Time for VeloVeritas to catch up with Scottish David Rayner funded rider, Stuart Balfour. It’s been a year since last we spoke to Stuart so a wee bit to catch up on:
Tell us what the Dave Rayner fund means to you?
“I’m really proud to be supported by the Dave Rayner Fund for the 2018 season.
“It’s a big honour to join the fund who have supported such big names in the past such as Dan Mclay, Adam Yates, Dan Martin and David Millar who also went abroad to make it through the continental scene.
“Without the support of the fund it would make living out here a lot more difficult, of course I get well supported by my team Cotes d’Armor Marie Morin Veranda Rideau but with the Rayner Fund this will allow me to live that bit better, to give me the opportunity to really make the most of the opportunities out here.”
How was the step up to Division 1?
“The step up to Div 1 was at first difficult, there is that bit more pressure and expectation put on you but the team have supported me very well throughout the 2017 and into the 2018 season, teaching me and helping me to progress to be able to perform at this level.
“In the first few month it was difficult to pull out many big results as I still had a lot of endurance work to do after not managing to have a full season as a first year espoir.
“After working hard with my coach Yann Dejan and the team I definitely managed to make that step up to be competitive at Division Nationale 1 level.”
How was that nice Giant bike?
“The bike rode really well throughout the season, it was a pleasure to ride; and the Giant Trinity TT bike too – they both rode like a dream.
“But after two seasons on Giant I’m looking forward to racing on my new bike, a Girs Oscar.
“It is a French company which is well known out here but maybe less so back home in the UK.
“So far it is riding really nice as I have been dialling in my position.
“It is kitted out with Di2 which is a new one for me to be on electric gears but it is really nice smooth changing and I’m looking forward to racing on it soon.”
Which were the biggest races you rode?
“I had a number of big races throughout the season but the espoir Liege-Bastogne-Liege U23 was definitely one of the biggest.
“It was a great experience to race on such famous climbs such as Cotes de la Redoute and Cotes de Saint Nicolas. I must admit they are a lot harder in the middle of a race than they looked on TV. It was a brutal race with wind and rain from start to finish, but a lot was learnt and I was glad to finish.
“This year it will be big objective for me rather than just experience.
“Tour Alsace (UCI 2.2) was also one of the biggest races of the season for me. It was a savage five days of racing but by far was my favourite race of the season. Not just for the high level of racing but the roads and mountains in the Alsace make for great parcours for racing.
“Stage Four was the queen stage and it definitely lived up to that, with around six mountains to climb the pace was on for the full five hours of racing. It was good to be able to compare myself against some of the best u23 riders there is and I was pleased to be able to hold my own.
“I finished up 34th on the stage and 34th on GC which I was pleased with in my first senior UCI stage race.”
Which was the toughest and why?
“This is a hard one to choose as there was so many brutal races this year.
“From suffering on the front riding for my leader who took the win at Essor Breton or in breaks riding for myself trying to pull off a big result.”
How were the results across the season?
“The results were a definite steady progression throughout the year as my form and confidence grew.
“I feel the real turnaround for me was picking up a win at the Ronde Finisterienne in Treflez where I managed to win solo after a last minute attack coming into the finish.
“After a big block of racing at Tour d’Auverge, Tour Alsace and the coupe de France piste where I had a lot of team duties as managed to pull out a seventh in the Prix de la Saint-Laurent Espoirs, which is a prestigious Espoir race in France.
“My next result came at Pertre (Elite National) which was a tough race for me after finishing the Agglo Tour (elite national) the day before I went in the early break which stuck, I managed to finish up seventh.
“My biggest result of the year was in the final round of the Coupe de France, with all the top DN1 riders throughout France.
“I managed to come away with 7th after a brutal day in the wind and rain.”
Which ones gave most satisfaction and why?
“My most satisfying race was definitely at Ronde Finisterienne. It was my first win in France and was a big relief to finally get the ‘hands in the air’.
“To make it that bit better my parents had come over on holiday to watch me race and would be the last time they could watch me race in the season.
“To get the win for my head was definitely a huge boost but to be able to share it with my parents that have put up with so much and supported me so well throughout the years definitely made for a special day in the season.”
Did your form remain constant across the season or were there ups and downs?
“The form definitely was a steady progression throughout the year for me. The first half of the year was very focused on progression instead of results, with long training days and a lot of working in the races.
“This a mainly due to the fact I hadn’t been able to race a full season the year before so I was starting the season off at a lower level than I would have expected after a full season the year before.
“But after a lot of hard work the form just got better and better throughout the year, and with form comes confidence and from there it’s a snowball effect, which I hope to keep up throughout this coming season.
“Sadly as I was about to reach my peak form for a big goal, Paris Tours Espoir, I crashed at the Trophie des Champions the weekend before which resulted in a broken collarbone and surgery to get it plated.
“It definitely wasn’t the way I wanted to finish the season but has not knocked my focus or confidence coming into this season. I feel more motivated than ever coming into this season than any before.”
Do you feel you came out of the season faster/stronger than the season before?
“I definitely came out of this season much stronger than I went in, it was a big progression for me throughout the year.
“This year I will be starting the season a lot stronger compared to last year and have a much more confident head for it knowing I have the legs to race for the win in the biggest races in the season.
“There is still work to be done though before my first objectives of the year after I lost a step or two with a bad virus throughout the holidays.”
What’s still to improve upon?
“An area I can improve on is definitely my tactics.
“Throughout the year I have ridden well and been really close to a big win but just not played it right into the finish.
“I need to be able to control the final more, so it plays out in a way more suitable to my strengths rather than leaving it to a big sprint.”
Hows the weight?
“The weight is good at the minute, I have a small amount to shift before the season kicks off but the will come naturally with a big training block.
“It was tough throughout Christmas to stay focused on keeping the weight down after becoming ill and spiking a temperature for two weeks forcing me off the bike.
“But I managed to stay focused and keep in good shape as I start to get back into normal training now.”
How’s the French?
“That’s definitely come on a lot!
“To be honest I had no choice but to improve my French, with all team briefings and information in French if I didn’t understand French I think it would be near impossible to get my job done properly.
“For me though it is something I am really motivated to do,
“I think to be able to speak two languages at a high level is something I would really like to be able to do. It would also give me more options and make me more appealing to teams.”
How did all the routine cooking/cleaning go?
“Well, between me and my teammate Owen James we managed to sort out a routine that worked well; I would do most of the cooking and he would clean up. For me I quite liked this as I enjoy cooking so it wasn’t much of a chore for me.
“This year there is four in the house with two new team mates, Lewis Bulley and Alexis Roche we have had to change it up a bit but it seems to be working well so far.”
You’re over there early again?
“Yes, the team wanted us out early again this year to settle into the new house and get prepared for the season out here.
“We also have training rides every weekend so they can see our level leading up to the season and it gives us time to get to know all the new team mates before the racing kicks off in February.”
How does your programme look?
“The programme this year is a higher level than last year.
“After proving myself throughout the 2017 season this year I have been given more responsibilities in the team, which I’m looking for to.
“So far I will get more UCI races for example Tour de Bretagne and hopefully get to race back in the UK at the Cicle Classic.
“I will also be going into races such as Liege Bastogne Liege U23 not just for experience but to go for a result this year.
“It definitely is a big calendar for me this year and a chance to really show myself at higher level races.”
2018 will be successful if…?
“I continue on with the progression I had last year.
“If I can do that I should finish the season off at a very high level and pull in some big results for myself and from there we will see what happens if I have the results to try to move up a level.
“Now I am just focused on this season and trying to really pull in some big results.”