Adam Blythe (Lotto Soudal) was on the verge of hanging up his wheels before a late offer from Lotto Soudal saved his career this winter. The 29-year-old was let go by Aqua Blue Sport after the team folded this summer, and with no offers on the horizon he was beginning to look for a career after riding. Circumstances, friendship and luck helped pave the way for a return to racing in Belgium.
Ben Swift, a long-term friend and training partner of Blythe, had been offered a contract at Lotto Soudal earlier in the year but turned down the opportunity after Team Sky took him back after two disappointing years at UAE Team Emirates. Swift recommended that Blythe contact Lotto Soudal's management and a one-year deal was soon agreed.
"We were out on the bike and chatting about contracts. Swift was up for a contract and said I should talk to Lotto. I think they offered him a contract but I don't think he felt it was the right fit at the time. I spoke to Lotto, I spoke to Caleb [Ewan] and it went from there," Blythe told Cyclingnews at Lotto Soudal's recent training camp.
The Belgian team's late offer rescued Blythe from possible early retirement. The market was swamped with riders unable to find teams for 2019 due to a number of squads folding or downsizing. With just a handful of results to speak of this season, and young family to support back home in Manchester, the 29-year-old had begun to think of a career after riding.
"Before I started speaking to Lotto I almost convinced myself that I was going to stop. I was speaking to people about job opportunities and what I was going to do afterward. In that sense, I was sort of ready. I was thinking about what I needed to do in order to support and provide for my family. It wasn't about the bike, it was about them. That's life really."
"The main thing, and it's nothing against Lotto, is that I can carry on cycling. This is a very good place for me to be but I would have gone to any team if they had offered me a deal. Luckily this team was interested in me and I couldn't be with a better team for me, as it suits me down to the ground. I'm super happy and couldn't ask for anything more."
"I wasn't stressed about it before but now I've got kids so I gave myself a deadline of October 15 and if I hadn't found anything by then I would stop riding because I couldn't afford to just mince about. There's no point in going back to race for an English team on 30K. It's good but you have to put in so much effort that it's almost not worth it. I might as well of put my time into something else and earn more money that way."
No bullshit about marginal gains
The move to Lotto Soudal - where Blythe started his professional career back in 2010 - sees him link up with Caleb Ewan. The pair raced together at Orica GreenEdge in 2015 and Blythe will be one of the Australian's key lead-out men next term. They share a strong relationship on and off the bike and will be looking to keep Lotto-Soudal in the hunt for sprint wins after a successful period of Andre Greipel dominance.
"It's nice to be back with Caleb. He's not really changed but he's matured for a young guy. He's a hell of a lot of pressure on him here but at the moment he's dealing with it great. He'll do just as good, if not better than Andre and for the team it's refreshing," Blythe said.
Another element Blythe enjoys at Lotto Soudal is their apparent simplicity when it comes to cycling. The Belgian squad is professional in their approach but Blythe believes that they do not overcomplicate matters either.
"The passion is here. Everyone knows about cycling and there's no bullshit about marginal gains. They look at that stuff but this is about cycling. There's nothing fancy about it. It's just about pedalling as hard as you can and that's it. It's nice to be in that simple mentality of training hard and winning. There's none of that bullshit, as I call it, involved."
The move to Lotto Soudal sees Blythe's career come full circle after stints with BMC Racing, NFTO, Orica, Tinkoff and Aqua Blue. In those years Blythe has had success but those moments have been all too fleeting. He has often struggled for contracts, despite refining himself as a lead-out man. However, he has no deep regrets over the path his career has taken. There have been mistakes, he admits, but his character and personality have mirrored his career on the road.
Now a father, he appears settled, wiser and certainly more appreciative of the position he finds himself in.
"I started off really well with Lotto. In the first two years, it was super good. At the time you don't realize how good something is. I let it go and went to BMC. Looking back it was a big mistake and I regret it but at the time I was just following the money and what I thought was the right thing do to for myself. This time it took a lot of talking and it was Paul De Geyter and the time who I talked to. He was quite honest and down the line and then I spoke to Marc Sergeant. They told me what they expect of me and that was fine."
"I'm better than I was then, but not results wise. I'm older. I was a lot younger back then and I started my career well. The second year wasn't as good but I started with this big hope of being good. I started with the results that showed that I could do it but then I just went to Monaco and that was it. I didn't progress in my career from then on. Now I've got family and everything has changed."
"I just got into that lifestyle, and they're still great friends, but it wasn't really a lifestyle that helped me as a bike rider. I wasn't too serious and if someone asked me to go for a drink I'd go. It's been a learning curve in my career. I don't regret it because I've made a lot of good friends and I've had a lot of life experiences that I wouldn't have had if I hadn't gone to Monaco. I don't regret it but I just wish I'd realized how hard it is in the sport. I didn't realize it back then."