We spoke to Scotland’s Stuart Balfour at the start of the season but word has been trickling back that 21 years-old from Heriot who is a Rayner Fund rider with Cotes d’Armor-Marie Morin Veranda Rideau, ‘en France’ has been ‘doing the biz.’
‘Best have another word,’ we thought to ourselves…
Top 10 in the Tour de la Manche and best young rider – tell us about that one, Stuart.
“I was really happy to get a result on general rather than just a stage result as I feel it shows more than just a one-off result but being consistently good throughout the four days of racing.
“To be a GC rider is the sort of rider I want to be as I feel I have a good broad spectrum of skills with time trialling, climbing and on the flat parcours.
“So to finally get a solid GC result and come away with the young riders’ jersey was definitely a big confidence boost but I feel it is a result I want to build on in coming stage races and I believe I can improve on it.”
Romain Bacon won that one – strong guy, ex-Auber 93 and French Champion, tough opposition…
“Yeah he is a strong rider, especially in the TT and he had a good team, CC Nogent behind him to control the race but there was a lot of strong riders there, for example Max Cam who won the first two stages, and the riders from Rouen and Sojasun, so it was nice to get a result with some of the bigger riders in France.”
A very strong ride too from you, we hear, in the Boucles Serentaises?
“Boucles Serantaises was a decent day as it was still early in coming back from breaking my collarbone in the first Coupe de France and my third race back.
!I was happy to get a solid result but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed as it was a day I really would have liked to win; it was in my birthday and my parents were there, but sadly I didn’t quite have the legs on the day so had to settle for fourth.”
“Any other results we should know about?
“I managed to get my first win of the year at Ronde Briochine.
“It was a special one as well as I went in a break of seven from the start with my two teammates Owen James and Gauthier Maertens and at around half-way I jumped away and Owen bridged across, then we managed to stay away to finish together.
“It had been something we had been wanting for a while now so to win together was definitely a big high point for me and for Gauthier to round off the podium made for a clean sweep for team.”
How many race days so far and how is recovery?
“I have had around 23 race days this year and already 12 since I came back just over a month ago, so it has been pretty full on for me since I’ve come back with two Elite National stage races.
“These races have really managed to bring my form on fast.
“I have been working hard outside of the races but most of my form has come from the racing and just making sure I’m working hard in these races.
“I have had a weekend off of racing this weekend as it is the regional champs so we are not allowed to race so it has meant I have had a big block in the lead up to some important races.”
Tell us about your training – have you got a coach?
“Training can be tough but if it wasn’t tough it wouldn’t be worth it.
“Recently I have been racing a lot but I have managed to get a big block of training with some long five to six hour rides in to prepare for some up and coming races and I should hopefully be getting some speed work in soon as well.
“My coach is Yann Dejan, this is my third season working with him so we have got to know each other well which means he knows what works for me and how to get the most out of me.
“He definitely pushes me hard with the training but it is working so I have complete confidence in him.”
Who are the big hitters locally, any East Europeans or Aussie ‘beasts’?
“We are lucky to have quite a few of the big hitters in Cotes d’Armor but Brittany is one of the strongest region with three dn1 teams and one dn2, so there’s a lot of talent in just this one region which makes even the local races tough to win.
“There’s not so many foreign riders in the area, we have the most foreigners with four in our team.”
How has the weather been; I can be pretty wet there, can’t it?
“The weather has been surprisingly good since I have come back.
“I have been topping up the tan nicely which is quite rare for the north of Brittany.
“The start of the season I must admit was pretty grim.
“The rain didn’t stop through the whole of January and we saw the first proper snow in Saint Brieuc for five years.”
Is cycling still a big deal to the locals?
“Cycling is massive out here.
“You could speak to anyone and they will know all the dn1 teams and the top riders.
“Brittany is one of the most passionate regions for cycling I have seen in France and I suppose that is why it is such a great place to come to learn the craft.
“For me it is still strange coming from a place where very few people race bikes [that is, the Scottish Borders. ed.] and at school it was very much the boys would play rugby or football and the girls played hockey or did horse riding so being a cyclist was always looked on a bit strangely.
“So to be out here where everyone lives and breathes bikes is a great experience for me.”
You have Fabien Schmidt on your team – quality guy, do you find yourself riding in his service much?
“Fabien is a super strong rider and will normally take a leading role in the team as everyone has the confidence that he will finish it off with a win, proved by his 18 wins last year; so often we will have to ride for him.
“I was disappointed to not be part of the team when they won Tour de Bretagne which would have been a special moment in the year but sadly my return had to be postponed due to the wound from the surgery reopening.
“Although the leadership role in the team can often change as we have a few strong cards to play with Jeremy Bescond, Fred Guillemot and Owen James and some strong u23 riders as well so it can be a mix on who takes the lead at races.
“This year I have found the DS has given me more chances to ride for myself and go out and get the results I need which is a great opportunity.”
What’s the programme now?
“I have a few big races coming up with two stage races, Loire Atlantique (Elite National) and Sports Briezh (Coupe de France).
“Sports Briezh will be a really important one for us to ride well in to try to move up in the dn1 classifications. It being in Brittany gives us that added bit of pressure to go for a result; it’s a savage race with loads of short sharp climbs and gravel roads so a result there means a lot.
“After that I hope to ride the National Champs which will be a big goal for me and my first time racing back in the UK since I was a junior with HMT Academy.”
Your team mate, Owen James told me you were a good cook, what’s the special dish?
“We have a few signature dishes but the stand out has to be fajitas.
“There’s nothing better than fajita night once a week.
“We have a good little system with the cooking and manage to whip up some nice meals which makes a big difference when we are always trying to make sure we are eating right.
“Just boiled veg and plain chicken would get a little tiresome after a while so I think it’s good to mix it up a little and keep it fresh, as long as fajita night is still a weekly thing.”
What are French saying about Froome?
“To be honest it’s not spoken about as much as you might think, I see a lot of French articles that are very critical of him and I know there are a lot of people who don’t trust him in France but it’s not really something I have spoken much about with them – but I think there is still a big mix of views on the subject.”
What will make 2018 the year you wish it to be?
“My big goal for the year is to pass professional at the end of the year.
“It’s the big motivation for me, while I was recovering for my surgery on my broken collarbone it was the thing that helped me keep my head and gave me that extra drive to make sure I came back stronger.
“There’s a lot of work to do to get to that level but I am focused on pulling out some big results for the second half of the season so we will see what happens in the coming months.”