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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 31

Episode Description

Harrison Wood is a living, breathing demonstration of resilience. After moving to France as a teenager, he raced for four years, enjoying triumphs, setbacks and, as is inevitable for a racing cyclist, brutal crashes. He will start 2023 as a professional cyclist, having signed a two-year contract with French heavyweights, Cofidis, last September. Harrison has enjoyed the support of The Rayner Foundation, a charity supporting young British riders to pursue their dream of racing abroad.

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Episode 31: Harrison Wood Interview

Episode contents

  • 00.02 - Introduction
  • 00.38 - Hello And Welcome
  • 01.55 - Part One: The Resilience Of The Rayner Rider
  • 09.55 - Part Two: From The Pitch To The Saddle
  • 17.42 - Part Three: Completing The Jigsaw
  • 20.43 - Part Four: Finding HMT
  • 23.12 - Part Five: The British Conundrum
  • 28.19 - Part Six: The Good News From Aix
  • 37.20 - Part Seven: A Valuable SEG-ment 
  • 43.15 - Part Eight: The Cofidis Connection
  • 47.48 - Part Nine: The Rayner Foundation
  • 49.03 - Outro



Timothy John

“If your passion lies in elite British road racing and you want an inside line on the teams, riders, organisers and sponsors that make this sport such a compelling spectacle, you’re in the right place.

“I’m Timothy John and joining me for every episode is my co-host, the Managing Director of Brother UK, Phil Jones.”

Phil Jones 

“Thanks, Tim. It’s great to be here. We’re going to use this platform to talk about all the key issues surrounding the sport. With special guests, deep dives into hot topics and plenty of chat, we’ll keep you informed about all things UK racing. Stay tuned!”

Hello and welcome

Timothy John

“Hello and welcome to this special edition of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast where our guest today might be described as a living, breathing definition of resilience. 

“As such, Harrison Wood is a defining example of the qualities inspired by The Rayner Foundation, a charity funding British riders to race abroad and Harrison’s principle backer until

the moment, in the September just passed, when he finally signed a professional contract.

“After four years of racing in France with highs, lows and inevitable crashes, including one this year that his memory has erased, the 22-year-old footballer-turned-cyclist from Torquay has landed a two-year deal with Cofidis. 

“In January, he will roll out for the first time in the colours of his new employer at the Tour Down Under. It is a measure of the management’s confidence that Harrison will debut for his team in a WorldTour race. 

“The 40-degree heat of an Adelaide summer means that there will be no gentle introduction to the intensity of racing in professional cycling’s top tier. 

“Confident, competitive and with a four-year apprenticeship served overseas, Harrison is a rider whose time has finally come. 

“Harrison, thank-you very much indeed for joining us.” 

Harrison Wood

“Thanks very much. Nice to be here." 


Part One: The Resilience Of The Rayner Rider

Timothy John

“Well this is our second go at it. We first met before The Rayner Foundation dinner in November, and, sadly, equipment let us down, but how was The Rayner Foundation dinner for you? I saw you up on  the stage with the other graduates from the class of 2022."

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, it was nice actually. It was good. It was nice to meet everybody again because you probably only see four or five of them throughout the year at races, and then to see everyone there and all the riders who are supported by the fund is nice. 

“To see also the fundraising that’s going on and the guys who are willing to put their hand in their pocket for items, which in turn helps out a lot of us racing. 

“It was nice to see Tom Pidcock’s jersey sold for a good price and the INEOS training camp. It’s nice, because it means for me, watching it, I think they’ll be other guys now who are going to get funding like me. 

“It’s a nice evening and always a good laugh, which is good.”

Timothy John

“The post-dinner antics are infamous. Did you get an early night, or did you hit the town?”

Harrison Wood

“No, not too early. I probably got back at 5am, and I think, and left at 8am the next day, so I think I got about two-and-a-half hours sleep, but it was all worth it.”

Timothy John

“More of an early morning than an early night!”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, exactly. I should have just carried on and made it a full 24-hour stint!”

Timothy John

“Well, fair enough. The pro cyclist’s holiday is short, isn’t it? It’s November, basically, and then you’re back to it. What have you been up to since the dinner?”

Harrison Wood

“I’ve started getting back into training. Not anything too crazy. I’ve been doing quite a lot of off the bike work this winter. I’ve noticed since my crash that I’ve lost quite a lot of upper body stability and balance, so I’ve been trying to rebuild that and gradually get back into training. 

“Nothing too hard yet because next year is going to be a long season. The team have got a lot of races planned for me over all different types of terrain so they want to try and keep me a bit fresher, especially starting straight away at the Tour Down Under, you need to be on a good level but also not already at a hundred per cent because you’re got to maintain that otherwise from January to October. It’s like a fine balancing act, I think.”

Timothy John

“Let’s talk more about the Tour Down Under a bit later, but wonderful that you’re going to hit the ground running in January. 

“I wanted to start, Harrison, with a bit of an abstract question, really. I wanted to talk about resilience. We said in that intro that you did the full four years as an U23 overseas, beginning

aged 18.

“Did you know you had that inner strength before you embarked on this adventure? Or is resilience something that developed over that period?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, I wouldn’t say I knew I had an inner strength or resilience. It’s something you find out. I found out in my first year away from home. There were times I missed home a lot when I was in France, but there were also times when I didn’t think ab out being away from home, and it was a bit normal, almost. I think that was it: it became almost normal for me to be away from home, and when I was home, it almost felt strange. 

“I stuck at it. I was really lucky with the support from parents and my whole family. I still speak to my mum and dad, when I’m away, most days; well, every day, actually. I speak to them every day, at least once or twice a day. 

“I think that’s one nice thing: having family there, which makes feel a bit more normal. It makes you feel that you are home and that you have got people around you to talk. The worst

thing is if you’re away from home in France, and you’ve got no one to talk to or anything like that, and it can be quite a daunting experience. 

