David Rayner Fund 2018 ‘rider of the year,’ Heriot man, Stuart Balfour was busy post the 2020 ‘lock down.’
The Bourg-en-Bresse Ain-Credit Mutuel rider took two top 10 stage places and a seventh on GC in the highly rated UCI 2.2 Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc; then a stage win and second on final GC in the GP Pays de Montbeliard – both race taking place in la Belle France.
As a junior, Balfour competed at the highest level in Europe, riding events like the Bernadeau Junior in France and Three Days of Axel in The Netherlands.
The three seasons prior to the 2020 one of ‘strange days’ saw him in GB colours as well as those of French Division One team, Cotes d’Armor riding races like the u23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the savage Kreiz Breizh in Brittany, Paris-Tours Espoirs, Tour of Brittany, Baby Giro, Tour de l’Avenir and the current incarnation of the Peace Race.
In 2019 he was part of the GB u23 team which put Tom Pidcock on the podium of the u23 World Championships on a tough day in Harrogate; riding hard in the break all day to keep the pressure off Tom Pidcock in a race that would inevitably end with a sprint.
Season 2020 saw him leave Cotes d’Armor and rainy Brittany and head further east, right across France to Ain, on the Swiss border where the parcours were more suited to his talents, riding for Bourg-en-Bresse Ain-Credit Mutuel.
But season 2021 sees him step up a level to UCI Continental team, Swiss Racing Academy which boasts former multiple World Time Trial and reigning Olympic Time Trial Champion, Fabian Cancellara as it’s patron.
We caught up with Stuart in between his rides in the Tour des Alpes Maritime et du Var and the Faun Ardeche Classic where he was one of the animators.
The first question with a Dave Rayner Fund man always has to be; are you still supported by them?
“No, I’m no longer under 23 and am now supported by the team – but I’ll always be grateful for the help the Dave Rayner Fund gave me over the last few years.”
How did your winter preparation go?
“It went well, most of my time was spent in Edinburgh. It was good to spend time at home and the weather wasn’t too bad in December and January.
“The team had a training camp in Mallorca in January and we got in a solid block of kilometres there, a lot of volume with some intensity work too.”
How did you get the Swiss Racing Academy ride?
“That was down to my agent, Christophe Le Mevel, the ex-professional rider. He was a pro for a dozen years and won a stage in the Giro.
“It’s great to have stepped up a level to UCI Continental.”
Is Swiss Racing Academy a new team?
“No, it’s been UCI Continental since 2019 but up until now it’s been all Swiss riders.
“This is the first year they’ve taken foreign riders, in addition to me there’s a New Zealander and two French riders on board.
“It’s a good mix of cultures with English the main language – which is obviously very helpful for me.”
Are you based in Switzerland?
“No, I’m staying in Chambery in France; the cost of living is less here than in Switzerland.
“The team trainer and DS are based here too but the team Service Course is in Switzerland.’
The team hardware looks good.
“Yes, we’re riding BMC frames with SRAM wireless eTap groupsets and DT Swiss wheels.
“It’s the first time I’ve ridden disc brakes and I have to say they make a huge difference, giving you much more confidence on descents.”
Having Mr. Cancellara associated as a patron isn’t going to do the team any harm.
“No indeed, his name opens a lot of doors when attracting sponsors and when entering races.
“He was at the training camp in Mallorca, he went out on rides with us and sat in on meetings and we all had time one-on-one with him so we could pick his brains and discuss our roles in the team.”
Will your man Yann Dejan still be coaching you?
“Yes, he’ll be working in conjunction with the team staff, and so far it’s working out well.”
The Tour de Alpes Maritime et du Var?
“We were straight in at the deep end there with Grand Tour winners like Tao Geoghegan Hart and Nairo Quintana, and there was the Olympic Road Race Champion, Greg Van Avermaet as well.
“Ineos had their Grand Tour squad there, so just about everyone was racing!
“I made a few early season errors but it was good to be in there competing with the very best riders.
“I’m looking forward to them though; when I first raced in France it was in the Ardeche so I know the roads well.”
What’s on the agenda after the Royal Bernard Drôme, do you have any specific targets?
“A lot depends on the Covid situation, obviously – but yes, there’s the Tour du Jura Cycliste in April; then in May there’s the Rhone-Alpes Isere Tour, Tour de la Mirabelle and Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc – those are all races which suit me but I’m taking each race as it comes.
“In addition to stage races we’ll be riding French Cup single day races; the amateur French Cups are crazy, common sense and fear go out the window in those!”
Season 2021 is about?
“I want to get wins on board, show myself and step up a level.”
VeloVeritas wishes Stuart well and will be keeping an eye on those race results.