'No one had heard of me before Liège': Ben Healy on his Classics breakthrough and becoming a household name

The newly crowned Irish road race champion talks us through the week of training that led up to his standout performance at Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Ben Healy climbing on cobbles at Liege-Bastogne-Liege
(Image credit: Getty)

Want to know how the best riders in the world train? For each article in this long-running MY WEEK IN TRAINING series from Cycling Weekly's print edition, we sit down with a pro rider who talks us through a recent week of training in granular detail. This time it's the turn of Ben Healy...

"Most people hadn’t heard of me before Liège-Bastogne- Liège,” muses Ben Healy, “and then they were probably saying, ‘where’s this guy suddenly come from?’” Truth is, EF Education-EasyPost’s star performer of this Classics season had been showing great promise for a number of years, with notable results including a stage win at the Tour de l’Avenir as long ago as 2019. Cycling is certainly aware of the 22-year-old’s talents now, given a string of breakthrough performances this spring, placing second at both De Brabantse Pijl and Amstel Gold, and just being pipped to a podium spot at Liège. Those results are the culmination of the steady progress Healy has been making over the past five years. Here, the Irishman – who was born in the West Midlands – talks us through the week in which he confirmed his status as one of cycling’s most promising young stars. 

Your verdict on the Ardennes? 

I couldn’t really be any happier. I surprised myself and surpassed my own expectations. It felt so good to be able to show what I am capable of against some of the best riders in the world and put in those types of performances. 

How did you train for this Classics season? 

I broke my hand [in February] and my immediate thought was to be ready for the Giro d’Italia, which was always my big goal. I didn’t want to let that opportunity slip by, so I was super-motivated to train properly. I had a week off, saw a proper hand specialist, and then did four weeks on the turbo, riding 20 hours a week. On the turbo it’s super-specific work, you’re always in the perfect zones, doing the right efforts and numbers, so it really benefited me. 

What did you learn as a neo-pro in 2022? 

Nutrition was a big thing – really learning what’s good and bad. For the first time, I tracked my intake and it made a massive difference. Also, I learned that you don’t need to go above and beyond: each session is set for a reason. Previously I found it hard to hit one-day races exactly as needed, but last year I refined my race preparation. I’ve found a formula that works so that I feel ready to race how I want.

Rider profile: Ben Healy

Age: 22

Height: 5ft 8in

FTP: Not supplied

Lives: Girona, Spain

Hometown: Kingswinford, West Midlands

Rides for: EF Education-EasyPost

Best results: 1st – Stage 8, Giro d'Italia (2023); 1st – GP Industria & Artigianato (2023); 2nd – Amstel Gold (2023); 2nd – Brabantse Pijl (2023)

Twitter: @benhealy._

Instagram: @_BHealyyy

Ben Healy portrait team shot

(Image credit: EF Education-EasyPost)

What’s your aim for the Giro?

I’ll be working on behalf of Hugh [Carthy] who is in super form, but I also want to win a stage. Maybe I’ve made it harder for myself in the past few weeks, as people now know me and can mark me from a break, but you never know how a race will pan out. A few top-10s in the time trials would be super-awesome, too. [Healy's run of success continued: he won Stage 8 and finished second on Stage 15.]

The week: Facts and figures

When: 17-23 April, 2023

Where: Belgian Ardennes

Training for: Ardennes Classics

Total riding: 19hr 35min

Z3+ effort: 4hr 30min

Monday: Recovery ride – 1hr 

The day after Amstel and I woke feeling pretty f***ed – I was just dead! I’d just put in one of my best ever performances and was a bit starstruck, thinking ‘What have I just done?’ With the team, we had an easy one-hour spin to the cafe in the rain. I was in the little ring the whole ride, not even thinking about how I was riding. If you take a day off, it sends the body into full-on recovery mode, so I prefer to spin the legs just a little bit.

Tuesday: Easy ride – 2hr 

I did have some efforts planned for this mostly Zone 1 ride, but my legs were pretty heavy so after one effort, I called off the others. I didn’t want to push it the day before La Flèche Wallonne and hurt my legs more than I needed to. Some guys on the team do other exercises like core work on days between races, but I don’t have any such routines – and don’t feel like I need one.

Wednesday: Race: La Flèche Wallonne – 4hr 35min 

As I’m not the most punchy rider and therefore didn’t back myself [to be competitive] up the Mur de Huy, I went into Flèche working for Esteban Chaves and Neilson Powless, but as the race went on I realised my legs felt amazing. There’s a big fight for position at the bottom of the Huy, but I screwed it up. If I was in a good position, I could have scored a good result, but it wasn’t to be [Healy finished 32nd]. It gave me confidence towards Liège though 

Thursday: Recovery ride – 1hr 

The exact same one-hour spin to the same cafe as we did on Monday. Very easy riding. When we got back to the hotel, I had a massage from the soigneur. Massages are not something I feel like I really need, but when you’re in a hotel bubble and have nothing else to do, it’s good to have a routine. A massage is an hour of peace with my phone turned off. 

Friday: Recon ride – 3hr 20min 

We did a recon of the final 100km of Liège, making mental notes of the course. Last year I went way too hard during the recon and fatigued my legs, so this time I knew I needed to take it easy. Some of my teammates did efforts on the climbs, but I let them go, catching them on the descents. I was just focused on keeping on top of the power, not going hard at all, and sitting in Zone 2 for three hours. 

Saturday: Sharpening session – 1hr 40min 

This was the session I had planned before Flèche but didn’t complete – a cafe ride with efforts: first, there was a 10 minute tempo effort, and then five minutes relatively hard at between 400 and 420 watts. I then did a few minutes between 500 and 600 watts, and one full-gas 10-second sprint. Having the extra day’s rest to be able to do the recon was really helpful. 

Sunday: Race: Liège-Bastogne-Liège – 6hr 20min 

Liège was completely different to last year, with Soudal-Quick Step setting a hard pace from the start. By La Redoute, there were a lot of ‘dead bodies’. When Remco Evenepoel attacked, I had good legs but struggled to deal with an initial change in pace. We never saw Remco again, but I backed myself to drop the other guys on the climbs, knowing I couldn’t take anyone to the line. In the end, I panicked in the sprint, messed it up a bit [Healy finished fourth], but I could never have imagined saying that two weeks before – it was not what I had been expecting.

This full version of this article was published in the 11 May 2023 print edition of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week.  

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