Two years ago, emerging as British cycling’s latest junior star, then-18-year-old Lewis Askey profiled not just the bike rider, but himself.
“I want to keep myself happy and I like freedom,” he told Cycling Weekly. “It’s both a good and bad trait, but I don’t like being told what to do. I like being in charge of my own destiny. I love to do things that I want to do in life.”
Twenty-four months on, a lot has happened, but nothing’s really changed. The teenager is now a man and is preparing to step up from Groupama-FDJ’s U23 set-up to WorldTour team, aged just 20.
He’s midway through a six-week off-season (extended due to blood tests showing how exhausted his body was) and reveals that his love for still doing whatever makes him happy has not gone away.
“I’m down in London for a few weeks with my girlfriend doing some touristy stuff, and yesterday I went to a speed skating club,” he says, rather unexpectedly.
“I’ve wanted to try it for ages, and I know there’s loads of Dutch cyclists who do it, so I’ve signed up for two lessons a week for the next three weeks.
“I wasn’t too bad, but then again I was definitely the worst because it was a club, I was newbie, and I didn’t really know what I was doing.
“But it’s fun because usually I’m pretty decent at most sports, but this is one sport I’ve never had lessons in. It’s a cool opportunity to learn with coaches, and it’s good training for the bike.”
So, too, is running, if you take the current trend: Adam Yates ran a sub-three hour marathon in Barcelona, and Tom Pidcock is to fly to America in 2022 to run 5km at Nike’s Oregon base.
“Can I run like Pidcock?” Askey asks. “I’ve always run, but then I’ve always swam and played squash. I’ve got my 5km goal set.
“I’ve done a 17 minute 5km before, but I really want to get a low 16 minute because my dad did a 16.33 before when he was younger. He still tells me he’s faster than me so that needs putting right.”
Excelling in bike races is what ultimately progresses Askey, but fun is essential to his existence.
When he received the call that FDJ wanted to elevate him to their WorldTour set-up, he was initially reluctant as he had yet to win at U23 level (he would correct that by winning stage two of Ronde d’Isard in September), and he didn’t want to leave behind what he agrees was a holiday camp environment.
“The last two years have been so much fun,” he smiles. “It’s been unreal. I’ve loved every moment there: we had such a good group of lads, and we were always going go-karting, playing football, tennis, basketball, running together.
"Whenever we were off the bike, we’d be together, and we’d want to be. Yet at the same time we were pushing each other in training.
“They’ve allowed me to race my mountain bike in Andorra, travel to Girona on my MTB, and come away with decent results. They’ve allowed me to have good fun and learn at the same time.
“I really had to think about the WorldTour contract because I was happy in that set-up. It was working so well for me, and I knew that if I stayed at U23 level next year, I’d win a lot of races.”
Askey was used predominantly as a key domestique in his two seasons with the French team, but Marc Madiot, the general manager of the WorldTour team, and his staff have seen enough to start building a future Classics team that has Askey at the heart of it. He is, after all, a former Paris-Roubaix junior winner.
“They’ve said to me that the signing isn’t for next year or 2023 - it’s for four to five years from now. They think they’ve got this group together who in a few years down the line is gonna kick some butt in the Classics.
Hailing from Cannock Chase in the West Midlands and originally starting out as a mountain biker, Askey is adamant that his rider profile won’t alter too much: “I know what I am: I’m a rouleur, not a sprinter, someone who can hold their own on a climb between 40 seconds to three minutes, freewheel for a minute and then go again. I’m a Classics man, the races around Brittany, like Tro-Bro Léon, anything with cobbles.”
His longer off-season means he’s unlikely to start his 2022 season until later on. “I’ll find out more about my race program in December - but I think they want me on the Classics teams, including the big ones like Roubaix to give me that experience," he adds.
“Because then in four or five years time, when I’ve got the legs to go for the win or to be there at the finish helping a teammate for the win, I’ll have the experience of how the race pans out.”
As he continues his ascent through cycling’s ranks in one of the sport’s most astute and storied teams, Askey will stay true to the very likeable, relaxed personality that he possesses. “I know I’ve got to make sacrifices - this is a job and people pay me to do a job that I love. And having fun is 100 percent what I want to do.”
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