Freddy Ovett is a relative newcomer in the professional sport of cycling having swapped his runners for wheels just two years ago. His rapid transformation into one of the riders to watch in the U23 ranks has many asking of his potential and saw Dutch SEG Racing team sign him up for the 2016 season late last month.
SEG believe the 21-year-old is worth investing in and have made Ovett its second Australian signing for the coming year with Nick Schultz also spending his final U23 season with the squad. Like Schultz, Ovett spent the 2015 season predominately racing the French Amateur circuit, doing so with Ag2r-La Mondiale's development team Chambéry CF and calling the French alps home.
"The French amateur scene is quite full on, racing a lot, constantly in trucks and vans going off to some obscure location to race a couple of times a week," Ovett told Cyclingnews of how he predominately spent the season.
It wasn't all race, travel, race for Ovett though as he made a handful of appearance with the Australian team that also saw him take part in some of the most prestigious races available for U23 riders. The experience also opened his eyes to Italian racing, which Ovett found to be a far more tranquillo affair than the French races as he explained.
"The French racing, it took a while to get used to as it was almost a shock in just how aggressive they are and how there is somewhat no team tactic," he said. "The tactic is more to attack all the time rather than get five guys on the front and control the break. It felt like in French amateur racing that a break is never really established, if someone goes off the front it seems the whole peloton isn't happy with that. Regardless if it's one of the best guys in the race or some punter.
"I feel like I do enjoy and understand Italian racing a little bit more as they race more like the WorldTour guys because they control the race more," he said of the differences. "In French racing, the final is never actually the hardest part of the race. It's usually the first hour when you're doing the most power and when it's the most aggressive. Whereas in the Italian races, the last hour is always when everything is going down. It's quite a contrast of races but it was nice to do both, especially being so new to it all."
The overarching narrative of Ovett's young career thus far has revolved around his transition from runner to cyclist and it's a fact that he recognises, not wishing to place too mush pressure on himself to suddenly be mixing it on climbs with the likes of Belgium's Laurens De Plus or Italy's Gianni Moscon who are both off to the WorldTour next year.
"This year I didn't go in thinking 'these are the races I want to win.' That would have been unfair to myself considering my background and how raw I am to it," he reflects, adding this season was about finding out his strengths and weaknesses and what is required to finish on the podium at race such as Giro Valle d'Aosta and Tour de L'Avenir.
"With this season it was just to dip my feet in the water and really understand what races I am suited to and what is required to do well at these races next year for example. I've always known I've been a good climber, especially on the longer climbs, races like the Ronde de l'Isard, Giro Valle d'Aosta, L'Avenir, Alsace... Stage races with long climbs is where I feel my strengths lie and I'll be definitely be looking to going to those races next year and mixing it with the front guys on GC for sure and in the early season, races like Liège as well."
Results are a cyclists best friend and worst enemy. A number won't necessarily reveal the truth of a day in the saddle. A glance at Ovett's results from 2015 on the site procyclingstats reveal just one-top ten result, his first race of the year at the Australian nationals. However 2015 was never about top-ten's for Ovett and experiences such as his attempt to close down a three minute break solo reveal far more about his character and determination.
"Some people might look at a result and you would know there is a lot more to a result in a cycling race than it might say," he said. "The last stage of the Ronde de l'Isard I think I was 12th or 13th (14th, ed) on GC and I thought I can either stay with the top guys and finish the race just outside the top-ten or I can give it a bit of a go and try for top-ten and maybe get a stage result," he explained. "I was bit silly really, the break went very early and I missed it. My team wasn't super happy about that to be honest.
"There were three long climbs on the last stage and on the first climb I went from the peloton over to the breakaway by myself. On that climb, the break had three minutes and I made up those three minutes on the 12km climb to come across to them. When I was there I survived the next climb but the last climb I was completely gone and spent, and I was dropped by them and the front guys caught us. I think I finished 20th and my GC went back to 20th as well."
Similar experiences of power output at the Giro Valle d'Aosta where he helped teammate Rob Power claim the overall victory with plenty of time on the front and was still able to "hang on for a minute here and there" gave Ovett confirmation that "if I do things a little better I should be alright."
With the national team, Ovett had both Power and Jack Haig as teammates and role models. Both riders are considered emerging GC talents at the top level of the sport and have duly been snapped up by Orica-GreenEdge. While their approaches may differ in terms of preparation and racing style, Ovett explained the benefits of spending time with both talents.
"The thing with Rob and Jack is that they are almost polar opposites, not in ability obviously, but just the way they are as people and how they approach training and racing. Jack's super calculated and very onto his power, very onto doing large amounts of training and following it all though his data with his coach, being super aware of what he is eating, his weight, etc," he noted.
