'When there are 10 guys coming into the finish, I want to be one of them' - Lewis Askey on WorldTour life

Young British Groupama-FDJ rider has signed new contract with team until 2025

Lewis Askey
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Lewis Askey is in no rush.

The 21-year-old has just finished his first season in the WorldTour with Groupama-FDJ, after graduating from the French squad's Continental-level equivalent, which fast developing a rich seam of talented British riders.

It might not have been an explosive year, no absolute breakthrough result yet, a second place at the Classic Loire Atlantique the closest to a maiden win, but the bosses at Groupama-FDJ are clearly impressed, as they have given him a contract extension until 2025.

Again, there is no rush. Askey is keen to stress to Cycling Weekly that while his goal is to be at the pointy end of Classics races, next year might be too early for that; a lengthy contract allows him the ability to grow and develop on his own terms, a blessing in a sport filled with two-year contracts and riders chucked out of the WorldTour as soon as they have come in. The confidence shown in him is heartening, especially as he is someone without a big result yet.

"I can just think about me being my best," he explains. "I race for me, because I'm not stressed about if I don't perform here, if I do perform here, I should be doing this for this contract or whatever. I'm only thinking about what's best for the team

"It would play on your mind, if I was going into races thinking about 'oh I need to do this to get this or if I just managed to get into that break, I could have ended up with this contract'."

Instead of being forced to worry about the next contract, now, Askey is free to beat his own path, and continue to impress at Groupama. It helps that he has been part of the setup since he was 18. It's practically a family. Well, it actually is family, as his younger brother, Ben, will be joining the development team from next season. It feels like home. 

"Ever since I've been whatever age really, I've always been on a programme that means I've never had to really stress," Askey says. "I've gone through the programme, done what I'm supposed to do, done the right thing, impressed the right people. 

"I've never had to really stress about where I'm going to be or what I'm going to be doing, I've only had to think about my race."

While he might not have hit the highest highs in 2022, he still was important for the team, slotting into his role and helping out the sprint train of Arnaud Démare at times.

"Honestly, for the most part the team thought I'd performed better than they were expected for my first year," he says. "However, I wasn't as good this year as I was last year. It was a mixture of things: I was really tired after last season, so I had to have really late start back on the bike, without the best winter and then I was not expecting that the racing was going to be so full on."

Lewis Askey

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One gets the impression that Askey really enjoys cycling, even as it gets tougher at the highest level. After two years at under-23 level, he raced with the elite team this year, riding 11 races at WorldTour level.

They included dream events, like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, along with the Tour de Suisse; it is quite the step up from races like Kreiz Breizh and the Tour Alsace. For the young man from the Midlands, the biggest difference is the amount of good riders around him. It's the classic big fish in a small pond becoming a regular-sized fish in a massive pond.

"The depth is the biggest thing in the WorldTour that changes the situation," Askey says. "You've not just got one to five guys that are good. You've got so many guys that can win races. You've got guys that have won classics and massive races that are doing jobs for the teammates. It just shows the depth of the field."

The other big difference this year was the amount of racing and travelling he had to do, a big change from is very localised calendar as an U23 rider. 57 race days might be far from the most ridden this year, Thomas de Gendt's 97, but it was a big change for Askey.

"Going from race to race and travelling meant that I didn't really have time to train," he explains. "I didn't really have that base, and I was using racing to get better. There a couple of weeks where that worked, but then I hurt my knee at Roubaix, and it was a bit messy after that. It has not been the best year, but the team said it was a year to learn, and I've learned a lot. 

"I got to go and race the biggest races, so it was a useful year. I'm glad I did it now, because initially I didn't actually want to be here this year. I wanted to wait until like the following year to go pro. The biggest disappointment is not coming away with a win when I had the opportunity to more than once, and that was frustrating because it was on me."

Lewis Askey

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Roubaix might have tested another rider's enjoyment of cycling, but not for Askey. With 150km of the race still to go, he was involved in one of the many crashes that affect the peloton every year, but this one resulted in his leg being sliced open, possibly by a disc brake rotor.

The resulting wound and bandage made the then 20-year-old look like a soldier of the First World War, fought on battlefields not far from the pavé of the race. He was one of the worse-off looking riders, but still he made it to the velodrome, coming 42nd proof that he cared about the occasion. It is Roubaix, after all.

Beyond everything else, though, Askey just enjoys cycling. Refreshingly, he is keen to stress that this is more important than making money from being a professional rider. It echoes what other riders have said about their mental health in recent years; that their wellbeing is more important than cycling.

"I've always rode my bike because I enjoy doing the sport," he tells Cycling Weekly. "Obviously, I've always had the goal to end up being my job. But that's never really been why I've done it. If there was a day where I really didn't want to be here and wasn't enjoying the sport in general, I wouldn't do it anymore. 

"Now, you have days that are crap. I think that's like any job. If I was not enjoying riding my bike or doing the sport, no matter that money, I'm not the person that would take that. I would prefer to be in a completely different situation without the money and happier.

"Obviously, the bike takes up such a massive part of your life, but it's not the most important thing."

Cycling isn't everything, but it just so happens that Askey is pretty handy on two wheels. With the pressure off, a bright future beckons.

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