Burley-in-Wharfedale professional cyclist Scott Thwaites begins 2014 buoyed by the Tour’s visit to Leeds. he spoke to Nick Westby.
Every morning over the festive period, Scott Thwaites left his home in Headingley, took his seat on his bike and set off for the Dales.
Come wintry showers or bright morning sunshine, the 23-year-old’s routine never changed, his determination to ride that extra mile never wavered.
For as a member of cycling’s professional peloton, this young West Yorkshireman has a dream to chase in 2014.
He wants to be on the start line of the 101st Tour de France, which gets underway in the city he lives in on Saturday, July 5.
And if hour upon hour of cycling the roads through Otley, Ilkley and into the Dales gives him anything, it is a unique appreciation of what the best in the world will face six months from now.
That he may be able join the likes of Chris Froome, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish on the start line outside Leeds Town Hall, is almost impossible for him to fathom.
Yet there is a chance. For Thwaites is entering his second season with German team NetApp Endura, a squad forged out of a merger that involved his former British team Endura Racing a little over 12 months ago. That marriage gave Thwaites a leg-up into the world tour and in 2013 he tasted various elements of what he hopes to make a living out of over the coming decade; classics, criteriums and stage races.
He also yearns to ride a grand tour, one of the trio of three-week epics which is headlined by the world-famous Tour de France.
Being a fledgling team, NetApp Endura lack the clout of Froome’s Team Sky, or Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep. They require a wild card invitation into a grand tour, one they earned for last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
They were overlooked for a spot in the 22-team field for the 2013 Tour de France, but with teams folding and being promoted over the winter, the chances of NetApp Endura being introduced to the crowds in Leeds before the Tour this summer, are increasing.
“A couple of the world tour teams have lost sponsorship and Europcar, who are traditionally a rival with us for a wild card, have moved up, so that’s opened up more opportunities for us,” said Thwaites, who is a two-time winner of the Otley Grand Prix.
“There are a couple of new teams, but we showed in the Vuelta that we can ride a grand tour, win a stage, be competitive and get a guy in the general classification hunt, so our profile has certainly been raised from that.
“We feel we deserve the chance to get into the Tour reckoning.”
The Czech Republic’s Leopold Konig was the NetApp rider who won a stage of last year’s Vuelta, an achievement that raised the profile of the embryonic German team.
NetApp getting in the Tour is the first step to Thwaites realising his dream, the rest is down to him.
“The Tour coming to Yorkshire is massive,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me and to be at the level where I have a chance of being in it is incredible really. It’s come when I’m still young and it’s going to be a big ask, because even if the team gets a wild card, I have to make the selection.
“But it has given me that added motivation to work really hard this year.
“I know I’ve got to get into the best condition that I can and show the team management what I can do. It’s definitely motivated me to work as hard as I possibly can.”
That includes his self-driven festive rides around the roads he has become so accustomed to in a sporting obsession that began with triathlon before developing into purely road cycling when his teenage years dawned.
“Cycling was the thing I was strongest at. In general I’ve been steady in my progression, each year improving that little bit,” said Thwaites.
“If I can keep improving at a steady rate then hopefully I’ll get a few wins under my belt.”
That is Thwaites’ aim for 2014 as he embarks on the classics season in the spring. He added: “My focus the first part of the year is on the classics, then as the year progresses it’s the stage races to build up towards the Tour hopefully.
“I’m not a high mountains man or a time-trialler, but the small climbs is where I usually go quite well. I’m not an out-and-out fast sprinter either but on the uphill sprints and the rolling roads, like it is in the Yorkshire Dales, that’s where I’m most at home and where I get most of my results. Riding year upon year in the Dales has turned me into that sort of rider.
“I’d like to win a race in 2014. I didn’t manage it in my first year. I had six or seven top 10s and also a second place in a sprint finish. But as well as the single-day races, I feel I have learnt enough over the course of the year to progress to a stage race and that I am equipped to contest a three-week race – hopefully the Tour de France in my home county.”