Fred Wright is beaming as he rolls across the start line for the final stage of his debut race as part of a WorldTour team. And why wouldn’t he be? Singled out and signed by Rod Ellingworth and now lining up alongside veterans such as Heinrich Haussler and Marcel Sieberg, not to mention rooming with Mark Cavendish.
“I stayed with him in Mallorca at a training camp so I’ve already spent a bit of time with him,” Wright explains to Cycling Weekly, on finding himself rooming with one of the greatest sprinters of all time at both of their first races for Bahrain-McLaren.
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“Actually, it’s kind of become normal just hanging out with him in the room. But just me saying that it’s normal is weird because when I started cycling he was winning stages of the Tour de France,” Wright laughs. “It’s bonkers really.”
Was he nervous when he woke up in Riyadh on the morning before his first race as a pro? “I was pretty nervous but probably more excited. What’s great about being here with these guys is they’re all really experienced.
“I was more nervous about where my level was at really, I knew I could do the right things at the right moments, it was whether or not I had the legs.”
Wright certainly did, getting himself into a move up the road alongside Cavendish as they took advantage of a split in the bunch, not hesitating in taking the race to their rivals.
As part of their team’s lead-out on stage two, they would launch Heinrich Haussler too early as Total Direct Energie’s Niccolò Bonifazio took the stage win. On stage three, however, their strength showed. With rivals focusing on Cavendish, Phil Bauhaus was allowed to peel off the front and power to the stage win and take the race lead.
“I’m much more relaxed now that we’ve won that stage today, everyone’s in really good spirits and everyone’s not feeling as much pressure because we knew we were coming here to get some stages,” Wright says after stage three, two days before his team pull off a second stage win and overall victory with the German Phil Bauhaus.
“On stage three I did the last little bit before Haussler, Bauhaus and Cavendish went into the last corner, but then I’d had to pull on the front earlier in the day.”
Clearly this isn’t just an orientation race for the 20-year-old Brit to find his feet in, being put to work to help deliver the team’s objectives.
“Yeah, it’s nice,” Wright laughs again. “It was just pretty full-on the whole day so I got into a bit of a rhythm and just knew I had to bring Rui back in who was off the front.”
By ‘Rui’, Wright is talking about former world champion Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) and it appears Wright has adapted quickly to his new surroundings. If you’ve had to acclimatise to rooming with someone you used to watch race on telly it’s not too much of a departure to lead the chase in bringing back a rider sporting rainbow bands on his sleeves.
He certainly seems to be finding his feet, delivering on the stage victories at the Tour de l’Avenir and Baby Giro that caught the eye of Ellingworth who made the young rider one of the three Brits brought into the project.
“I spoke with Rod before the world road race champs,” Wright explains on how the contract came about. “He just said ‘I think we’re gonna want to make you an offer’, I had a really good chat with him actually. Then I went back to where I was staying in Manchester at the time and was like, ‘right, I’m definitely going to go for that’.”
A few months passed until all the paperwork was sorted and the signing announced in mid-November, with Wright having to keep quiet about how his life was about to change forever.
“I knew [the contract had been signed] and it’s kind of a relief because you get loads of people asking you about what’s happening and you can’t really say anything, so it was nice to be able to finally say.”
Now with his future clear for all to see, the orange and red strip already proving an unmistakable and pleasingly aesthetic addition to the peloton, Wright can be a bit more open about his goals for the future.
“I think I’m pretty set on being a Classics rider,” he says. “My next race will be the opening weekend in Belgium. I’m going to get my head kicked in but I should learn a lot.”
Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne aside, the rest of his year is currently undecided. But wherever one of the newest British WorldTour riders pops up next, it seems like he will be worth keeping an eye on.