Simon Carr, professional cyclist for EF-Education Nippo and graduate of the FdSc Cycling Performance degree, spoke to Writtle University College's Mark Walker, his former coach and course manager.
Simon talked about his journey from Writtle student to the top tier of professional cycling, a successful spring campaign, and his hopes for his first grand tour.
Thank you for agreeing to take time out of your busy schedule to talk to me.
It's been quite a journey from your days as a Cycling Performance student at Writtle University College to the top flight of professional cycling. I bet you have to occasionally pinch yourself to believe it is true?
Yes, I really do have to pinch myself on occasion. Especially as it's been a quick rise from racing as an amateur this time last year, to twelve months later racing the biggest classics and stage races in the world. Even though this is something I've been working towards for multiple years, it's all come together in quite a short space of time so it takes some getting used to.
You've had an amazing start to this season having moved teams over the winter to EF. Can you tell us about the stand-out moments for you?
The first was at my very first race for the team (GP de La Marseillaise) back in January, I was attacking with all the big names in the final. So that was when I really understood I had arrived at WT level.
Second was at Strade Bianchi, where it was really unknown how I would fare on the white roads and with the fight for position. But I dealt with both of those really well and had the legs to back it up with 11th at the finish.
Finally, my 8th place on the summit finish to Prati di Tivo at Tirenno Adriatico was another stand out moment. I finished around and in front of some big names, which meant my Welsh grandma finally believed I am a real cyclist, as I out-climbed her favourite rider Geraint Thomas. So that was a good day.
This is your first season at World Tour level with EF Pro Cycling, how does this team compare with the other teams you've previously ridden for?
It's a whole different level to anything I've experienced before. To some extent that's been the case whenever I've moved up a level, but particularly so this time. The level of support we get with all aspects of training and racing is really incredible and definitely an extra source of motivation.
What are the key things you have learnt since joining the World Tour?
I think the biggest thing I've seen this year, is just to do the simple things really well. So focus on sleeping, eating and training well. But not wasting time with any crazy nutritional strategies or training methods. I'm not sure if that is a WT thing or something that's just different to the French cycling scene which I came up through.
You regularly take part in high profile races, such as, Strade Bianca, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Fleche Wallonne. Which races have stood out for you and do you think you could one day win a classic?
I'd have to say Strade Bianchi, it's not as old and perhaps not quite as prestigious as those other two races, but really has that special quality of a race that's slightly different to anything else on the calendar. In some ways similar to Paris-Roubaix I guess, although that isn't a race I'd ever like to do.
Have some of the more experienced riders been helpful in showing you the ropes? I expect they've been able to pass on crucial information and tips about key races?
Yes, they have. Coming back to Strade Bianchi again, Mitch Docker was given the task of shepherding me until the crucial part of the race. So I basically just sat on his wheel for the first part of the race and let him determine when we made the efforts. It's a strange feeling putting your trust in someone in that way, but I think we have guys that you can count on in this team.
How do you prepare for a one-day race, particularly when they are in quick succession and over such long distances? Do you train between them or is it just a question of keeping the legs turning over and resting as much as possible?
It's a bit tricky because you're always balancing rest with keeping the legs turning over, as you say. To be honest though, it's most difficult to get the nutrition right. As you need to recover and fuel for each race but also avoid putting on any weight.
It's early days yet but you were always a good climber in more mountainous races and a decent performer in the time trial. Do you see yourself as a potential leader in stage races or grand tours?
That's definitely something I would like to develop into. Although I've always said my goal is to win a Grand Tour stage. Because if I can achieve that, I'll have a better idea if I have what it takes to aim for a GC. So it's one step at a time really.
You are about to start your first grand tour, the Giro d'Italia. This must be a dream come true, what are your goals for the race?
The team have given me the task of being there to support Hugh Carthy in the mountains. He is going for the GC and has a realistic shot at a podium or better so that's a motivating goal.
On a personal level, I'm hoping I'll get a shot at a stage win. Specifically as we get into the mountains during the second half of the race. I also feel it's important for me to perform well in the third week. Both for the team's goal, but also for me to learn how to manage such a long stage race.
When you were here at Writtle you were the equivalent of a category 2 amateur. Could you tell me about your path into professional cycling because it wasn't plain sailing?
That's partly true because when I arrived I was a first year U23 and as you say Cat 2, but by half way through that season I was bumped up to Cat 1 by virtue of 3 race wins and thus entered the French elite program for the following year. This was one of my breakthrough moments as it allowed me to access professional medical advice that helped to sort out allergy problems that held me back as a Junior.
Since then my progress has been quite linear but as in most things in life, luck and being in the right place at the right time has also played its part.
As a graduate of the cycling performance have the skills you've learnt while studying here helped your career as a pro cyclist? What are your strongest memories of Writtle?
Clearly, when you join any team the first criteria is your numbers and your results. But once on board establishing your credibility as a committed athlete becomes almost equally important.
The skills I gained at Writtle have allowed me to communicate and interact with coaches, nutritionists, public relations staff, physios and even team doctor's in a way that I believe has given me extra kudos and credibility and will ultimately help my career progression. Furthermore coming from a French cycling background, mixing and making friends with British cyclists allowed me to cherry pick the best bits of both systems.
You're going from success to success, what's your next step or goal for the future?
As previously mentioned, my focus now is help EF with their GC ambitions and to go for a stage win, but going forward I'd like to develop myself as a true World Tour GC contender and ultimately to take that to a grand tour. In the medium term, my Welsh routes means I have the option to ride for Wales at next year's Commonwealth Games (team schedule allowing). I think that would be another great stepping stone and a good result is an achievable goal. It would also make my aforementioned Welsh Grandma really happy.
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