“I was quite lucky that I had a lot of guys around me in the team. I had Alex Braybrooke when I was first there. He was really good at helping me with race tactics. I would room with him. It was nice to have a British feel. 

“I just found within myself that I had that resilience, and, in the end, I quite enjoyed it. It just became normal.”

Timothy John

“You certainly tested yourself physically, as well as mentally and emotionally: the resilience required to get over crashes and that kind of stuff.

“How important is resilience to a pro cyclist of all people? Your first sporting love was football. Is it harder even to bounce back from setbacks on the bike than it is on the pitch?”

Harrison Wood

“I think so, definitely, especially when I think about the crash I had in June. It was really bad. Some things like that would knock people down, and people wouldn’t be able to recover from them, whereas with me, I just saw it as a minor hiccup, almost, and like it was more of a long-term vision for how I’d get back and almost pretty much looking already to the year coming, 2023, and what I could do to be there on a good level. 

“You’ve just got to be really resilient. Crashes are part of the sport. They’re going to happen at some point. You’re going to have a bad crash at some point in your career. You’re not going to get really lucky . 

“Some of the older guys, like our DS in France, said he never crashed in a race before. I don’t think that would happen now. I don’t think there’s a pro cyclist now who can say he hasn’t

had a crash yet. 

“It’s just part of it. You’ve not got to learn to love it, but you’ve got to learn to accept it and think that everybody at some point is going to have a set back and yours has just come at that point. It’s how you get you and how you bounce back, really.”

Timothy John

“Is the ability to bounce back, whether it be from physical injury or homesickness, the defining quality of a Rayner rider? Would you have gained that same resilience, for example, if you’d gone through the Academy and spent three years living in a house in Manchester?”

Harrison Wood

“I wouldn’t want to take anything away from the guys who do Academy because they’re also away from home quite a lot, but it’s completely different when you’re in a foreign country. 

“It doesn’t separate the Rayner riders, but it definitely makes them different from anyone in the UK who’s racing because you have to go away from home for months where you don’t

see your family or whatever. 

“That’s a big difference from staying in the UK, and I think that’s quite admirable how people my age and younger than me as well want to go away and change their whole life just to try and pursue a dream. 

“Once it pays off: you see with me. I think the last four years have paid off. It’s all fitted into place. That’s super nice. Sadly, there are guys who do the same as me, and it doesn’t pay off. It’s hard, but at the same time, you’ve gained life lessons and life experiences that you wouldn’t if you’d just, say, ridden for the Academy, basically. That makes it quite special and unique, really.”

Timothy John

“The Rayner Foundation trustees are very clear, aren’t they? They say: ‘We’re not seeking to create pro cyclists, but it’s great when we do,’ and, my goodness, they’ve helped nearly 85 riders turn professional in the last 27 years, so they certainly know what they’re doing. But they’re always very keen to stress that it’s about going young people life-changing experiences, and clearly you’ve had those. 

“I wanted to throw a line at you, Harrison, from Tim Harris, a former British road race champion and DS at Team EF Education - Tibco - SVB, the Women's WorldTour team, who, of course, does an awful lot for The Rayner Foundation. 

“When I spoke to him after the dinner, he said: ‘Yeah, Harrison did the full four years overseas as an U23, and I think that might give him a platform for a long career in the WorldTour.’ 

“He mentioned Dan McClay, who’s about to start his ninth season as a professional, and who also spent a number of years with the Foundation, or the Dave Rayner Fund, as it would have been then. 

“Does that give you confidence? You’ve slogged it out for four years. You could now be looking at a long career in the WorldTour?”

Harrison Wood

“Hopefully, yeah. That’s definitely the aim. Once you’re there, you want to stay there. You want to get better and stuff like that. As you say, having slogged it out for four years and seen the not-so-nice part of cycling, as in hotels and stuff like that, you’re now going to see the nice part of it, in that respect, but you’re also going to see the hard part, in terms of the racing. 

“I think it’s definitely given me a platform. It’s like training talk. It’s given me a base for cycling stuff. Now, I’ve got to try and build on it and go from there. 

“It’s good to know. I’ve got a lot of respect for Tim. I spoke to him at the Rayner dinner. It’s nice to know that he thinks it will give me a good stepping stone, basically. 

“It’s a nice bit of confidence that’s for sure. Fingers crossed!”

Part Two: From The Pitch To The Saddle

Timothy John 

“Let’s go right back to the beginning, Harrison. I mentioned in passing that your first sporting love was football. That’s an unusual transition: from the pitch to the saddle. How did it come about for you?”

Harrison Wood

“When I was younger, I was football mad. I sort of knew about cycling. I’d maybe watch the odd race with dad, because dad like it. The Armstrong era, it would have been, with George Hincapie and people like that; guys who I watched on the telly. I wouldn’t have known many others; Contador and that. 

“It was all football for me, when I was younger. When I got to 11 or 12-years-old, the team I was playing for…I was playing for Torquay United’s development team; their academy.

“At the time, they were in League One and [then] League Two. They were a good team. It was serious. We trained twice a week and had a game on Sunday. Every time I finished school, I’d be playing a bit outside in the garden. I was focussed on that and nothing else, really. 

“They were relegated to the Blue Square Premier League, as it was called at the time, which was the fifth division of English football, and the money basically went from the academy. 

“They scrapped the academy, and I was already, at that point, falling out of love with the sport. It was getting a bit tiring. At the age of 12, it’s a long way to go if you’re getting a bit tired of football. It’s a long career then. 

“I just stopped. I played a bit with school still because I could still play and the manager of the school team thought I was the best footballer in the school, so it was quite nice to play with them, but I wasn’t playing much. 

“I’d say around 14 or 15, I think it was, when I started cycling more and having coaching. I didn’t really do much racing up until the age of about 17, just because of exams, like GCSEs. I

wanted to focus on them. 

