By Paul Knott
In today’s all-seeing media age it’s unusual that a British rider can make it all the way to the WorldTour while barely raising an eyebrow on their home soil. After all, the results in far-flung countries showcasing up-and-coming talent are only ever a click away. But that’s exactly what 22-year-old British-born, French-raised EF Education-Nippo neo-pro Simon Carr has done.
It’s not hard to imagine that his dual national upbringing could lead to accusations of Carr being a ‘plastic Brit’ imported to boost the nation’s status. However, Carr’s upbringing has always had a British theme. “In terms of growing up, my parents made the choice to deliberately have a fully English upbringing in the house with English TV, English books and English radio,” Carr recalls. This despite only ever returning to Britain when his brother was also born in Hereford, and Simon studied at Writtle University College just outside Chelmsford.
This lack of time in the UK doesn’t come across as Carr, a highly astute guy, has an immaculate English accent that sits alongside his fluent French tongue.
“I was able to just go back to university without any English lessons, even for written English. And obviously when I was younger I picked up the French pretty easily. I wanted to remember how to speak both languages fluently. So in any situation I can appear to just be a normal French person or, back in the UK, just a normal British person.”
Fitting in as a French-raised youngster meant childhood activities of mountain biking and carting were Carr’s first love, with a particular talent for two-wheeled racing despite a shaky start at his first meet. “I did really badly in the mountain bike trials and downhill because I had no technical ability whatsoever, but when we got to the cross-country section I just found that I was really strong on the climbs and ended up coming through to finish third.”
This led to Carr linking up with local club AJCHVA-Limoux alongside the Pyrenees and an immediate, if not sudden, welcome to the mountains at the age of 12 riding up Col de Pailhères. “That climb is a struggle for me now, and back then it was a challenge of reaching the top without stopping,” Carr recalls. But his potential on the road was clear.
It is somewhat ironic that Brexit comes into force the year in which Carr breaks through onto the biggest stage in cycling. He is a product of free movement that is no longer available as easily to fellow British-born cyclists, something that is not lost on the EF Education-Nippo rider. “If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t have been able to have the upbringing that I’ve had, and I probably wouldn’t be where I am within cycling,” he says.
In November last year, Carr gained dual nationality in France and has led to EF’s communications team creating a British and French flag mash-up on the team website to showcase his split allegiances. Carr suggested using a European flag instead to show his nationality as a potential solution.
“Officially I’ve got both nationalities but on my racing licence it has always said GBr,” he explains.
Born overseas and moving to the French Pyrenees may seem a unique set of circumstances, but it is a similar route that Ineos Grenadier Pavel Sivakov took. The Russian rider was born in Italy before moving with his professional cycling parents to the Pyrenees at a young age. Carr – one year Sivakov’s junior – has memories of one-sided racing against the Ineos rider. “He used to just dominate the under-16 races around here and literally win everything. I was more of a late developer really. I’ve been catching up slowly having raced him as a junior as well as an under-23. I did the Ronde d’Isard when he won it but I haven’t raced him for the last three years. He has probably never heard of me, but I was getting closer and closer to him and now we are both at that WorldTour level.”
His journey to reunite with Sivakov came via riding for AVC Aix-en-Provence before a Pro-Continental opportunity came along for Delko Marseille Provence in 2019. As with all cyclists, Carr spent a disjointed 2020 training for races that he didn’t know were actually going to take place. Part of his training included a 20-kilometre commute each way to and from his family’s internet sales business, where he is a jack of all trades, answering phones, packing parcels and undertaking engine mechanics.
Despite this disruption and juggling of working life, Carr’s season with Delko Marseille ultimately ended with the biggest win of his career to date at the .1 ranked Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika in October. Emulating previous winners which include Simon Yates, Joaquim Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde, was something he didn’t expect to come so soon. “To be honest, I probably would have said I was capable of doing it, but I wouldn’t have said to anyone, ‘I’m going to win a race by the end of the year.’”
This is even more impressive considering a knee injury meant he didn’t ride his bike for the entirety of July. Then a mix-up with his UCI licence registration meant he couldn’t race the Tour de l’Ain against an uncharacteristically loaded field due to the reduced race calendar. Making up for this disappointment Carr raced in Italy across a variety of one-day and stage races before securing the young rider’s jersey at the Tour of Portugal prior to his breakthrough win in the Basque Country.
“It’s pretty cool to see all the riders that have won it before me and a bit surreal to then have my name there as well,” he says.
It was this that clearly caught the eye of EF bosses to make the move for the young rider, securing his signature midway through December. When asked what a 2021 race calendar looked like for Carr, the team seem keen to help him continue his winning run.
Carry on winning
“We initially discussed the broad concept [of a race schedule] and the idea was to carry on winning races because that’s something I’ve done pretty much every year and they don’t want me to lose that habit,” explains Carr. “So I’ll aim for slightly smaller races and go for a big result and then in the really big races go there for experience and help the bigger riders on the team.”
If Carr’s winning run does continue then the little-known Brit won’t be slipping under the radar in any cycling circles much longer.
Coach’s take - Matt Brammeier
GB men’s road coach Matt Brammeier says: “Obviously he’d flown under the radar a bit out in France but he started to get some good results in 2019. Last year we had him down for a few races, he was down to do the Tour de l’Avenir and would have had a good shot at the U23 World Championships, but obviously that didn’t happen. I don’t like to put too much of a tag on a rider of his age, but I definitely hope in a few years to come he’ll be one of our main contenders for hillier races.”
This feature originally appeared in the print edition of Cycling Weekly, on sale in newsagents and supermarkets, priced £3.25.
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