Steve Cummings, who has enjoyed arguably the best start to a season of his career, has told Cyclingnews that he has been struggling mentally with the changes and revelations in cycling over the last week.
Cummings, who won a stage in Pais Vasco and Tirreno-Adriatico earlier this year, is currently racing the Tour de Yorkshire. The race is going on under a difficult and tense backdrop with British Cycling reeling from a week of sexism and discriminatory allegations, a positive test for Simon Yates (Orica GreenEdge), and for Cummings on a more personal level, a shift in management at Dimension Data after the team parted ways with general manager, Brian Smith.
“It’s been a mad week. Since Liege I’ve been struggling a bit mentally,” Cummings told Cyclingnews at the end of stage 1 in Yorkshire.
“It’s the end of the first period of the season for me and the changes in the team were a bit unsettling but I feel better about it already after being with the team here. The stuff with Shane [Sutton] has been a bit unsettling, and then the Yates thing. It was three things without even pushing a pedal.”
Brian Smith came onto the team in 2014 as the interim manager and he quickly set about improving the squad infrastructure, and signing riders such as Cummings and later Mark Cavendish when the team moved into the WorldTour.
However, this year Smith found himself taking on more of a logistical role than the ‘coalface’ one he highlighted to Cyclingnews earlier this week. Doug Ryder, the team owner, will not take on more responsibility with Smith leaving by mutual consent.
“Brian called me on the day of Liege, so last Sunday. It was a shock. It’s sad because you don’t like to see anyone being released but we all thank him for his work. He brought me to the team and he gave me the licence to race freely. It was really sad, we wish him well but we all have to go on now.”
As a squad Dimension Data perhaps went through their biggest upheaval yet during last winter. In order to make the grade at WorldTour they attracted new sponsors, new staff such as Rolf Aldag, marquee signings in Cavendish, and moved service course. Their identity and ethos may remain intact at the very core but it certainly has a new gloss to it in 2016.
“Sometimes you’re on one programme and you don’t see some members of the team on another programme but I like racing with the guys who have a lot of experience and we have a good group now,” Cummings said when asked if the team has gelled quickly this season.
“It’s such a big step from last year to where we are now at WorldTour and we need to somehow bring the African riders up with us. That’s a challenge and there are some good ones but we just need to lift it a bit,” he added.
Cummings, who raced on Team Sky and BMC, seems to have found the perfect fit in Dimension Data. It is a team that does not appear to race under the same level of pressure as some of the more established squads in the peloton and with no single focal point to rally around, such as a Chris Froome or Philippe Gilbert, riders at Dimension Data appear to enjoy more opportunities. Cummings has certainly made the most of his newfound freedom and bagged the team’s first Tour de France stage win during a memorable day in July 2015.
“For me I'd like to see the team stick to the values that we had when I signed for the team which was about improving the African riders and I think that’s important,” he said.
“All of a sudden when you’re WorldTour there’s pressure to perform, so last year just to be at the Tour was a success. But now it’s different and we have to perform. It’s a big step but we have to make it together.”
The departure of Smith, though, appears to be an element that will take time for Cummings to fully overcome. The Scott may not have been the logistical wizard he needed to become, but as a motivator and someone who could engage with athletes on a personal level, he was and is highly regarded within cycling.
“It was a shock. I very much try and keep myself to myself and do my work. Brian has always been super with me and great, but perhaps he took the role as an interim and perhaps Doug has found the sponsors now and he feels that it’s the time to come back and take more of a hands on approach.”
Cummings at least went on the attack in Yorkshire on stage 1 with a late solo move that was eventually snaffled up before a bunch sprint.
“You have to try, you can say this and that, but I’ve not felt superb mentally this week so I was happy to just get stuck in.”
One aspect that could perk Cummings up is the fact that he remains in the running for an Olympic spot with Great Britain. He is on the long-list of nine for the road race team that will be narrowed down to five by mid-June and in the coming days he will be fitted for his national kit, should he be selected.
The course in Rio certainly suits a rider of Cummings’ ability and he is confident of making the selection regardless of the role the selectors choose for him.
“It’s a good course for me. It’s five men and Britain is as strong as any nation. I’d love to go there and do a good job or try and do something myself in the race, but it’s a long way away. We have to think about a rest next, then the Dauphiné and then the Tour. A lot depends on the selection and what kind of team they want to take. I’d like to think that I’ve got a good chance of selection."