“And then, at 17, I did a full year of racing. I did the Junior Tour of Wales and stuff like that and moved straight to Aix from there. 

“I was quite lucky with HMT as well. I raced with HMT, with Mark and Tony, which was good. I sort of transitioned from there and basically went full time into cycling. 

“It was quite random, in a way, but I used to ride a bit, helping my dad with his beach business, renting kayaks and then stand-up paddle boards and jet skis in the South

West, down here in Torquay. 

“I used to ride to work and back and found myself getting faster and faster and challenging myself more and more, and that was when I thought, ‘I quite like cycling, actually. I’m going to stick at it and see what happens.'”

Timothy John

“And that willingness to challenge yourself is a manifestation of a competitive spirit. I know that you’re a competitive character. How closely is that inner drive related to physical expression? 

“Christmas is coming up. Are you someone who has to win at Monopoly as well, for example, or is it a chance to be physical; to express yourself in athletic terms that draws you to sport?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, I think in athletic terms, I’m very competitive. I’d say I’m a bit competitive in a quiz or something like that, but not really. I remember at school, I never used to be competitive with trying to get the highest grade in the class. It was a bit more of a fun thing if you beat the guy who’d done 11 hours of revision, and you’d only done 30 minutes. It was that kind of thing,

"More like a humorous competitiveness, whereas with athletics, any athletic sport I’m in, I find myself being a bit competitive, unless I’m super bad and then I don’t really care. As soon as I find something I’m alright at, I sort of become quite competitive.

“I think every sportsman is competitive. Even if they say they’re not, they are. It’s a trait that we all have, especially a cyclist. It’s a team sport, but there’s still competition. If your job is the lead out, you still want to be the best lead out.

"You don’t want to be….You’re competing with other people and that pushes up the level. Yeah, competitiveness: everybody’s get a bit inside them.”

Timothy John

“Football and cycling offer very different modes of physical expression, don’t they? Football is explosive. You’ve got be first to ball, quick over the first 10 yards; all of those clichés, which we associate with explosivity in the players. 

“Cycling is very different, of course. Its defining characteristic is endurance and riders take suffering to an art form: the ability to keep going at whatever cost, and, my goodness, you’ve

done that. 

“As a footballer-turned-cyclist, you’re well placed to identity any unifying characteristics. Is it the underlying spirit? Is it that need to compete that might unite a footballer and a cyclist?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, I think so. I think that’s true, for sure. For me, I find in training, inner competitiveness with yourself. You always want to be better than the last time you did a session. If you had the exact same session, efforts or whatever, you always want to push yourself and produce slightly higher power or the same power but with a slightly lower heart rate which might show that you’re going slightly better or slightly quicker on the loop. You’re always trying to be competitive. You always want to try and hit 20mph on a particular loop or reach a certain time for a particular segment. 

“It’s almost like inner competitiveness, whereas football is maybe a bit more…Training’s not as competitive because you’re just doing it as hard as you can. You may be a bit competitive

with your team-mate, whereas on a football pitch, you’re 100 per cent competitive with the other team.

“With [your team’s] 11 players, you’re not competitive really with them, because you’re trying to help them, but with the other 11 players, it’s a war, basically. It’s that sort of mentality, in a way. 

“Whereas with cycling, it’s a tiny bit different. It’s more [competing] with yourself, intrinsically. You’re being competitive in training, and then, in a race, it’s a bit like a war field because you’re trying to fight against the other guys. 

“We saw at the Tour this year, Pogacar and Vingegaard. You could see the competitiveness. It was like a war out there. They were just chasing each other down and launching attacks

with 150km to go or whatever it was.”

Timothy John

“That was mano-a-mano, wasn’t it?”

Harrison Wood

“That was good.”

Timothy John

“An unbelievable race. Another factor uniting cycling and football is the team dynamic. You’ve literally just come back from your first training camp with Cofidis in Denia. 

“How was the team vibe there? Did you feel part of it from the get-go?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, definitely. Everybody made me feel really welcome I think within Cofidis, there isn’t a Jonas Vingegaard; everyone knows that, but there’s still Guillaume [Martin], Benjamin Thomas, Ion Izagirre: really high-level pros who’ve won Tour de France stages. [Simon] Geschke, who was in polka dots and nearly won it, They made me feel really welcome. They were talking to me on rides and that sort of thing. It makes you feel united. 

“This year, I was at l’Alpe d’Huez, watching the Tour de France, and you see these guys going past you, and you think, ’That’s amazing,’ and I was then at dinner with them and out on a ride with them. It’s quite strange. You almost have to pinch yourself. 

“I would imagine is’t the same for everybody: Sam Watson, Oscar Onley - all of us who watch the telly, who watch racing - and then you’re sat at dinner with them. It’s a bit of a strange

experience, that’s for sure.

“It’s definitely a really nice, family experience within the team. Everyone is really welcoming. The World Cup was on at the time, and the French beat the English, so I was cheering anyone that France played. I think I was a Morocco fan one night and became an Argentina fan the next. 

“I was hoping that the French were going to win because I’m more of a Ronaldo man that a Messi man, But Messi has settled that debate. He’s the goat. That’s a bit of a shame. It was quite funny: cheering when Morocco scored. It was good fun.”

Timothy John

“That England-France game: that must have been a lonely night. I think you’re the only English rider on the team, aren’t you?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah. Luckily, we travelled the next day, so I didn’t have to put up with it  They came out with all their, you know, ‘Harry Kane’s penalty has only just arrived in France. It was identified as a plane,’ and all that rubbish. 

“I just kept staying that the referee was the worst ref I’d ever seen. I kept asking how much they’d paid him. That was all I could come up with in return.

“They weren’t too bad, to be fair. I think they knew that the French weren’t very good against the English, so they didn’t bully me too much. That was alright.”

