That Adam Blythe was selected for his Tour of Flanders debut last year at the request of Omega Pharma-Lotto team leader Philippe Gilbert says much for the young Briton’s ability. Then only 20 and just weeks into his first full season as a pro, Blythe describes that experience, and his appearance at Paris-Roubaix a week later, as the highlights of an outstanding season.
“I was really shocked to be selected,” he tells Procycling, “especially as, for a Belgian team like mine, riding Flanders is like riding the world championships.”
Picking out two races he didn’t even finish as a highlight of a year that saw him take four victories may seem a little odd but his reasoning becomes understandable when he outlines his path to a place on one of Belgium’s top squads. Born in Sheffield, he got the cycling bug early. “My grandad was a big inspiration as he was a good cyclist. My dad dabbled a bit in time trials too. I actually started racing when I was six,” he says.
Two years later, Blythe made the first of what would become frequent trips to race in Holland and Belgium. “I started going over with Ben Swift when I was eight and riding some of the little tours over there. They were fun to do and we just kept going back. Over the years my love of that kind of racing has kept growing – for the cobbles, the windy roads, the kind of hills they feature.”
As a teenager, Blythe began to make a name for himself on the track, which led to a stint with the British cycling academy. But he decided to go his own way in 2008, driven by the desire to prove himself on the road. With help from former pro Tim Harris, he found a slot on the Davo team, managed by former Lotto pro Kurt Van De Wouwer. A series of impressive performances there earned a place as a stagiaire with Omega in 2009 and, ultimately, to the offer of a full-time contract at the end of that season.
“My main goal going into last year was to win. But one of the things that really boosted me was being selected to ride Flanders and Roubaix in my first season as a pro,” says Blythe. “Riding the Giro was another important step. The plan was only to do the first 10 days and I particularly relished the first three in Holland as I love the racing there.”
“Once we got to Italy it was a different story because of all of the hills and the appalling weather but I learned a huge amount from Charly Wegelius and Matt Lloyd – not only about racing an event like that but also about being professional when it comes to what you eat, how much you need to rest and looking after yourself.”
Fifth place in the bunch sprint on stage three of the Giro showcased Blythe’s finishing speed. That was underlined as the season continued with a series of high placings but the win he was after still eluded him going into the end of the season.
“I was getting pretty stressed about it by the time we got to the Circuit Franco-Belge. It was my last big race of the season. I knew that I could win but the simple fact was that I wasn’t winning,” he explains.
The four-day race kicked off the day before Blythe’s 21st birthday on the kind of cobbles he knows so well. At last everything clicked and he finally took the win he was after – even though he didn’t know it at the time.
“The strange thing was that when I led the bunch home on the opening stage, I didn’t think we had caught all of the riders who’d been up the road. I didn’t even celebrate. It was only when someone slapped me on the back to congratulate me that I realised that I had won,” he confesses.
He bookended his 21st with another sprint win on stage three, when Wouter Weylandt, Geert Steegmans, Jimmy Casper and Kenny van Hummel were among those in his wake. The overall title was sealed the next day and his season was rounded off perfectly with another success on Belgian soil at the GP Putte-Kapellen.
Blythe expects more successes to follow in 2011 but admits it will be harder to gain selection for some key races after Omega Pharma beefed up their roster – not least with the signing of sprinter André Greipel. But he doesn’t foresee the kind of problems that plagued the German’s relationship with another British sprinter at HTC-Columbia.
“I don’t think his arrival will affect me all that much because our programmes look like they are going to be quite different. But if we are in the same races, I’m sure we will both be doing whatever we can to co-operate and win for the team, which is the key goal. Of course, he’s already shown that he’s a great sprinter and I’m sure that I’m going to learn a huge amount just from being around him,” says Blythe.
“My personal target initially is to get selected for the classics but that’s going to be no easy thing this year. If I do get selected for Flanders and Roubaix, I’d love to be able to finish those races. I know a lot of people might not see that as a big achievement but it would mean a huge amount to me.”
Winner, GP Putte-Kapellen (2010)
Winner, Circuit Franco-Belge (2010)
Winner, Circuit du Port de Dunkerque (2009)
Winner, British national madison championships (2007)
Winner, Junior Team Pursuit, European track championships (2007)
Winner, Junior Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (2007)
Winner, British national circuit race championships (2005)
This article appears in the March 2011 edition of Procycling, where Adam Blythe is one of four riders featured as part of the rider diaries series. The other featured riders are Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ), John Degenkolb (HTC-Highroad) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Cervelo), and you can read all about them in Procycling March, which is available here.