Entering his 13th season as a professional, Steve Cummings is in new territory. With Tirreno-Adriatico scrapped from his programme his preferred race schedule for finding form took a serious hit. Despite climbing up the pecking order in the team, which allows such choice, he’s found himself all too often replacing teammates who are injured, sick or unavailable due to visa issues.
After a difficult Vuelta Catalunya and a slightly better Pais Vasco, he’s at his first Tour de Romandie. Again, it’s a circumstance driven more by the bad luck that Team Dimension Data has endured lately than a desire to do something different.
Catching up with him at the start of the first proper road stage he cuts a fine figure in his British national champion’s jersey, and having won both the TT and the road title last year there’s no problem of having to remember which kit comes out for race day. It’s rare that someone wins both events, and quite rightly he’s proud to be in a distinctive jersey.
“It’s very, very nice to be national champion. I’m just disappointed that I’m not in the right form so far to show it off,” he told me as we sat outside the team bus and caught up.
“I didn’t like the start of the season. First it was the programme and then we had injuries and I got a late call for San Remo and started but felt like I hadn’t raced. I was pretty loaded up with training before I got there and probably started tired because of the late call. To be fair to the team, the late call was due to the injuries.”
When you reach Cummings’ level of experience you’ve learned what works for you and what doesn’t, so though he understands the reasons for the changes to the programme, it’s a challenge not only for him but all at the team.
The necessity to keep filling in for absent teammates means his established methodology has been derailed, and, as he explains, so has his confidence. He’s not in bad shape - his prologue ride was similar to Dan Martin’s - but he feels he’s just missing that little bit of spark that makes the difference.
With the absence of core riders like Bernie Eisel, and the crashes affecting Mark Cavendish, the weight of team expectations now fall onto his shoulders. But ever the realist, he’s handling the stress by making sure he’s doing what he calls ‘the basics’ right.
“I’m eating well, sleeping well and racing as best I can, but I know I’m still a little bit short,” he said.
His grounded approach sounds reassuring, but as is the norm in a pro bike team, they want results, and with Cavendish temporarily side-lined, the management are beginning to ask questions of everyone involved.
Stressed out isn’t something associated with Cummings’ way of riding, or how he talks, but worries can set in and further affect performance, so after Romandie he’s scheduled to have a longer rest period and have a chance to assess where he is and what he needs to work on. Then it’s the Dauphine. Maybe.
“I’ve not lost my talent. I know where I am and I’m a bit behind, so now I just need some race confirmation I’ll get through Romandie.”
With that he’s called into the team bus for the pre-race briefing, where I imagine after going through the tactics for the day there would be the time-honoured question of ‘has anybody got anything they want to say?’
Keep calm and carry on.