PezCycling News - What's Cool In Road Cycling : Rás Winner James Gullen Gets PEZ’d!

Rás Winner James Gullen Gets PEZ’d!
Rider Interview: The Irish stage race, the An Post Rás or as most people call it, just 'The Rás' is a tough race. Not just because of the terrain and the weather, but due to the tough riders who battle it out over 10 days in the Emerald Isle. The most recent winner was JLT-Condor's James Gullen, Ed Hood caught up with the victor not long after the final stage.

The RAS, Ireland’s answer to the Volta in Portugal – huge fields, a massive spread of abilities from ‘club riders’ to world champions, lots of hills and a very hard race to control. This year’s edition went to 27 year-old Englishman, James Gullen, JLT-Condor. As well as his road credentials, including a Tour of Taiwan stage - he’s an extremely quick time trial performer; it took Movistar chrono specialist Alex Dowsett to beat him to the British Time Trial Championship in 2016.

He’s also been the author of some startlingly fast 10 mile time trials – how does 17:09 sound? That’s 35.985 mph; only former Polish National Time Trial Champion and former Worlds TT top 10 finisher Marcin Bialoblocki has gone faster on British roads with a 16:35 (36.181 mph) last year. James had a word with PEZ just a few days after the team managers downed the last Guinness on the Emerald Isle.

REPRO FREE***PRESS RELEASE NO REPRODUCTION FEE*** 2017 An Post Ras Stage 8, Ardee to Skerries 28/5/2017 Yellow jersey holder James Gullen of JLT Condor celebrates winning the An Post Ras Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

PEZ: Congratulations on a top notch ride, James. You were top 10 with a stage win in the 2016 Rás; did that get you thinking you could win overall this year?
James Gullen:
In way yeah, I knew that I wasn’t a million miles off last year and it was possible, but with the RAS, a lot is about luck combined with form and then having a strong team to defend the lead - so the stars definitely have to align in order to win overall. This year I had the form and a strong team then luck went my way so it worked out perfectly.

PEZ: Tell us about your preparation for the Ras.
It’s been ideal this year, I’ve stayed relatively injury and illness free and had some great stage races with the team to set me up. In the past I’ve been stuck racing in the UK which is all well and good but you just don’t get the same condition like you do in international stage races. With John Herety (JLT-Condor manager and ex British Professional Road Race Champion, ed.) that was a big selling point for me joining the team, I’ve had the Sun Tour, Tour of Taiwan and Tour de Yorkshire all in the build up, this combined with the UK one day races and some time trials has really brought my form on.

PEZ: How important was riding the Tour of Yorkshire in your build up?
I think it was pretty key, yeah, It was a brutal three days and after being in the break on stage two I suffered a lot on stage three but it all helps in the long run.

PEZ: Remind us about how you took the jersey in the RAS.
After a low key first two days where I helped Rob McCarthy out in the sprints and rolled in with the back of the bunch stage three was the first key GC day. A big break went up the road and Ian Bibby and I ended up in a chase group going across, at the time he was still our yellow jersey hope after his win at the Lincoln GP so I rode hard to get us across. This group then split in the latter stages and I drove the group to get him as much time as possible and lead out the sprint, he was second on the stage and I moved into 12th on GC. The next stage was the first mountain stage, with Bibby fifth on GC we were all in for him to take yellow and me to help out in the latter stages but unfortunately he punctured on the penultimate climb and at that stage getting back in the race was a lost cause. I hung in on the brutal climb of the Mamore Gap and finished in the lead group creeping into sixth on GC same time as the leader.

It was stage five that proved vital, on paper an ‘easier’ day; 200km with a few cat 3 climbs but it proved far from easy. On the climbs the race was in pieces after the Aussies smashed it, my teammate Ed Laverack ended up in a group I was just behind and knew it was now or never so jumped across with the Delta Cycling Rotterdam rider who was also level on time with me overall. We ended up in a strong six man group, one An Post rider sat on (who took the stage) as his team mate was still in yellow, Cameron Meyer, two Deltas and myself and Ed. With all our interests in GC the five of us just committed to riding as hard as possible to gain maximum time, it was a really tough long day in the break I suffered a lot. Towards the end Cam Meyer (Australia) [World Team Pursuit and Points Champion, ed.] started attacking for the stage and that’s what split the group up distancing Groen (Delta) who would have taken yellow if he finished with me due to count back. When I realized he was dropped I drilled the last two K all in for GC and took it by over a minute.

PEZ: Tell us about defending it to the end.
It would have been impossible without such a strong team, taking the yellow jersey is only half of the task, defending it is when the real hard work begins. Having a mix of both strong and experienced riders helping me was the key to defending my position.

