Russell Downing Interview: “Now we’re back in the big time again.”
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Monday, January 07, 2013

Russell Downing Interview: “Now we’re back in the big time again.”

by Ben Atkins at 2:37 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Yorkshireman returns to the top as Endura merges with NetApp; dreaming of the Tour on home roads

russell downingRussell Downing is preparing himself for a return to the top flight of cycling in the coming season, as part of the NetApp-Endura team. The 34-year-old from Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was a key part of Continental team Endura Racing in 2012 and, as the British-based team merges with German Professional Continental Team NetApp, he hopes to fulfil a similar role at the higher lever in 2013.

VeloNation’s Ben Atkins caught up with the popular British veteran as he raced in the Revolution at the Manchester Velodrome this week.

Having been one of the most consistent UK-based riders for many years, Downing finally got his big chance in 2010 as he was signed by the newly-formed Team Sky. He well and truly seized the opportunity, picking up results where many of the team’s big names faltered but, having made his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d’Italia in 2011 - where even a serious crash with two days to go couldn’t stop him from finishing - his contract was not renewed by the WorldTour team.

Many were upset on Downing’s behalf, but the rider himself is now philosophical about what was a huge disappointment at the time.

“I think that’s just sport in general,” he conceded. “I don’t want any sympathy for what happened, but I was very disappointed not to get a contract, but teams go different ways and they went to win the Tour, and it’s brilliant that they did it.

“I’d have not been able to help them win the Tour, so… that’s sport.”

Thankfully for Downing, the success of Team Sky in Europe was mirrored by a growth of the sport in the UK. With his profile at home he was able to pick up a ride in one of Britain’s most ambitious teams, and its merger with NetApp sees him return to the top again.

“But then I stepped back down; I spoke to [team manager] Brian Smith at Endura, and he had big goals and things, so it was a step down to go back forward,” Downing reasoned. “And yeah, I’ve worked with the team, helped win races for other guys, won races myself, and now we’re back in the big time again.

“We’ve got a really good race programme and it’s going from strength to strength, the team,” he explained. “I’ve signed a two-year deal, so I can relax now and really concentrate on the results and not worry about what’s happening after eight months, or something. I’m very, very excited; I’m 34 years old, but I think age is only number if you worry about it, and I’m not worried.

“I’m as motivated as ever to train, probably a bit different. It’s usually just big miles, but now I’m going to do that, but tweak a few things and really target some races rather than just try and do well in them all.”

Punching above their weight against the big names of the sport

russell downingAs a small UK-based Continental team, Endura Racing spent much of 2012 decidedly punching above its weight; taking several stage race victories through Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. NetApp had a similar season in the tier above, with Jan Barta and Bartosz Hutarski both taking a second place at the Giro d’Italia.

With the two teams merged for 2013 - even though Tiernan-Locke has been snapped up by Team Sky - there should be more of the same in the coming season.

“Yeah, definitely,” Downing agrees. “NetApp was ProConti, and I think that if Endura had been ProConti last year, we’d have got some amazing invites. We got some great invites, but you can’t invite a Continental team to ride one of the biggest races in the World; if we’d have been that one level up - which we are now - we’d have got some good starts.

“That’s what’s going to happen this year; we’ve took the good riders from Endura, and NetApp have brought their strength, and some new guys as well,” he explained. “We’ve already done a ten day training camp, we go again on Friday [January 11th - ed] for another ten days, so we’ll hopefully hit the ground running.

“The season starts for most of the guys in San Luis, in Argentina, so it’s not long now - 22nd of January, I think that is - but mine’s starting with Qatar [on February 5th - ed].

“So, another ten days training in Almeria [Spain], and then get ready for Qatar,” he added.

Team NetApp was one of the four teams to be awarded a wildcard invitation to the 2012 Giro - much to the surprise of many - and is one of ten teams chasing three spots for this year’s race. The level of competition between the second division teams is a reflection of the current state of the sport at that level, Downing thinks, but he would dearly love to make his second appearance at the Corsa Rosa.

“I think that there are that many teams at ProConti that are evenly matched,” he reasoned. “It’s going to be a hard thing, but all we can do is, every race that we ride, hopefully do the best, and… how Tours work, it’s not always about just the result, but it’s about what things you can bring. We’re in the hands of the gods a little bit, but I’m sure the riders and the staff on the team will do anything in their power to try and secure that place.

“It would be great to ride another Grand Tour,” he added.

Hoping for another Grand Tour, and dreaming of the biggest race of all at home

Team NetApp’s 2012 Giro invitation was at the expense of some bigger names - as were many of Endura Racing’s, but Downing insists that the team’s attitude and performance more than justifies this.

“We get invites and sometimes a lot of the big teams are sort of ‘who are you,’ but when you look at the results, there’s no argument there; that’s who we are,” he said.

“So that’s what our plan’s going to be this year, and hopefully the invites will keep us there, the race invites will keep tallying up. We’re getting emails: ‘this is definite, this is definite,’ and it’s getting good, yeah. We’re pretty happy.”

Looking ahead to 2014, and getting a little ahead of ourselves, the Tour de France is set to make history by starting in Yorkshire, Downing’s home county. As a local rider, it would obviously be a dream for him to ride the World’s biggest race on the roads of his home, but Downing is taking nothing for granted at this time.

“I get that question all the time,” he laughed, “and obviously for the Tour de France to come to Yorkshire… since I was a kid, the Tour de France is the thing. For it to come to Yorkshire’s great; I’ve been doing a little bit of work with the promoter, and stuff on that side of it, and helping out there.

“So, 2014, two years down the line, who knows? It would be unbelievable to get Team NetApp in there. That’s two years down the line but, same again, we’ll have a cracking year this year; who knows, anything can happen…

“I’ll try and pull some strings in Yorkshire, and see if I can get them in there!” He joked.

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