It’s not every day that a GB rider wins a Netherlands amateur classic; but that’s exactly what 19 year-old Welshman Luke Rowe did recently in De ‘arjaan De Schipper Trofee’ — to give it the full Dutch treatment – a race won by a certain Fabian Cancellara, a few years ago.
We caught up with Luke – who already has a 2008 European junior road championship silver medal to his name – whilst he was back in his native Wales for a few days. The call had to carefully timed, so as not to clash with a trip to the pictures!
What was your ever first race, Luke?
“I guess that would have been at Maindy track, when I was about 10 years-old.”
How did you get on the GB squad?
“There’s a Welsh talent team; I was on that and applied to the GB Olympic Development Programme — which is for juniors. Now I’m with the under-23 academy in Italy.”
The big win you had is part of the ‘Nations Cup’ — tell us a little bit about that.
“There are six or seven Nations Cups each year, they’re like World Cups for under-23’s.
“They’re very important; how a nation scores in them influences how many riders they are allowed at the Worlds — if you have really good results it can qualify you for an additional rider at the championships.”
Tell us a little about your win.
“It was 180 K and pan flat but very windy with around 150 starters. The home team is allowed double the riders, so the Netherlands had a big presence and went hard from the start.
“It split and we were caught on the wrong foot — that gave us a 35 kilometre chase to get back.
“It all came back together and I attacked with 30 K to go; with 20 to go, there were 20 of us at the front.
“I jumped again with 16 to go, Vojtech Hacecky (Czech Republic) came with me; we worked together and held on – despite the Norwegians and French chasing hard — and I was lucky enough to out-jump him at the finish.”
You’re handy on the track too.
“Yeah, I rode a couple of UIV Cups at Ghent and Amsterdam (Under 23 sixes) over the winter, as well as three World Cups.
“It’s something that I’d like to do more of — Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins have proved that you can successfully do both.”
“Great! I’m getting on really well, they’re good lads on the Academy, the house in Quarrata is really nice and the roads are good for training.
“Johny Bellis, Ben Swift, Ian Stannard and Mark Cavendish all live near by so there’s always a good group to go out with.”
Was Italian racing a shock to the system?
“It’s a big jump from junior to first year amateur.
“The toughest thing for me to over come was the distance; going from 120/140 kilometres up to 180, that was hard, but I don’t think I’ve taken too long to adapt.”
Are there still a lot of big East Europeans racing in Italy?
“Yeah, there are riders from Belarus, Lithuania, Russia and the Aussies have a house here too; the other nations are following the example that GB set.
“The thing is that you can ride top races here, week in, week out — fields of 200, good racing.”
Max Sciandri is at the head of affairs for you?
“He live just a couple of kilometres away, he has the role of DS during the races and is also coaches us.
“He takes us to the races and generally runs the show — his style is laid back; but he gets great respect because of what he’s done on the bike.”
Have you had anyone sniffing after you for a pro contract, yet?
“No, nothing yet, I’ve only had one win, I’ll need to back that up with a few more before that happens — although I have had a second place in Italy.
“GB has invites for the ‘Baby Giro’ and Tour de L’Avenir this year; I’m hoping to be selected for those.”
[Those two events are the main ones which talent scouts observe in the search for potential neo pros].
“All of us here dream of turning pro, that’s what all the academy riders want; but realistically it’ll take a year or two more of good results, I think.”
How are you coping with the Welsh weather?
“I think I’ve brought the weather back from Tuscany with me — it’s been nice; I’m having a few easy days at home before I go back on Tuesday.”
And the film tonight is?
“‘Fast and Furious.’”
That sounds about right! With thanks to Luke for his time and wishing him all the best for the rest of his season in Italy.