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  5. Episode 1: “Dean Downing - Part One”

Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 1

Episode description

Welcome to the first episode of the new Brother UK Cycling podcast. Co-hosts Timothy John and Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, talk to Dean Downing, a legend of the British road scene. Dean is the former British Circuit Race Champion, and, with brother Russell, the former British Madison Champion. Dean is now among the sport’s most sought-after coaches.

In part one, Dean talks about the early phases of his career. He begins by describing a happy childhood spent in the Yorkshire mining village of Thurcroft, where he and his brother Russell were taught how to race by their father, Ken Downing. Dean then discusses moving to London to pursue a career in construction management and later to Belgium to begin racing full-time.

He describes winning the British Madison title with Russell and representing Great Britain in the same event at rounds of the 2003/04 UCI Track World Cup and the 2004 World Championships. He describes forming lifelong friendships through cycling from Australia to Flanders and reveals how he discovered training with power data late in his career. Dean explains how this revelation now helps him to coach the new generation of British professionals.

Dean, Phil and Tim are joined by Larry Hickmott, founder and editor of VeloUK.net and unofficially the hardest working man in UK cycling. Larry shares his memories of Dean’s career and offers insights from his hard-earned position at the heart of the domestic sport.  

Please note, this episode was recorded before UK Government measures to enforce social distancing. Brother UK strongly endorses the government’s advice and urges listeners to this podcast to #stayhomesavelives.

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Episode 1: Dean Downing Interview – Part One

Episode contents

  • 00.03 – Introduction
  • 00.38 – Coming up
  • 02.58 – Part One: Childhood, 2003 British Madison Champions, 2004 World Championships
  • 10.24 – Part Two: Bond of Brothers
  • 15.07 – Part Three: Explore and Develop
  • 21.27 – Part Four: Belgium
  • 28.30 – Part Five: Belgium (continued) 
  • 41.04 – Part Six: Coaching 
  • 53.34 – Part Seven: More To Come

Transcript

Timothy John 

"Hello and welcome to the new Brother UK Cycling Podcast with me, Timothy John, and my co-host Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, better known to the cycling community as Road Phil. Phil, good to see you." 

Phil Jones 

"Thanks, Tim. I’m really excited that we’ve got this podcast together at long last where we’re really going to dive beneath the surface of what’s really gong on in the road cycling scene, bring some of the best riders, the best managers and the best personalities behind the sport, get them in the studio and start telling the story of why this sport is so great in the UK." 

Coming Up

Timothy John

"Coming up in today’s show: Dean Downing, one of the most successful domestic road riders of the last 15 years and now one of the most sought-after coaches in all professional cycling." 

Dean Downing

 

"I always had my own motto: the finish line is there for a reason. You’ve got to cross it first. That’s the aim of racing. Why would you be racing otherwise? Just to have fun? It’s great fun, but…

"I talk to all my riders who race and say, ‘This is going to sound corny but the finish line is there for a reason.’ They say: ‘Oh, yeah. It makes sense that.’ Some laugh, some don’t. 

"I say: ‘What’s your aim today? Do you want to win the race?’ They say: ‘Oh,  yeah, yeah.’ Well, how are you going to do it?"
 
Timothy John
 
 "And Larry Hickmott, the founder and editor of VeloUK.net." 

 

Larry Hickmott

"I don’t know how this is going to go down, but you guys were there to qualify the Great Britain team for the worlds, in the Madison event." 

Part One: Childhood, 2003 British Madison Champion, 2004 World Championships

Timothy John

"Let’s cut to the chase. Our guest today is one of the most successful riders of the last 15 years. He’s part of a cycling dynasty. He’s a former British Circuit Race Champion and Premier Calendar Champion who won nearly every major domestic race. 

"On the track, he won the British Madison championship with his brother and represented Great Britain at world cups and world championships. 

"His career encompasses the lottery-funded revolution at British Cycling and a revolution in training methods to bring in power data and combine that with race craft which is a central part of the latest part of his career.

"He is one of the most successful coaches in British cycle sport, working with some of the brightest starts from this country, including Alice Barnes, the reigning British road and time-trial

champion. 

"He is, of course, Dean Downing. Dean, thanks for joining us." 

Dean Downing

"Thank-you very much That’s some intro. I’d never really thought of it like that, but thank-you." 

Timothy John

"It has been quite a career, Dean. Thanks for coming in."

Dean Downing

"Quite a journey."

Timothy John

"Yeah. Thanks for coming to talk to us about it. 

"We’re also joined by Larry Hickmott, the founder and editor of VeloUK.net and, unofficially, the hardest working man in cycling. Larry,  thanks for coming along." 

Larry Hickmott

"It's good to be here. Thank you."

Timothy John

"Let’s start right at the beginning. I used the phrase ‘a cycling dynasty’. Everyone knows you and your brother, of course, but that wasn’t how the Downings got started in cycling. It goes back a couple more generations, I think." 

Dean Downing

"Yeah, so my dad, Ken, still rides his bike. He raced at national level on the track. He’s probably best known as a grass track rider but he rode hard track as well. He got a bronze medal in the tandem champs in the late 1960s. He was 18 or 19-years-old, so quite young. 

