Thursday, June 20, 2024

Russell Downing – Relishing the Ronde


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Russell Downing
Russell is clearly relishing the opportunities open to him this season.

Having had Michael Mørkøv’s take on de Ronde, we thought we’d chat to a man a bit closer to home about his experiences in what is at least in the top three of the world’s single day races – along with Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix.

The Tour of Flanders was one of the few races left on Russell Downing’s ‘to do’ list – but now he can wear the T-shirt.

Lest we forget the fact that Russell is one of the most versatile and prolific bike riders that the UK has ever produced, let’s have a wander through his palmares…


It was 1995 when he won the schoolboy points and sprint championships, with the junior points title coming in 1997.

He wasted no time in turning pro – the team was the immaculately presented, but short lived Brite Voice in 1998.

1999 saw him with the ‘team that never was,’ Linda McCartney. He was third in the National road race and won the Havant International.

A year later in 2000 he was with Miche Penna winning the GP Essex.

For 2001 he was back with McCartney and spent a spell with French team UVCA Troyes. He took ten wins including a stage in the Ronde de l’Oise – and a whole raft of top ten placings.

Unfortunately, 2002 saw another vaporous team for the man from Rotherham – iTeam Nova. But there was a stage win in the Brandenburg Rundfahrt, wins in Belgium and the UK, including the National 20 kilometres on the track.

It was Team Life Repair for 2003 and British titles in the points, criterium and madison – with brother, Dean. Not to mention solid rides all over Europe and a criterium win in Perth, Western Australia.

Recycling was home for 2004 with wins in the Havant, East Midlands Classic, three stages and the GC in the Ras Mumham in Ireland a stage in the tough Circuit des Mines in France. The track wasn’t neglected, with a World Cup team pursuit win in Sydney.

For 2005 he stayed with Recycling and was rampant – winning the British road race title, the Havant, the Lincoln, a stage in Girvan, three stages in the Ruban Granitier Breton and one in the Giro del Capo in South Africa.

DFL was the name on the jersey for 2006 with an excellent win in the Triptyque Ardennaise, kermis wins in Belgium, a stage win in the Tour de Beauce in Canada and an exotic addition to the palmares in the shape of the Bermuda GP.

The United States was supposed to be home for 2007 with Health Net; visa hassles meant slim US palmares but there was the Richmond and Beaumont in the UK and another win in Bermuda.

Phil Griffiths’ Pinarello RT was a good move for 2008 with Downing rampaging to the Premier Calendar title, including the Girvan, Reservoir, Richmond, Lincoln and East Yorkshire Classic. There was also a stage and second on GC in the Tour of Ireland against the very best opposition.

Staying with Griffiths for 2009 – with the team now Candi TV -the Premier Calendar again went his way, as did the national criterium title. But the big result was taking the UCI Tour of Ireland, ahead of the likes of Breschel and Kolobnev.

The Sky was the limit for 2010 and with wins in the Tour of Qatar TTT, a stage win in the Criterium International, a stage in the Tour de la Region Wallonne and the GC in the same race his Pro Tour debut was of the highest order.

But 2011 wasn’t of the same level – despite a top 20 in Het Nieuwsblad and a finish in a horrendously mountainous Giro – Downing’s opportunities were few, more often put in the service of other riders.

There was no renewal for 2012. But not for the first time, Downing reinvented himself, this time with Scottish squad, Endura. The wins came thick and fast; the Soens, GP Lillers, a stage in the Circuit of the Ardennes, the Lincoln (for a record fourth time) and a stage in the Tour of Norway leaving the likes of Simon Clarke, Tosh Van Der Sande and Edvald Boasson Hagen in his wash. Back home there was a win in the Beaumont Trophy and five top six stage placings in the Tour of Britain.

This season saw Endura merge with strong German Pro Continental squad NetApp – so yet another jersey to add to Mr. Downing’s collection.

Here’s what he had to say, two days after Fabian Cancellara showed us that whilst Sagan may be the ‘coming man,’ the man from the land of Edelweiss and Toblerone is still the ‘Daddy.’

