Giro d'Italia: Britain's Alex Dowsett set to realise Grand Tour ambitions with Movistar
As we continue our build-up to the Giro d'Italia, Matt Westby speaks to Britain's Alex Dowsett, who will ride the race for his new Spanish team
Last Updated: 03/05/13 1:34pm
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't really nervous," he says.
Starting on Saturday, Dowsett will ride the Giro d'Italia, cycling's first of three annual Grand Tours and traditionally one of the toughest races on the professional calendar.
He will be on the start line only because he took the bold decision at the end of last year to leave British outfit Team Sky, where chances to ride in cycling's showpiece events were not forthcoming, and join the Spanish squad Movistar, where opportunity abounds.
It was a move that raised eyebrows in Britain, but simultaneously spoke volumes of man who has big ambitions and a willingness to go far out of his way to achieve them.
"It has justified my decision to leave," the 24-year-old from Essex adds of his Giro selection. "I wasn't getting exposure to the bigger races in Team Sky, but I am already seeing that happen with Movistar."
The Giro is both a long-held goal and unchartered territory for Dowsett. He has never ridden a three-week Grand Tour before and is still slightly daunted by 200km-plus days in the saddle, of which he has six coming up between Saturday and the race's finale in Brescia on May 26, should he make it that far.
Throw in six summit finishes on 11 mountain stages and Dowsett is facing an ordeal that, to a large extent, is impossible for a young rider to prepare for.
"I know it is going to be like nothing I have ever experienced before," he explains. "I purposely didn't look at the stages up until my parents said they needed to know what was going on if they were going to come out and watch.
"When I did come around to looking at stages, there is not a lot there that is under 100 miles, which on its own is a fairly big day, but 21 of them pretty much back to back is quite a big ask."
A key reason why Movistar have included Dowsett in their nine-man Giro team is the fact that this year's race contains three time trials - one team and two individual - over a total of 92km.
Time trialling is Dowsett's speciality - "I did a 50-mile time trial when I was 15", he points out - and he goes into the Giro as the British national champion in the discipline.
"I have got my eyes on the time trials, obviously," he adds. "We have got a good, strong team for the team time trial [on stage two] and we will see what we can manage there, but then also the first individual time trial [on stage eight], at 34 miles.
"There are not many guys in that peloton who have ridden a time trial of that length. I grew up doing time trials as a kid, so hopefully that will bode well for me."
The prospect of three hard weeks of racing is not the only thing Dowsett has had to adapt to this year. Moving from an English team to a Spanish team threw up both language barriers and cultural differences that he admits he is yet to fully overcome.
"The biggest challenge has been exactly what I thought it was going to be, which is the language barrier," he explains. "All of my team-mates and all of the staff understand that it is difficult for me and they try as hard as they can to help me. They talk to me in English, but try to teach me Spanish as well.
"There are other little things. We eat dinner a heck of a lot later. It is weird because we are just rolling down for dinner as Team Sky are leaving. That is the Spanish way."
The differences are not confined to culture, though, as Dowsett discovered on the team time trial at the Italian stage race Tirreno-Adriatico in March.
"The team approached it in a much different way to what I have ever experienced - and I was just about ready to throw my toys out of the pram because I thought it wasn't the right way of doing things," he admits.
"But then we went and finished second, and I was like, 'Hang about, these guys know what they are doing'. Before the race I might have called it disorganised, but afterwards I was like, 'That worked. That really did work'. That opened my eyes."
Another eye-opener in Dowsett's first five months at Movistar were the Classics. Like the Grand Tours, his new team have afforded him the opportunity to ride the spring one-day races of northern Europe, whereas chances at Sky were limited.
Classics learning curve
And his lack of experience of the cobbles, climbs, corners and crosswinds synonymous with fabled races such as Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders showed. Of the six Classics he rode this year, he finished only one of them.
"I am putting the Classics campaign down to a massive learning experience this year," he says. "I didn't finish many of them and I realised within an hour of the first one, Dwars Door Vlaanderen, exactly what I had been missing in my training.
"You have to be able to hold a silly-high wattage for a short period. I can hold 400 watts for an hour, which will put me in the top 10 of pretty much most time trials on the WorldTour, but I couldn't hold 500 watts for two minutes.
"When you kick out of a corner in a crosswind in a Belgian Classic, you might have to hold 800 watts for 20 seconds and then hold 600 watts for another 40 seconds, but I lacked that in training and that is what I couldn't do.
"It is something that is easily trainable, so I have been working on that a bit since. Hopefully I will reap the benefits next year."
They are concerns for another day, though. Right now he has a Grand Tour to worry about.