"Take it back a generation, my grandad Cyril was one of five brothers from the Thurcroft area - Rotherham, Sheffield area - and they used  to travel across the country as touring riders. They’d cross the Pennines on their bikes to go and watch Tom Simpson at Fallowfield, for example. They’d stop over in Peterborough and then ride again to go and watch track racing

at Herne Hill. They were the original Downing brothers, to be fair. All five of them. 

"My dad has a brother, as well: my Uncle John. They raced together, him and my dad, on the grass track scene in the 70s, 80s and 90s. So it’s not just me and my brother that are the cycling brothers of the Downing family."

Timothy John

"You share a long history together. Tell us a little bit about that, starting from the days when you were just riding around the streets together on your bikes." 

Dean Downing

"Yeah, we grew up on Steadfolds Land, a mining village. We had a lot of mutual school friends that lived on the same street. There were loads of us: 10 or 20 kids, and we’d go and do ‘the Olympics’ on the crescent, which was an oval with grass in the middle. We played football all the time, but with ‘the Olympics’ there was cycling, and me and Russ loved that bit.  We were burning around the crescent as kids, aged seven and eight, 10, 12, all that era. That was  the start of Russ and I racing around on BMX bikes as kids. 

"Take that forwards a few years and we were on the JE James bike team together. That was the early 90s: Russ as a junior, winning national titles on the track. I was a first-year senior,

because I was 19-years-old. 

"I did the uni thing, Russ was a pro. When I came back from Belgium, we raced on the MGX Power Team together. That was put together by Phil Lee, and it was the time when Russ and I got on Team GB: the lottery-funded World-Class Performance Plan, as it was called then.

"Russ and I raced a lot together: at rounds the World Cup, the Madison…"

Timothy John

"You were British madison champions..."

Dean Downing

"The British Madison Championships came in 2003. We raced together there, which then got us on to the [Great Britain] squad. Then in 2004 came Recycling-MGX Power. That period was like me and Russ together as brothers all the time. 

"Larry, you were at a lot of the World Cups in that time frame, weren’t you?" 

Larry Hickmott

"I was working for GB, and, as far as I remember - and I don’t know how this was going to go down - but you guys were there to qualify the team for the worlds in the Madison event." 

Dean Downing

"Yeah, and we knew that. In 2003, the summer, me and Russ entered the nationals and beat three GB pairings from the World-Class Performance Plan to win the race. Shane Sutton was like: ‘What’s going on?’

"We went in for meetings with Dave Brailsford and Shane Sutton to talk about becoming part of the plan. We’d done no testing - we didn’t want to, because we were rubbish at it - but

we’d won the British Championships, and the Madison, the following year, was in the Olympics. That would have been 2004. 

"We eventually got our trial, and we were there to do the World Cups, to qualify Team GB, at the World Championships, which then led to qualification, if you got a top-10 finish, into the Olympic Games. We knew that, because we’d been given a chance. 

"The first was in February 2004 in Moscow. We trained hard and finished fourth, one point off the podium. We were sure we’d beaten the Russians at something and got a podium, but it wasn’t to be. The day after, we got a phone call from Dave B that we were on the squad. That was great. We were funded riders, then. 

"Then we went to Mexico, Sydney….I can’t remember where else we went. Sydney was still three weeks out from the Worlds, but we were still not guaranteed to ride the Worlds

because we had Bradley Wiggins on the team, Chris Newton on the team. We had Brian Steels; Rob Hayles, as well.

"Rob, Chris, and Wiggo could have all ridden together at the Worlds and won or podium-ed, or whatever. We still got fifth or sixth in Sydney and got selected, which was amazing – as a pairing. To ride in a pairing at a World Championships with the brother you’d burned around the crescent with, was pretty cool. 

"Russ had a fantastic day, and I had a terrible day. I was legless all race. We were going across to a break, we made it, won some points, then legless, so I was chasing for the whole race. I think we got tenth or 11th. Sitting here now, I’d think that was pretty good, but on the day, I was consoled by Dave B. I was consoled by Shane. I was consoled by Chris Boardman. It was one of those days. 

"I was devastated that I hadn’t done the best for me and Russ, but also for Great Britain, and [I thought] we hadn’t qualified for the Olympics, but in the end, we had. Me and Russ weren’t selected for the Olympics, but Brad and Rob Hayles were in the team pursuit squad, where they got a medal, and Bradley and Rob got third in the Games. So thanks to the Downing Brothers, they got a bronze medal, but we were happy with that." 

Part Two: Bond of Brothers

Timothy John

"Tell us Dean about the advantage, if that’s the right word, of riding in any form of cycle sport with your brother. You’re far from alone. Peter Sagan, wherever he goes, his brother’s on the same team. Nairo Quintana, Dayer Quintana. It doesn’t matter how far up the sport you go, there is a bond, ins’t there, between brothers. How has it helped your career?" 

Dean Downing

"We kind of knew what each other was thinking. In tough times, we helped each other out, whether it be on the bike or off the bike, so that’s always been really good. 

"Yeah, there’s definitely a bond between brothers. Russ is a born winner. He was always a much more focused and much more winning rider than I was. Russ has had some fantastic wins. I had my wins as well but we used to work off the back of each other. In some instances, we’d talk to each other: ‘I was just about to attack, but I got second.’ I would think: ‘I could have won that, but he attacked first.’ He won the race, and I got second. There was always that initial: ‘Right, this is the place to attack. Oh, damn it, Russ has gone.’ 

