It was back at the start of last year we last spoke to Englishman, Toby Perry; a great 2021 season in Spain had seen him sign with what is arguably the best development team in the world, Axel Merckx’s, Hagens Berman Axeon continental squad.
The team has been the launch pad for so many top riders; the team’s website tells us:
“Hagens Berman Axeon is a UCI Pro Continental cycling team based in the United States and run by Axel Merckx since its founding in 2009.
“The team exists to develop young (under-23) riders through to the very top of the sport.
“Over the last 14 years, Axel and his team have seen 41 of their riders graduate to World Tour teams.”
But sometimes the Cycling Gods make it tough for a man to reach full potential and Toby’s season was anything but a smooth progression, despite the assistance from the Rayner Foundation.
However, when we saw he’d ridden the inaugural Gravel Worlds – an aspect of the sport which has piqued our interest here at VeloVeritas – we thought we’d best have another word with the man.
Hagens Berman Axeon, a great gig…
“Yes – but then along came the carbon monoxide poisoning!
“I couldn’t figure out was wrong with me, we had blood tests done but it took ages to figure it was a problem with the gas boiler in my apartment in Girona.
“I’d be fine at training camps then when I got home again I wasn’t right.
“I got that sorted out, rode in Greece but that was blighted by illness; then came the crash in the Triptyque des Monts et Chateaux in Belgium.
“I was seventh on Stage One but on Stage Three(b) I got brought down in a crash, a ‘full face plant,’ someone chopped the guy in front of me and I went over the top of him losing some teeth in the process.
“I was back on the bike within days but I was on strong pain killers, when they wore off I found I had a knee injury which kept me off the bike – then I got Covid!”
Lucky white heather!
“Then the Covid developed into ‘Long Covid.’
“I rode a few races but got dropped instantly, I had to take a month off – simply walking from one room in my apartment to the other left me exhausted.
“I had to pull out of the Baby Giro, it was only around the time of the last stage of the Tour de France that I started to come round.
“My first race back was the Tour Alsace and then I rode Flanders Tomorrow where I had a 12th and a seventh on stages and finished 11th overall, all whilst doing a lot of work for our team sprinter.
“Then came the GP Wallonie but that was pretty much my programme for the year finished.”
The Gravel Worlds ride?
“BMC, our bike sponsors launched a new gravel bike and asked if I wanted to ride at the inaugural Gravel Worlds.
“I like ‘cross and my season had been shortened with all the injury and illness so I said; ‘yes, of course!’”
Weren’t there UCI ‘hoops to jump through?’
“It took five or six phone calls and about 30 emails to British Cycling to sort it out, they weren’t sending a GB team as such but had been given 21 wild card places – and ended up with six GB riders there who were allowed to ride in the GB jersey.”
The start looked wild…
“For me the first 60 kilometres were the best but I wasn’t on a good grid position, the Elite pros with UCI points got the first spots on the grid, then the gravel specialists… whilst I started right at the back, alongside EF’s ‘adventure’ and enduro rider, Lachlan Morton who hasn’t actually ridden many races this year so doesn’t have points.
“We went straight into a two kilometres climb then off that it was a technical single track descent.
“I had to go as hard as I could up that climb to get a good position over the top.”
How did the rest of the race go?
“I got myself up to around 15th spot over that opening climb and on the second climb I had good position too; then Lopez went on the attack and I was in a group with Van Der Poel chasing.
“I was in various chasing groups for about 50 K over what you’d call an ‘easy’ gravel cycle path; but when Oss went on the attack the Italians – there were about 15 of them – just blocked the path and shut it down.
“I kept trying to get away – I don’t like racing just to ‘get round’ but with 20 K to go I blew up in spectacular fashion and lost 10 minutes to finish in 33rd place.
“BMC and Tudor were supporting me and the race food they handed up just didn’t agree with me, I ended up not eating enough.”
1x or double chainrings?
“The BMC is a lovely machine and on that course, which was pretty flat, we went for 1x with a 52 tooth ring and 10 top sprocket so that I had a big enough gear if I needed it.
“I was on the new Pirelli gravel tyres and they were great, much of the race it felt just like I was riding on the road.”
Is gravel racing something you’ll pursue?
“Yes, I enjoyed it and I think I’m good at it – if opportunities arise again then I’ll certainly take them.”
What’s next on the agenda?
“I fly home to the UK shortly to get my teeth sorted out, unfortunately I’ve ‘aged out’ with Axeon – they only have u23 riders on the team – so I’ll be looking to find a spot with a European continental team for the 2023 season.”
Since we conducted this interview Toby has signed with US-registered UCI
Continental Development Team, EF Education NIPPO Development. VeloVeritas wishes him well for this coming season.