Owain Doull: “I’d like to focus on the Northern Classics in the future”
Like many of today’s riders, Owain Doull has started by doing something completely different than cycling, and that was rugby, which he played competitively as it is the biggest sport in Wales. One day, he decided to give it a go in the outdoor velodrome located just ten minutes from his home in Cardiff. From that moment on, everything came very natural and Owain rode on the track before giving it a go on the road and returning to the track, where he learnt a lot about bike handling, cadence and speed at a very young age. Then, after a couple of years of racing in Great Britain, he was picked up by the national squad for the U16 category and his promising career began.
Having won multiple national titles on the track, Owain Doull got the chance at some point to ride wih the big team and didn’t fail to impress, winning the European team pursuit title three years in a row and thus making an important step towards Rio de Janeiro, the venue of the 2016 Olympics. His results on the road were equally remarkable, with a string of top results to his name: the overall victory in the Triptyque des Monts et Châteaux, two stage wins in Flèche du Sud, the U23 national title and, more recently, third at the Tour of Britain, where he finished ahead of many well-known World Tour cyclists.
In 2014, while riding for An Post-Chain Reaction, Europcar noticed him and came up with an offer to turn pro, but the young Brit turned it down, admitting it wasn’t the best choice to develop his career. Instead, he preferred to sign a two-year contract with the newly created Team Wiggins, as it allowed him to pursue his both road and track careers. Next season, he’ll be completely focused on the latter of the two, with the ultimate goal of capturing the gold medal at the Olympic Games in the team pursuit event.
After Rio, he will turn his attention to the road, the young Welshman already securing a contract with an unnamed World Tour team. That will be the beginning of a new page in his career, as the now 22-year-old will get to experience some of the best races of the calendar, and especially the Classics, which he is very fond of, and thus continue his progression. But more on these topics, in the following interview, for which Owain Doull kindly made some time last week, although he has a very busy schedule in this time of the year.
– Owain, are you happy with your season and the way things went?
Yes, it’s been a good year. My main targets for the year were the U23 Nations Cup races, the British Championships and then the Tour of Britain and the U23 World Championships in Richmond. I trained hard for all of these and was in good form and performed consistently. I wanted to win one of the Nations Cup events after being close for the last two years, but I had bad luck in the U23 Flanders and finished tenth, I was then second at Côte Picarde and seventh overall at ZLM Tour. It’s true that I was consistent, but my goal was to win one, so I was disappointed with the outcome. Fortunately, I won the British U23 Road Championships and the Tour of Britain went well.
– So you made the right call last year when you decided not to turn pro with Europcar.
Indeed. Looking back now, deciding to not join Europcar was a good move. I was very fortunate that Team Wiggins came around as it gave me the opportunity to combine my road and track ambitions for 2015.
– Which of your road results was the most important for you and why?
The Tour of Britain is my most important result for sure. I had been performing at a good level all year winning stages in UCI 2.2 races and being up there on the general classification, but this was the first time that I had performed in a HC race and one of the calibre of the Tour of Britain. Also, to be racing at the sharp end of my home tour against some big names was pretty special and one I won’t forget, I took a lot of confidence from the performance and it showed that I can be competitive at a high level in cycling.
– Did you expect to have such a solid run in the Tour of Britain?
I wanted to do well and it was one of my main targets of the year and also the biggest race of the year for myself and the team. I went to Livigno for an altitude camp beforehand and trained hard. I was hoping to come perform well on a few stages but to come out of it third overall, winning the points jersey and being in the top 10 on every stage except one was more than I could have imagined.
– Is there any regret you have after your 2015 road campaign?
My biggest regret was the U23 World Championships, because coming out of the Tour of Britain I knew I had good form to get a result. I rode the time trial as a bit of a hit out before the road race and I placed fifth which was more than I was expecting and showed I was still going well. On the day though I had no luck: I crashed twice and had two mechanicals. I went into the race as a favourite and finished 92nd. I was really disappointed afterwards as this was a race I had been dreaming about winning all year and to come away with nothing was pretty depressing.
– What would you say are your strong points at this moment?
I’d go with my consistency, I’m fortunate that I can perform on most terrain which means I am always going for a result. This year I had over 30 top 10 places in UCI races. On the other hand, this can also be a weakness as I’m not great in one area so maybe for the future I need to concentrate on one specific area of my riding.
– And what is it that you still want to improve?
My sprinting is probably the area I need to improve on the most. Like I said, I’m good across a lot of different terrains so I can usually be contesting the win, but I just need to become a bit faster so I can actually win the race.
– After scoring very good results in one-day and stage races alike, on which of these would you like to focus?
On the road I would love to focus on the one day Northern Classics in the future. These are the races that excite me the most and have grown up dreaming of winning. I think as a rider these are also the races that suit me the most.
– You also had some impressive exploits on the track, and one of the most recent was taking gold medal in the team pursuit race at the European Championships.
It was pretty special to win in Grenchen. It was my third European Team pursuit title in a row so it was nothing new, but to do it with such a strong team and in a quick time was really motivating for the future.
– Did it made you more confident for next year’s Olympics, where Team GB will go for another title?
For sure, we did a 3:55 in the European Championships and we could have gone quicker in the final if we had ridden it differently, which bodes well for Rio. The whole team is focused towards Rio and nothing else.
– Besides the track, what’s 2016 looking like for you?
The whole focus for 2016 is Rio and nothing else. Everything I do between now and Rio is focused towards winning the gold medal. Obviously, I will race on the road throughout 2016 as preparation for the Olympic Games. I am very fortunate that we have such a great race program with Team Wiggins and so I can do some nice races next year like the Tour of Dubai and the Tour of California. Then, the plan is to stop the track completely after Rio and focus 100% on the road to see how far I can progress on that.