GB Team Manager John Herety phoned in from a Belgian motorway to give the BCF’s Phil Ingham the inside story on Chris Newton’s impressive victory in the Circuit Des Mines.
Going into the final stage Chris had a lead of 35 seconds over Daniel Schnider of Francaise Des Jeux, with Nathan O’Neill (Aus) Ceramiche Panaria Fiordo a further 5 seconds back.
Phil Ingham: “John, what plans did the team have to protect Chris’s lead on the last stage?”
John Herety: “Basically we set out to ride on the front and set a high pace. This would firstly make it difficult for riders to break away off the front. Secondly, if they did get away, their gains would be minimal. There was a first category climb after 60km and the plan was for Phil West and Bryan Steel to bury themselves to the bottom of the climb. They did this very successfully. Phil hit the climb in the big ring and virtually came to a halt, but he’d done his job perfectly. Such was the morale in the team, both Bryan and Phil continued to the finish, which they hadn’t planned to.
We were then left with Paul Manning, Bradley Wiggins and Steve Cummings to help Chris. We knew Steve would get dropped on the climb, but he rode brilliantly to get back on and went straight to the front and kept the pace up. A small break got away, but with no threats in it and the pace was so high it never really got anywhere. Bear in mind that the other teams with riders well up the GC were working with us to keep the pace high, though they were of course looking for opportunities to get away if they could. Bradley and Paul then worked hard as the race got close to the finish.”
PI: “How was Chris coping with the pressure?”
JH: “At the start of the stage we told Chris not to be nervous. He rode the whole stage in about sixth place to protect himself. At that point in a stage race there are lots of riders looking to stay out of trouble and protect their place in the GC and waiting for an opportunity to attack. That’s why we kept the pace high. Every kilometre that goes by is one less for your rivals to break away and gain an advantage.
PI: “Why do you think that Chris has been more successful under the WCPP than with the McCartney team?”
JH “Firstly, Chris and the rest of the team have an excellent coach in Simon Jones. Chris responds really well to a good training programme and structured racing. With a new division two team like the McCartneys it was never going to be as structured as that – the team were constantly getting late invites to races. Also, with the WCPP we do not have a sponsor demanding results week in week out, unlike continental pro teams. The Lottery funding is geared towards Olympic and World goals. Consequently the riders are never over-raced. Most of the other teams at the race will be racing again this weekend, whereas ours are not forced to.
Chris has also matured a lot. He’s not the Chris Newton I knew a couple of years ago. If you had looked at his results then, you’d have thought his main strength was his time trialling – yet the time trial stage was his worst result in this race.”
PI: “Have any of the pro teams in the race shown interest in the GB riders?”
JH: “Yes, the Francaise Des Jeux team enquired about both Bradley and Chris. But the team has been attracting a lot of attention on the continent for a couple of years now. At this level, the work the boys were doing will get noticed. All six of this team would be pros if they had been born in Belgium, Italy or France.”
PI: “Turning to the race itself. What were the crucial points?”
JH: “The first stage started it. There were very strong cross-winds and I told the boys that they would have to be up for it right from the start and to treat it like a one-day race. The field split apart completely and Chris got himself into one of the leading groups. Then there was the stage when the leader, Sergiy Matveyev, crashed. That day we were working with Matveyev’s team, Ceramiche Panaria, to protect both riders against the French teams’ attacks. With Matveyev out, Chris was suddenly leading the race. Actually we won a lot of respect from the Panaria boys – Nathan O’Neil was really impressed with our team – he said to me “your guys are awesome”.
Then there was the penultimate road stage. It ended with a tough 1km climb, of about 1 in 5 – they were riding it on 39-23. That day we had to be very crafty. We got Bradley into a break but we let too many go – 9 riders including two riders ahead of Brad on GC. The other teams had to chase and help us and the break was brought back. After that, Brad drilled it to the base of the final climb to keep things together. Once on the climb Daniel Schnider and O’Neil attacked. Chris held back a bit and then Jean-Michel Tessier of the French Track Team attacked and Chris went with him and used him to get across to the leaders. Schnider and O’Neil both cracked and Chris was able to minimise his losses.
We then had a scare just before the time trial on the final day. The commissaires rules that Chris’s bike was illegal. It’s the same bike Chris Boardman rode at the Olympics, and the rules haven’t changed in the intervening period, so we knew they were wrong. I had to ask them to call the UCI to clarify the point – it’s always a bit awkward trying to tell a commissaire he is wrong. We got the bike cleared, but Chris was aware of the problem and it didn’t really help his nerves.”
PI: “How is Chris?”
JH: “Naturally, he’s delighted. It’s the biggest win of his career.”
PI: “Thanks for your time, John”.
Thanks to the BCF for the interview.