Stephen Cummings turned professional in 2005 for the Landbouwkrediet-Colnago team, riding for them for two years before moving to Discovery Channel. After a year there he spent two years at Barloworld, Sky and has been with BMC now since 2012. As a junior he won the British road championships and then National, Commonwealth and World titles in the team pursuit with an Olympic silver medal thrown in for good measure. On to the road his best results include 2nd in the National championships, a Vuelta a España stage win in 2012 and now his recent overall success at the Tour du Med.
PEZ: What is your main aim for the 2014 season?
Steve Cummings: To get Tour selection. I need to do a good job for the team, doing the normal stuff in Paris-Nice, the Classics, Fleche, Liége. Just doing my job for the team.
PEZ: Do you know your build up to the Tour?
Steve: Dubai, Haut Var, La Drôme, Paris-Nice, Pays Basque, Fleche and Liége.
Steve Cummings; worker or winner, always happy.
PEZ: Apart from the Tour, what are you looking forward too?
Steve: Doing my job. I like, obviously, the big races; Paris-Nice, Liége, also Pais Basque is good if you are in good shape; it’s a really good race. I have a great programme and I look forward to it all, nothing really stands out. I’m really looking forward to Dubai first of all because it’s new and it has a new time trial, should be nice. It’s always nice to go to a new race.
Dubai certainly went well for Steve and BMC with Taylor Phinney taking the GC and Steve finshing 2nd after a strong time trial in Stage 1
PEZ: Are you motivated to race because you are working for someone else?
Steve: That’s not always the motivation. You always get an opportunity in cycling and you have to take those opportunities when they come, so you have to be in your top shape, you have to be as good as you can be.
PEZ: So there wouldn’t be a problem if you took one of those opportunities?
Steve: No, no. It’s good, everyone would be happy, that’s what we want, good for the team, good for everyone.
Stage 13 of the 2012 Vuelta a España.
PEZ: Do you think the team has changed?
Steve: Yeah, a lot, a big, big difference, a big change.
PEZ: What do you put those changes down too?
Steve: There has been some staff changes, and they have gone more for performance management with the sports scientists and I think that’s been really good.
PEZ: Is that influence of Sky?
Steve: I don’t think it’s just Sky, but it could be part of it, but honestly that’s the way I personally work anyway. It just becomes difficult if you don’t know what you are doing because then if you don’t know what you are doing sometimes your motivation isn’t there and it’s difficult to plan and prepare properly. This year I personally feel more motivated and I’m training properly and I know what I’m doing and as long as I come up with the goods then that will be the programme. I think it’s not just come from Sky, it’s just that’s the good way to work; obviously they are a good example. It’s not like we copy them, it just makes sense.
PEZ: Do you think things have had to go that way because there is not the choice of doping?
Steve: I’ve never really thought about it.
PEZ: Do you think you would ever go back to the track?
Stephen: No, probably not. It has passed through my mind a few times but I don’t think so.
PEZ: Did you enjoy it at the time?
Steve: I did for a period, not really, but I wanted something else. I used it to go where I wanted to go, when I was a kid it wasn’t something I wanted. It was a good route to go where I wanted to go, I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it, because I did, it was great crack with the lads and we did really well. In the end my heart really wasn’t in it, so I wasn’t really willing to give probably what it needed, because my personal goal was somewhere else. And I was kind of like always trying to get away with the minimum on the track, just to keep them happy.
World team pursuit champion 2005.
PEZ: In Britain at that time it was about the only way to progress.
Steve: They didn’t have that under 23 programme, so the option was to go to race in Belgium or France, which in that period wasn’t right for me, maybe it would have been OK, I don’t know.
PEZ: The Belgian route suited Adam Blythe (ex-Lotto and BMC).
Steve: It worked out very well for him, it was perfect for him. I just think that system of British Cycling, which is great, doesn’t fit everyone and it’s not necessarily the only way you can do it and there are other ways and you have to do what’s right for that individual and just because you don’t fit into that system doesn’t mean you can’t be a good rider. It’s great that there are a lot of options now, even with the British teams, they are doing more and more and you can race abroad without living in France and Belgium. The opportunities are there.
PEZ: Do you miss Adam not being on the team?
Steve: Yes I do, he’s a great guy, I text him a lot. Maybe this will be good for him and he will come back stronger, he’s a hell of a talented rider.
PEZ: What are the differences between BMC and Sky?
Steve: Well, this year here (at BMC) feels more like it did at Sky. When I first came here the first year was really good, but last year wasn’t so good. I put that down to a couple of things; I had a bit of an injury from December and I was a little bit scared form the previous year from crashing. I never really knew what races I was doing, which was a bit of a problem for me to deal with, for some riders it doesn’t bother them. But for me I just become a bit…even though you are trying still, it’s like you’re going through the motions a bit, and you just don’t have that little bit extra. So that was difficult, but this year I feel much better. I enjoyed Sky as well, I think how the team is now is a lot different from how it was in that first year there and maybe now it would suit me more than it did. It was all new to them and now they have found a good path. They have had a lot of changes there anyway, they are always changing.
PEZ: You prefer it here with BMC?
