For five minutes, Lewis Askey has been recalling, in vivid detail, the final few kilometres of his Junior Paris-Roubaix win from April 2018. He finally pauses for breath, his excitement having caught up with him.
“It was a feeling I will never forget,” he reveals. “It was the craziest moment of my life. I turned right into the velodrome and there were huge crowds.
“Hearing that roar, knowing it was for me and the Italian guy [Samuele Manfredi], I knew I wouldn’t throw that opportunity away. It was unreal.”
Does he still think about it? “I use it as motivation, 100 per cent,” he replies.
“Sometimes, when I’m training, I’ll think about it and my heart rate goes up and all of a sudden my power is at 600 watts. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, this can’t be happening, calm down!’
“Sometimes I just sit there and think, ‘Wow, I did that.’ It’s almost like it still hasn’t sunk in.”
It is now more than 18 months since Askey won in Roubaix, aged just 16, succeeding compatriot Tom Pidcock as victor. Since then Askey has furthered his standing in the cycling world as an immense talent, winning the Junior Tour of Wales and Isle of Man Youth Tour, to go with nine top-10 UCI results in 2019, the highlight being second place at the Junior Ghent-Wevelgem.
Those and more have secured him a contract to ride for Groupama-FDJ’s development team next season, joining up with fellow Brit Jake Stewart.
Asked if he is a winner, he replies, “I’m a racer. When I was younger I used to swim and I set many country records. But I hated training because all I wanted to do was race.
“I love a battle, a good fight. I have that racing instinct within me. Unless I’m on team duties, I never go into a race thinking about anything other than first place. I love to get my hands up in the air.
“When you win, it’s a relief and a satisfaction. You know you were the best person on that day and that’s a unique feeling.”
Askey’s persona is warm and endearing. There’s a thin line between arrogance and confidence and he is on the right side. He believes in himself, in his capabilities and his tactical knowledge — but he also knows his limits.
“I put myself in the right place to be fighting, knowing that I have got it in me,” he says. “I’m not a sprinter, but I am the one who will win from the rest. After a brutal slog of a race, I will be the one at the end. I like gritty races. I’m not the fastest but I’m the best in terms of doing a number of things right.
“My body can go into overdrive, run on adrenaline, and I forget about everything else that is going on. At Roubaix, I wasn’t connected to my body. It was like playing a computer game where the only thing I had to do was get my head right.”
Askey turned down many offers, including both British Cycling’s Senior Academy and Hagens Berman Axeon, to join Groupama-FDJ for the 2020 campaign. His decision was centred around his biggest priority: enjoyment.
“I want to keep myself happy and I like freedom,” he says. “It’s both a good and bad trait, but I don’t like being told what to do. I like being in charge of my own destiny. I love to do the things I want to do in life.
“With Groupama-FDJ, if I want to go out on my mountain bike, I can. I raced cross earlier this month but if I was with BC I wouldn’t have been able to. If ever I feel like cycling is a job to me and I can’t go on a ski holiday, then why would I continue?”
He’s a good cross rider, too. He’s a prolific figure on the domestic scene and last year placed third at a round of the DVV Verzekeringen Trofee. “That was one of my biggest achievements; I worked so hard for that. I felt like I was proving I could do it,” he says.
He will continue with cross for the next few seasons, but his long-term future lies away from the sand and mud. “I don’t feel like I am good enough to get on the top step of a cross podium every week,” he admits.
“I’m going to see how I develop. I don’t like to say this is the exact race I want to win, but if I had to choose a perfect cycling career that I could look back on in 20 years, it would be having become a world champion and winning Roubaix.” Winning both the junior and senior Paris-Roubaix editions really would be a breathless story to tell.