21 September 2020

British rider Wright on his first season as a pro, the coronavirus impact and living in a house of cyclists

British cyclist Fred Wright has spoken exclusively to NewsChain about what its like as a first year professional rider during the coronavirus pandemic.

The 20-year-old Londoner joined Team Bahrain McLaren for the 2020 season, making the decision to move to the road from Great Britain's track set-up.

And the Herne Hill-born youngster had hit the ground running with strong performances in his first two major races at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

But having tasted what it's like to compete with the elite, Wright's world, in common with everyone else's, was thrown upside-down by the COVID-19 outbreak.

And as a result, the UCI suspended all racing until at least June 1.

“I’m gutted, I’m not going to lie," said Wright. "I just really want to be racing. To get a taste of what it's like in the first few races, I was in a really good place.

“Having done Omloop and Kuurne I really wanted to go and do some more of the Belgian-style races which would have been on at the moment. They were the hardest races I’ve ever done but it was still pretty epic. Pretty cool as well with the fans and everything.

“I was down to do some of the classics at the moment such as E3, Gent-Wevelgem, I would have done one or two of those. And then judging how I did in them that would have affected whether I did the bigger ones (Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders)."

All of the spring classics - at which Wright was hoping to play a part - have already been postponed and will potentially be re-scheduled for later in the year.

But while he is frustrated by the halt in momentum, Wright is also aware this could actually be one of the better times in his career for it to happen.

“Looking at the bigger picture, some people don’t start their careers until later than I have anyway," he added. "It’s just getting that second contract is harder than getting your first contract. Hopefully it’s not had too much of an impact.

“It just maybe puts a bit more pressure on next year potentially but I think what I’ve done in the seven days racing I have done, I’d like to think I’ve progressed into a position where I’m a bit more comfortable.

“I think about the older guys in the team. I was sharing with Heinrich Haussler who is at the tail-end of his career with the form and ability to win one of these one-day races this year potentially and now it’s not happening. So it’s definitely worse for the older guys I think."

Wright now lives in Manchester with fellow riders Ethan Hayter and Matt Walls, who he was on the GB squad with until recently.

Hayter (front), Walls (second) and Wright (third) have ridden with each other for several years (PA Images)

Hayter signed for Team Ineos (previously Team Sky) for the 2020 season, joining an illustrious list of British riders to have joined the team after Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.

And Trinity Racing's Walls has also started the year positively, winning bronze in the omnium at the UCI Track World Championships.

As a result of all being in one household, the trio are able to train with one another during the lockdown, something Wright is extremely thankful for.

“There’s three of us and we’ve got similar enough training that we can go out and train together and that makes such a big difference," he said. "But you get some funny looks from people thinking ‘what are these three lads doing out together riding their bikes?’

“I think we’re all grateful that we’ve got each other to train with I think. If one of us isn’t feeling it and the other to are still going to go out then you’re still going to go out and do the training. Plus you’ve got more people to play Playstation with as well!”

In amongst the playing of video games and building of IKEA furniture, there is time for some virtual riding through the use of online training programme Zwift.

It enables people to go out on group rides without leaving their front door, something Wright has used to head out with his old local club Velo Club Londres.

“It’s actually pretty good. I did my first ride a couple of days ago. There are races you can get organised on there that you can just go and do if you want. So there is an incentive to keep going just for things like that," he said.

“My old cycling club are doing club runs so I’m going to ride with some of the people from my old club (VCL - Velo Club Londres). So I’ll be poodling along with my dad and then I think they use another app to talk together so it’s like being on a club run."

A far cry from the races he would have been competing in had the coronavirus not struck - such as Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke - but Wright is aware of just how far he has come in the short space of two years.

He burst onto most people's radars back in 2018 when he became national champion in the team pursuit, finished fifth in the road race and competed with some of the very best on the track at the Six Day London.And so despite the coronavirus virus hampering what could have been a thrilling couple of months for him, Wright remains upbeat about what the future holds.

“If you’d have told me back at the Six Day London in October 2018 that I’d be here where I am now, I’d have told you you’re wrong!

“There might be some of the highest level races going on at the same time later on in the year, so that might be a good thing for riders like me who wouldn’t necessarily get the chance to do the biggest races.

"Maybe if all those races are on at the same time and the team is stretched a bit thin then who knows?"

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