Part Three: Completing The Jigsaw

Timothy John

“’We began by talking about resilience and another expression fo that quality within the context of your career is this very patient rise: two years with Aix-en-Provence, split around two years with SEG. 

“I don’t think there was any one defining moment, any career-defining performance. It’s very much been a gradual progression and that by itself shows character.

“Would that be a fair assessment of your career to date?”

Harrison Wood

“I’d say so, yeah, especially as a junior, there wasn’t anything defining, that’s for sure. And at U23, as well, it was more like a progression. During my first year in France, I didn’t do anything crazy. I finished up there in some big Spanish races. I finished second at the Volta a Castello, which is quite a big Spanish stage race. But nothing crazy. 

“This year was more a breakthrough, in terms of results. I won one of the biggest stages of a French stage race. I finished second in one of the biggest Spanish stage races. I won a stage in pretty much the biggest Spanish stage race, and up there at the Course de la Pais, until my crash. 

“I think it’s sort of been more of a breakthrough year this year, and, as you say, resilience has sort of paid off. It’s finally all clicked into place. Guys who are getting results as juniors or

first-year U23s going straight into the pros: those are two different aspects, two different dynamics of how you turn pro, almost now, I think.

“It's nice for me anyway to see that it’s finally paid off, and I’ve had quite a few of the other guys on The Rayner Foundation saying,  who are coming into their fourth year, like Ollie Knight and Charlie Paige. You’re only really one or two results away from turning pro. That’s what I think. Most people would agree that with one, two or three big results then you’re suddenly going pro. 

“It’s all got to click into place, and have a bit of luck, in a way, probably.”

Timothy John

“There are so many aspects to the sport that can click into place, whether its skill and the technique of positioning. Physical conditioning: four years of racing will have made you a much stronger rider than when you arrived in France. 

“Was there anything specific this year that’ pushed you onto that next level, or is it more of a culmination; that all of those years of hard graft are finally paying off?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, I’d say it’s like you say: a culmination, I think. A combination of everything: all my training, racing experiences, off-the-bike experiences: everything filtered into one, and it’s made me a better person, without being too cliche. 

“It’s almost like everything has slotted in, and I’ve found myself knowing what I need to do to be at a good level. I sort of found myself knowing that I need to do ‘that’ to be in this sort of shape, and I need to do this to be in ‘that’ position, and I need to look at ‘that’ to really be good. 

“Everything finally slotted into place, and this year it has all of a sudden fitted in, and I’ve completed the jigsaw puzzle, basically, and it suddenly all makes sense.”

Timothy John

“Cycling has a famous phrase: some days you’re the hammer, some days you’re the nail.”

Harrison Wood

‘The nail. Yeah, I’ve spent many being a nail, I reckon.”


Part Four: Finding HMT

Timothy John

“You mentioned HMT a moment ago, which, from the outside looked like a professional team, except the riders were juniors. What was your experience there? How did that opportunity come about?”

Harrison Wood

“To begin with, it was quite strange. I was away in Mallorca with my mum. I was training a bit. We just went on a cycling holiday, basically. 

“She’d hired a bike from Tolos, I think, maybe. Bike hire. The one in Pollenca. I’ve forgotten the name of it now. She had a problem with it so we went there. Mark Barry was there. I’d watched a few of their YouTube videos, so I knew of him. 

“I thought, ‘I’ll go and introduce myself and see what happens,’ so I went and said hello. He was having lunch there, so we had lunch with him and had a bit of a chat about racing. 

“He invited me to join their training rides for the next two days. I went out with them and did a test with them as well. I wasn’t the best, but I was one of the top riders in the team on the test that we did, so that was quite good. 

“Then he invited me to do the junior Tour of the Basque Country with them. I’d only raced locally in the UK at that point. I’d done the Primavera road race, which some people might know. 

“I’d won that, so that was alright, but I’d only done, I think, three road races, and then I was going straight into the junior Tour of the Basque Country. I’d only done one junior national up

until then, and then straight there [Basque Country].

“We had six or seven helpers with us; assistants, with Tony and Mark, obviously, and Craig the mechanic, who I still speak to a bit these days as well. It was crazy, really. We were doing turbo warm downs after each stage, massages. Everything was taken care of. It was a like a pro team, really. 

“It’s such a shame now that it doesn’t happen and that there isn’t a team because it was just crazy how good it was, and there are quite a few juniors who would really benefit from it, and I think there were quite a lot of U23s and pros. James Shaw also rode for them. 

“I think that they would probably say that they wouldn’t be in their situation if it wasn’t for Mark Barry and Tony Barrett. I think I’m one of those as well. Had I not had those experiences in

Europe, I might not have ridden for Aix. I might have tried to ride for Canyon or Ribble or something and probably wouldn’t be in the situation I am now. 

“It all happens for a reason, I guess, but Mark and Tony are definitely the unsung heroes of British junior cycling. It’s a shame that they don’t get the recognition that they maybe deserve because now the team doesn’t exist, nobody really knows about it, but you’ve just got to ask the guys who’ve ridden for them. There were a lot of us at The Rayner Foundation dinner. You realise how lucky you are when everything is supported. As soon as you left the house, everything was covered: train tickets, flights, bikes, everything. It was amazing.”


Part Five: The British Conundrum

Timothy John 

“That’s a heck of a tribute. Specifically, zooming in on this aspect of European racing. I’ve got a quote from our aborted recording from before The Rayner Foundation dinner. 

“You made a really interesting point. You told me: ‘Everyone in Europe knows how to race. You’ve got 180 guys on the start line who know how to handle their bikes; who know how to push and shove.’

“That fascinated me. I wondered where that extra level of performance, racecraft, call it what you will, came from. Is the structure just better in Europe? If you were to compare the

French Division One with the National Road Series, for example, is it just a more professional product? 

“Or are we talking about a cultural thing? British success at cycling’s highest level is a comparatively new development, isn't it?

