By Susan Westemeyer
Alex Dowsett set the hour world record in 2015 and has won the British National time trial title six times, including in 2019. And he has done all this while suffering from hemophilia, a disease which would scare many off from being a pro athlete. So, what will he be doing in the Tour Down Under, which he is taking on for only the third time in his 10-year career, this time riding for Israel Start-Up Nation?
He will be a super domestique. With no time trial – the Briton’s specialty – on offer, Alex “will likely be a helper for everyone,” he says with a laugh. “We’ve got Andre Greipel there and Rick (Zabel) who is in the sprint lead out, which I will be part of. Normally you won’t see me inside of one kilometer to go. I will be outside of that. Anything from 20km out down to one k to go is where I do my job in the leadout.”
On the non-sprint stages, he has other duties. “On the Willunga stage and the other stages with significant climbs, I will be helping Ben Hermans, keeping him out of trouble, keeping him ready for when things get really feisty on the GC. So, I’ll be doing that and just trying to be cool in the heat.”
The hot 2019-2020 Australian summer has been marked by massive wildfires, which have devastated larges parts of the country. There has been discussion as to whether it is appropriate for the race to even be held under these circumstances.
“I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion on whether the races should go ahead,” Alex said. “I think that what the race will bring to the community is what’s important. If the race takes away funds from the community that could otherwise help the firefighting efforts, then the race shouldn’t go ahead. If the race brings in more funds through tourism, if it gives local businesses more support through tourism and through people being out, aiding their morale and happiness despite the devastating affect the fires have had, then it should go ahead.
“So, I just hope the right decisions are being made and by the sounds of the communications we’ve had from the Tour Down Under, that’s exactly how they approach it, they’re not ignoring the fires at all. They are using the race as a platform to help so I think any way we can help would be good.”
On May 2, 2015, in the Velodrome in Manchester, Alex set a new World one-hour record, covering 52.937 kilometers in 60 minutes. He broke the record of two-time World time trial champion Rohan Dennis. His record held for just over a month, before Bradley Wiggins set a new best time.
What did it mean to hold the Hour record? “It’s an honor to be part of something so historic and just to hold any kind of world record for any length of time. You can just be super proud; it just writes your name in history.
“I would like to go for it again, he said “Not just to actually break the record but to see how far I can really go, as my previous attempt was ridden to a strict schedule. I went as hard as I needed to break the record so it was frustrating to do that much work and not actually display what I was capable of.”
Implying that he held himself back to ride to that strict schedule and could have gone harder and therefore further, he wants to show himself “what I was truly capable of whether it be 53,54, 55 or 56. I don’t know and that’s what I’d like to find out.”
He set his record at sea level, as did Wiggins, while current record holder Victor Campenaerts did it at altitude in Aguascalientes, Mexico. “As for riding at altitude or sea level, there’s something I guess, hypothetically that if I were to do another record attempt. it’s something I would explore.”
After Wiggins took the title, “I said I’d like to beat Wiggins on a level playing field, that is at sea level. At altitude Victor obviously went very far but I think he would have been equally as phenomenal at sea level as well. I don’t know the science behind the difference, so we’ll see.”
Casting an eye on Olympic and national titles
The TDU is the opener for a long season. “After Australia I think I go to UAE (Feb. 23-29) and it looks like I will go to Tirreno. Nothing is super confirmed just yet. But my biggest goal is the Olympics. Just being selected for Great Britain is a tough call. After my strong performance at World Champs last year it’s on my card, so I’m just giving everything I can towards being selected and then try to shoot for a medal, preferably a gold one. It’s going to be a huge task with the likes of Rohan Dennis and the others, 20 or so guys who could possibly get a medal. It’s a really tough competition.”
Before Tokyo in late July, however, he hopes to claim yet another national time trial title in Great Britain. “It’s a long way out still. but bar injury or illness, there’s no real reason why I shouldn’t be there. There will be some tough competition as always, whether it be from the WorldTour or from the UK scene. Nowadays you can never turn up and be sure of the title. It’s going to be a fight.”
And why not go for a new championship as well? “It would be nice to give the road race a good go. I’ve had a silver medal and a fourth place and a couple of top tens, I think. I don’t win many road races, but that one would be at the top of my list to try and win.”
Supporting the “Little Bleeders”
Hemophilia is a genetic disorder in which a person’s blood “doesn’t clot normally, because it lacks sufficient blood-clotting proteins (clotting factors). If you have hemophilia, you may bleed for a longer time after an injury than you would if your blood clotted normally,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
For years, hemophiliacs were kept quiet and inactive, as it was feared the smallest cut or bruise could lead to the person bleeding to death or suffering severe internal hemorrhage. So how does a pro cyclist, who in the course of the season will undoubtedly crash, manage to make this his career?
Easily, Alex says. “Hemophilia doesn’t affect my cycling career. If anything, it has carved my cycling career. I take medication every second day, every day during racing, every second day during training, which basically enables me to be like any other bike rider on the team.”
Using his personal experience, he has created the charity Little Bleeders, “where we use my message of health and well-being to help and try to encourages other hemophiliacs to lead more active lifestyles with a condition which historically has encouraged hemophiliacs to rest more and be very cautious. We are saying to be respectful of the condition, but that actually being fit and healthy is a huge contributor to a healthy life with hemophilia, like I’ve been fortunate enough to have. Our motto is “move more, be more”. You can read more about it at www.littlebleeders.com
New Zealand and the importance of a partner
Alex is from Great Britain, but has spent the off season in New Zealand, the homeland of his partner Chanel. “We visited the last two years, but this year we decided to do the whole winter’s training here. We based ourselves here for the winter which is summer here which is great. I’ve been in short-sleeved jersey most days It’s even been high 20s some days. It’s a nice temperature.”
In fact, he ducked out of training camp and team meetings in Israel last month a day or two early, in order to be present at an important moment in Chanel’s life. “The team let me leave camp early and be here when she was admitted to the Bar of New Zealand and became a fully-fledged solicitor/barrister/lawyer and it was really special. I was happy to be there because partners of professional athletes are so fundamental and crucial and your biggest support network, so I think it’s important that we’re there for their days as well.
“I’ll always be grateful to Israel Start-up Nation for letting me duck out to be there for Chanel. It’s been a good start to the year and I’m looking forward to the Tour Down Under.”
Oh, and being a male model? Playing the saxophone? Don’t believe those stories. “Someone simply posted those things on my Wikipedia page. They aren’t true!