"But getting one-twos with your brother’s always been pretty cool. It’s something nice to talk about like we are doing here. But representing Great Britain at the Worlds, on the day when I did terribly: it was a rubbish day overall. And then we sat down in an interview. It was my last race, and Russ was asked: ‘What’s your greatest memory of you two riding together?’

Russ’s answer was: ‘Riding the Worlds for Great Britain with my brother. That’s my best memory of racing with Dean.’ It hit me a bit. I thought: ‘That is so true.’ 

"I’d thought about it, obviously, but my lasting memory of the Worlds’ Madison race was not doing very well and us not getting a medal or a top five, and now it’s like: ‘Tenth in the world is pretty cool.’ And riding it with your brother is pretty cool. So that’s a memory of doing rubbish that has been overtaken by racing world championships with your brother." 

Timothy John

"If you don’t mind, I’ll prompt you to share another story with us. You were telling us earlier about the day that Russ won the British road race championship, and you were at home injured. It didn’t stop you from sharing in the joy of his success." 

Dean Downing

"That was 2005. We were still on the GB team at that time. We’d been to the US, racing. The Recycling team then was part of [British Cycling’s] World Class Performance Plan. The team pursuit squad was within that team: Rob Hayles, Chris Newton, Paul Manning. 

"We’d all been to the States. I’d had a massive crash and broken my hand and my collarbone two weeks or a week before the nationals, and we’d all been going great. I couldn’t go to

the Ryedale nationals. Russ did. There was no Twitter or anything like that then. I was at home, just sat on the floor watching TV with my arm in a sling. 

"The phone rang, and I was like: ‘Hello bro. How’s it going?’ And he said: ‘I’ve won the bike race!’ So that was pretty cool. That was an emotional moment. I’m sat at home, banged up with a ‘pot’ on - a collar on for my collarbone - but Russ had gone and won the British Championships, the pro British championships, which he’d always dreamed of  riding. He beat his good friend Steve Cummings." 

Larry Hickmott

"That’s a race that you’ve podium-ed in as well." 

Dean Downing

"Yeah, two years later, I got threatened by John Herety: ‘If you don’t make this podium, I’m going to run you over.’ Which was funny. That was on a race radio."

LAUGHTER

"That again was a 210km race of brutal weather. Rob Hayles, Dan Lloyd, Pete Kennaugh as a young rider, myself, Tom Southam, everybody in the break. Then it just got to one-to-one attacks. Haylesy went away. Pete Kennaugh chased him. I was with Dan Lloyd, going for bronze. He kept attacking me and dropping me. And then, in my ear, the message came across: ‘If you don’t make this podium, I’m going to BEEP run you over!’ which is a famous story of John’s." 

LAUGHTER

"I caught Dan and got the podium and collapsed when I got to the podium. That was pretty cool. That was 2008." 

 

Part Three: Explore and Develop

Timothy John 

"You followed two paths for a time, didn’t you? You’ve got a qualification, you’ve got a trade, you’ve got a skill, you’ve got a profession behind you, as well as your cycling career, so tell us about that."

Dean Downing

"Yeah, well from an early age, I used to play football a heck of a lot; Russ, too. Russ was on the academy at Rotherham United. I stopped playing football at 17, I was at college at the time. When I was 18, I cycled a lot more seriously. I’d had a winter of training properly with riders from around our area. I got on the Great Britain track team, which was pretty cool for an 18-year-old. 

"That year, I was at college, wanting to become an architect. When I was at school, I’d always wanted to be an architect. It was a long journey of education, but I was up for it, I was willing to do it, so I did two years of a BTEC at college. Building Studies, I think it was called then. Trying to manage my cycling career as an 18-year-old, trying to get to the junior worlds and get my exams done.  I think failed three of five exams and didn’t get to the junior worlds. I thought: ‘What am I doing?’
 
"I decided: ‘Right, education is the way forwards,’ so off I went and did the foundation year. It was a degree course. I got to Sheffield Hallam. I spent four years at Sheffield Hallam university, doing Construction Management. I qualified in that and then did 18 months in industry with the same company I’d worked with in my ‘sandwich’ year. So that was really good. I cycled a little bit. I did a few time-trials and track races. I didn’t really do the 100-milers and the Premier Calendar events, or Star Trophies, as they were then. 
 
"That would have been in the late 1990s. Russ was already a pro with Team Bright, wining the Essex Grand Prix, the Havant Grand Prix: big races back in the day of the Star Trophy era. Russ was already doing that, but I was at uni, being a uni student, I guess. That was a bit of switch from being a GB rider and potentially one of the best juniors in the country. That was quite exciting. I took a four-year sideways step and concentrated on my education and getting a job, which I did for 18 months."  
 

Timothy John

"That says a lot, I think, about your motivation, about your character, that you had the discipline to get that solid foundation of a carer in the bank, and yet cycling never went away, did it? I think you were riding time-trials, you were riding track. It was always part of your DNA to stay on the bike and stay competitive." 

Dean Downing

"Yeah, even when I was at uni. I did a lot less racing, but I did some track races. I was uni champ on the track, for example. Towards the late 1990s, it would have been 1999, I started winning elite races in the Surrey League, down south, because I lived in London at the time. 

