You’d think the day after finishing your first ever Grand Tour you’d be afforded a day off.
But following 21 stages of the Vuelta a España and a night out in Madrid, the latter of which Mark Cavendish says is the reason Owain Doull looks so tired, the Welshman flew straight to London to promote the upcoming Six Day London track event.
At the Olympic velodrome in October Doull will partner Cavendish and race against the likes of Elia Viviani (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), having grown accustomed to racing against the best of the best during the past three weeks in Spain.
A first Grand Tour is a big moment in any cyclist’s career, and it’s fair to say Doull loved every minute. “It was really good. I think pretty much everything I was expecting from the Vuelta and a bit more,” he says. “Everyone always says the Vuelta is one of the most unpredictable races of the year and it definitely was. There wasn’t a single day where something wasn’t happening. I loved it but I’m glad it’s over. It felt like a long time, but it also went really quickly. It was strange.”
The intensity of the racing is something that took Doull aback, he says, particularly the now infamous stage 17 when Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) took not just the stage but also the Ruban Jaune as he set a new fastest average speed (50.63km/h) for a professional race over 200km.
Doull says Ineos had a good group of guys in Spain and the riders and staff were all pretty relaxed for the three weeks, having not taking a GC contender and also coming off the back of a successful Tour de France where Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas secured a one-two for the British squad.
Instead, they just chose which days to race hard on and which days to take off. “It was just a good laugh actually,” Doull says. “Having Wout Poels there makes a big difference, he’s a unique character.”
Unique in what way? “He’s obsessed with Brexit, that’s probably the strangest thing. He watches the Brexit countdown every day on Sky News, he loves it.”
Doull had two room-mates during the Vuelta: “I was rooming with Ian Stannard and then I think he got sick of me so I switched to Tao Geoghegan Hart.”
The Welshman refuses to be drawn on who was the better room-mate, instead calling them “different”, trying not to play favourites.
“You get more conversation out of Tao, but that can also be a negative thing sometimes. Stannard got me into a lot of good habits because obviously he’s got a couple of kids and he’s used to going to bed earlier than I am. 10pm, 10.30pm lights off, go to bed, that’s it. There’s no say in it. So he got me into a good routine.”
Apart from the Six Day London, Doull hopes to make the British team for the Yorkshire World Championships, with his inclusion in the Belgian one-day Kampioenshcap van Vlaanderen a major hint he will make the six-man squad.
“Past [Yorkshire] I’m kind of done for the road season. At least I hope I am.”
What about looking further forward, what will 2020 hold for the 26-year-old?
“I think progression is probably the key word. I think in road cycling it’s hard to set specific targets and say I want to win this race, unless you’re a big champion like Philippe Gilbert or Cavendish, for example,” Doull says.
“With me it’s about progression and making the most of the opportunities that come. The Classics are where I want to focus next year and make another step up. Then hopefully I’ll do another Grand Tour with Ineos, the Giro or the Vuelta.”
With Geraint Thomas’ unexpected 2018 Tour de France now part of cycling folklore, you never know what can happen when a Welshman turns up to a Grand Tour with minimal expectations.
“I don’t know about that,” Doull laughs, “after three weeks in Spain with guys who are 50 kilos…I don’t think so.”
Six Day London returns to the velodrome in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park from 22nd – 27th October for more world class track cycling amidst a party atmosphere. Tickets from £19 at ticketmaster.co.uk/sixdaylondon