“So what would you put that down to? Is it structural, or is it cultural?”

Harrison Wood

“A bit of both, probably. In Europe, cycling is massive: Holland, Spain, France. It’s huge. Junior races: the whole village is out watching it, almost, whereas in the UK, the whole village is out, but they’re complaining about it. They’re parking their tractors on the road, aren’t they, that kind of thing, normally! Whereas in Europe, it’s a bit more like, everyone’s out watching it, and they want to get involved and stuff like that. 

“Also, from the sporting side of it, most DN1 teams and most riders in Europe and paid, not an amazing salary, but an alright salary, and that means that they don’t have to work as

much. They’ll maybe do one or two days a week working and [for] the rest, they’re training, so then they’re doing the same as pros: 21 or 22 hours a week on their bike. 

“In the UK, there isn’t…I don’t know personally how the structure works because I’ve never spoken to anybody in the UK. I don’t know if the teams are paying a lot, but quite a lot of the guys I know are working four or five days a week, so they are working full time. 

“And they may be training for 12 or 13 hours a week. It’s a big difference and they then have to travel by themselves all around the country. If you’ve got a national up in Scotland, you’ve got to drive to Scotland to do it, whereas in France, if there’s a national up in Normandy, you travel as a team. Your team takes care of it. You’ll maybe fly and meet them there. 

“That's a massive difference in that everyone is suddenly racing maybe 70 race days a year, I think. Even with my crash, I think had 70 races days this year, and I was out for two

months without racing. In the UK, I think you’d be lucky to get 70 days of racing in three years at the moment. 

“It’s a shame because I think there’s a lot of really good riders in the UK. Alex Richardson, Jack Rootkin-Gray: they did the Tour of Britain, and then they go over to Belgium and they’re ripping up crits in Belgium with the pros. They’re racing for St Piran over in Belgium. 

“In the UK, there are four National Series races next year, are there?”

Timothy John

“Yeah. British Cycling are promising five.”

Harrison Wood

“When you think there are eight Coupe de France [races] in the DN1 system, and that’s the top, top level. I think there are probably 100 elite nationals, which are the same as the National Series races in the UK. I dread to think how many more elite races there are in Europe than England. 

“One thing that come back to The Rayner Foundation: if The Rayner Foundation wasn’t here, Brits wouldn’t be able to go abroad and race, and there would be so many talents lost.

“I’m not going to suddenly come out slating British Cycling because they do so much for the sport, with the track. It’s just a completely different system and different culture in Europe, if I’m honest.”

Timothy John

“As you say, it’s a shame so many British riders are forced to race in a system where the structure could be so improved and where the best events - the Lincoln Grand Prix, the CiCLE Classic - for my money, they match any in cycling, and, presumably, are races you’d love to compete in.”

Harrison Wood

“I think Aix rode the Ras one year, which is Irish, I know, but they didn’t even discuss an English race. Normally, Aix would try to do a foreign race for being cool, for their image, but they didn’t even discuss a Lincoln Grand Prix or a Ryedale or whatever.

“It’s a shame, really, because if they did come over and do them, it would be amazing. How good would the Lincoln GP be if there were maybe five or six French teams and a couple of Belgians? It would be amazing. 

“But without it, it’s just guys who are working full-time, who drove up the night before, got to the hotel at midnight and are racing at 9am the next day, and then going back and working the next day. It’s a completely different culture, really.”

Timothy John

“Absolutely, but we had a window on that with the 2021 National Championships, didn't we, which were epic. That gave us a glimpse of just how good that race could be with a world-class field. Ben Swift, Ethan Hayter, Fred Wright, Harry Tanfield: what a race. Lincoln is a brilliant race with a domestic field, but with a world-class field it would be another level again, of course."

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, exactly, It was on YouTube and GCN. There is the basis for it to be an amazing race. If you had four or five French teams come over, and if they still had it televised, it would be huge. 

“The Rutland-Melton CiCLE Classic is a UCI race. That’s quite cool because it means they get some more European teams, but there aren’t that many European teams that do it at the same time. 

“That’s the problem: there are probably four or five UCI races in Europe on the same day. It’s hard then for teams to pay for the Eurotunnel, come over, pay for a hotel and race without going back for four or five days. [In Europe], they can just drive for maybe two hours and they’re doing the same UCI-level race. It’s a bit like that, isn’t it?”


Part Six: The Good News From Aix

Timothy John 

“It really is. Some valuable insights there, Harrison. Let’s put Aix-en-Provence into some kind of context. I think they had 34 riders last year; 26 of them French. Give us a sense of the importance of that team to the town and to the region. Is it recognised in Provence as a sporting force?”

Harrison Wood

“I think so. I don’t know exactly the finances of the team, but they get money from the village, commune; the mayor, basically. Each DN1 team in France usually has a name, like Bourge en Bresse where Charlie Paige is racing and Blagnac where Alex is racing. That’s the name of the village, and they get money from the village to race. It’s a big part of the village or the town. 

“I think in Aix, not everybody knows of it, but in cycling terms, when you say, Aix-en-Provence, in Europe, most guys know who Aix-en-Provence are. To be fair to Aix, I think we did the best calendar in Europe; maybe, FDJ Conti did slightly better because they did some extra UCI races, but it can’t think of any other team in Europe that did a better calendar than Aix:

we raced in Italy, Spain, France, everywhere, pretty much; Belgium, a couple of times.

“And it’s the biggest U23 races at the same time, so it’s definitely up there. The support is clearly not as good as what Sam Watson had at FDJ. There isn’t a camper van, and a lot of it you have to do yourself before a race: preparing bidons, bring your own food to the race because we didn’t have a nutrition sponsor; that kind of thing, or a trainer within the team.

“But calendar-wise, and  if you get yourself to the races - not to the races because the team take you there - but if you can get yourself to the races in good shape then the world is your oyster in terms of what you can do. You can race in the best races in the world, pretty much.”

