'I don't feel like I've got anything to prove' - meet Ben Turner, breakout star of this Classics campaign

The Ineos Grenadiers rider on his team's new wave, his stature, and being compared to Ian Stannard

Ben Turner
(Image credit: Getty Images)

In Armando Iannuci's sitcom The Thick of It, there's a supporting character called Ben Swain - played by Justin Edwards - who collects a host of nicknames from the other characters. They are all stupid and infantile, from Ben 10 to Bental Illness, but there is one that stuck in my head. It's silly, and obvious, but it works. It works for Ben Turner too: Big Ben.

The young man from Doncaster jokes that his stature helps his grandma see him on the television. 

"I think the only negative is that I'm really un-aero," Turner says. "If we could sort that, it would be fine. I think it's good, it helps me see in the peloton, move better, and when people are behind me it's a lot easier for them."

The 22-year old is 1.94m according to the stats, six foot three and a bit for those in the UK. That is not ridiculously tall, it's no Conor Dunne (2.04m/6ft 7in), but his height is certainly noticeable in the bunch.

Noticeable. That is what Turner has been in his first season with Ineos Grenadiers, his first season on the WorldTour, his first full road season in fact. It has not just been his stature, which looks all the starker next to the diminutive Tom Pidcock, but his impressive riding. He has been on the front at some of the biggest races, been in select groups at others, and has been an impressive helper to Pidcock, his teammate.

"I'm definitely in a good place," Turner tells Cycling Weekly from Ineos' Classics base in Deinze, Belgium, ahead of the Tour of Flanders. "I don't feel like I've got anything to prove, I'm a first year professional. Just go and do my job successfully, and to the best I can, which of course I'll do anyway, and then just soak up to the whole environment - the day, the atmosphere - and learn from that for the future."

He has looked like he has been in a good place through the Classics season. Turner has started and finished all six of the big one-day Belgian races this year, from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad at the end of February to the Tour of Flanders last weekend.

While there has not been a big result for him or a win for the team in these races, Ineos have upped their game during the cobbled Classics of 2022. Pidcock finished third at Dwars door Vlaanderen, with Turner in eighth, as the pair looked really impressive, before Dylan van Baarle came second at Flanders.

Turner is just glad to be showing his class this year, after he was stymied in 2021 through injury.

"It was a bit of a shame that last year I didn't really get to show my potential," he explains. "I backed where I was at, but obviously now with how I've been performing over the last weeks, this is what you dreamed of being like. To be in the front group with Tom, that's the dream scenario. 

"If we can continue to do that this season and in the years to come that's the dream really. It's good that I've had a taste of that, and hopefully going forwards we can replicate that again."

He is one of eight riders aged 24 or under at Ineos, with others like Pidcock and Magnus Sheffield also putting in performances well beyond their years this season.

Pidcock signed a new five-year contract with the team recently, showing the commitment to youth at Ineos. After the announcement, he said that they were "building the next wave".

Turner echoes this: "It's really good, I think the team is in an exciting point. There's so much young talent and I think you can see how we've raced this year so far, that it's different. It's motivating to be a part of it and every race we go to we're there to win. That's the atmosphere you want to be in.

"I don't feel that young, because there are 19 year olds on the team."

Ben Turner

(Image credit: Getty Images)

At Dwars, Turner was in the leading group. At the GP de Denain, earlier in March, he found himself in an attack off the front of the race with two teammates - Sheffield and Jhonatan Narváez - along with Primož Roglič, the two-time Vuelta a España winner. 

To another rider, these would be the moments of a career, but Turner is getting used to it.

"It's too hard to pinch myself, it's more of a blur," he says. "It's more when you look back after you cross the line, and you think 'wow that was a special day'. That's when all of it sinks in more than in the moment, in the moment it's just exciting and you feel alive."

The break at the GP de Denain was an incredible sight, with the three Ineos riders part of a five-man group over the cobbles. 

"It was a shame that Roglič and the AG2R guy [Damien Touzé] came with us, it would have been nice to do a time trial," Turner jokes. "It was really nice. We had a super day as a team, and I think it was a good team performance from all of us. Shame we didn't have a result at the end of the day, but how you race is also important."

He also is not overawed by the atmosphere at the Belgian races, with a million people on the roadside for the Tour of Flanders reportedly. His opening Ronde was the first one with fans back, with crowds crammed into the arena created in front of Antwerp's Stadhuis for the sign-on.

