Dave Rayner Fund 2018 ‘rider of the year,’ Heriot man, Stuart Balfour has been busy, post-lock down. There have been two top 10 stage places and a seventh on GC in the highly rated UCI 2.2 Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc; then a stage win and second on final GC in the GP Pays de Montbeliard – both race taking place in la Belle France.
As a junior, Balfour competed at the highest level in Europe, riding events like the Bernadeau Junior in France and Three Days of Axel in The Netherlands.
The three seasons prior to this 2020 one of ‘strange days’ have seen him in GB colours as well as those of French Division One team, Cotes d’Armor riding races like the u23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the savage Kreiz Breizh in Brittany, Paris-Tours espoirs, Tour of Brittany, Baby Giro, Tour de l’Avenir and the current incarnation of the Peace Race.
Last year he was part of the GB u23 team which put Tom Pidcock on the podium of the u23 World Championships on a tough day in Harrogate; riding hard in the break all day to keep the pressure off Tom Pidcock in a race that would inevitably end with a sprint.
This year he’s left Cotes d’Armor and rainy Brittany and headed further east, right across France to Ain, on the Swiss border where the parcours are more suited to his talents.
High times we caught up with the man again.
Some nice recent palmarès Stuart but can we open by asking if you’re still a Dave Rayner Fund man, it stops me getting a row from Jos Ryan?
“Yes, they’ve granted me funding for another year which is a huge help to me.”
We last spoke to you after that strong ride you did in the Harrogate Worlds, was that your last race of the year?
“No, I rode the u23 Paris-Tours after that to close my season then came back to spend the winter in Scotland.
“I returned to France in late January of this year.”
And you’re in a new area with a new team?
“Yes, I’m over in Bourg-en-Bresse now; it’s a nice, historic town of around 40,000 inhabitants in Eastern France, in the Department of Ain.
“The terrain around here suits me much better, Switzerland is just to the east so there are plenty of hilly and mountainous roads.
“I have a comfortable flat and I’m with Bourg-en-Bresse Ain – Credit Mutuel.”
But you’ve stuck with the same coach?
“Yes, still with Yann Dejan from Brittany who I’ve been with for several years now.”
Tell us about your lockdown experiences.
“I was stuck in the apartment for a month then drove home in one go – 15 hours but it was necessary.
“I had two months off the bike altogether then started to get out and just ride for fun but then building up again.”
Seventh place overall in Le Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc was a strong ride.
“I was happy with that because I hadn’t done a lot in the mountains and there was strong opposition; Pierre Roland (B&B Hotels – Vital Concept & France) who’s now riding the Tour and has won Tour and Giro stages in the past, ran out winner and Gavin Mannion (Rally & USA) who won the Colorado Classic was fifth so I was in good company.
“As well as my seventh overall I had two top 10 stage placings.”
Then you won the opening time trial in the GP Pays de Montbeliard?
“I knew the parcours would suit me and I thought I’d be close to the win but it was nice to pull on the yellow jersey – my first one in a while.
“It was a Coupe de France race and they’re pretty savage, the French guys are all desperate to do well and often you see team loyalties being forgotten.
“I have to say though that my team worked well for me in the race.”
Stage Two didn’t go as you’d have ideally like though?
“A big group slipped away and we had to work hard to get it back; the guy who was third in the time trial took the jersey.”
But you were close to the overall win on Stage Three?
“It was six laps of a circuit with a couple of climbs on it, a pretty savage parcours.
“The yellow jersey cracked but in the end I was a bit isolated and Stefan Bennett (Team Pro Immo – Nicolas Roux) jumped away, he’s been going well, he’s an ex-CC Etupes rider and they don’t have second rate guys on the books.
“I ended up second overall so it was good race for me.”
What’s next on the agenda?
“We have a team time trial coming up as part of the Couple de France.
“We’re perhaps not best equipped for that with us being a team composed predominantly of climbers but we’ll see how it goes.”
[Stuart’s team finished 10th but defended their third spot in the Coupe de France teams competition, ed.]
“The round after that is on our home territory so we’re looking forward to that; then it’ll be one day races until the end of the season – but no one is really sure how things will pan out.
“I think a lot depends on how the Tour de France goes?”
What about the connection with Israel Start-Up Nation?
“That was with my previous team Cotes d’Armor, my agent is trying hard on my behalf, you must try to keep the progression going.
“I had a bit of interest after my ride at the World but sadly, nothing came of it.
“It’s been an unusual season, obviously and a lot of races have been cancelled so I just have to take it one race at a time.”
VeloVeritas wishes Stuart ‘bon chance’ for the remainder of this very strange season.