Stuart Blunt, the British Cycling junior coach who led the development of the country’s latest golden generation including Tom Pidcock, Jake Stewart, Fred Wright and Matt Walls, believes that Ethan Hayter has the potential to become a Grand Tour contender.
In a wide-ranging interview with Cycling Weekly, Blunt expressed his admiration for the speed at which Hayter has progressed in the past year, the Londoner winning the Tour of Norway and being in with a shout of winning four other stage races, including the Tour of Britain.
Now established as a genuine rival to the likes of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Julian Alaphilippe, Blunt also thinks that Hayter, who is entering the final year of his original three-year contract with Ineos Grenadiers, possesses the qualities to one day challenge for the leader's jersey in three-week races.
“Ethan is the full package,” Blunt said. “He will maintain his strength on the flat and his power; he can already do a strong time trial, he can sprint; he will learn how to get on in the crosswinds and he rides a climb in such a particular way that he’ll get over mountains.
“All of a sudden, when he brings that into the game, you’ve got a GC rider for a Grand Tour.
“Athletes evolve and their careers do as well. Geraint Thomas showed that, so did Brad [Wiggins] to a certain extent. We’re no longer looking at beanpole athletes for who wins the Tour or the Giro.”
Hayter won nine races on the road during the 2021 season as well as picking up silver in the Madison at the Tokyo Olympics and gold in the omnium at the World Championships.
It was a breakthrough year that Blunt admits probably took Hayter by surprise.
“Ethan would have said (at the start of the season) that he wanted to win, but actually he was probably the only person who didn’t believe he would.
“He hasn’t realised how good he is up until very recently. He now goes into races - and you saw it at the Olympics, Euros and Worlds - with the mindset that he is going into races to make efforts, to hurt people.
“He’s got that killer instinct and it’s started to click. The way he rode the Tour of Britain was phenomenal.
“He will win Grand Tour stages and he potentially is a green jersey contender right now.”
Blunt spoke glowingly about the talent of the generation in their early twenties and reiterated his belief first shared to Cycling Weekly two years ago that the country’s next men’s world champion will come from this group. Mark Cavendish was the last male to win the rainbow stripes for Britain back in 2011.
“I really believe this group of lads will win a World Championship,” he added. “The assumption is that it will be Tom, but it could be Ethan, Fred, any one one of them. Ethan Vernon is going to be some bike rider. There’s Lewis Askey too, Matt Walls.
“They have that commitment to each other that Cav, Geraint Thomas, Peter Kennaugh all had.
“I noticed it at the Worlds this year when having dinner. Luke [Rowe] and Cav were there with Tom, Ethan, Jake, Fred and I thought, ‘bloody hell, it’s like being back on the junior trips’. They were having such a laugh.
“You can see that they will go all out for each other, sacrifice themselves and that makes a difference.
“I’m pretty comfortable that when the time comes and Matt Brammeier [British Cycling's senior coach] sits them down and says this is who they ride for that they’ll commit 100 percent to a man.”
That dedication stems from the riders having all progressed through British Cycling’s pathway together, each victory fuelling motivation for the next one.
“They’ve come through as one and they push each other,” Blunt added. “When one succeeds, it becomes the norm. They were going into races - and the generation below them are the same - expecting to do well and win. They’re not arrogant, not entitled, but they believe.”
During the Covid-19 lockdowns last year, Tao Geoghegan Hart called riders on the junior academy, while Pidcock and Stewart took part in virtual 10-mile time trial stage races with the same riders.
That link between the past and the present is crucial to ensuring that the stream of world class athletes continues, Blunt believes.
“They’ve all got a bond, they feel like a family, and they want to help the ones beneath them," he continued.
“Tom riding the time trials with them is massive as he’s posting their times in the WhatsApp groups and there’s banter between them all. Although, it was comical at the start when Tom posted something and all the juniors were too starstruck to even reply!
"It’s got to the point now where if they’re in the British Cycling system, they almost have to succeed. It’s the natural thing to do. They know the WorldTour, an Olympic medal, is achievable and realistic.
“We’re never going to be like Belgium and France who have hundreds of talented riders, but we now select a program of 20 and are turning down riders who are probably good enough to be pro.
“That’s a snowball effect of success that creates momentum and the next kid comes along.”
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