At the ripe age of 32, Russell Downing has targeted a start in his first Grand Tour in either the Vuelta a Espana or Giro d'Italia.
Downing enjoyed a stellar season in the ProTour ranks, winning four races, and he has signed another one-year deal with the British team for 2011. A year’s extension was just rewards with the former Linda McCartney Racing Team rider winning in the Tour of Qatar (team time trial) and the Criterium International.
“I think that works well for both of us. Sky knows that I’m going to get stuck in all year and it works well for me and keeps me motivated. It would be nice to sign a contract until I retire, but I do work well under pressure and we know that at Sky,” Downing told Cyclingnews.
With a year at the highest level under his belt Downing has already set about replicating and improving the form that made him stand out as one of Sky’s best signings in their inaugural year. While the majority of his race programme will stay the same Downing will have a chance to compete in his first three-week race.
“It looks like a really good programme. There will be a few tweaks on it. Fingers crossed there will be a grand tour in there. That was the big objective for me and I think it’s there. I can’t say which one it will be but it’s between the Giro or the Vuelta, depending what else happens with other race programmes,” he said.
That would mean Downing would not be in with a shout for Tour de France selection. It was a poor race for Sky this year but Downing believes that for a first year team the squad had a successful year overall in 2010.
“I think if you take the Tour de France out of it we had a brilliant year. It was our first year at ProTour and we had over 20 victories and I think that’s quite good. I don’t think you can conquer the world straight away. Things didn’t go to plan at the Tour but it’s a three week bike race at the end of the day.”
Despite any short comings in the Tour, Downing grabbed his chance with both hands and is looking forward to another season.
“For myself the season was amazing. I started the year working for others and then I got a few opportunities and took those. I went onwards and upwards from there.”
“It was the hardest in terms of pressure. I was aware I was riding for Sky but it worked out brilliantly. It was hard work and I’ve not had to change too much. Everyone has said I’ve always trained too hard for the level I was racing at so now I’m just training at the same level. There’s just more recovery.”
Why it took Downing so long to have the opportunity to race at the highest level is a question that perplexes even him. There was the false dawn at the Linda McCartney team, which was followed by almost of decade of domestic riding in Britain and briefly in America.
“I don’t know why it’s worked out like this. Things didn’t happen. I kept knocking on the doors but they didn’t open and finally I kicked the Sky door down. I had really good results for years but it just ever quite happened. I don’t know why. It’s happened now and I’ve grabbed it with both hands.”