VeloVeritas spoke recently to Paul Double after his excellent podium finish in the Giro di Romagna – but he’s not the only Englishman going well in Bella Italia, arguably the toughest u23 school on the planet. The 2021 GP della Liberazione, won by 22 year-old, Michele Gazzoli of the Colpack Ballan squad – few top u23 races in Italy don’t have a Colpack man on the podium – saw ‘Brit’ Sam Watson in seventh spot behind the Italian.
‘He’d be a good lad to catch up with,’ we thought to ourselves…
How did you get into cycling, Sam?
“I’ve always enjoyed riding a bike and playing about on it, but I got into cycling properly through the Pidcock family.
“I lived around the corner and went to the same school as Joe and Tom since nursery.
“Around 10 years old, I was a swimmer at the time, they said I should do a Go-Ride session with them which was run by Chris Young.
“I absolutely loved it and they started taking me to basically everywhere they went to do with cycling.
“I still did other sports but gradually stopped those and started taking cycling more seriously.”
So, you’re a contemporary of Tom Pidcock, do you still keep in touch?
“Yes, I’m good friends with Tom and I’d say I’m close to his family too.
“I’ve spent a lot of time at his house when I was younger playing about on bikes, scooters, etc.; anything with wheels, really.
“It’s rare we are in the same place at the same time now, but when we are we see each other.
“We are two lads into the same things, so yes I’m still in contact.”
You were eighth in the junior Paris-Roubaix in 2018, tell us about that
“I was a first year junior and I hadn’t raced abroad much at all at this point.
“I won the sprint out of the remaining main group and for me that felt like a win.
“Then I came into the track centre and found out that my team mate Lewis Askey had won, that was pretty special.
“Stuart Blunt, our junior academy coach, obviously knew what to say to us before the race with GB also winning the year before with Tom Pidcock.
“It’s a dream to win the pro race one day.”
Season 2019 was a great one for you; what would you class as the highlights?
“To be honest the start of 2019 was the highlight for me.
“Like you said, I came eighth at Roubaix in 2018 but never really won a race outside the UK.
“I wanted to start 2019 with a ‘bang’ and prove I could do that.
“I was so happy that everything paid off; then obviously finishing the season with a home Worlds was class.”
The Yorkshire Worlds, your memories?
“This race was in my mind all year, really motivating me.
“I remember coming into Harrogate and that’s when it really hit how good the crowds were.
“I was pretty disappointed not to do as well as I hoped for, whatever the reason, but I almost forgot about that at the time.
“The fact I was riding a home Worlds on the roads I’ve always trained on was pretty special.”
Did you get much racing in last year, with lockdown?
“I raced the Dorpenomloop Ruchpen UCI race right at the start of the year but then, a week later got sent home from Belgium because Covid was worsening.
“At the time I didn’t really know too much about it so was naive and thought we would be back out racing in a week’s time.
“Little did I know I’d only do one more race at the back end of the season, the European Champs.
“So not really – I had two race days.”
How did you handle lockdown?
“In the first lockdown I snapped my collarbone into three pieces six weeks before L’Avenir which was still on at the time.
“I worked extremely hard to get back for that, but the race cancelled not long before it was due to take place.
“This winter I had a knee injury which took about three months to fix on and off the bike.
“Both of these misfortunes gave me something to aim for I guess.
“But in-between all that I’ve just thought that there’s no point in wasting this time which I may never get again, so I just really focussed on making myself a better athlete.
“I guess the hard work has paid off because I believe I’m better than I’ve ever been before.”
Which of the BC programs are you on and where are you based?
“The U23 Endurance Academy so we do both road and track.
“For me mainly the track is in the winter and road in the summer.
“I am based in Manchester not far away from the Peak District, so it’s pretty good for riding.
“It’s just a shame about the weather which I guess you could say toughens you up a bit!”
That top 10 in the GP della Liberazione, a nice result.
“Yes, although at the time I was a bit disappointed I didn’t win, but looking back I’m actually happy with seventh.
“It’s been a long time of no racing and just training so to be up there going for the win already in my second race this season is a positive I guess.
“I lacked a little bit in the final 200 metres but that should come with more racing.”
How would you describe yourself as a bike rider?
“I’d say I’m someone who can do a bit of everything without being a bunch sprinter or a pure climber.
“I wouldn’t limit myself to one type of race.”
What’s your favourite kind of race?
“I’ve always liked racing the classics as a junior.
“There’s been no classics for u23’s the last two years due to Covid, so I guess I’d just say a hard race that’s not mountainous.”
Is there any rider in particular you admire and would like to emulate?
“I wouldn’t say there’s just one guy I look up and want to emulate.
“At the moment there are two generations of British riders to be inspired by.
“I think with some of these guys only being around three years older, doing what they are doing really makes you believe it’s possible that you can be there.
“They have set the bar high but I guess that’s more inspiring and motivating.”
You’ve had some success on the track, tell us about that; and is it a direction you would like to follow?
“Yeah I guess, I’ve won two national titles on the boards and a European title as a junior; that was the team pursuit with Alfie George, Max Rushby and Leo Hayter in 2019.
“I enjoy racing the track, but I’m not sure I’m quite built for team pursuit anymore with the speeds they’re going.
“It’s still certainly good training through the winter, getting you quicker and stronger, but I want my future to be on the road long term.”
Your ambitions for 2021?
“This is practically my first U23 season of racing and even then the racing is limited to what’s left of the second half of the season.
“My legs were good in Italy so I’d like to do the two biggest races of the year, l’Avenir and the World Champs.
“For now I just need to race as much as possible to learn and of course I’d like to try and get the hands up in the air.”
If you could win just one race?
“I think that would have to be Roubaix if I had to pick just one!”