Ineos Grenadiers road captain Luke Rowe nominated a ‘rider of the day’ from his team as he took stock in the aftermath of Gent-Wevelgem. It wasn’t Tom Pidcock, it wasn’t Dylan Van Baarle, and it wasn’t Jhonatan Narváez. It was Ben Turner, the 22-year-old Brit who is himself seen within the team as a future successor to Rowe.
Turner turned professional with Ineos Grenadiers at the start of the year and has hit the ground running as part of the team’s new-look, new-generation Classics core.
After a solid display at the Opening Weekend in February, he has moved to another level this week as the cobbled campaign has reached full tilt. He was instrumental in saving Ineos’ day at the E3 Saxo Bank Classic after they all missed the split on the Taaienberg, dragging it back to the point where Narváez and Van Baarle could jump across on the Eikenberg.
His performance at Gent-Wevelgem, however, was something else entirely.
Turner was not only the team’s top finisher but their most active rider and also their strongest.
In an edition that was largely punctuated by the three ascents of the Kemmelberg, his showings on the flagship climb were telling. The first ascent came with 84km to go and, just after Narváez had crashed out, he went over the top in the first 15, quickly looking to drive on a move that contained Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). The second ascent, with just over 50km to go, saw him away in a group of 15, again in elite company, as Pidcock lost ground.
When it came to the final ascent, from the steeper side with 34km to go, he wasn’t quite in the front six, but he was pretty much best of the rest. Still technically in domestique mode he then helped to close the gap so that Van Baarle could bridge across. When things came back together, he came home in 28th place in the main group behind the four leaders, while Van Baarle trailed in 20 seconds later.
“Super impressive,” was Rowe’s assessment, speaking to Cyclingnews in Wevelgem.
“For anyone who watched it, it kind of spoke for itself. He was the rider of the day for us. He committed to the guys and was still there in the final, so yeah, super impressive.”
Turner himself acknowledged that he had surpassed his wildest expectations. In the longest race of his young career, he would have been happy just to get round, but he relished the experience of rubbing shoulders with the world’s top Classics riders in one of the most prestigious Flemish races.
“I didn’t expect it. There was no plan for me to be up there like that,” Turner told reporters in Wevelgem.
“To be honest, I didn’t think about it all week and then at the meeting last night they said it was 260km including the neutral zone and I thought ‘oh no’. In the end it was all right. I had a good position the first time up the Kemmelberg and then followed the moves, ended up in a split, and just kept trying and trying.
"When you have good legs it’s just amazing to race like that, to be honest.”
From BMX and motocross to cyclo-cross and the WorldTour
Turner has a background in cyclo-cross and a strong relationship with Pidcock, which has made him a key part of the group Ineos are building around their young British star, who is set to target Grand Tours as well as Classics.
He hails from Yorkshire in the north of England but has been based in Belgium since the age of 17. Having started out as a BMX and motocross rider as a kid, he focused on cyclo-cross in his junior and U23 years, taking the bronze medal behind Pidcock at junior Worlds in 2017 before joining Mathieu van der Poel’s team, which is now known as Alpecin-Fenix.
A turning point in his nascent career came when he signed for 2021 with Trinity Racing, the team built around Pidcock and run by the agent Andrew McQuaid. The aim of the game was to give Pidcock his own tailored development set-up covering road and ‘cross, and the same pathway opened up to Turner, who had, like many U23 riders, found his opportunities squeezed at the height of the pandemic.
As the prospect of the WorldTour took hold, his road programme expanded and he caught the eye on the U23 scene, wearing the maglia rosa at the Baby Giro before a horror crash ended his Tour de l’Avenir and left him with multiple facial fractures.
By then, though, the deal with Ineos was already in the bag and it was one that was brokered in part by Ian Stannard, the team’s old Classics leader who’s now a director at Trinity Racing.
“We talked a lot with Ian before he signed for us and Ian was very clear to say ‘this guy is good – maybe the style of U23 racing doesn’t suit him but, trust me, the pro world will’. Ian was bang on – absolutely bang on,” deputy team principal Rod Ellingworth tells Cyclingnews.
“What he meant was that this guy could soak up a lot of work and cover big distances. There’s a little bit more control with the pros than the U23s and Ian was quite sure he’d manage it well. He called it.”
The next Luke Rowe?
Cyclingnews understands that Turner is seen as the next Luke Rowe within the Ineos management.
Rowe led the line for the British team at the Classics for many years, finishing fifth at the 2016 Tour of Flanders, but has more recently developed into one of the world’s top domestiques and road captains. His robust engine and versatility have seen him become an indispensable part of the team’s Tour de France squad, doing the hard yards on the flat, in the crosswinds, and even in the mountains over the past seven editions.
Turner is still young and still developing but is seen as a possible successor. He is a rider who may not be a serial winner but can do just about everything else. What’s more, he’s close friends with Pidcock and is being developed as a key ally for the future.
“Potentially, yeah,” Ellingworth said when asked about the comparison with Rowe. “We’ve got a few who are are like that – guys who can do Classics but also a good stage race.
“The thing with Ben is he’s got a good turn of speed, he can actually climb well for a big guy, he time trials well, so he’s an all-rounder, really.”
As for how Rowe himself sees it: “He’s a gritty bike rider. He’s tough, and he’s got the horsepower to back it up. I haven’t done many races in Belgium this year but I’ve watched them and could see right from the get-go that he was in the right place at the right time and had the legs. So he looks the complete package.”
After his performances this week, there could well be more to come, and Turner may just turn into something beyond a luxury domestique. He is set to line up at Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday and another strong ride there could yet bag him a spot in Ineos’ line-up for the Tour of Flanders.
In any case, this will have been a breakthrough debut spring.
“He had that awful accident last year, which was a real shocker for him, and we didn’t know whether he was going to bounce back, so first of all he has done really well to get here,” Ellingworth said.
“He’s a good character, gets on with everyone, and he’s got loads of energy. You can feel it. He’s loving riding these Classics for the first time and getting stuck in. Now it’s just about experiencing this block. We’ll get him to watch the races back, go through it in steps, and ask him what he’d do differently, but the guy just needs to get out there and race."
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