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Dowsett: '2019 was the most difficult season of my career'

Joe Robinson
4 Dec 2019

Before Israel Cycling Academy came calling, Dowsett considered a year riding without a team to prepare for the Olympics

Alex Dowsett has called 2019 ‘the most difficult contract year of his life’ after being left in the dark during the sale of Katusha-Alpecin’s WorldTour licence to the Israel Cycling Academy.

Rumours of whether Katusha-Alpecin would continue beyond 2019 followed the team for most of the year with the official line being that they would remain through to 2020.

This turned out to be false with team owner Igor Makarov eventually selling the team’s licence to the Israeli ProContinental team. However, this was done after assurances had been given to 11 contracted riders that their deals would be honoured for the following season.

By the time it was clear a deal would be struck, Israel Cycling Academy had already made a raft of their own signings, such as Dan Martin, meaning there wasn't room for all 11 to be carried over in the deal.

This coincided with the fact that those under contract were barred from agreeing to deals elsewhere as they were still tied to their Katusha-Alpecin contract. It also hurt that the team experienced a limp season on and off the bike with only three wins all year and the sudden departure and retirement of Marcel Kittell.

Some, like British neo-pro Harry Tanfield, found themselves in a last-minute scrap to find a new team while Dowsett was one of only seven riders to be retained by the new team in the takeover.

Admitting he got lucky, he also believes the uncertainty surrounding his future caused one of the most stressful periods of his career.

‘It’s been really stressful, it really wasn’t pleasant,' Dowsett told Cyclist. 'This year has been the most difficult contract year I’ve had in my career in a year that shouldn’t have been a contract year.

‘The guys in the contract were stuck because we were told we were under contract and it would be honoured. So by the time we were told otherwise, teams were pretty much filled up. So guys would have had to make a sacrifice in either their price or ambitions. I got lucky with the merger.

‘It was a horrible situation but it’s resolved itself now and I think Israel will be a better team than Katusha in its final years. Not from a rider’s perspective, but more a general outlook.’

Before Israel came calling, Dowsett’s manager had preliminary conversations elsewhere with some teams showing interest, however the uncertainty meant these conversations never advanced.

It even got to a point where Dowsett was forced to consider the situation of being without a team for 2020, an idea that on the face of it sounded a disaster but soon became an attractive possibility.

'There are two priorities as a pro: being paid and having a team, preferably in the WorldTour,’ Dowsett said. ‘I began to think, if this goes as south as it can and the team goes bankrupt, I have a problem.

'But, I did think if the team goes and I still get paid, and with it being an Olympic year, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to operate as a solo rider focusing on that and another crack at the Hour Record.

'Without the distractions of riding the Tour of Belgium, like Victor Campanearts and Rohan Dennis did this year for the Hour and World Championships, respectively.’

While the idea of re-signing for childhood club Maldon and District CC seemed ideal, the eventual offer from Israel Cycling Academy proved too good to turn down.

Contract payments with Katusha-Alpecin have also resolved and after initial conversations with his new team, Dowsett is looking forward to pastures new.

‘The Israel thing eventually came up, and with their goals outside pro cycling, I liked what I saw,’ explains Dowsett.

‘What Sylvain Adams is doing with cycling in Israel is cool. Then there was the little things like they are willing to go the extra mile for you as a rider. Like if I wanted to spend time in the wind tunnel, they would pay for it, no questions asked.’

In terms of 2020 goals, Dowsett is all in for the Tokyo Olympics and the individual time trial, buoyed by his fifth place at the UCI World Championships in Yorkshire. To be in peak condition, the Essex-man is targetting a return to the Giro d’Italia in May and the realisation that any aspirations of regaining the Hour Record need to be put on hold.

‘This year is all about the Olympics so an Hour Record attempt is not happening in 2020. This is my last chance of riding an Olympics, so I need to put my all into that. Realistically, I can rent out a track for the Hour any time,’ admits Dowsett.

‘I like the look of the Giro d’Italia a lot, there’s a nice 10-mile time trial in Hungary that I have my eyes on. I sent a rough guide of races to the team including the Giro, and not including the Tour de France, which I think the team will be pretty happy with, one of its riders not asking to do the biggest race.’

After spending his off-season training in New Zealand, it is expected Dowsett will be seen debuting in his new Israel Cycling Academy colours at the Tour Down Under in January 2020.