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Luke Rowe gets the call up for début Tour de France.

Luke Rowe Team Sky Tour de France squad
Joseph Delves
29 Jun 2015

Before today’s announcement from Team Sky we spoke to Luke Rowe about the road to the Tour de France.

This morning Team Sky’s principal Dave Brailsford announced his squad for the Tour de France. Amongst the five British riders called up was 25 year old Luke Rowe, who will make his Tour début. After a nervous few months the young Welshman was; ‘Over the moon to be off to Le Tour and up for a big old three weeks with Team Sky!’ His call up is the conclusion to an early season that has been an almost perfect pitch for a spot on Sky’s coveted nine-man Tour squad.

Last night Rowe probably slept better than the other hopefuls around the world who were waiting to see if they’d be competing in the world greatest bike race. On the day before Brailsford named his Tour team he was tiring himself out with another great performance, finishing fourth in the British Championships. It was the last stop on an itinerary that we now know will (barring any disasters) end in France this July.

Tour de France selection

We caught up with him earlier this year after his top-ten finish at Paris-Roubaix, to talk cobbled classics and tour débuts.

“I’m really hoping to ride the Tour de France but then so are 15 to 20 other riders on the team, and there lies the issue. I’ll give it 100%, but it’s still a big ask. The chances are I might not ride it, but I’m really fighting to make sure my name is in the hat when they’re choosing the final nine.”

On a less dominant team a rider of Rowe’s ability would almost certainly be guaranteed a spot on the grand tour squad, but in the hothouse environment of Team Sky nothing can be taken for granted and each rider is only as good as their last result.

“I’m really fighting to get a Tour de France spot, and the chances are that perhaps I won’t make it. On another team I would have known from early in the season that I’d be racing. However as a young rider there’s a balance to be struck. Riding as a neo-pro for Team Sky, the way they nurture you, you don’t get that on any other team. Despite not getting the same opportunities to ride the biggest race that you might get on a smaller team, you’ve got to invest in your future. You just get looked after so much better, even if you have to something accept riding slightly smaller races.”

Paris-Roubaix

Despite the odds on Rowe riding the Tour shortening dramatically after his name appeared on Sky’s leaked eleven rider long-list, his appearance on the final squad was no certainty. It was only after his breakthrough performance at Paris-Roubaix that people outside the team started viewing him as a potential Tour rider.

“Roubaix was a shock. We had Geraint [Thomas], [Ian] Stannard and [Bradley] Wiggins who, on paper, were all likely to finish above me and in our plan were the three potential leaders. We lost Gee [Geraint] through mechanicals and crashes, Stannard was suffering having missed some races and Brad didn’t quite make the group at the end. I found myself alone with another rider. We knew there were seven riders up the road, so we just went balls to the wall to stay away from the rest of the bunch behind us. Paris-Roubaix has always been one of the biggest bike races in the world for me. I remember being there as a 13 year old watching the race, so to be hitting the final sections at the front of the race was surreal.”

Rowe’s performance on the cobbles certainly helped secure his selection for the Tour team. This year’s stage four is a fearsome reprise of the very same sections used in the ‘Hell of the North’. Yet while most directors are likely worried about the chaos the pave can create, Sky boss Brailsford singled out Rowe as one of the ‘great cobble riders’ who could turn the stage into an opportunity for the team. Earlier this year he was lucky to be let of the leash racing over the very same roads.

"It’s not very often that you get a chance to race for yourself. If I get told to do something for the team, that’s what I’ll do, and give it one hundred percent commitment. At Roubaix I was still supporting Brad until the penultimate cobbled section. It was only the last 10km or so where I was really free to race for myself. Having ridden for a team in support of other riders you almost have to remember how to race for yourself."

He’ll be on a far tighter rein at the Tour where he’ll ride as a domestique, this time looking to guide team leader Chris Froome safely over the cobbles and to victory in Paris. Competition within Team Sky means that even making it to the opening stage of the Tour is a phenomenal achievement, one that Rowe has had to fight hard for. However for the young rider, who is still only in his fourth pro season, the 21 stages that now lie between him and the Champs Elysees will prove an even greater test.

Luke Rowe is an ambassador for the Wiggle Dragon Ride. Entries for the 2016 event will open in October. Register your interest now at wiggledragonride.com