"Rob is a bit more 'old school' I feel. He's not hugely aware of his power meter and maybe he's sometime a little extreme with what he's eating and what he's doing, it's just a little more old school with Rob and I kind of like that. He's sometimes not aware of what he's doing and how well he's doing it and it was interesting to see that, especially at Giro Valle d'Aosta when they were both together."
With Power missing the second half of the season due to knee injury, Ovett ending up spending more with Haig who "had a year that I would really love to have next year" but takes after Power's 'old school' approach as he explained.
"I look at power only when I am doing efforts in training. I don't look at it at any other time. I never look at in races. I feel like it almost takes away the enjoyment factor in training if you're constantly aware of what you're doing and how you're doing."
Turning experience into results
With SEG, Ovett is looking to take the next step in his career and continue his progression on the bike. He describes the team as 'calculated' and 'precise', qualities Ovett is looking to bring to his training and racing next season as he chases results rather than experience.
"I've said in a lot of interviews I've done that 'I am new to it, I can't expect too much, I have to learn'. I feel like I can't keep saying that even though I have only been riding for two years. I felt this year the training was all over the place, the racing was too much and all over the place so it would have been too much to expect to be in the finals of big stage races with the likes of Jack, Laurens De Plus and guys like that."
For a talented climber such as Ovett, the natural progression is to target general classification. A GC rider also needs to possess good skills against the clock and having spent "less than two hours" on a time trial bike in 2015, Ovett know this is a skill he needs to develop.
"It's a good point," he said of the need to work on time trial ability. "It's something that I've never really trained and never sort of pursued. I made it quite clear to the coach at SEG that I think this time in Australia is a great period for me to explore that avenue. I am a guy who that can produce a good amount of watts for his weight and with that 'basic' theory, the 'basic' hope is that you should be quite a good time trialist.
"A time trial bike was never really in my hands except for the races and at the races it was always a bit of a lacklustre set up with position, how I felt and then the bike was actually too small for me," he said of the issues he had with time trials this season. "I always felt I was behind the eight ball before I started because the preparation just wasn't there I am the kind of guy who likes to prepare properly so I can feel confident before going into something."
The first competitive test on the time trial bike for Ovett will be the U23 national championships in January. Admitting that he "won't necessarily target nationals", the hit out will allow him to "put together a decent time trial and understand pacing, wattage and position and all that sort of stuff. I think there's a lot of potential there so I am looking forward to exploring it a little bit more."
While the time trial is more of a lottery, the national road race is an early season target for Ovett who believes he can "at least" match his seventh from 2015, "if not go better".
"I'd like to think that I'll be one of the strongest guys there, it's not a huge climb but it's a climb that's done a lot of times and wears a lot of guys out so hopefully in the final Nick and I can be there together and play a team card which would be nice for a change," he said of the circuit race which includes the Mt. Buninyong climb.
Adding that domestic riders are likely to be reaching peak form while he looks ahead to bigger European goals, Ovett recognises the possibility of a top result materialising into a Tour Down Under appearance with the wildcard UniSA team.
"It's such an interesting prospect the UniSA team being sent to a WorldTour race and it's race that for a guy coming through like Nick and myself, you can't say no if you're given an opportunity to race against the WorldTour guys. How often does an opportunity like that come about?"
2016 ambitions and aspirations
When asked what would make a successful 2016 season, there was no grand statement of winning left right and centre from Ovett, rather a measured response that he is looking to continue his development and start cracking into the top-ten at stage races.
"Progression is the main thing. I feel like my rate of progression is a lot more rapid than guys that I am riding against, obviously just because of my background," he said. "Instead of being 20th in second group, I'd like to be front group at stage races. I wont be coming back here [in 12 months time] thinking 'oh, I didn't win any races, what am I doing?'. If I can honestly look at myself and see that I am in the top 10-15 climbers in the U23 category in the world, I'd be happy with that."
Making that front group on mountain stages and summit finishes is clearly an ambition for Ovett with the statement sure to be going around in his ahead as he lays down the base miles for next season over the Australian summer in Queensland.
"To go into a climbing stage and feel like I am one of the strongest guys there, to try and be somewhere towards the pointy end of the finish. I don't know how the next season is going to go but that is something that I am hoping to do," he added of what would make 2016 a success.
With 2016 his last in the U23 ranks, a step up to Pro-Continental or the WorldTour ranks is the logical progression for Ovett. Next season's performances will determine who exactly is paying close attention and getting out the cheque book but Ovett's time with Chambéry CF has ensured at least one WorldTour team knows his abilities and potential.
"The connection is there now. I spent a year with their development team and I felt like I had a solid season and they respected me as a rider and my abilities. We were both appreciative of what we offered each other," he said of whether he would look to sign with Ag2r in 2017.
"It's not as if they said 'get a few results and you can sign with us'. Nothing like that, but they are aware of me, they know who I am and if they see something they like, who knows? I think Ag2r are a great team and doing good things so it wouldn't be a bad team to be part of that's for sure."