Russell Downing
Russell prepared for the classics season with races in Oman and Qatar.

Your first Ronde, Russell – impressions, please?

“A pretty exciting race, it’s hard to explain that atmosphere around the course; I’d say it’s a bit like the Worlds – but better!”

What was the NetApp game plan?

“We wanted in the early move; we had Zak Dempster up the road early with Dowsett and Klier – but it was just so fast in that first hour.”

How did the cold affect you?

“It wasn’t too bad on Sunday, the weather got better as the day went on – De Panne was pretty chilly though, you needed your winter vest for that one. I loaded on calories the night before, I ate so much!

“Usually I’m pretty good but I ate a few things I wouldn’t normally – but figured that I needed fuel. I just topped up in the race with bars and gels.”

It looks so dangerous on those narrow roads.

“Yeah, there’s one too many riders, one too many motor bikes and one too many cars –but it’s all good fun.”

Russell Downing
The travelling and the chaotic Belgian races don’t faze Russell one bit.

Positioning is everything, isn’t it

“Yeah, unfortunately I punctured going in to one of the early climbs – I got back on but couldn’t move up. On the hills you can’t move up, that’s why there’s such a fight for position going into the climbs.

“I ended up walking the Koppenberg, someone crashed in front of me and me and another 20/30 guys had no option but to walk. It was disappointing because my legs were good – but I was in good company, with Stannard and Terpstra.”

There’s been a lot of debate about the new course.

“I can’t comment on the old course because this is my first time – I like it and it’s not really a finishing circuit because it’s different each lap.

“The Patterberg is savage, you have a real struggle to keep your front wheel down; you end up popping wheelies if you’re pulling too hard on the bars.”

You had Voss 28th and you were 62nd at the end.

“You always want better and personally I’m not happy – but for that incident on the Koppenberg I think I could have done much better.

“But we’ve both learned a lot and I know if it hadn’t been for me having to put my foot down, I’d have made the final selection.”

How’s recovery been?

“I feel fine, even on Sunday night I felt OK. On Monday I did two hours easy and then today, Tuesday I did two hours with a few efforts – tomorrow I have the Scheldeprijs.

“We have Roger Kluge for it; the Scheldeprijs is a sprinter’s race (in the event, Michael Schwarzmann was best for the team in 18th place in the same time as winner, Marcel Kittel of Argos. ed)

“I’ve tried it all ways of recovering between races; total rest and keeping training hard – you just have to try to find a happy medium.

“I try to just relax and ride the bike a bit.”

Does the time hang heavy between races?

“I’m actually staying with a family I know; it’s something different and a change from all those hotel rooms.

“You spend so much time in hotels that it’s nice to be in a normal house with cats and dogs – it’s easier to relax.”

How has the team merger been?

“It’s been good; at the start, the first training camp, I wasn’t sure – it was like two teams put together. But by the second camp we’d got to know each other and it’s working well – although few of the Endura staff came across with the riders.”

Russell Downing
Russell is presented to the crowd before the Qatar race.

Do you think that the desert races are vital now to prepare for the Classics?

“They’re very important if you’re preparing for the Classics – you have to race as part of your preparation.

“It used to be Mallorca was the tune up, then came the Tour Down Under; but now it’s Qatar and Oman first up.

“I did Down Under with Sky – it’s a nice race, I had no complaints about it.”

What comes after the Scheldeprijs?

“Paris-Roubaix and maybe the Amstel? “Then I’ll have a break – but we have a couple of big strong boys for Roubaix with Roger Kluge and Blaz Jarc. (Kluge was NetApp’s best finisher in 33rd @ 3:29 on Cancellara, ed.)

“I want to have a solid Classics season, have a break and then I’ll think about the rest of the season.

“Russell finished 115th in Paris-Roubaix, in the same group as Sky’s Luke Rowe and Greenedge’s Luke Durbridge.”

Our thanks to Team NetApp-Endura for the use of their images.