Timothy John

“How was your connection to that team made in the first instance? How did you turn up on their radar? How did they turn up on yours?”

Harrison Wood

“When I was a second year junior, I wanted to go to Europe. I thought, ‘If I want to be a pro, I’m going to have to go to Europe.’ I was looking at teams. I was trying to figure out teams that might be a bit easier. My dad’s got an apartment at l’Alpe d’Huez, in the French Alps. 

“Aix is around three hours from there. He said, ‘That will be alright. Maybe you could even live in the Alps and drive to a race.’ I wasn’t really sure at the time where the races were.

“I just sent them an email and got an email back straightaway asking if I was free for a chat. I spoke to Jeremy Panatea, who was the media man because [team manager] Jean-Michel didn’t speak any English, and I didn’t speak much French. It would have been an awkward conversation. 

“He [Jeremy] spoke English, so we spoke about everything, and, at the end, he said, ‘It’s no problem for us.’ And I was like, ‘Ok, do I need to sign anything?' And he said, ‘No, no, just get yourself over here in January.’ I thought, ‘Brilliant.’ I sorted out my accommodation and that was it, basically. 

“It was just from picking out a few teams with my dad that might be easy and looking at French teams. I found an email address online and just pinged off an email and hoped for the

best, basically. And that’s exactly what I did.”

Timothy John

“You’re making it sound very easy. I’m quite sure it would have taken a big logistical effort, as well as fortitude; you know, that inner strength. I mean, how old were you for a start? Eighteen? Nineteen?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, 17 I think, when I sent all my emails, and then I turned 18 and had my 19th birthday while I was away racing in France as a first year U23. It would have been 17 and 18 writing the emails. Obviously, I would have been quite young to make that decision, but it was just what I had to do, I guess.”

Timothy John

“Had you lived away from home before?”

Harrison Wood

“No, never. I’d been away skiing for about a week. I’d probably only been on holiday with my parents. I think I did one school trip for about three days and that was the most that I’d ever been away from my parents.”

Timothy John

“A lot of people would say that’s a bold decision, that’s a brave decision. You glossed over finding your accommodation. Was that a challenge? Did you have an advantage from the fact that your dad has a place in France - admittedly, some distance away - but I guess you would have had some idea of how the French rental market works, for example.”

Harrison Wood

“It was, to be honest, quite easy. The team helped me a lot. They found me a place and that was that, basically. I just had to pay for it each month. 

“Now I live with Ollie Knight. We live with a host family which Alex Braybrooke found for me when I was with Aix. I did my two years with SEG and then went back to Aix and that was

where I was staying and that was where Ollie’s been staying since he’s been at Aix, so it wasn’t too hard for me to find accommodation. It was quite nice.”

Timothy John

“What sort of town is Aix? Is it large and bustling, or is it small and intimate? Is it a nice place to live?” 

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, really nice. I think it’s known for being one of the nicest places in France. I can’t really complain about living in France. I’m sure there are a lot of guys on The Rayner Foundation who could tell you about bad accommodation and bad towns, but I’m spoiled when it comes to that. I can’t say a thing!”

Timothy John

“And the host family: are we back to culture there? Are they cycling fans? Are they people who wanted to welcome cyclists into their home? Or is it holiday accommodation, and you could have been anybody?”

Harrison Wood

“The family are part of the Aix club. They do follow cycling. They do like their cycling. It’s really good because it helps me to improve my French.”

Timothy John

“Tell us about your first night in Aix. Were you sat there feeling home sick, thinking what have I done? Or did it feel like the start of a great adventure?”

Harrison Wood

“For the first couple of months, it was a strange experience. Mum and dad had taught me how to cook different meals, and I got a lot of meal things and a couple of cook books. 

“But I didn’t really know how to…not entertain myself, but keep myself occupied, so that’s why I found it a bit strange. That’s why I spoke to my parents quite a lot during that period. 

“But it was almost, when it happened, like, ‘Oh, this is an adventure now.’ That’s also quite a nice feeling: to know that you’re about to embark on your own adventure and do your own thing. That’s quite cool.”

Timothy John

“How was your French at that point?”

Harrison Wood

”I wouldn’t say bad. I’d learned some at school, but school French is not French. My one tip for the podcast is don’t learn school French, whatever you do. It doesn’t help you at all to know what a chair or a pen is called, really. 

“You’ve got to have conversational French. It’s a lot harder, and it’s taken some learning. I’m getting there still. I’m still learning new bits, but I am now able to hold a conversation and understand most things. That helps.”

Timothy John

“This might sound like a ridiculous question, but is that critical to immersing yourself in the culture? Or were people in the team and the village quite tolerant: ‘Oh, here’s the young British cyclist. His French isn't great, but he seems like a nice guy.’  

“Was it that kind of thing? Or did you only really start to feel part of the scene, part of the team when your French improved?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, I think so. Once your French improves then it feels like you become part of the team. There are a few French guys who speak English, but I don’t think there are that many French people who speak English, especially where I was, down in Aix, it was quite a ‘French’ team. 

“It was a case of having to learn French in order to fit in. You can’t expect French people to speak English just to allow you to be formed in. You have to make the effort, but that’s what I

did and found myself slowly getting more involved with the team and able to have more and more conversations. 

“That’s probably the most important thing: to learn the language. If you’re racing in Belgium, I don’t think anyone expects you to learn Flemish because not even Flemish people speak Flemish, it’s so hard!”

Timothy John

“How long did it take for Aix to feel like home? Until you could return after a race and think, Great. I’m home again?”

Harrison Wood

“A couple of months, I would say. A couple of months of getting used to it and finding my feet. I’d say it was pretty good. I was quite happy by then.”

Timothy John

“Is Aix a conveniently located place for racing, or did you have to travel long miles to get to races?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, it’s long travel with Aix. I think that’s the only thing. It’s down in the south. There are a few races where…We would travel to Spain, which is six or seven hours. We didn’t really go to northern France, but more towards Lyon, which is another four or five hours to the north.

