FOR a man who could make a point to the selectors of the Great Britain World Championship squad, Rotherham’s Russell Downing sounded remarkably relaxed on the eve of the Tour of Britain, writes Richard Fidler.
In years past the race has been quite low down the nation’s list of favourite sporting events, but with Britain’s cyclists sweeping all before them on the road and in the velodrome this year the Tour of Britain is set for a very popular week.
Beginning from Ipswich’s Neptune Quay on Sunday morning on a 203 kilometre ride to the Norfolk Showground in Norwich and ending next Sunday in Guildford the Tour will be a chance for world champion Mark Cavendish to sprint for stage victories and give Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins an opportunity to do a week-long lap of honour around the country.
However, for Downing, who has enjoyed an excellent season since moving from British super team Sky Procycling to Endura Racing, it’s about showing how much he is enjoying his cycling once again.
He told The Star that despite a long year in the saddle he can’t wait for the race to begin: “At the end of last season, I was pretty down with it, to be honest.
“It’s been great this year though. I’ve won something like 10 times and really enjoyed my racing again. To be able to ride for victories and compete has been good.”
Downing, aged 34, has been one of the fans’ favourites on the British racing scene for more than a decade. Bad luck with teams losing sponsorship deals at the wrong times has meant his opportunities at the highest level have been limited to his two seasons with Sky.
But maybe his fortunes have changed. Endura have announced they’re to join with Team NetApp for the next two years. It means a promotion to the Professional-Continental ranks, which gives them the possibility of riding races on the WorldTour; NetApp were invited to both Paris-Roubaix and the Giro d’Italia in 2012.
While Downing will probably defer to teammate Jonathan Tiernan-Locke - who seems destined to join Sky during the winter - for a challenge to the overall Tour of Britain title he hasn’t ruled out a stage victory.
“JT has been in great form,” he said. “I’ll be going for stage victories, but if I can get over the mountain stages you never know with the Tour of Britain.
“There’s all sort of bonus seconds available. It’s not your usual team race that’s for sure.
“It should be a good one this year. The crowds will be massive, which will be so much better than riding along the lanes to one man and his dog as we have done before.” Should Downing perform well it could reignite the argument why he is overlooked for national selection in recent seasons.
The 14 man strong World Championship list was announced last week and his name was once again absent. Rotherham’s Ben Swift and Sheffield’s Adam Blythe are hoping to make the final nine man team for the race in Limburg, Holland, on September 23.
He said he’s given up worrying about the Great Britain set up: “I didn’t even know that the team was being named.
“I think I should be on the list. There’s people on it who will be exhausted after long seasons. They’ll have done the Olympics and the Vuelta (Tour of Spain) and will obviously be tired and not as motivated.
“I don’t worry about the politics of it all now. I’m not sure whether you have to earn points to get selected or not.
“A few years ago when I was in the team - it was only a three-man one then not nine - I was the only Brit to finish. Since then I’ve not been in it.”
The focus is now firmly on a good performance around the roads and lanes of Great Britain. Downing has plenty of years left in his legs to make the most of the Endura-NetApp deal.
A few good results this week may get him the wider recognition with the sporting public that is deserved.
* Follow Downing’s progress around the Tour of Britain with The Star every day.
* Russell and brother Dean will be hosting their annual charity dinner on Saturday October 20 at the Carlton Park Hotel, Rotherham.
For ticket details visit http://www.outofthesaddle.org.uk