Stephen Cummings says that his move from BMC to MTN-Qhubeka this winter is not a sign that he is winding down in his career. In fact, it is just the opposite. The 33-year-old British rider believes that he is riding as good as ever and has big goals for the 2015 season.
"I feel better than I have done before so I don't feel like I'm ending… I feel super good. I just feel like a parachute has gone and I feel really good and I want to go," he told Cyclingnews at the team's training camp last week. "I would like win a race but I big one. This year I won the Tour Med but I'd like to win a bigger category. I can't tell you when or where but I'd like to win one… The Tour is obviously a big goal and everyone's dream is to win a stage. That's my dream as well."
The move away from the BMC team has been on the cards for a long time. Despite scoring some of his best results while at the team, including his first stage race at the Tour Méditerranéen, Cummings admits that the last two years have been tough for him. He toyed with the idea of returning to Team Sky, where he rode from 2010-11, but he opted for the African team in the end.
For Cummings, the switch to MTN-Qhubeka also gives him an opportunity to regain the motivation and focus needed by a professional rider. "I didn't really enjoy last year too much and I didn't really enjoy this year either. I said last year that I had a contract running through this year and after that I wanted to move and change," he explained. "I wanted a new challenge. I thought I might talk to a French team or something like that, which would have been good but this was better."
Cummings has ridden at WorldTour level for the past five seasons. For much of that time, Cummings has been utilised as a domestique for the likes of Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins. This year has been particularly hard, after he broke his elbow during the Belgium Tour, and he says that life in the top tier of cycling was grinding him down.
"I was getting a bit stale in the WorldTour," he said. "You see riders go there and they kind of forget how to race and they become bottle fetchers. Some guys thrive on it and others don't really get into it too much. I've come from the track and we always get very driven by goals structure and programme. Sometimes if you're in a WorldTour team you're just filling gaps and you lose your structure and your focus."
Recipe for success
MTN-Qhubeka headed for South Africa and Stellenbosch last week for a week-long training camp. Cummings signed for the team back in September but it was his first chance to meet his new teammates and see what equipment they will have at their fingertips come 2015. The team will have almost a complete overhaul in terms of bikes and components, with Cervélo coming on as bike supplier and rotor and T3 providing most of the extras.
"I've been a bit blown away by the whole thing to be honest. They've got into great detail on every aspect of the bike and training, and I'm really impressed," said Cummings. "There's a lot of guys here with experience and it they're a good group of guys as well as bike riders… We've just got to try our best and hopefully achieve the goal.
"I think that the team can get into the Tour de France. With the riders that we have, I think that we can win a stage and we've got riders who have done it."
Cummings and his fellow new signings have been brought in to help the team make the Tour de France. However, he hopes that he can do a bit more than that. "I have a lot of experience, I've been around a while now so I can pass that on to the younger guys and try to help them and make them believe that they can do it. It is maybe 10 years ago that I was in their position and it is possible. They've got to believe you can win and then they can achieve it."
More than riding
Being able to win bike races is important to every professional rider. Knowing that you or your teammate has a chance to take victory at the end of the day can help a rider push beyond their limits. However, the presence of the Qhubeka charity and their mission has put a whole new complexion on things for Cummings.
"The Qhubeka involvement was the reason [he joined the team] and it's just exciting, it think that it is a cool project," he said. "In certain teams it is all about performance. Don't get me wrong, this team is about performance but that's not the only thing in life. It's a bit more human, so that's nice."
During the training camp, the team were given an opportunity to see the work that the Qhubeka charity does. They paid a visit to one of the local shanty towns where some of the residents have been growing trees as part of the Qhubeka eco project and in return earn a bicycle. It was the first time that the new signings had seen the charity's work up close and it had an impact on Cummings.
"It puts things into perspective a bit," Cummings said to Cyclingnews. "I was a bit sad afterwards. It just blows your mind, I didn't speak all afternoon after it. It's a great experience and it makes you understand the whole project a bit more."