Rory Townsend
Rory Townsend.

On the same weekend as Alex Kristoff reminded us that there’s life in the Old Viking yet, there was a result which merited one line in Cycling Weekly but which we saw and thought to ourselves, ‘wow!

Irish professional, 23 year-old Rory Townsend (Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes) took third in the UCI 1.1 French Cup, Classic Loire-Atlantique behind French riders, winner Rudy Barbier (Israel Cycling Academy) and man-on-form, multiple recent podium finisher, Marc Sarreau (Groupama-FDJ).

French Cups are extremely hard fought and any podium finish is notable; not only were Israel Cycling Academy and Groupama-FDJ in attendance so too were, Cofidis, Direct Energie, Vital Concept, Arkea, Delko Marseille, Sport Vlaanderen and Italian big hitters, Androni.

We caught up with Rory to hear his tale, before he won the East Cleveland Klondike GP and – just today – finished third in the Rutland – Melton International CiCLE Classic…

Nice job in the Classic Loire-Atlantique Rory, tell us about it, please.

“Thank you, management decided we’d go with all the early moves; one had just come back which had Tom Stewart and Alex Colman in it for us so I went with the next one, four of us got away and we soon had seven minutes but I didn’t think it would stick.

“There was a big effort behind and three got across to us so I knocked back my effort a little on the final lap, I was thinking; ‘I have to get over that last climb with them.’

“I managed that then with about 2500 metres to go another seven got over to us, making a group of 12 so it was going to be a bit of a free for all.

“I opened up with 300 to go but couldn’t quite get it – I was hindered a bit by guys going backwards.

“I was in the early moves next day too in Cholet-Pays de la Loire but we didn’t get as much rope as on Saturday.”

[Marc Sarreau won Cholet Pays, one of five straight UCI 1.1 and 1.1 HC podiums for the Groupama-FDJ man in late March/early April, ed.]

“The thing is that on Saturday I didn’t really want to be in an early break – I was feeling confident if it was going to be a sprint but the way it panned out worked well for me – that’s a career best in this level of racing.”

Rory Townsend
Rory third behind Rudy Barbier and Marc Sarreau at the Classic Loire-Atlantique. Photo©Arnault Cantreau

How did you get into the sport in the first place, Rory?

“Via triathlon, my dad was in that industry and when they changed the cycling part to allow ‘drafting’ I began to focus on the bike.”

Your name first pops up with Pedal Heaven in 2012…

“Yes, I’ve been with Tim Elverson, the man behind the team since then, first as Pedal Heaven then Bike Channel and now Canyon DHB – Bloor Homes; he’s brought me on and developed my ambitions to ride as a pro – as a result of which I’ve delayed going to university.”

You’re from Kingston upon Thames in England but your nationality is ‘Irish’ – any approaches from the Emerald Isle about riding for them?

“I grew up in Kingston but my dad is Irish, there have been tentative conversations about me riding for Ireland but nothing official – if it came about it would be a great honour to pull on the jersey.”

Rory Townsend
Rory enjoyed a successful stint with the PedalHeaven squad. Photo©PedalHeaven

Your first result to catch the eye was winning season opener, ‘The Perfs’ in 2016.

“To be fair, the year before where I was up the road with five of the One Pro team and got fifth was probably a better ride but it’s always good to get the season off to a good start.”

Seasons ’16 and ’17 were very strong for you in the criteriums – podiums in Edinburgh, Stoke, Leicester, Guildford…

“In terms of results, 2017 is my best season; as well as criterium success I was just off the podium in The Rutland, second in the Lincoln GP and won the British Cycling Spring Cup series.

“I really like The Lincoln with it’s ‘kermis’ kind of format.”

And 2017 saw you  win the mountains classification in the Tour of Almaty in Kazakhstan and the points classification in Tour of Quanzou in China – pretty cosmo and versatile…

“Those were amazing experiences; in Kazakhstan I was up on the podium with Alexey Lutsenko and Jakob Fuglsang with Alexander Vinokorouv doing the presentation.

“In Quanzhou we cleaned up, winning two out of three stages and two out of three classifications.”

Rory Townsend
Rory is aiming to follow in his teammate Harry Tanfield’s footsteps and move up to the World Tour. Photo©supplied

It must have been a big disappointment when Bike Channel folded at the end of 2017?

“It was pretty tough, yes – the uncertainty about what’s going to happen next is always difficult to deal with but Tim (team DS Tim Elverson, ed.) got things together for 2018.”

Season 2018 saw things taper off for you a little.

“I felt I was riding well in the GP Lilers in early March; but in every other race I just wasn’t going – it transpired I’d been riding with an undiagnosed broken wrist.

“Then I had a crash and had to get my collarbone plated – that got infected and I spent so much of the season on antibiotics.

“It was a pretty rubbish year.”

What’s the programme now?

“We have a very exciting programme: The UCI 1.1 Volta Limburg Classic in The Netherlands [dnf], The Klondike GP in England [which as we mentioned at the top, Rory won], the UCI 1.2 Arno Waallaard Memorial in The Netherlands, the Rutland – which is my first target [and in which Rory finished third, today] and then the Tour of Yorkshire.”

Rory Townsend
Rory taking the win at the East Cleveland Klondike GP. Photo©supplied

What’s your ultimate goal in the sport?

“I’m at the point where I need something to happen – I really want to make the World Tour but I’m 23 years-old now and only have a year or two to make that jump.

“But Harry Tanfield made it, he was with us last year and now he’s on Katusha.

“And then there’s the dream of Tokyo, of course…”