"Nowadays I'm not too bad, with the road it's not too stressful, not as stressful as cross with the start," he says. "You can ride yourself into the race. But I guess in the morning, with all the crowds and that, it's more excitement than nervousness. It's a good feeling."

His first experience at WorldTour level has been a good one. Obviously, this might just be spin, but Ineos does not sound the forbidding place it once seemed to be. Maybe that's partly the injection of youth, but also a change of tack in the squad.

"I am not too sure what I expected when I look back," Turner says. "It's a big team, and I had no idea what it was going to be like. It's probably above any expectation I had, so that's positive. It's nice and relaxed actually, it doesn't feel like a high-pressure environment or something like that. It's pretty calm, everyone knows what they're going to do and everyone is striving to the same goals, so it's nice.

"I think everyone wants to do their job the best they can. No one isn't doing that, and everyone has the same goal in mind. It's not relaxing, but it's just a nice environment to perform."

Ben Turner

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Turner and Pidcock make an intriguing double act. They're both from Yorkshire, the former from Doncaster, the latter from Leeds. One is tall, the other short; one has won lots (Pidcock is the reigning cyclocross world champion and Olympic mountain bike champion), while the other is yet to quite get there.

They both seem at home in this squad, however, and play off each other. The pair have known each other for almost a decade, and both came through cyclocross and the Trinity team to Ineos Grenadiers.

"I think we've known each other since we were like 13, 14, Yorkshire you know," Turner tells Cycling Weekly. "I've only beaten him four times, so he's been doing well. Gent-Wevelgem was number four...

"I've known him since I was tiny, and he has always been a star. He's a winner, at the end of the day. It's good to be in the environment, or be friends with, or be around people that have that attitude. That's how you move on in your career. He actually helps me to become better, and I think we bounce off each other really well. We have a good relationship."

However, he is not trying to copy his longtime friend, rival, and now teammate, but instead build off working with him, and put effort into establishing himself at this level.

"I'm not trying to be the next Tom Pidcock," he says. "I don't think you have to base your mindset off someone else's, but if you have similar qualities, it's a positive thing to have."

Ben Turner

(Image credit: Getty Images)

There is one rider than Turner has oft been compared to, partly due to stature, partly due to the lack of other successful British Classics riders. Ian Stannard is that man, and Turner has heard it before.

"He was my DS last year [at Trinity], I think that's when the rumours started, and I've heard it a lot now," he wearily explains. "I'll just take it as a compliment I guess. He won a lot of races and was probably one of the best classics riders of that moment. He's alright."

Stannard is probably the best British rider in cobbled races of the 21st century, wining Omloop twice, and finishing on the podium at Paris-Roubaix. Beyond him, Ineos, and therefore British riders, have rarely threatened in Belgium and northern France.

It's not a bad compliment, really. Turner has time to develop into the rider who can challenge at these races, and follow Pidcock, who is precocious, that "winner", as he describes. They are not alone, there is also Fred Wright, who finished above them all at Flanders, coming eighth.

Asked if he would like to see himself winning, Turner replies "in years to come".

"I'm only 22, there's no rush. I'll take it step by step, and hopefully I'll develop into the rider I can be, and that's it really. I've been pro for three months, and to be here starting the Tour of Flanders is pretty good already. I just want to see where my career goes, and hopefully one day I'll be in more situations to win bike races."

This new nucleus of British Classics talent is exciting, and testament to changing priorities in development. Perhaps, also, it is a sign that interest in cycling in the UK has move on from just the Tour de France.

Turner can't remember a time before he was on two wheels, and his journey to the WorldTour feels like a blur.

"My dad used to race, and I don't remember not riding a bike," he says. "Naturally it progresses over the year. Gone from cross to road now, and it has all gone very quickly. Overnight. 

"Even if I wasn't racing I'd still ride a bike, I don't really know what the reason would be beyond that. It's fun and social."

Big Ben has the time and the ability to get to the top of the sport, and will start his first Amstel Gold Race and his first Paris-Roubaix - "another big day in my career" - before taking a well earned break. A top result might be nearer than expected, especially if Ineos keep up their aggressive racing.

"I've got many dreams," Turner concludes. "I think about how we're doing at the moment, and hopefully one day I can win one of these big races. There's plenty of time."

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