After months of squeezing in training around A-level revision, 18-year-old Joe Laverick spoke to Cycling Weekly about maintaining form during his first full week of exams. “This week was more about the exams than training,” said the Madison Genesis development rider, “quite high intensity but lower volume than usual.”
Laverick has been racing bikes for three years, having made the switch from football in 2016 — with his sights now set on becoming a WorldTour stage racer. We caught up with him to find out what it’s like when the demands of national-level bike racing clash with the pressure and stress of academic exams.
What’s the hardest part of combining A-level exams and pro-level training?
It’s not so much finding the time, it’s just that when you get home after five hours of exams, the last thing you want to do is touch the bike. At the same time, the bike has been my way of forgetting about everything. I go to a sixth-form school, so it’s full-time. Luckily they let me have a bit of time off on Wednesday and Thursday — the headmaster is a cyclist, so he understands.
When did you start racing seriously?
I first bought a bike when I was 14. In 2016 I started to get a bit more serious about it and stopped playing football, which I’d played since I was six, up to county level. I was a pretty decent goalkeeper but the football environment didn’t seem very healthy, whereas in cycling everyone is helpful and wants you to improve.
Does it feel like cycling is getting in the way of education, or the other way round?
My mum’s going to read this, so I’ll say education is the priority! But I don’t enjoy school that much, so it will always seem like it’s getting in the way of cycling. This last couple of weeks has been especially difficult, and cycling has got in the way of knuckling down to revision.
What do non-cycling school-friends think?
You get the normal bits of banter and mick-taking, but I think they understand it really. When I’m leaving school at 10.30am and they’ve still got to be in all afternoon, I do get a few comments as I’m walking out of the schoolyard in full Lycra with my bike, as you can imagine.
What’s your advice to youngsters aspiring to make it as bike racers?
Do what I didn’t do — all the disciplines. I regret not doing track, as I would have had more opportunities. Our national system is largely based around the track, with ‘cross opportunities too. Look at Ben Tullett, his bike-handling skills are mega; everyone who’s done ‘cross has got that base skill. At the end of the day, just enjoy it — it’s a ridiculously tough sport, so if you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to last.
Monday – Rest day
￼Monday was a rest day for revision. I had my history A-level exam the next day, and more exams coming up later in the week. I got a text from my coach [James Millard] saying: “Forget about the bikes, get your head in the books.” So I did — pretty much all day revising, apart from my normal 30-minute core and stretching regime.
Tuesday – Club TT
￼In the daytime I had my history A-level, a two-hour exam — not very exciting but it went quite well and I was quite happy with it. In the evening, I did a club TT, a 16.4-mile course (which is actually 16.6 miles, confusingly). I won it and broke the course record by two minutes 50 seconds — I was going quite well.
Wednesday – Head-clearing hard efforts
￼The next day was a double day of exams, so it was a cramming day. I went out at 4pm for a break and did one hour five minutes including four times three minutes at Zone 5. It was a bit of a head-clearer after spending the whole day cooped up inside. Got out, smashed it, came home and revised again. The aim was 400 watts for the efforts, and I hit 430 watts for all of them — a good day.
Thursday – Club run
￼Thursday was two exams: a two-hour PE exam at 9.15am, and a three-hour English Literature exam at 1.15pm. They were alright — but in the last hour of English I was hanging, my head all over the shop. It was meant to be a rest day but I got home and had a banging headache; I sat there at the table and thought I really need to go out on the bike to de-stress, so texted my coach and went out on the local club run: one hour 40 minutes, nothing too strenuous.
Friday – Sweetspot session
￼Friday was three hours 10 minutes on the TT bike, including three times 25 minutes of sweetspot, which is around 330 watts, with 10 minutes easy in between. I’m quite lucky where we live — if I go out on the coast road, it is really flat for miles. I was quite tired, probably because I was meant to rest the night before; the extra ride tired me out. I hit all the numbers fine, though; it was one of those days where I felt awful but just got it done, grafted it out.
Saturday – Low-cadence accelerations
￼Saturday was seated low-cadence accelerations — a pretty weird session actually. It was one hour 20 minutes in total with 15 times 30-second efforts. You start the efforts in your biggest gear — which for me is 53-11 — and it’s 30 seconds staying in the saddle going as hard as you can trying to get to 90rpm. It doesn’t sound that hard but because you start from a standstill, it’s a slog. I’m naturally a spinner, so this is to build strength at lower cadences.
Sunday – Pre-race activation ride
￼Sunday was just an activation ride because I was racing the following day, bank holiday Monday (where I punctured after an hour). This was a 20-minute ride with an eight-minute block, starting easy and building up, with the last 30-40 seconds at TT pace, then knock the power down and spin it out, and finishing with five 10-second sprints.