"My then-boss, a guy called John Moran…I think I’d won a stage of a three-day race in the Surrey League or something, and I got the Cycling Weekly to look at myself in it! I said: ‘Look at this, John. I won at the weekend.’ He said: ‘That’s great, winning again. Ccould you be a professional cyclist?’ That was how he worded it. It was a totally blasé comment, but it got me thinking: what could I do if I concentrated on it?’
 

"Over breakfast, or lunch, or whatever, we had coffees and stuff with John, my then-boss, he said: ‘You should have a go at it. Then you’ll have no regrets.’ He’d never done sport as a kid, and he had this very big company and was comfortable. He was 55 at the time, he said, and had been working for 30 years. Because I was 25, he said: ‘You’ve got another 30 years to work.’ I was like: ‘Ok, then.’ He was trying to push me to think about how far I could go with cycling. 

 
"That was around July, say, and in November, I handed in my notice, which was a big thing to do. Over the years, people would say: ‘Are you going to go back to your degree and be an

engineer again, or project management?’ I’d say: ‘I’m not sure yet. I could always go back to it. I could stop cycling and go back into the budding trade,’ but that’s never happened." 

Phil Jones

"There's always time, Dean. There's always time."

Dean Downing

"If my day job goes wrong!"

Phil Jones

"I believe he can do a brilliant extension., ladies and gentleman, if this whole training thing doesn’t’ come off." 

Dean Downing

"I could design it and draw it, but I wouldn’t be able to build it." 

Timothy John

"Well, John, having planted the seed, it was over to you to make something of it and take that step. You mentioned that it was four months after that conversation. You say that quite casually. Actually, you’re talking about a huge change in your life there. You’re giving up an income to begin with. What was the reaction at home?" 

Dean Downing

"My mum was fine. She was like: ‘Yeah, follow your dreams.’ Dad, who was a very good cyclist as we discussed, was not happy at all. My dad was a miner, my grandfather was a miner. We lived in a mining village. We were normal people, as you would say; working class. I was working in London after qualifying at university, and earning a good wage: probably like 25 or 30 grand or so. That was a really big thing to give up as a 25-year-old, so my dad was not happy, shall we say. 

"But I went off anyway. I wanted to do it. I’d saved up some money and went to Australia, to Perth, to stay with one of my dad’s old cycling friends - Alan Johnson. It was a really great time. I just wanted to go and experience either things, as well. I wanted to experience the world, so it was a perfect place for me to go. I met a lot of people over there, a lot of cycling friends. I still have those friends now. Social media’s great for keeping in touch with people. But with that, I learned how great cycling is all over the world. So the decision was a tough one. My dad wasn’t very keen then, but I’d say he’s pretty proud now of what both me and Russ have done through cycling." 

Part Four: Belgium

Timothy John

"I think you ended up in the heartland of European cycling, in Belgium, which is still to this day, despite the Olympic Academy, despite this incredible talent identification system that British Cycling has, despite this professionalism almost of youthful talent, still it seems there is absolutely no substitute for going to Belgium, racing kermesses and learning the hard way, which I think was a key part of your development as a rider." 

Dean Downing

"Yeah, it was kind of like the only way that I could go, as well. Again, Russ had been on [British Cycling’s World Class Performance Plan in the late nineties. We’d been in that programme with John Herety and riders like Bradley Wiggins, Charlie Wegelius, Matt Bottrill. Gavin Selham was there. A lot of names have come and gone from cycling, but some are still there. Russ was in that, but I was older. I was 25. I couldn’t join the Academy, so what else could I do? 

"Russ was quite influential in that decision. ‘What do you think I should do, bro?’ He was like: ‘Well, there’ s not many teams in the UK. Just go abroad.’ France was a different kind of

environment. It was all team based. The were looking for young riders who had come from the British Cycling Academy, who were young riders. 

"So the option was to go to Belgium and see what it was all about, and that came about by joining a British-registered, Belgium-based team called the Kingsnorth Wheelers. That was run by Peter Murphy, who was from down Kent way, but it was kind of run from Belgium, but a guy called Staef Boone, who basically just gets lots of riders internationally, all English speaking, from all over the world, to come and ride for Kingsnorth. He rents them a room in several properties in and around Ghent and you go and race kermesses. 

"If you do well, you get selected to do an inter-club competition that Staef has a team in, in Northern France or Belgium or elsewhere. That was my ‘in’. I thought: ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’ I rang up Peter Murphy and off I went. I got a jersey and shorts. I got on a boat with my bike. My dad took to me to Hull. I got off in Zeebrugge. I rode to the train station and met this Staefe Boone. I rang him up when I got to St Peter’s station in Ghent. He collected in his car, took me to my house and that was that. I met some Kiwis, met some Americans, and that was the start of a massive adventure, to be fair." 

Timothy John

"Well, that is the word, isn’t it? 'Adventure.' At this stage, I just want to ask Laz. This change in the way that young British riders get to build their careers. It’s really only happened in the last 10 years, to my knowledge, that British Cycling has had this well-oiled machine for talent identification, but also the growing professionalism of British-registered UCI Continental teams. If you look at the set-up that Chez has or that’s happening at Canyon-dhb-Bloor Homes, which is a really well run operation. That just didn’t exist when Dean was trying to forge a career. Have you noticed that change too, Laz? What are the big changes that you’ve seen at domestic level that help British riders express their talent?" 