"Italy was five or six hours, so there was always a lot of travelling, quite a lot of driving, but you always came home to pretty good weather and a good climate for training, so I can’t really complain.”

Timothy John

“And good training roads too?”

Harrison Wood

“Really good. Really nice. It’s nice there. I really like it. Maybe not big mountains but good weather and pretty good roads and normally pretty quiet as well. It’s nice.”

Timothy John

“Will that remain your base this year, Harrison, now that you’re with Cofidis? Or will you move to a different region?”

Harrison Wood

“No, I’m planning to stay there, just so it’s not such a big change, so there’s nothing too crazy, nothing too new, so I can just focus on my racing and learn as much from the racing as possible, rather than worry about my boiler turning off if I’m in Girona, who I’d have to call! It’s already a big change, and I don’t want any extras added on, to be honest.”

Timothy John

“I can picture you in the peloton worried about the boiler!”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, exactly. It would be the least of your troubles, wouldn’t it? ‘Oh no, I’ve got to get home because somebody’s broken in.’ That kind of thing.”

Timothy John

"Half-way up l'Alpe d'Huez, worried about the boiler."

Harrison Wood

"Yeah, exactly. That wouldn't be good."


Part Seven: A Valuable SEG-ment

Timothy John

“Another team that played a big part in getting you to where you are today is SEG, which is a Dutch Continental team, or was, I should say. I should be using the past tense. Tell us about that experience. How did that come about? How did you join SEG after a year with Aix?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, I was with Aix and going well, but thought maybe I can do something different and improve and try to get a level higher. I sent an email and got a reply. They said, it seems [good], so I kept in contact with them. 

“Then I had a call with Bart Van Haren, who was the team manager at the time. He said they were really impressed and would like to offer me a place. I hadn’t really expected it. 

“SEG was always trying to look for talents that other teams maybe hadn’t. They were quite keen on a guy who hadn’t maybe raced loads of different races but had done quite well in

races that he had done. 

“I joined them for two years. It was amazing, to be honest. It was a big step up. Again, it was fully organised, like a pro team. We did the biggest races: Baby Giro, everything like that. I learned so much there about how to be more pro on the bike and off the bike: the recon, looking at races before and all the stuff that goes with that. 

“I think it was a big opportunity, and I embraced it and tried to do everything. I think if you asked any of the staff there [they’d say] I was always trying to be proactive with what I was trying to do. I wasn’t taking anything for granted and, yeah, I think that helped. 

“Those experiences helped me a lot this year and, hopefully, will help me moving forwards with my pro career.”

Timothy John 

“It’s impressive that you’ve been so proactive. Moving to France would have been a huge step for a teenager. You’d only been there a year, but you were already looking to take your career to the next level.

“Where does that restless ambition come from? Are we back to confidence and competitiveness, or were you aware, even at that age, just how short a professional cyclist’s career

might be? Do you have that sense that the clock is ticking and that you have to get on with it?"

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, I’d say so. You’ve got to get on with it, and I was quite lucky in having, not pushy parents, but two parents who really supported me with everything that I did. 

“Mum and dad always wanted the best for me and would do anything to make sure that I had the best situation. When I mentioned it, they both said, go for it and asked what I needed

to do. 

“I’m forever grateful for the support of my family through it all. Now, it’s just a case of trying to pay them back in terms of being a pro that they can watch and think, ‘Finally, it’s all come good.’”

Timothy John

“Did that involve another move? Did you leave Aix to join SEG or could you stay in the region?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, I moved then and came back home. We had ‘the Covid year’ and everything was written off, pretty much. I lived in Holland with the team. There were four or five of us from the team who shared a house: all foreign and UK-based riders. That was quite nice. 

“By that point, I’d been living away from home for a whole year by myself, and at this point I was with other guys. It was a nice experience. Good times.”

Timothy John

“And how different is life in The Netherlands to life in Aix?”

Harrison Wood

“A bit wetter! A bit damper! A bit colder, as well! 

“It was quite similar. With cycling, it’s not like you’re going out every night and going to a nightclub. You’re in bed by 10pm or 10.30pm most nights, eating pasta for dinner. You live quite a simple life. You live like a monk, I’d say, in a way.

“Wherever you are, it’s always pretty similar, if you ask most guys. I can’t imagine there are many cyclists who do anything abnormal or special. I found that quite nice.”

Timothy John 

“And what was the team’s mission? SEG was the big name on the jersey. What was their commercial model?”

Harrison Wood

“SEG s a cycling agency. They have the most amount of riders in the WorldTour, in terms of agents. I think their idea was to develop the riders, turn them pro, and then they would be their agents when they turned pro. That was how it worked, I think, pretty much.”

Timothy John 

“They must have been very incentived to get you a contract. Did you come close to turning pro from SEG? In a wider sense, did you need to go back to Aix to finish your apprenticeship, so to speak?”

Harrison Wood

“I had to go back to Aix, really. I had alright results but nothing that would make me go pro. Maybe, Pro Conti if I was lucky, but I doubt that also. So, yeah, I had to go back to Aix and do a full race calendar with Aix and turn pro from there.”

Timothy John 

“One thing that’s cropped up a lot in my recent conversations with Rayner riders, Sam and Oscar, for example: they’ve turned pro now, but neither was in any particular hurry to do so. They were like you: they were very proactive in pursuing opportunities but they weren’t part of this very latest generation: ‘I’m a good junior so I need to turn pro in the next six months.’ The 'Remco effect'.

“Sam told me specifically that he didn’t want to scrape a contract; that he wanted to become a good U23 before he even thought about turning pro. Did you have a similar mindset?”