PEZ: Any worrying moments?
The most worrying was stage eight, after leading for three days losing the jersey would have been gutting. With a new cat two climb on the run in to Skerries we knew the Aussies were going to have a go sitting in third on GC. Right on cue they hit it flat stick into the climb and gapped our group, my team mates were pretty tired from riding so hard for me for a few days and I was alone with Ed Laverack and had Tom Moses up the road in the break. The Aussies had about 40-50seconds, Tom dropped back to help and it was like a TTT with me Ed and Tom trying to limit the gap to at least two minutes to hold on. Luckily we started to peg them back and at the same time Storer (Australia) punctured leaving Meyer alone in the lead group which meant the gap tumbled and it was all back together. Safe to say I was pretty relieved!

REPRO FREE***PRESS RELEASE NO REPRODUCTION FEE*** 2017 An Post Ras Stage 8, Ardee to Skerries 28/5/2017 Yellow jersey holder James Gullen of JLT Condor celebrates winning the An Post Ras Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

PEZ: Take us back to how you started cycling.
My Grandad (mums dad) was a cyclist and my Dad did Triathlons then moved to just road cycling when I was little and competed in time trials. I rode through childhood for enjoyment but only started time trialling at 14-15, I was a late developer so didn’t really do anything special as a junior and didn’t do much serious road racing until university.

PEZ: When would you say you 'broke through'?
I went to University at 18 and had a year away from riding, enjoying studying and the social life.
Soon the novelty of that wore off and I got back into riding, a few course mates were part of a local team so I joined them and was introduced to some local road races and dipped my toe in the Premier Calendar races in England for the first time. Even then I was still so far behind everyone with experience I wasn’t amazing, but I stuck at it looking for an opportunity with a team that could help me improve. I’d say I haven’t had so much as a big breakthrough but more a steady progression the more opportunities and experience I have gained.

PEZ: That 10 mile speed of yours - not many roadmen can time trial like that.
Yeah it’s pretty ridiculous! I’m quite powerful but one of my main advantages is that I have a pretty good body shape for being aero. Narrow shoulders, long body with relatively short legs and I have put a lot of time and effort into optimizing my position bike and kit.

PEZ: Bialoblocki's 16:35 British record, is it breakable?
JG: Never say ‘never’; it’s pretty high on the shelf but nothing’s impossible, I’ll need to find a few more watts or get a little more aero to be in with a shot and then combine that with another perfect day on the fast course at Kingston upon Hull.

PEZ: Is the National TT Championship on the Isle of Man later in the month a big goal - how will you prepare?
Yeah I’d like to go well there, I was silver medallist last year - it would be amazing to take the win but you have to go up against some of the World Tour boys and they aren’t at that level for nothing so it’s a big ask. If everything goes right on the day I’d like to think I’ll be in with a shout. Preparation will be mainly road racing, I had the RAS then just finished a very hard three day in Portugal to get some condition. Now I need to rest up and do a bit of specific TT work. That’s the problem with a good road calendar you don’t get the time at home to spend on the TT bike which is quite important and what helped a lot last year.

PEZ: Your stage win in Taiwan - a nice result, what was the race like?
Yeah it was amazing to take that and end up in the yellow jersey for a day. The race was really good, nice mix of stages and Taiwan was a beautiful country to race around.

PEZ: How do you get on with all the city centre criteriums which dominate the British pro calendar?
Definitely not my bag, I’m pure slow twitch. I can get round them but just don’t have the sprint needed out of the corners to compete with the out and out crit riders. Luckily JLT-Condor have an unreal crit team and I don’t have to worry about racing any of them.

PEZ: Do you have a coach - what's the training philosophy?
Myself and most of the team are coached by Tim Kennaugh who also DS-ed for us with JLT-Condor at the RAS.
He’s great but I also do some coaching myself as I did a sport science degree so my own knowledge mixed with bouncing ideas off Tim works really well. I’d say my philosophy is; ‘you get out what you put in.’

PEZ: Has crossing the channel to live and race ever been something you considered?
It may have been if I’d been picked up and progressed more at an early age and I guess if I was approached I’d have to consider it but now I’m 27 and have a girlfriend so I’m quite settled.
The way JLT-Condor works is ideal. I get to live at home in the UK and still have an amazing race program abroad mixed with some races in the UK. I’ve seen a lot of riders move to Europe to ‘live the dream’ and come back mentally cracked so you have to look at lifestyle balanced with racing and I have it pretty good at the moment.

PEZ: What are the goals for the rest of the 2017?
I’ll have a good go at the national TT champs later this month then we have a block of UK one day racing where I’ll play a team roll/have a go myself if it suits. After that I think we are doing the two week Tour of Portugal in August which will be a whole new experience followed by the Tour of Britain depending who makes the squad so plenty to go at still.

It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he's covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,500 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself - many years and kilograms ago - and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site where more of his musings on our sport can be found.


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