Larry Hickmott

"I think Dean will agree with this: the domestic scene wasn’t really team-based, as it is now. I cant even remember whether Team Bright and Men’s Health and all that were UCI teams. There wasn’t the development side of things from British teams going abroad. 

"But there have been people outside of the GB Academy, and one name that I’m sure Dean knows is John Barclay, whose been taking South East teams abroad for years and years

and years now." 

Dean Downing

"He still does. Russ went away with John Barclay 20 years ago."

Larry Hickmott

"If you take the Yates brothers, for example. Simon Yates came up through the GB Academy, whereas Adam Yates got rejected and used the Dave Rayner Fund to go to a French team and did it that way.

"There have been an awful lot of pathways. You can go back to the days of Roger Hammond. When Roger made his own way in Belgium, that was doing it the tough way." 

Dean Downing

"It was unheard of, really, for a British rider to do what Roger did, and you have to take your hat off to Roger because he was one of the first. Jeremy Hunt, maybe, was one of those outside of the Academy. Dave Millar, but he was one of the first Rayner Funded riders." 

Timothy John

"He was the first." 

Dean Downing

"The first, yeah? So he’s gone down the Rayner-funded route. The likes of Roger, he really did pave the way of that era. There were others before, the Brian Robinson’s etc, but that was a totally different era that we’re talking about, Roger was one of those riders who paved the way." 

Larry Hickmott

"And, I guess, Dean going to Belgium. One of the things that I learned when I was over in Belgium with riders was that they speak English, whereas if you go to France, you don’t have that luxury, and the bike is king." 

Dean Downing

"One hundred per cent. We said this when we caught up, Tim.  It’s a different culture over there. The bike is king. When I was there, it was still the number one sport, above football. I know the Belgian football team has since started playing in the World Cup, for example. 

"If you became friends with Belgian riders, you got invited to their evenings, or you would got to a race with them and meet their families. It was great to immerse yourself in that

culture. 

"Cycling was so popular, you could literally race every day if you wanted to travel. You’d get tired, but definitely over there the bike is king." 

INTERLUDE

Dean Downing

"Hi. I’m Dean Downing and you're listening to the Brother UK Cycling Podcast." 

Part Five: Belgium (continued)

Timothy John

"I want to ask about the racing in a minute, but, Phil, I just wanted to pull you in a little bit because we’re talking about this growing professionalism among domestic teams in the UK, opening pathways for young British riders, and Brother UK has had a fair bit of success here, with Harry Tanfield, when Brother UK was involved with Canyon, going up to Katusha and now to Ag2r. Anna Henderson and Leah Dixon going up from the team that last year was Brother UK-Tifosi; Anna to Sunweb, Leah to Team TibCo. Tell me about the ambitions of the company in supporting domestic cycling and helping British riders make that step." 

Phil Jones

"Well, I guess the strong advice there is get yourself on a Brother UK-sponsored team and make ti all the way to the WorldTour!"

LAUGHTER

Phil Jones

"No, I don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s funny, because I’m often asked how did Brother start sponsoring teams, and I have to say, we got to it slightly by accident, rather than by some great big strategy that I’d developed. It just so happened that we’d had a very successful year, financially, and in this particular year, we’re going back four years now, maybe to the 2016 season, something like that, my phone rang. 

"As is often the case with domestic teams, the managers were leaving it to the last minute and suddenly go: ‘We need a sponsor for next year. Has anyone done anything for sponsorship in the last year.’ They’d all look at each other and say, ’No. We’ve been too busy racing, boss.’ No one was taking to sponsors. There’d be this mass panic in about the

middle of October, when  everyone would go: ‘We haven’t got any sponsors.’ And then phones would ring.

"Our logo had started to appear on things like the Tour of Britain and The Tour Series, because that’s where we started, fundamentally, in the sport, and the neutral service vehicles: we’ve got two neutral service vehicles that people often see on the scene.  Because of that, people said: ‘Ring that bloke from Brother, because they’re doing something in cycling, and you never know.’”

LAUGHTER

Phil Jones

"At that particular point, we were doing very, very well. I actually had a little bit of budget surplus. The call came. At  the time, it was the Canyon team. It was Nick from Canyon Bikes, who talked about the team he was putting together with Tim Elverson, and they needed just one final sponsor to get it all off the ground. I thought: ‘Ok, well why not then?’ And then literally the phone went again and the next thing you know we’ve got a women’s team.

"It really struck me - and the more I’ve learned about the sport; I came to it very late. I only got back on bike about ten years ago, so I came to the sport of domestic racing quite late, and what I realised is: the sport needs these teams. Organisers need teams to turn up to races or they don’t make sense, and teams need financial backing, not just benefit-in-kind sponsorship. They actually need money [to pay for] the practical side: fuel, hotel bills, getting people from A to B. Eating a dinner a night before a race if you’re away. Feeding 15 or 20 people can be a big sum of money. Your’e suddenly looking at £15 a head, and suddenly you’ve got a food bill to pay of £300, just because you’re away at a race somewhere. 

"So, I’ve realised more and more now that we have a part to play in helping the sport, I guess, just keep going and be sustainable while it’s going through an awful lot of restructuring." 
 

Timothy John

"Absolutely, and we’ll talk an awful lot about that restructuring in episodes to come. 

