The Gralloch might not be the most natural environment for a time trialist but former road professional Alex Dowsett will be one of more than 1,000 on the Gatehouse of Fleet start line.
Alex’s WorldTour road career brought him two stage victories at the Giro d’Italia, time trial Gold at the Commonwealth Games, a new Hour Record on the track and a record equalling six British time trial titles.
Alex recently ran the London Marathon in support of his haemophilia charity, Little Bleeders: https://www.littlebleeders.com/, and in an inspiring and open interview spoke about his career, retirement and just how little gravel riding he has done!
AD: “Good. A lot of people expect a some kind of mid-life crisis but my other half, Chanel, says I've handled it remarkably well. A crucial element to that is I've been busy, I've chucked myself into a lot of new projects, a lot of fantastic opportunities just presented themselves to me.
“It was quite nerve wracking making the decision to stop because it's very much the chicken and the egg situation, I was wondering what was out there post cycling and I had to make that decision before those opportunities arose. I had some advice from Nettie Edmondson [Australian ex-pro road and track rider], she said be very open minded. That's what I've done.
“It also helps we spent the winter in Andorra, learning how to ski, learnt how to drink and just had a good time as a family, there was very few distractions. I enjoyed the fact that there was no pressure to life. There isn't a coach looking to see what's uploaded into TrainingPeaks, and the only person with the feeling of guilt for not doing much is me.
Sounds like the right decision then.
AD: “I think so. I think there were a couple of things that did me a lot of good but also a lot of harm. One was winning a stage at the Giro at my first tilt at a Grand Tour. I didn't take my foot off the gas in terms of training or nutrition, I took my foot off the gas in terms of time trial progression, because I thought I was it, I thought I was the shit.
“I was young and first time of asking and I'd gone and beaten Wiggins in a grand tour time trial. I was like, yeah, there’ll probably be a load more of these, but it took seven or eight years to again win stage eight of the Giro under far different circumstances.
"I got to a tipping point where I realised I wasn't waiting to meet this potential but this was how good I was going to be and I was not the best like I expected. And then to have to admit, ‘Christ I need to pull my finger out,’ to be the best that I expected of myself. I invested everything, time, I moved to move from a nice house to a tiny apartment at altitude, sunk God knows how much money into go-faster material for time trialling that was way above and beyond what the team would provide, just with the aim to be the best that I could be under my own steam. So that a young me could look ahead and be proud of what I've done.
“I feel sorry for any bike rider that finishes and goes, ‘I just wish I'd done this then I would have won that,’ I was as good as I could be. And it was pretty bloody good. I don't believe I could have been any better under my own steam, which made retiring very easy.
“It would have gone a little bit unnoticed but Tirreno Adriatico last year in the time trial I ran fifth, clocked almost an all-time power PB. The top five was Ganna, Remco [Evenepoel], Pogačar, Kasper Asgreen and then me, for me it was like a win.”
You’re a haemophiliac and run a charity, tell us about that.
AD: “Little Bleeders has been running for multiple years. We provide financial support to families to go and do the extracurricular activities that help young haemophiliacs be fit and healthy and active, because health fitness is pretty important for managing the condition.
“A lot of sports in school like rugby and football can be a tricky place for a haemophiliac and more often than not they have to sit it out. So it's providing access to gymnastics clubs, athletics, clubs, swimming clubs, dance classes, a family wanted to buy a paddle board because they live next to a lake. We've seen, especially in this cost of living crisis, those extra extra activities are the first things to go and they're the most important when you're talking about quality of life in the later years.
“The money raised from the hour record is continuing to support these families and charities need to keep money coming in, so the minute I stopped Chanel was like, 'we are running the London Marathon!’ I was like great! Sort of selfishly something new to jump into and learn, I love the the shoe technology and it was fascinating being a participant in an event rather than a competitor.”
What time did you do?
AD: “Three hours 23. There were a few humbling experiences, one was having to get ourselves to the start, I was utterly useless. Chanel did all the logistics and I was like 'I miss my team bus!’ We'd done 5000 steps before the race had even started! At the end my bag was close to where the media, anti doping and elite athlete area was, and I got muddled up and thought that that's where my bag was and got turned away at the door. They said it’s for elite athletes only and that's not me!
“It was quite entertaining in that in that respect, but what an event. In today's world there's so much negativity, and it's very easy to lose faith in humanity but the running community, and the cycling community as well, is the best of humanity. You go to a Park Run at 9am on a Saturday morning and the air is just filled with this positivity that you struggle to get anywhere. And and the same with the marathon.”
And you do some work with the aero kit company NOPINZ.
AD: NOPINZ is a very cool story. Blake Pond developed the first Speed Pocket and gave one to me to try. It was sticky back plastic attached to a plastic sleeve you stuck on your back, do your race and bin it. Not very eco friendly which is why it progressed and Blake started putting the pockets in suits.
I was always in touch and then when I got to Israel [Start-Premier Tech] I started to get my own suits made, because quite often the kit that you get from your trade team just isn't up to scratch.
The natural progression from putting pockets into other people's suits was putting pockets into his own suits, and then making those suits faster. So that’s where I come in. As well as being a brand ambassador and an investor, I'm also very much part of the tech team, trying to make everything go faster, because the competition is fierce, and that's really driven us to try and get ahead. I think with the latest Hypersonic suit we are ahead.
We've not long launched a gravel suit, which coincided very nicely, so I'll be in their gravel suit with a fancy base layer to help the aerodynamics of gravel.
Will it be effective on gravel with the lower speeds?
AD: “Aero exists at every speed, it's an exponential equation, so the faster you go the more important it is. I'm worried about intruding on the spirit of gravel, because from what I understand that seems pretty sacred.
“I'm very good friends with Nathan Haas and we went on a gravel ride together and the aero gains, which might be a handful of seconds over a very long period of time, Nathan can do that to me in a single corner, or a single climb or just a tyre choice or tyre pressures choice. So I think aero is an aspect to it, but from the little I've seen there's so much more to it than that.”
How much gravel riding have you done in preparation for The Gralloch?
AD: “I've done two rides. One was yesterday. Gravel can be anything, in Essex we don't have gravel, we have mud, but that's fine, it’s just as tough it's off road and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
“I got round Strade Bianche quite competitively. I wouldn't like to say how it compares but that is road tyres on gravel. Obviously Tom Pidcock showed there's a lot of skill involved, but I think for me it was a case of trying to make a corner as straight as I possibly could and try not to brake and just sending it and hoping for the best. I think that's probably going to be my attitude towards The Gralloch and we'll see what happens.
Bike handling on the road has always been one of my strengths and I’m hoping I’m not a typical dual-carriageway time trialist where a corner gives me trouble!”
You can follow Alex on social media, he’s active on Instagram at @alexdowsett, on Twitter he’s also @alexdowsett, and he vlogs regularly on his Thighs Club YouTube channel, @alexdowsettofficial