Bournemouth beach sees its fair share of excited teenagers throughout the summer, but rarely is it the scene of a phone call which can change a young man’s life.
Will Stephenson strolled on to the famous sand to walk his dog and watch his father swimming in the sea, but left with the news that he would be riding the Tour of Britain for the Rapha Condor JLT team.
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The 18-year-old, who only finished school in June, was first reserve for the team. When Felix English fell sick four days before the start of the race, Stephenson’s phone rang.
“I thought ‘what are the chances of people getting ill?’,” Stephenson said. “Then I got a call from John [Herety, the team’s manager].”
Less than a week later, the first-year pro found himself in Scotland on the start-line for stage one, alongside one of his heroes, Sir Bradley Wiggins.
“It was a bit daunting being in the peloton. Its almost like you’re made to feel by some of the bigger teams that you shouldn’t be at the front.
“If you’re among the domestic professionals you know that you know them quite well and you know that you can talk to them, and more often they’ll let you have the wheels. The bigger pro’s on the bigger teams don’t give you any room.”
Breakaway plan gets away
Whilst Stephenson was the youngest athlete in the race, he was not content with simply riding in the pack. His aim to get into a breakaway, however, didn’t materialise into reality.
“I was at the front [on the first day] but John had just told a couple of us to survive for a few days and to save energy, so I wasn’t allowed to go on the break. Its always frustrating letting the wheel go.
“I tried to get in the break at the start of stage six. I was trying on this flat bit for a few kilometres and I followed a few moves. Then we hit a long hill and my legs were just in bits and I drifted from the front all the way to the very back, hanging on and wishing that the top of the hill would come.”
He crossed the finish line in London to seal fourth place in the Under-23 category.
And it’s not just on the bike that the youngster has shown talent. He has elected to defer his entry to study natural sciences at the University of Cambridge in order to carry on cycling.
“I think unless next year goes really badly I’ll try and put off university for another year and keep putting it off until I’ve had enough,” he said. “I’ll try to start off a bit stronger and by the end of the season I’ll hopefully be getting results in the Premier Calendar races.”
Stephenson is allowing himself a few weeks rest before throwing himself into his first winter as a professional, which includes a team training camp in Australia.