"Just to pick up again with Dean’s story, it’s amazing how quickly that scene has shifted: that Brother has four teams that are funded, that are organised, that are going somewhere. We rewind 15 or 20 years, and Dean is on his own in Belgium, but at the heart of an established cycling culture. He’d found a British-registered, Belgium-based team, and Laz said that helps to overcome the language barrier. That would have given you a head start in getting immersed in Belgium cycling culture. Let’s talk about the racing. Kermesses are not for the faint-hearted. Tell  us a little bit about your first kermesse". 

Dean Downing

"My first one would have been around May time, when I’d gone over in 2000. I DNFd. Did Not Finish. Got my arse kicked. Big cobbles. Bottles everywhere. I was like: ‘What is this?’ I’d seen it on the TV, but never done it before. I’d ridden cobbles at Michaelgate, up a climb in Lincoln. Very, very different. Well, harder, but it was insane how hard [kermesse racing] was. 

"I made some great friends at the time. I was rooming with a Kiwi. We rode to races. We went training together up and down the Schelde in Ghent. All sorts of good adventures. But my racing got better. My results got better. I got a top 20. I got a top 10. By August, I’d been there a good few months. I won a race. I was away in a two-man break with a guy called Patrick Van Hoogland, who was an ex-professional rider, still racing at elite level in the Ghent area. He asked me to have a beer with him afterwards. He told me I’d broken his [winning] run. He

said he was confident that he’d beat me, but I put him away in the sprint, which was great.

"I became friends with him.I was living in Ghent. He was on the outskirts of Ghent. He invited me training with him up and down the Schelde. I was like: ’This is great.’ I already had Belgian friends, but I’d beaten this guy and he wanted me to train with him, which was cool. I rode the Ghent Six Day with him, as an amateur, with Patrick. He’d done the six-day circuit as an amateur, alongside Etienne De Wilde in the 1990s. We did alright. We got seventh overall, which was pretty good, but that night, he introduced me to John Sigh, who sponsored the Ghent Six as a whole; the pro race as well. 

"He had a small team which was getting bigger and wanted an Englishman on the team. I just met the bosses that night, as I’d got seventh, and chatted with them. I went home and then came back in February to join the John Sigh cycling team, and I stayed with the John Sigh team for three seasons. 

"I worked with John Sigh each winter. Get this: John Sigh was a building company. I wasn’t a builder, but I was painting and decorating. It was great. I immersed myself. That winter I was working with a guy in Ghent who was the boss of the painters and decorators, and he spoke zero English, so that was pretty hard, but again I immersed myself in that. 

"So three years with the John Sigh Cycling Team. I won a few kermesses, a couple of inter-clubs. I became British crit champion back in the UK. So in my last year, in 2003, I became was the British crit champion, and John Sigh absolutely loved that. His son Luke was emailing organisers and saying, ‘We’ve got the British crit champion,’ and they were like: ‘Yeah, yeah, we’ll have him on the list.’ I got the number one sometimes and they’d pay me 50 Euros. I was like, ‘This is amazing!’ The power of the British skin suit. 

"But, yeah, I had a great, three-year block with John Sigh. It was amazing. I learned how hard the racing was, that you had to rest in between! But, again, I made a lot of good friends. I stayed with Patrick and Meike. They were absolutely cycling family. Meike’s brother was a former British champion on the track at schoolboy, junior, elite, and pro, so he was a very

good rider.I still have contact with those guys. It was a special time for me, that three-year period in Belgium." 

Phil Jones

"Can I just ask you Dean, more importantly, what was your favourite Belgian beer? And what should we all be going to buy at Tesco this weekend?"

LAUGHTER

Dean Downing

"It has to be Rochefort." 

Phil Jones

"There we go. There we go."

Dean Downing

"I loved Leffe. It was just a standard Belgian beer, but. I got to drink a lot of Trappist beers, which were very, very tasty." 

Phil Jones

"Ghent’s very famous for that, isn’t it? There are a lot of Trappist beers around there."  

Dean Downing

"Yeah, round Melle and that area where all the pro races are as well. But yeah,  I got hooked on Belgian beer,  which at some points wasn’t very good, but it was a good time." 

Timothy John

"This isn’t a casual enquiry is it, Phil? This is research."

Phil Jones

"I might be going to the shop after this podcast, Tim." 

LAUGHTER

Dean Downing

"When I was there, the John Sigh team was managed by Etienne De Wilde’s elder brother, Lucien. He had a daughter, Veronique, who was about my age. She worked internationally, and her English was perfect, so I hung around with Veronique quite a lot. 

"We went to watch the Tour Flanders one year with her and four of her cousins, and they did place-to-place hopping, so you could see it as many times possible. Veronique’s a pretty good driver, to be fair. We saw it about seven times. Veronique’s family lived on the Ten Bosse, which at that time was the last climb on the course. We were stood on the side of the

road watching Johan Museeuw and Peter Van Petegem attacking the heck out of each other at that point, and then turned around and watched it on the telly." 

LAUGHTER

"But the culture then of car hopping - run to the cars - drive in the opposite direction and watch it again, in six kilometres, or whatever it is. They do that and go down another road. It’s convoys of cars. Even on a little corner in the middle of nowhere, there are still hundreds of people watching it." 

Phil Jones 

"What a pity that domestic racing isn’t like that. There aren’t such crowds out on the street watching it. 

