a team member would have been around several times, filming it from a car. So you can view the video 10 times and visualise every bend, knowing when to enter, where the apex is and where to exit. Essentially the more our support team does, the less we have to do. All you’re doing is visualising the race and how you’re going to race it.

Cyc: Does this attention to detail ever become stifling?

LR: There are times when it’s super-precise but it’s not always like that. Take Rod Ellingworth [head of performance operations]. He’s incredible, a genius, and is very precise, but some days he’ll tell you to just go out and bike. If you want to go on a club run with some mates and stop at a cafe, do it. Tim Kerrison [head of athlete performance at Team Sky] is another whizzkid. He’s a proper number-cruncher and most of the new ideas come through him, but he knows we can’t lose the human touch. And at the end of the day, all we’re doing is riding pushbikes.

Cyc: But other teams are looking to ride faster than you. Are you concerned the opposition will catch you up?

LR: We constantly learn from each other but it’s clear some of our competitors have stolen our ideas. After a stage, for instance, we spin out our legs on a turbo trainer. One of the first races I competed in as a professional was País Vasco in 2012. We finished the race and got on the turbos, and other riders were literally pointing and laughing at us because they’d never seen that done before. Those exact same guys now hop on a turbo after a race. Now look who’s laughing. We’re not the perfect team but, across the board, I think we’re the best.

Luke Rowe Door

Cyc: Do your own organisational skills match Team Sky’s?

LR: I’m quite organised with some things but I’m a ‘winger’ sometimes. Take California… Three of us checked in at the airport, handed in our passports and they asked if we had our ESTA [online form to gain access to the US under the Visa Waiver Program]. We were supposed to have filled it in three weeks before but I wasn’t quite aware of that. So I was flapping about on my computer and completed it just in time for the flight.

Cyc: What are your plans for the remainder of 2014?

LR: After training in Nice and the Tour de Suisse [14th-22nd June], I’ll race the national championships [29th June], which is on home turf in Monmouthshire. The Commonwealths [3rd August] is another key event. Geraint Thomas and I will possibly be the leaders of the team and will be aiming for a medal. After that I’m hoping to return to the Vuelta. Last year I pulled out on the 15th stage through illness. I’m still gutted, especially as it was my first Grand Tour.

Cyc: So no Tour de France debut?

LR: Definitely not this year. I’ll possibly be racing the Tour of Austria around that time. If I went to a lower-level team, I might be in the starting line-up but it’s something you have to accept being in Team Sky. My contract runs until 2015. Next year could still be a big ask but I’d like to think I’d make the Tour by 2016.

Cyc: Will you be in Yorkshire watching on the sidelines with Bradley Wiggins?

LR: I think Brad should be in the Tour but I don’t pick the team. And I certainly think Chris Froome and Brad can work together – they seem as good as gold towards each other to me. Hopefully Froome can go and win the race, and what better supporting rider to have than Brad? Brad’s great to have around the team. He joined us for the Classics and, beyond his engine and tactical acumen, he’s a great personality and always up for a bit of banter. He’d be a great asset at the Tour but I think he’ll be a future Classics winner. He says Roubaix is his favourite race, and that’s the positive mentality you need to win it.

Cyc: Your elder brother, Matt, races for the British UCI Continental team NFTO. Is there much competition between you?

LR: There’s never been rivalry between us. When we were growing up I often worked for him and, if he won, I’d feel as happy as if I’d won myself. We’re quite similar and take our work seriously but, away from the pressure, we’re like Dumb and Dumber. When we have a night on the tiles it’s always quite comical. And for reference, Welsh cyclists can drink – English cyclists are pathetic drinkers.

Cyc: Finally, what’s on your must-do list?

LR: My ultimate goals are to ride the Tour de France, playing the role of domestique and doing a really good job for my team. I’d also like to win a Classic – simple as that. The tattoo on my arm says ‘Believe and Succeed’ in Latin. Hard work doesn’t always pay off, but it gives you your greatest chance of success.

You can follow Luke Rowe on Twitter: @LukeRowe1990