Our track boys’ and girls’ terrific Commonwealth Games, World Cup and Worlds performances apart, the ride of the year by a Scot on the road was Stuart Balfour’s win in the supporting u23 race to the GP Ouest France Plouay, one of the most prestigious amateur in France – this was special.
The Dave Rayner Fund thought so too and made him their ‘Rider of the Year.’
As well as his Plouay success he won in Montpichon and at the Ronde Briochine; he was top 20 in the tough Kreiz Breizh UCI stage race and top 10 in the Tour de la Manche.
Nice results in what is still one of the sport’s Heartlands and races are hotly contested.
We thought we best have another word with the 21 year-old from Heriot.
And to our surprise didn’t find him in the Borders ‘taking it easy until Xmas,’ he’s out in France already preparing for his first training camp.
VeloVeritas respects the man’s commitment; Flanders, Tuscany, Brittany/Normandie – the places where the sport matters.
It’s in the soil and blood.
Congratulations Stuart, winning the Rayner award must have been special for you?
And will you be a ‘Rayner Man’ in 2019?
“I hope so, I’ve applied again – it’s mostly awarded to u23 riders and I’m still only 21 years-old.”
Has your Plouay win changed your life?
“I’d say so, a lot more people are taking notice of me now.
“My team, Cote d’Armore is now linked with the Israeli Cycling Academy pro continental team and I’m hoping that if I can continue my progression then I may get the opportunity to step up.”
We saw you rode the u23 Paris-Tours, how was that?
“At 60 K in the crosswinds kicked in when we were on a gravel climb but to be honest, I had no legs, I’d been a wee bit sick prior to the race.
“The last 100 K were the same as the pros ride and whilst those sectors looked not too bad on TV, they were crazy with big lumps of rock laying on the surface – but remarkably, I didn’t have any punctures!”
How has the winter prep been going?
“I had a month off back home but now I’m doing a variety of sports – running, rowing, swimming and I’m back in Brittany right now, the same house as last year, which is really nice.
“The team has a three year lease on it; I’m here on my own and getting ready for a training camp we’ve organised down in Calpe, Spain.”
Do you have a coach who plans your training with you?
“Yann Dejan is my coach.”
[Dejan was recently appointed Technical Director for the Moroccan Cycling federation, ed.]
“He’s from the south of Brittany, I’ve worked with him for four years now and we have a very good understanding.”
How’s the programme looking?
“Similar to last year but the nature of the team has changed, a lot of the more senior guys have moved on so the average of the team is younger and they expect riders like Owen James and I to step up into leadership roles.
“The season will start with a series of races commencing down on the Vendee on February 10th; the first one is the Circuit des Plages Vendéennes which is an Elite National event over 142 kilometres – they’re usually run off in horrible wet and cold conditions and most of them are on pan flat parcours, which doesn’t really suit me.
“But there’s one of them which is hilly so I’m looking forward to that day.”
[Regular readers will remember that Englishman Douglas Dewey did well in these races back in his Nantes Atlantique days, ed.]
What’s 2019 about?
“I’d really like to move up.
“January and February are about preparation; my first big targets are the u23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April, which I’ve ridden before but didn’t do anything memorable.”
[Stuart was 75th in 2017, ed.]
“And the Tour of Brittany in late April which is a really important race for the team.
“We won it last year with Fabien Schmidt so we have a lot to live up to.
[Schmidt is 2018 champion of Brittany and rides for Team Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM in 2019, ed.]
“Those are my two early targets but I’d really like to get a ride in the u23 GB team for the Worlds, which are in Yorkshire. That’s a big goal too.
“I want to try and end the season on a high so I can think about moving up to the professional ranks.”
Will you cut yourself any slack over Xmas and New Year?
“A little bit but I had my holidays in October so I’ll keep my training going over the holidays but allow myself some treats.”
VeloVeritas looks forward with interest to monitoring Stuart’s progress in 2019 and wishes him ‘bon chance’ in his quest for a pro contract.
However at last count we believe there are 21 World Tour, 94 pro continental and 200 continental riders ‘sans contract.’
Sobering stats but class will always prevail.