As Israel Start-Up Nation announced a new two-year contract for Alex Dowsett on Friday morning the 32-year-old was out on his bike, deep into preparations for next month’s assault on the UCI Hour Record.
While most professional cyclists are trying to enjoy an off-season after the hectic schedule of racing amid the coronavirus pandemic, there is no such rest for Dowsett.
The Essex rider spent the second half of 2020 wondering if his career was coming to an end given cycling’s volatile finances, with the uncertainty a contributing factor to his decision to try to regain the Hour Record he held for 36 days back in 2015.
Dowsett admitted it had been a “hugely stressful” time, particularly as he looks forward to the birth of his first child, but following his superb victory on stage eight of the Giro d’Italia last month, Israel Start-Up Nation have rewarded him with a two-year deal.
“When the contract was signed and sealed it was a huge relief,” Dowsett told the PA News agency.
“As we’ve got closer to the end of the year it’s been more and more nerve-wracking. We’re fully aware a lot of riders are in the same boat which makes it more competitive.
“The Giro gave me an opportunity to show myself and show what I can do but my phone didn’t start ringing straight away afterwards which shows how bad this year is.”
Though known as a time trial specialist, Dowsett said his main value to the team going forward will be as a lead-out man. Selection for the rescheduled Olympics is also a key target.
The new contract means Dowsett will be a team-mate of Chris Froome next season as the seven-time Grand Tour winner makes his move from the Ineos Grenadiers.
“I’ve been with a few teams – Team Sky, Movistar, Katusha-Alpecin and here – and they’re all very different,” Dowsett said. “What’s nice about this team is they constantly want to do better.
“They’ve come a long way in a short space of time. They were pro-continental last year, made the step up to the WorldTour this year and have now signed the best Grand Tour rider of our generation.
“It’s a steep progression curve and it’s good to be part of that.”
Long before the contract offer was on the table, Dowsett had been targeting the Hour Record attempt that will come in Manchester on December 12. Dowsett broke the record in 2015 but just over a month later lost it to Sir Bradley Wiggins.
“It’s been in the pipeline ever since Covid,” he said. “I felt there was going to be a distinct lack of racing this year, and the Hour Record is a very socially-distanced event.
Would you like to ‘ride with Alex’? We are asking anyone who has haemophilia or cares for someone with haemophilia to submit their first name to be placed on Alex’s Hour Record skinsuit. ▶️ https://t.co/yjJ3YOwJmO#HourOfBloodSweatandTears pic.twitter.com/DaTGnRXW1T
— Little Bleeders (@littlebleeders) November 12, 2020
“It would be nice to have a grandstand full of spectators, but it’s not necessary. It’s just me, a small support group and a couple of commissaires from the UCI.”
Dowsett, believed to be the only haemophiliac athlete competing at an elite level, will ride in support of his Little Bleeders charity and the Haemophilia Society, looking to raise both money and awareness of the condition.
Five years ago, Dowsett covered 52.937km on the boards of the Manchester velodrome to take the record but Wiggins soon took it, and Victor Campenaerts subsequently raised the bar again to 55.039km.
The two kilometre gap looks yawning, but Dowsett insists it is bridgeable.
“We’ve crunched all the numbers,” he said. “With my power and aerodynamic drag, it’s on the limit but it is possible to break Victor’s record.”
Revered in cycling, the Hour Record is often associated with pain and suffering. The great Eddy Merckx described his successful 1972 attempt as “the longest hour of my career”.
Dowsett has a different memory from 2015, but knows things might not be so easy second time around.
“I didn’t have that pain and suffering experience that others talk about,” he said. “The pace felt quite comfortable. It wasn’t all out, and it became quite enjoyable.
“But I’m not expecting this one to be anywhere near as enjoyable as the bar has been set so high now.”