"And another thought that just popped into my head as you were chatting was: wouldn’t it have been amazing if there was ride data from back in the day where you could see what was going on with the power of these hall-of-famers, back in the day. You could try and compare them [with modern riders]. Their gears were different  and everything. It would just be awesome to see that." 

Dean Downing

"Knowing what I know, they’d all be very similar. They wouldn’t be that much difference. The speeds may be higher nowadays because bikes are lighter and more aero. But nowadays, it’s very, very interesting. I was watching something on the TV the other day, and it went over the Bosberg. I think it’s Velon who put the data on the TV. I was thinking: ‘That’s going to hurt.’ They were attacking each other on the Muur. Full gas. 800 watts. Jasper Stuyven did 1400 watts in the sprint after 200km. That’s impressive. I have no doubt that the boys back in the day would have been doing that power-to-weight, even then, but we just don’t know, do we? We’ll never know." 

Part Six: Coaching

Timothy John

"Well, that’s an interesting route into a fascinating part of your career. I was saying, when we caught up earlier, when I think about Dean Downing, when I think about Russ Downing, I think about blood-and-guts, all-in, dig deep, how badly do you want it? That’s a long way from carefully constructed lab tests and analysis of watts-per-kilo and all of the science that has crept into cycling. 

"I was very interested to hear how you balance that with the work that you’re doing now. I can’t imagine how valuable your advice is to a young rider about race craft, about will-to-win, about seeing that finish line.. I don’t think about watts as a big part of your concerns as a rider, and yet absolutely fundamental to what you do now as a coach." 

Dean Downing

"Yeah, it’s quite ironic. I sometimes chuckle about it when I talk with other coaches, for example, or ex-riders and ex-managers. 

"I raced with a heart rate monitor, so I knew my training zones. When I was 18, I worked with a guy called Ken Matheson. He was my first ever coach. He coached me and Russ when I was around 18. He went on to be part of the British Olympic coaching system. So I learned about training zones and what they meant: steady-state zone two stuff, endurance, high V02.

So I’d learned about that, but I’d never used a power meter. 

"Heart rate was always very variable. If it was really hot, for example, it made your heart rate rise.  It was difficult to track heart rate data back then. But also I loved to race. I loved to go hard at the right times: on a hill, in a crosswind. But for me the finish line, it’s there. What’s the time of the game? You train hard to win a bike race.

"I always had my own motto: the finish line is there for a reason. You’ve got to cross it first. That’s the aim of racing. Why would you be racing otherwise? Just to have fun? It’s great fun, but if you’re a winner, the aim is to cross that finish line first, how you get there is another matter. You have to save energy at the right times. That’s key to tactics and crossing the finish

line first. 

"I talk to all my riders who race and say, ‘This is going to sound corny but the finish line is there for a reason.’ They say: ‘Oh, yeah. It makes sense that.’ Some laugh, some don’t. I say: ‘What’s your aim today? Do you want to win the race?’ They say: ‘Oh,  yeah, yeah.’ Well, how are you going to do it? 

"You have some riders who are really strong. They’re the strongest lab-tested riders in the world. They leave it all out on the road and then in the last 10km they’re tank is empty and some other riders who wasn’t as strong in the middle of the race is now stronger because he’s saved some energy and wants to win the race. It’s not always the strongest bike rider that wins the race. Generally, the smartest bike rider will win the race. Generally, that’s how I raced. I had to be smarter because my lab tests were rubbish, to be honest." 

LAUGHTER

Timothy John

"But isn’t what you had more important, if that isn’t getting too carried away? You used the ‘w’ word - winner. That’s hard coded in my view, ignorant as it is as a journalist who watches from the comfort of the press room. 

"I remember watching Anna Henderson at the Ryedale GP a couple of years back, and it came down to a two-up sprint. Anna wants it more than anybody else."

Dean Downing

"She’s got brute force and is very passionate about winning." 

Timothy John

"Absolutely. She’s the nicest person you could hope to meet, off the bike, as they often are, but my goodness that girl is a born winner. You could say the same thing about you, and the same thing about Russ. 

"The growing use of science and use of laboratory techniques to develop riders to a certain standard: in my view at least there is no substitute for that extra something that gets you

across the line, which you and Russell had in spades. Is that a fair assessment?" 

Dean Downing

"Yeah, I feel the more I talk about it through my coaching, I realise what I have, if that makes sense. I’m by no means a qualified sports scientist, but I get the science behind the trainman zones, and what makes the training correct for a certain type of rider, whether its a time-triailist, a track rider, whether it’s male for female, a climber or a sprinter. 

"I’ve learned about that over the years. I learned a heck of a lot when I worked at TrainSharp at the beginning of my journey, I learned a lot from John Sharples and the guys down there about the data and  how to plan training. Planning training for people who are racing in March is simple enough. You come out of the season and then you’re building towards that. That’s a simple process, in my eyes. Attaching data to that is very interesting to me as I’d never done that for myself. 

"I only rode with a power meter in my last season, at NFTO, and how that came about was TrainSharp were coaching the whole squad. John Sharples was coaching the whole squad. John Sharples was the coach. So was Sean Yates. Sean Yates was the manger and DS. They all worked together. We had Adam Blythe wining races, myself, Russ, and other riders as

well, but I learned so much. 

"I attached a power meter to my bike and trained in the same way that I’d always trained, and then uploaded my data to Training Peaks. Jonny  Sharples would say: ‘Gosh, you train pretty hard, don’t you?’ And I’d be like: ‘Well, yeah.’

