In recent weeks we’ve featured numerous Ribble Weldtite riders on the site; first there was Dan Bigham’s British Hour Record, then came the news that James Shaw has signed with EF Education Nippo for season 2022, followed by Scot, Finn Crockett signing for the British continental team for next season.
We make no apology for giving the team more column inches now as another Scot, Stuart Balfour signs with Ribble for next season.
It was 2017 when Stuart first featured in our pages, he’d headed straight from the junior ranks to race in France and for that 2017 season was with Côtes d’Armor-Marie Morin.
Season 2018 saw him win the u23 version of the prestigious GP Plouay, a ride which we thought may have resulted in offers from pro teams, alas not but he was David Rayner Fund [The Rayner Foundation] ‘Rider of the Year’ for 2018.
The Yorkshire World Championships in 2019 saw Stuart produce a sterling ride in support of eventual bronze medallist, Tom Pidcock with season 2020 offering a fresh start for him in eastern rather than western France where he raced successfully with Bourg-en-Bresse Ain – Credit Mutuel.
For the Covid compromised 2021 season he was with the Swiss Racing Academy, posting some solid results, like two top five stage finishes in the UCI 2.2 Tour de Savoie Mont Blanc.
But for season 2022 he’s decided to head back to Blighty and a change of race scene with the Ribble team.
We caught up with him as his winter break ended and the hard work began for the 2022 UK pro scene.
How many years has it been on the continent, Stuart?
“Six years, I went there straight from the junior ranks.”
No Swiss Racing Academy for 2022 though?
“I was really happy with the team; it’s continuing as a u23 team but I’m 24 years-old now and for 2022 the team will be more about Swiss riders but it was a solid team and I enjoyed my time there.”
On the subject of enjoyment, which period of your time over there did you like best?
“I have a lot of good memories of France; my times in Brittany with Côtes d’Armor with riders like Owen James and Lewis Bulley were good.
“But I’ve enjoyed the change of scene to Eastern France and Switzerland these last couple of years.”
With hindsight, what would you do differently?
“The main thing is that I would move to Eastern France sooner, it wasn’t until I moved there that I realised I could get overs the big cols.
“In Brittany the climbs are short and sharp with the racing explosive, punchy and very tactical, whilst in the east the climbs are longer and generally the strongest guys win.”
Broken promises with European amateur teams are a fact of life, did you encounter much of that?
“It happened a few times but not on a massive scale; you learn to take much of what teams tell you with a pinch of salt.
“The intentions are great but they don’t always translate to actions – although the last couple of seasons have been good in that respect for me, with commitments honoured.”
Why come back to the UK?
“I needed a fresh start, clear my head with a change of scene.
“I’ve been away from friends and family for years and over there it’s intense, full-on all the time.
“I’d like to be able to switch off a little between races.”
How did the Ribble ride come about?
“My agent was looking around for ProTeam and World Tour opportunities and as part of that process we contacted Ribble.
“The team’s DS, Colin Sturgess got in touch and we spoke with him and Tom Timothy the team manager, and Jack Rees who founded the team.
“We liked what they were saying and also that the team had developed even through the pandemic, so I think it’s a good fit for me.
“And for next year we have Charlie and Harry Tanfield on the squad too, riders with big engines, I look forward to riding with them.”
Will you still be coached by your Breton coach of these last few years, Yann Dejan?
“This year I’ll be with trainSharp, working with Paul Delani.
“I was with trainSharp in my early days and look forward to working with them again, tweaking what I’ve been doing in training.”
When does the hard work start?
“It’s started already actually; I had three weeks off and now I’m back, working at building my base… to be honest, I’m glad to be back on the bike, you go a bit stir crazy.”
Any clues on you programme and how do you feel about Britain’s ‘crit heavy’ calendar?
“It’s early days yet but the team is looking at the domestic and UCI calendars, those rides which James Shaw produced this season will do the invites no harm.
“As for the criteriums, the team has riders on board already who excel at that side of the sport so I don’t know if I’ll be riding many.”
Are you back based in Heriot (near Peebles, in the Scottish Borders)?
“No, I’m living in Edinburgh with my girlfriend now and my brother only lives a couple of hundred metres away.
“With Finn Crockett, who is over in Stirling, being on the squad too the plan is that we’ll commute to races together.”
Season 2022 is about?
“A change of scene, riding in the UK, but also the exciting opportunity to ride races like the Tour of Norway where James Shaw took fifth overall this year.
“Colin Sturgess has very good connections within the sport and is very well respected, I’m looking forward to working with him.
“I’m also looking forward to working with Dan Bigham – he has all that knowledge on the aero aspect of the sport. France is not the most forward thinking place when it comes to that kind of thing…”
Welcome home, Stuart, and here’s to a good winter’s preparation.