Luke Rowe’s year-long journey to the Tour de France

The 25-year-old Welshman will make his Tour debut on Saturday after "knuckling down" for 2015

It was during the middle months of 2014, around the time that Chris Froome’s chances of back-to-back Tour de France victories were disappearing, that Luke Rowe’s pathway to this year’s race began.

“Halfway through last season, I really knuckled down,” he told Cycling Weekly. “Seeing the Tour in the UK last year, and seeing how successful the team’s been in the race, I wanted to be a part of that.”

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In the 12 months since, Rowe has produced a top 10 at Paris-Roubaix, and placed well at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and the Tour of Qatar, completed his first Grand Tour and earned himself his first Tour start.

“I did the Vuelta and Worlds at the end of last season, and I wanted to start off 2015 where I finished. So I went all in with my training – for starters, I went to [Team Sky’s training base in] Nice in November.

“It’s quite easy to stay at home, and maybe do a bit less training when the weather isn’t so good and there are distractions.

“We had a team training camp in December, and then I was out to Australia on January 4. New Year is my favourite time to be at home, and to leave straight after it can be quite hard, but I’m in one of the biggest sports teams in the world, and I want to go to the biggest races in the world and perform.

“In the end, the classics campaign went really well, I supported the boys where I could, and when I had opportunities where I could race my own race, I felt like I took them.”

Luke Rowe and Peter Kennaugh, winners, British Madison National Championship 2011

Rowe and Peter Kennaugh – also heading to the Tour – won the British Madison Championship in 2011

Rowe was one of the most promising talents to graduate from British Cycling’s Olympic Academy Programme when he joined Team Sky for 2012.

He won the previous year’s ZLM Tour, a one-day race that forms part of the Nations Cup series for under-23s, and showed well in the challenging Tour of Normandy and Thüringen-Rundfahrt stages races.

He said: “The last year in the Academy, I could go and race for myself: if it was hilly or flat, I’d get myself in the mix.

“It’s a confidence thing to say ‘I’m up for it today’ – you have to change your whole mentality of taking on a race.”

The 25-year-old has rarely been afforded such a status at Sky to date, and his two most notable individual results with the team have come on occasions when he has taken the initiative for himself.

The first was his one professional win to date – the opening stage of the 2012 Tour of Britain, which came after then team-mate Mark Cavendish was felled in a crash entering the Norfolk Showgrounds. Scheduled to be the Manxman’s final lead-out man, Rowe won a two-up against current Trek rider Boy van Poppel.

Then eighth place at this year’s Roubaix came despite Rowe being among Sky’s secondary leaders.

Twenty-eight seconds after John Degenkolb won a seven-man sprint to take the win, Rowe edge out Lotto-Soudal’s Jens Debusschere to equal Tom Simpson’s and Sean Yates’s results in the race in 1963 and 1993 respectively. Even more impressively, he’d ridden the second half of the race with a buckled wheel.

Sky principal Dave Brailsford described Rowe’s performance as “super”, adding: “he promised that all through the classics campaign, he’s stepped up again this year and he’s an exciting prospect for the future.”

For now, however, it’s back to domestique duties for the Welshman.

Luke Rowe on stage seventeen of the 2014 Tour of Spain

Rowe leads Chris Froome on stage seventeen of the 2014 Tour of Spain

It was at last year’s Vuelta where Rowe’s domestique abilities at a Grand Tour first became apparent to Chris Froome.

The pair had only raced together in the same team five times prior to then; three of which were at the World Championships, hardly a barometer of how well a rider can support a team leader day after day.

Froome placed second in Spain last September, 70 seconds behind Alberto Contador, and Rowe must have done something right for the 2013 Tour winner to want him as part of his trusted inner circle for this year’s race.

“It’s a whole differently mentality when I’m working for Froomey; my finish lines change,” added Rowe. “At the Vuelta, my job was to get him to the bottom of a climb with 20 kilometres to go, for example, and that’s it. I think I rode well there.”

Since finishing Roubaix, Rowe has raced with Froome at the Tour of Romandy and the Dauphiné (two more events in which the latter has placed on the podium), and was part of an altitude camp in Tenerife at the end of May.

“From January the focus was the classics and nothing else. The Monday morning after Roubaix, the goal turned to something completely different – getting in the Tour de France team,” added Rowe.

“The team time trial was a big focus for us at Romandy; we went there and won it, and Froomey went on to finish third. Nobody was at 100 per cent there, but we rode well. That’s a good sign for July.”

Having told Brailsford during the off-season that he wanted to ride this year’s Tour, Rowe’s wish came true when he was named in Sky’s nine-man team for the race that was made public on Monday morning.

He said: “If you look at my characteristics, I can do a lot of jobs at the Tour: ride at the front, ride on the cobbles, position Froomey.

“When I tell people I ride for Team Sky, they say ‘do you do the Tour de France?’. That is the sport of cycling and if you can go there and perform, that’s as big as it gets.”

* Luke Rowe is an ambassador for the Wiggle Dragon Ride. Entries for the 2016 event will open in October. Register your interest now at www.wiggledragonride.com