"Training becomes routine. You know what you’re good at, so you do that. You also train your weaknesses. I wan’t really a climber so I’d got out and climb and do hill reps which John Sharples had set, and I’d gain knowledge from that, so 2014 was a big kind of turning point for me in the knowledge that I got from training and how the power data related to me: my numbers. 

"Chris Froome’s numbers at threshold are something like 440; mine are like 340w, but I’m smaller, shorter. I couldn’t ride 400w for an hour. Chris Froome could easily ride at 40w for an hour. I could’t, but that mean that they were my numbers, so I learned a lot from that and have taken that through to all the riders that  I work with in my coaching business. 
 

"But, yeah, adding my own experience as a bike racer is what I enjoy doing as well. It’s a different type of coaching,. I love the data now, which is ironic." 

Timothy John

"It’s funny. I was lucky enough once to interview Matt Bottrill, who reinvented himself as a time-trialist and went out and then broke every British record there was." 

Dean Downing

"And Matt’s helped me a lot with my coaching brand, as well, which is interesting because there are so many different types of coaches out there. There a lots of different coaching brands out there. Rarely do coaching brands work together, I would say, but Matt’s helped me a lot. 

"I went for a ride with him in February last year. I’d got to a point where I was working with all these different types of riders. I think it was on Instagram or something like that, and Matt said: ‘Oh, great result for…’ probably Ben. I said: ‘Well, this is what I do. I’m always learning.’ And Matt said: ‘Well, pick up the phone and let’s have a chat. I’ll tell you what I’ve done with my coaching business and how I’ve moved it forwards and the riders I’ve worked with.’ I thought: ‘Yeah, I’ll do that.’

"So I went out for a ride with Matt and explained how I do it and the seasons I do. Matt said: ‘You’re doing everything right. ‘ So talking to Matt gave me a lot of confidence. He and Russ were good friends. They’d been on the World-Class Performance Plan together. So Matt Bottrill’s taught me a lot about coaching and the riders I work with and different types of

sessions for time-trialing. He’s helped me a lot with that. I’ve got a few riders who are very good at time-trialing. He’s helped me massively." 

Phil Jones

"Dean, why does someone pick up the phone to you if there are all these coaches out there? What is it about Downing Cycling? Why do people ring you, and why do they come to you specifically.? Do you have to be an elite rider or can Phil Jones knock on your door and say: ‘Look Dean, I’m just trying to get better at what I do.’ Where do you sit in the market, if that makes sense?" 

Dean Downing

"From the beginning, I wasn’t one for having packages: gold, silver and bronze. I wouldn’t be able to differentiate, myself. If someone can only have five messages from me in a month, because they only pay whatever the figure may be, I’d be thinking: ‘Well, this rider has a problem and they’ve messaged me, but I can’t reply because they’ve already messaged me five times.’

"I thought: ‘I’m just going to have one package. I’m going to deliver all of this. If the rider wishes to take that contact - once-a-week phone call, every day messaging, changing of training g - they do. Some people I talk to every single week. Some people have an issue of some sort so I speak to them twice a week: once for an hour, once for ten minutes.

Everyone’s on the same package. 

"My very first rider was a friend of mine whose circumstances were exactly as you describe. He has his own business. He wanted to do sportive. He trained and rode with myself and Swifty." 

Phil Jones

"He wasn’t a professional and he was on your chaingang?" 

Dean Downing

"He said: ‘Yeah, I’m going to come on the chain gang.’ So he got better. He did some good sportive rides. We planned his training around his family and around his career, so I learned a lot from the beginning. I’ve moved around a lot over the last five years to work with different types of riders." 

Phil Jones

"I’m no super cyclist, but I want to be as good as I can be on the bike. In my role, I’m running a huge company. My diary changes at short notice. I’ve got to fly all over the world. I’ve got to stay in hotels. It’s finding moments where you can do the work, but do good work, so you don’t do ‘junk miles’. If you’re doing an interval session, it has to do something for you, rather than sitting on Zwift and cranking out an hour. I just found that it worked very well when you’ve found someone who can fit in with that dynamic: ‘My diary changes a lot. Can you be flexible around me?’ And that’s when coaching really works." 

Dean Downing

"Yeah, that’s exactly how I work. People sometimes say: ‘How do you fit in so many riders?’ I say: ‘Well, my job is a coach. That’s my job. I don’t do anything else now.’ I get up in the morning, turn on my phone, I have messages and so I answer them. I’ve go into my office at home, and I start coaching. I’m on phone calls with coached riders every single day and building training plans." 

"If someone says, ‘I can’t do this on Friday, now. What else can I do?’ And I say: ‘Leave it with me. I’ll look at it and work it out.’ I’ll look at what they did last week or last Friday and put in something new.  It’s always changing, and working with different types of riders every day, I quite enjoy." 
 
INTERLUDE

Part Seven: More To Come

Timothy John

"Phil, what an amazing conversation with Dean Downing. A bit more to come as well, I think?"

Phil Jones

"Yeah, when we were thinking about this podcast, the whole idea was to bring these stories out. Dean has such a significant history in dwesmtic road racing that we’re going to devote more time to that, so let’s have another hour with Dean and make that another episode." 

MUSIC

Phil Jones

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