Toms Skujiņš: Psyched for his World Tour debut
2015 was a breakthrough year for Toms Skujiņš, the promising Latvian rider who confirmed once again his place is in the World Tour, where he eventually got in October, after signing with Cannondale. During the second season with Continental team Hincapie Racing, the 24-year-old won stage three of the Tour of California with an impressive solo ride and got to wear the yellow jersey for three days. Then, he took the victory in the Winston Salem Cycling Classic and concluded the first part of the year with a solid second place in Tour de Beauce.
In the summer, the Baltic rider continued to score other strong results, doing a good general classification in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge and Tour of Alberta and showing what he’s really made of, a cyclist who the harder the race, the harder he goes. It was only natural that he came on the radar of World Tour teams, and Cannondale was the one who made sure of getting his signature for the next two seasons, when Toms will have the chance to experience some of the best events in the calendar.
The step in his career will bring many new things into the picture – new races in his schedule, new teammates and a new country to live in (Spain) – but one thing will remain the same: Toms Skujiņš’ huge ambition to dig deep and win races, thus proving that he can be one of the best in the game.
– Toms, how would you describe your season?
It was really amazing. The preparation had gone to plan and once we got through the first race, which is always terrible for me, I got better and better. Once I hit California I was flying, and just kept it going as long as I could I spent a lot of time travelling around, which was kind of a bummer, but it was all for the better of my results and finally I had enough in my resume for teams to actually notice me.
– Besides the Tour of California, what were the highlights of the year?
Winning in Winston Salem was amazing. Just because it’s so close to Greenville and it’s the hometown of our director Thomas Craven, but honestly the team’s win at TTT nationals was just a delight. It was in front of a home crowd, it was raining hard, miserable, but we came out swinging and proved we are the fastest team in the United States. I am really, really happy with the team effort there and glad I could be a part of it.
– Would you say California was a turning point in your career?
I think California was a turning point, yes. I think just because of the way I won it, it might not have been the one result that got me a contract, but it got me in front of teams, which meant the next results I got and my previous results were finally looked at.
– You left Hincapie Racing after spending two years with the team. What did this experience mean for you?
I wouldn’t change these last two years with Hincapie Racing for a pro contract sooner. No way. It was a great group of people and I don’t think I’ll ever find such a cool team again to be a part of. Of course, we were all racing when the time was to race, but we had so much fun off the bikes, it was just like a group of buddies hanging out.
– Next year you’ll make a big step forward in your career, as you’ll ride with Cannondale. How did you get to sign with the team?
Jonathan Vaughters had been in contact with me over the previous years as well, but it always somehow didn’t work out. Finally, he had one extra spot on the team and after my chat with one of the directors – Andreas Klier – where we hit it off, it was just a matter of meeting up and signing the papers, which we did at World Championships in Richmond.
– Why Cannondale, as you got offers also from other teams?
The only other World Tour team I had an offer from came in pretty late, and I was already thinking about how Cannondale will be a really good group of people to be a part of. The team will give me opportunities, let me race some really cool races, but most importantly the whole team is really fun and as I knew a lot of people it made it easier, plus the spoken language is English, so no need to learn my fifth language as well. I’ve ridden a Cannondale bike and Mavic wheels before and they are fast, and that of course played a role too.
– I know the first training camp took place in Aspen, in October. How was it?
Team camp was really fun. We met up with sponsors, had some meetings and got to ride really rad Cannondale MTBikes. The trails around the area are spectacular and the nature is gorgeous, so it was just a whole week of having a blast and meeting new faces.
– Did the management outline the expectations they have from you?
Of course, the team has plans for me, as do I for myself. Luckily, they won’t make me ride too many World Tour races straight away and let me ease into it a bit, but if all goes well I should be doing the Tour of Flanders and the three Ardennes Classics.
– Do you know your calendar for the first part of the season?
Before the Classics I’ll start in Mallorca and then do some races in France and Belgium, like Tour du Haut Var, Criterium International and the Three Days of West Flanders. After the Classics I’ll be back in California to make another solo breakaway stick, only this time it has to be longer than 55 kilometers.
– That looks really nice. Which races are you more thrilled about riding?
I’m really excited for the Classics. The Tour of Flanders, because I’ve done well before in the U23 ranks, and also the Ardennes. On top of that, coming back to the Tour of California will be a blast. I’ll see friends, former teammates and my dear fans that have been so fun to see.
– Being a meticulous cyclist, I’m sure you have already set your goals for 2016. Which are these?
Besides doing well in the Classics and Tour of California, I’d love to go to the Olympics and finish the Vuelta a España, but we’ll see how it goes, as there’s still a long way out.