“I think that’s a load of rubbish.” As he warms down following the Tour of Britain time-trial in Clacton, Chris Lawless has just given the shortest of shrifts to my suggestion that Team Sky, which has won his signature for the 2018 season, might be less bothered about bringing on young British riders than they are about bringing them in in the first place.
Known for their tendency to recruit the cream of the domestic crop, the British outfit has at times, by some, been accused of failing to provide such riders with racing opportunities. Yet a cursory track of their squads over the last seven seasons finds empirical support for Lawless’ rejection of the premise.
As much as anything, despite their prominence in the British media at Tour time, Sky have never actually had the surfeit of homegrown stars that some have assumed.
Even if they did, while each rider who departs is said to be evidence of neglect – the current transfer window has seen Peter Kennaugh sign for Bora, while last year Ben Swift left to join UAE Team Emirates – far less fuss is made over those who have stayed, or re-signed. Both Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas have this summer extended their contracts, which is surely as strong a confidence vote in a team as a rider can give.
In a similar vein, that Lawless is following several promising British riders into the squad must count for something.
And when the money is, at least at first, hardly megabucks, for a young guy the ability to settle in must be even more important. Lawless agrees that “it helps that I’ve already got some friends there. I lived with Dibbo [Jon Dibben] and [Owain] Doull last year. I’ve been friends with Tao [Geoghegan Hart] since I was about 15.” From these three he’s been able to see “that they look after the young guys, so hopefully it’ll be the same for me”.
As one of the top under-23 talents on the market, Lawless was not short of suitors. Although not naming names, he does mention that “me and my agent were talking to a couple of teams”. Ultimately the clincher was that he “felt Sky would be the best place for me to develop and they’re gonna look after me well”.
While some riders have found Sky a more difficult fit than others, Lawless feels the team have been unduly blamed when it hasn’t worked out. For him there’s something to be said for personal responsibility. Cycling is an individual sport, after all.
“Ultimately, it is down to the riders themselves. If a rider wants it enough, they’ve got the best support staff in the world around them. If they want it enough, they’re going to succeed.”
While Sky’s numerous critics might throw up the rebuttal of “he would say that, wouldn’t he?”, the simpler, more plausible explanation is that he wouldn’t have joined them if he didn’t genuinely believe it.
Having snapped up three other Tour de l’Avenir stage winners alongside him, one of whom claimed the overall victory as well, Lawless is confident that Sky are “investing in youth, and thinking about the future”. The mixed nature of these riders is, to his mind, also an indication that they’re looking to diversify their portfolio of priorities.
“Me and Halvorsen are pretty similar, and Bernal and Sivakov are pretty similar. So you can see they’re not just thinking about climbers and GC guys, they’re also thinking about sprinters and possible classics riders.”
At the moment he looks like a fast finisher, but could he perhaps be the successor to Stannard? For the time being, he’s keen to keep his options open.
“With my age there’s room to improve in every area. I think as I mature a bit, I’ll be able to see what type of bike rider I am.”
Sounds pretty mature to us already.