With news that Red Walters has been awarded a stagiaire spot on Hagens Berman Axeon for the rest of the season, Cyclingnews spoke to the highly-rated 22-year-old on his hopes for the rest of the year, the step up he’ll face in the U23 ranks, and what the position means in terms of diversity and inclusion.
The stagiaire role was created by Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geohegan Hart and Axel Merckx of Hagens Berman Axeon after Geohegan Hart agreed to sponsor a spot that would directly open pathways for riders and improve cultural and racial diversity within the sport of cycling.
After a selection process in which 12 candidates were considered, Walters earned the place and will head to Belgium for a stint of racing once he returns from the Pan American Championships, where the British-based rider will compete for Grenada.
Cyclingnews: Firstly, congratulations on the news. How did this move come about?
Red Walters: Back in February when Tao and the team put out a post about wanting to increase diversity and sponsor a rider on the team, I was already really keen. I updated my CV and sent it over, looking back, what was an unnecessarily long document on why I would be good to Axel [Merckx]. I didn’t hear back for a while but I kept them updated on my racing, then in early July Tao messaged me telling me that I’d made the spot. It was pretty out of the blue. He just sent me asking for my Whatsapp and I think it was right when he was doing the Tour. I can’t imagine organizing anything like that when you’re in a race like that but fair play.
CN: Are you able to share your race programme for the next few months?
RW: I found out yesterday what races I’m doing. First, I’m going to the Pan American Championships because I’ve changed my nationality through the UCI to Grenadian as I have dual nationality anyway. When I’m back, I’ll be doing the Druivenkoers – Overijse and then the Flanders Tomorrow Tour.
CN: What are you hoping to gain from your time at Hagens Berman Axeon over the coming months?
RW: If nothing else there’s just so much to learn. The difference between going from my limited UCI racing experience, limited team experience, and going to a team with a huge amount of experience and competing in these high-level races is huge. I just want to learn as much as possible and I want to be helpful to the team. I’m in the best form that I’ve ever been in and I’m in a good spot. Hopefully, I can be useful in some way.
CN: You've already spent some time racing in France this year with some lower-level region races. How was that experience?
RW: I’ve gone and come back. I won the first two races that I did and then got two thirds while leading out teammates. Then in the fifth race I did I got third. There was another race but that didn’t really go that well. Overall, though, it went really well considering it was the start of my season. More than anything I enjoyed it. It was a completely different atmosphere to racing in the UK.
CN: In terms of the quality of racing, how much is this a step up with Axeon?
RW: Absolutely it's a step up. By a fair amount from the regional level of racing to the 1.1 UCI races, where a lot of the best U23 will be. I’m just hoping to learn and I’m not expecting to just rock up and have the same level of results. I’m just looking to do the best I can. I’m hoping to do the best I can in the Pan Ams. To win there would be a dream scenario.
CN: We spoke earlier in the year about your dreams of reaching the WorldTour. You're now just one step away from that level. What does this move mean to you in terms of your development?
RW: It’s a big step, going to this team, which has put a lot of riders into the WorldTour. My only drawback is that this is my last year as a U23, so my time is limited. So it’s hard to say where I can go in terms of this being a stepping stone. It depends on where this goes in the next couple of months. It’s a tricky point in terms of what I can plan for but in the next few months my entire focus is on the racing that’s coming up. Overall though, my thoughts are still on the WorldTour for the future.
CN: How important is the role that Geoghegan Hart and Axeon have created in terms of the opportunity for a rider to step up and help improve levels of diversity within the sport?
RW: Taking myself out of it, and the personal opportunity he’s offering cycling in general, what they’re doing is hugely commendable. There’s a big diversity problem in cycling and there’s a fair amount of talk that goes on in terms of how to fix it, but there’s not a lot of action, especially at the high level of racing. We’re getting better at the grassroots, which is fantastic but at the elite level, there’s not enough recognition that it’s a problem. It’s minuscule when compared to football or F1. So for him to go out there, make that promise and commitment, and fulfill it’s, is a really big statement. For him and the team, it’s massively commendable.
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