Towards the end of last season, Owain Doull was on the verge of a significant step in the course of his fledgling career. The Welshman, then a 21-year-old on the British Cycling Olympic Academy Programme and riding for An Post-ChainReaction, had a deal all but sewn up with Europcar – a WorldTour team at the time.
However, he backed out at the last minute and has instead spent 2015 with Team Wiggins, the Continental-level squad set up to help Great Britain team pursuiters on the track to the Rio Olympics next year.
For someone who has shown talent both on the tarmac and the boards, it must have been a tough decision to make, but at the halfway stage in the year Doull isn’t looking back, and will soon be going full gas for Rio.
“I think I did [make the right decision]. I’m quite glad I did what I did, going to Team Wiggins, it’s a really good team, supported me really well and I’ve had a really good year so far from the off,” he told Cyclingnews during the British Road Championships weekend in Lincolnshire, where he finished second in the under-23 time trial.
“For the rest of this year, in the summer I’ll do predominately more road, and towards the end of the year the Tour of Britain and the U23 Worlds, if I’m selected. After that it switches full time to the track and anything I do up to Rio then will be fully geared towards the team pursuit. The road will be just a training tool, I guess.”
The 22-year-old is still getting to grips with the best way to make the most of his considerable potential. Rio might be the most immediate goal but longer term he sees his future on the road and describes the step up that the Europcar deal represented as “still a big ambition”. He even hopes the opportunity might present itself as early as next year.
“If I can secure a contract with a team like a WorldTour team for 2016 and they were happy for me to commit to the track that would be ideal,” he said. “There’s a lot of value in racing on the road or the track – it brings you on quite a lot.
“Ultimately that would be the ideal situation but it’s about finding the balance and as long as it doesn’t compromise the track side of things, that’s the main thing.
“I’d like, after Rio – if I make it to Rio – to fully focus on the road then and see how far I can go on the road. The Classics are something I’ve really wanted to do and hopefully that’s the kind of rider I can develop into in the future.”
Riding alongside Wiggo
Joining the Team Wiggins set-up has given Doull a chance to get focused preparation under his belt with the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Steven Burke, Andy Tennant, who have a string of track medals to their names.
It has also given him a first-hand taste of the extent to which Wiggo-mania has gripped the increasingly cycling-enthusiastic British public.
“It’s pretty special really. Whenever Brad is involved with anything with the team it just amplifies everything – the amount of attention it gets is just mad,” he told Cyclingnews.
“At the Tour de Yorkshire there were more people outside the Wiggins camper than the Sky bus – it’s mad! It’s a different level when it comes to anything with Brad. It’s pretty inspiring really.”
As for his personal relationship with Wiggins, and the rest of the team for that matter, they are teammates working towards the same goal but also in a sense rivals, all vying for a spot in the final quartet for Rio. Doull hasn’t actually spent a great deal of time alongside the seven-time Olympic medallist this year and claims their relationship is neither a case of mentorship nor rivalry.
“Brad has been pretty busy with the Hour Record and we’ve had kind of had different programmes, but over the next few months we’ll all come back into to the GB squad together,” he said.
“But he’s kind of been more pally and matey, more fun than anything.”
Doull finished second in the under-23 time trial at the Nationals for the second year running, losing out once again to Scott Davies over the rolling 33.6km course starting and finishing on the Cadwell Park motor racing circuit.
“Second again. To Scott, again,” is how he put it glumly before adding, “I’m pleased, I don’t think I could have done much differently – Scott was better on the day. It was quite a hard course, harder than expected, with a lot of dead road.”
Doull will be back in action on Sunday for the road race, which features laps of part of the Lincoln Grand Prix course, a race he’s familiar with having ridden it a couple of years ago. Doull and his fellow U23 competitors will be riding alongside the elite men, where finishing behind the likes of Peter Kennaugh or Mark Cavendish may still be enough to clinch a national champion’s jersey.
“It’s quite odd having the U23 and elite in one race, like a race within a race,” he said. “Hopefully I can be near the front in the race itself and hopefully from that be high up in the U23.
“You kind of just get stuck into the race. It’s more in the later stages that you’ve got the U23 riders in the back of your head. Once the moves stick in the sharp end of the race you start looking round and see who else is there, what it’s going to take to win it.”