Team Wiggins‘s James Knox is accumulating top results in his quest to ride professionally, but says that it is only by riding at that level will he know if he is adequate.
The 21-year-old Brit from Cumbria is riding in his second year with Team Wiggins with an eye on a WorldTour team. He is progressing well, placing second in the under 23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Saturday and on Wednesday, 10th in the Tour of Croatia summit finish with professionals like Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) for company.
“Of course, that’s why I’m on the team and that’s my ambition to move forward to the WorldTour,” Knox told Cycling Weekly when asked if he considers Tao Geoghegan Hart an example. Geoghegan Hart placed third twice in the espoirs Liège-Bastogne-Liège and joined Team Sky.
“The amount of riders I’ve raced against over the last few years in under 23 races who are now racing at the top level is huge, you go head to head with these guys on almost a weekly basis, so obviously it’s possible. It’s just whether you’re good enough.”
The true test often comes in the three or four years after a rider signs professional contracts. For various reasons, not just talent alone, they fail or succeed.
Jan Ghyselinck won the 2009 under 23 Tour of Flanders and placed third in 2008 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. However, due to HTC-Highroad folding and his career path afterwards, he failed to make a big impact and retired over the winter at 28-years-old.
Inconsistency and injuries plagued Niki Ostergaard. The Dane placed second in the 2010 under 23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and second in the 2006 junior worlds, but never took off with the professionals.
Results in these prestigious amateur races, however, pave the way to future professional contracts and the chance to see if one is “good enough” in the WorldTour.
“[Second in Liège-Bastogne-Liège is] massive for me, these are the most prestigious races for under 23 riders and the ones I’ve been dreaming of doing well in,” Knox added.
“You only have to look at the previous winners of some of these top under 23 races to see what it means for the future.”
Knox made his way mostly in foreign lands. He rode two years with team Zappi in Italy and joined Wiggins in 2016, racing “almost entirely international programme.”
“[The Under 23 races are] surprisingly different. There’s less control to start off with, very few teams are strong enough to control the race so having guys up the road is important,” added Knox.
“I can thank Joey Walker and Rob Scott for being there at Liège, and there’s always the chance it can stay to the finish if all the teams are represented unlike a major classic for the pros. There’s just generally less fire power, as you’d imagine, and someone like myself has the opportunity to attack in the finale instead of a strong team putting it the gutter for their leader.”
The under 23 Liège closed in an outdoor velodrome in Ans instead off climbing to a finish like the professionals.
Knox’s four-man group entered first and as he prepared for the sprint in second wheel, they came around the bend behind the entering chase group. He had “nowhere to go” and led underneath 30 men “unscathed” to open up the sprint.
“I left the door open for the Belgium Bjorg Lambrecht to come up on the inside and take me with a lunge on the line,” Knox said. “I probably won’t forget it for a while. I am honestly terrible at sprinting so maybe I shouldn’t be too disappointed.”