Harrison Wood

“I think so, yeah. Also, for me, there weren’t opportunities. Oscar and Sam may already have had a few teams knocking on their door before that, but I didn’t have contact with any big teams, as such, so it was just a case of having to slowly plod away and hope for the best, basically.”

Timothy John

“And how did it feel to go back to Aix? Did it feel like coming home? Or did it feel a bit like snakes and ladders? That you were back to square one and had to start again?”

Harrison Wood

“No, it sort of felt quite good. I felt that I’d come back with a lot more experience and I knew what I had to do in order to be on a good level in France. In a way, it was quite nice, I would say. Definitely.”

Part Eight - The Cofidis Connection 

Timothy John 

“Of course, Aix-en-Provence has made a connection with Cofidis. That relationship, I think, has been critical in this latest phase of your career. 

“Is that a formal relationship? Is Aix-en-Provence a recognised feeder team for Cofidis? Or is it informal? Have relationships within French cycling helped to create this opportunity?”

Harrison Wood

“Aix is becoming more of a feeder-y type team for Cofidis. I was lucky to be part of that: doing a training camp with them and then being a stagiare all came about from the connection between Aix and Cofidis working together. That’s how it developed. 

“I was very lucky to be in that situation where they’ve tied up with a WorldTour team, so, yeah, very good.”

Timothy John 

“In which areas are you trying to impress, Harrison? Is it all about what you do on the bike or is it also about how you conduct yourself in the hotel, on the bus, during the team meeting? Is it a 360-degree assessment where they consider every aspect of your suitability as a team member?”

Harrison Wood

“Definitely. It’s everything, I think. Firstly, being a good bike rider helps massively. That’s probably the 90 per cent. The other percentage is what you’re like as a person, what you’re like with the team. How you conduct yourself with the staff is a huge thing. He’s a soigneur, but he’s also a person.

"You’ve got to show respect to everyone because without them, you’re not doing your job as well. They kept saying how polite I was and how kind I was to the staff. I think that’s down to my parents and my upbringing: always say thank-you, always say please, that kind of rubbish, that kind of clichéd comment!

“It’s true. They want to look at you as a package. You’re not just a bike rider, you’re a person, and it’s how you conduct yourself. You could be the best cyclist in the world, but if you’re going out every night getting drunk until 1am, they don’t like that!”

Timothy John

“We’ve talked extensively about you spending the full four years as an U23 overseas. When you finally got the opportunity with Cofidis, did that add pressure? Did it feel like your final chance? Or was it the reverse? Did you feel that you were fully prepared after racing in France and The Netherlands and having learned how to conduct yourself as a professional cyclist?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, I think so. I saw it as, not like I was born for this moment, but you feel a bit like it’s now your chance. You’ve just got to go out there and do it and get the pro contract. That's what it comes down to. You've done all these years of hard work, and now you've just got to finish it. In golf terms, you've just got to tap the ball in the hole."

Timothy John 

“Did you feel that you’ d done enough, when you finished the stagiare races? Did you feel that you couldn’t have done anymore?”

Harrison Wood

“I think so, yeah. In each race, I was getting better in terms of my level and that was good for them to see that I was nowhere near my peak, and I was just getting better and better and improving and improving. That was good for them, and I was happy as well, so that was good.”

Timothy John 

“And how long did they make you wait before confirming the contract?”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, luckily it was only four or five days after the Tour of Luxembourg, which was quite good. In mid-September, I think I sort of knew, or at the beginning of September, so it wasn’t too long to wait, which was quite nice.”

Timothy John 

“That must have been huge weight off your mind. Have you discussed targets, goals, ambitions, what type of role you might play? Or is it still much too early?”

Harrison Wood

“I think this first year’s going to be more about learning, without pressure. I don’t have any pressure to win a race, but if I can do well, it’s up to me to do well. It’s on me.  

“They haven’t said, ‘You need to do well and this race and at this race.’ There won’t be as much pressure, because I’m new and a neo-pro, but there will be an element of expectation, I’d say, but nothing too crazy and nothing too detailed either, which is nice. It’s a good situation to be in as a neo-pro.”

Part Nine - The Rayner Foundation

Timothy John 

“Absolutely. And, just finally, Harrison, a word for The Rayner Foundation. In a sense, they’ve created this opportunity with Cofidis by providing four years of funding. Clearly, you’ve maximised that opportunity through your own efforts, too.

“But it really is something, isn’t it? That class of 2022: seeing you guys up on stage: 30 riders and five of them turning professional. That really is an achievement.”

Harrison Wood

“Yeah, definitely. I think it’s pretty crazy. It’s improved every year. I think that there are more riders every year. When I first started there were maybe twenty. Now there are 40 or something like that. It's crazy how many there are now, and it’s a testament to the fund. 

“If I’m honest, I didn’t realise how many people were behind the fund until I was at the The Rayner Foundation dinner. I didn’t realise how many people were on the board and the

committee, who put their ideas forwards to keep the fund moving forwards with the times. It’s now a registered charity, as well.

"It’s just amazing to see that the legacy, hopefully, will live on, and The Rayner Foundation will keep getting stronger and stronger and getting more British riders turning pro, basically, which is a testament to Jocelyn Ryan and Keith Lambert who do so much for us as riders over in Europe.

"I think every rider in Europe on The Rayner Foundation in Europe has a lot of thanking to do.”



Timothy John

“One hundred per cent. Well, Harrison, thank-you very much indeed for joining us today. When do you board the flight for Australia and the Tour Down Under?”

Harrison Wood

“Just at the beginning of January. The sixth or the seventh of January, I think it is, but I’m going to Nice next week for a bit of a training camp before it to try and get a good bit of sun; a bit warmer weather in, and then straight to Australia to start racing. I can’t wait.”

Timothy John

“I’m sure all our listeners will be tuning in to watch the Tour Down Under in January. Harrison, thank-you very much indeed for joining us today.”

Harrison Wood

“No problem. Thank-you for having me.”

Phil Jones

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