'It's riders from the UK who everyone wants to sign': development teams scouring British market for next superstar

Three of Groupama-FDJ Continental's 13-rider squad in 2022 will be Britons after the success of Jake Stewart and Lewis Askey

Lewis Askey
(Image credit: Getty)

All of the best cycling development teams are scouring the British market for the next superstar, claims the manager of one of the most successful current U23 outfits. 

Jens Blatter has led the Groupama-FDJ Continental U23 team in its three years of existence and formerly worked at the BMC Development Team that produced a number of riders who later advanced to the sport’s highest echelons, including Pavel Sivakov, Marc Hirshi, Stefan Küng and Jasper Philipsen.

In his three years with Groupama-FDJ, Blatter has seen British protégés Jake Stewart and Lewis Askey be promoted to the team’s WorldTour squad, and he believes that riders from the UK are now the first pick for all managers of development teams, for reasons that extend beyond their ability on the bike.

“More and more British riders are coming through, more and more strong riders from there, and at the moment, it is British riders who everyone wants,” Blatter told Cycling Weekly.

“We had a lot of luck and great experiences with Jake, the team’s first British rider, because he was super-strong. But what I like from British riders is that they are really professional on and around the bike.

“We pay for all of our non-French riders to have French lessons, but the British are the first ones who learn it.

“They go into everything full gas, they are so professional, and that’s a big difference between a rider from the UK and a rider from Italy or Switzerland, for example.

“If I said to an Italian rider that he has to move to France and live in an apartment with a team, the conversation will probably stop there, because he wants to stay with his family and his girlfriend; to live an easier life.

“They might still become a pro, but the Briton, the first question they ask me is: when can I come? Can I start tomorrow? There is a big, big difference.

“I think it starts with British Cycling and the track program that they have. What they do there is really fantastic.

“We have picked up Jake, Lewis, Joe [Pidcock], Finlay [Pickering] and Sam [Watson] from there and they are so professional. They haven't learned that from the world, but from British Cycling, and they bring big results with them too.”

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The attraction between the French team and young riders is also both ways, with Blatter revealing that “every day I get 10 requests from everywhere in the world to join the team” owing to their linear structure between the U23 and WorldTour squads.

With more young riders going directly to the top-tier as teenagers - a contentious issue that recently prompted one agent to express his worry towards - Blatter stressed that U23 teams still play a crucial role in a rider’s progression.

“For sure riders need some results and need to win races, but for us it’s more important that we see the rider progressing year on year,” he added.

“It’s super-important how they handle everything outside the bike: how they are with their teammates, how they look after their apartment, how friendly and motivated they are.

“Riders want to come to us because they see we are a really professional structure, and that we allow riders to ride with the Conti team but then also the WorldTour team regularly."

Chris Marshall-Bell

Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.


Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.