Owain Doull pulled the peloton along in the Abu Dhabi Tour yesterday for new Sky team-mate Elia Viviani and finished empty, with sweaty salt stains on his black jersey. However, he says the pressure is nothing like racing for an Olympic gold medal in the team pursuit.
The 23-year-old joined Team Sky late this summer after winning the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro with Bradley Wiggins. Already, he raced Paris-Tours and began the four-day Abu Dhabi Tour in the Persian Gulf. “To an extent” the pressure is nothing compared to the team pursuit.
“It’s so short in the team pursuit that if you make one mistake it’s over,” Doull said. “The only thing of real importance is the Olympics, but on the road, you are going day after day. It’s a lot more relaxed.
“[Road racing] is not physically [easy], but mentally and nerves-wise. The nerves and the pressure you feel before the major final of a team pursuit is horrible, you are always linked up and thinking, ‘I’ll never do this again.’ You never get that on the road really, unless it’s a World Championship or something, but it’s at a lesser extent.”
Doull wiped the grit off his face and spoke with his team-mates after the opening stage in Abu Dhabi. The Middle East heat felt like a hard punch after training in Manchester where it was only seven degrees.
Sky worked in stage one for Viviani, the Italian who won the gold medal in the omnium in Rio.
“It’s a bit different now. All of this year, I’ve been going in races with the goal of working hard and not crashing, and not having a specific job. Now, it’s a bit of a switch having to actually do something in a race, which is quite nice. Having that structure.
“I raced in California and Dubai, but for me and Brad it was about getting through it and getting work done. Not doing any damage or crashing. The other guys had goals in the stages.”
Doull joined Sky at one of its toughest times. Wiggins and Sky are under fire for the TUEs it used ahead of the Tour de France in 2011 and 2012 and the lack of clarity since. Now, the UK Anti-doping is investigating.
“It’s not been too bad to be honest. I’m not exactly in the limelight so it doesn’t really affect me to be honest,” Doull said.
“It’s a perfect time to be joining [Team Sky] for me. I’ve done the track now and it’s nice to switch across to the road.”
Doull will focus on his road transition over the next winter months for his first full professional season.
Team boss David Brailsford said this summer that “he’s very much like a very young Geraint Thomas. He’s fast and he can climb. That’s the great thing we really don’t know yet what’s possible.”
“The first couple of years are about learning and developing, and getting used to a new lifestyle on the road,” Doull explained. “I’d like to focus on the classics to start with, but I need to see where I end up. I might be better at something else than what I think I am.”