Steve: You know, I’ve been happy in both. In the terms of riders and stuff, it’s difficult because I’ve made a lot of good friends here and I’ve enjoyed the experience of both teams. So to say I’ve preferred one over the other is difficult, I like both.
Happy at Sky and happy at BMC.
PEZ: What would a day on the Tour de France be like for you?
Steve: I think Tejay (van Garderen) is the big goal as he was 5th before (2012), last year he wasn’t as good on GC as he would have hoped, but you could see a glimpse of what he could do. So I’m there first and foremost to support him and then hopefully you can get an opportunity. So on flat stages you keep him in the front of the group and make sure he is out of danger and make sure he has a bottle. On the hillier stages it’s similar and you try to stay with him as long as you can. And then obviously it depends on the race situation, the last few years it’s been a train of Sky riders and everyone following them because they had the strongest rider, so they had to ride like that. You just have to be around him, make sure he is OK, out of the wind, out of danger.
PEZ: There is no team time trial this year, is that a disappointment?
Steve: It’s a change; I think this team is quite good at the team time trials. We weren’t as good last year at the Worlds as we had hoped (4th), we hoped for much more and that was a big disappointment actually. Obviously I like the team time trial, I feel good and confident in it, and yeah I’ll miss that.
PEZ: Would that affect the composition of the team for the Tour de France?
Steve: Yeah, yeah possibly. Like I said I train and I think to try to be as light and as powerful as I can and then you can climb well and be good on the flat so you can be useful in more than one area. That’s what I try to do.
PEZ: What stage profile suits you?
Steve: I think undulating, after sort of ten days, you know when people have lost time and breakaways will go to the finish and there are these stages when it’s really hard to get into breakaways and normally you end up with a strong breakaway and no one can chase behind because they are all strong riders and it goes to the finish. Undulating, not super long climbs, but 20 minutes, 30 minutes. Get in a good break and you’ve got as much chance as anyone else, haven’t you. Use your head and be smart and hopefully you have the legs. That’s what I really like, not just the physical side, but also the mental side of it. I’d get a bit of freedom, but it depends on the scenario, but first and foremost the priority is the team
PEZ: And the future?
Steve: I’m 32 now and I want to continue as long as I can, that’s what I want to do. Try to win if I can and carry on supporting, it’s always great to support someone when they win, it’s really nice. And then I really like to have my own chance and my own opportunity. I love that break-away kind of scenario.
Hard at work for the team.
PEZ: Where do you live?
Steve: In Italy, near Pistoia. For me it was the best move I’ve made, I think it changed me as a rider going there. It has everything, short climbs, long climbs and flat, there are so many climbs; it’s just so good for training. I love Italian life, it fits really well.
PEZ: Italy is a bit different from Liverpool, do you fit in OK?
Steve: Yeah it’s very different. I fit in pretty well actually, more than in England somehow. We’re there a lot, my wife comes over, we love it, after cycling I don’t think we would go back to England. I speak a little Italian, I never went to school I just talk, I love it there. I don’t ever miss a day training because of the weather and in England the traffic is getting worse and worse.
PEZ: Are you on Twitter?
Steve: I think I’ve done 20 tweets in 5 years.
PEZ: I don’t think that counts.
Since the interview Steve took second place in the Dubai Tour behind BMC team mate Taylor Phinney and then by winning the time trial on stage 4 of the Tour Méditerranéen, he moved into the overall lead and held it to the end. “It was a good time trial for me,” Cummings said. “I like these kinds of climbs that aren’t too steep. It was a little bit technical, but we looked at it last week. So I knew the course well. The team has been really strong. We have always stayed together. I have really enjoyed it so far.”
On the final 192 kilometre stage 5, Steve came under attack from Jean-Christophe Peraud of Ag2r-La Mondiale, but fought hard to finish 11 seconds behind the Frenchman for the victory. “It was so close, I went way over my limit,” Cummings said. “I just did my best and luckily it was good enough. I thought I could do a good GC, but was looking more to the time trial and taking things day-by-day. But I kept staying in the front and then the time trial was great. So today was like the icing on the cake.” He added: “It was great for everything to fall into place, in the past, I have had form like this – or better – and something has gone wrong: I have had a crash or been sick. It has never come out properly. So it is nice to have it work out.”
I managed to catch up with Steve a couple of days after his win in the Tour Méditerranéen:
PEZ: You must have known your form was good at the Dubai Tour?
Steve. I knew before Dubai the shape was good. But the race confirmed it.
PEZ: Was there a plan before the TT in the Tour of the Med to put you in the overall lead?
Steve: We looked at the TT course the day after we arrived in Europe from Dubai. The plan was to stay in front, and not lose time on GC. Then to go full gas in the TT. The TT was the target. To go as fast as I could go. I didn’t really think about the outcome. There was no pressure or stress. I enjoyed it.
PEZ: How difficult was defending the jersey on the last stage?
Steve: The team did an amazing job controlling the race and attacks; I just had to stay calm and go full gas in the last 2k.
PEZ: Of all your wins does this one give you the most pleasure?
Steve: Every win is different; it’s hard to say one is more pleasing than another. It’s definitely up there, it was extremely satisfying.
PEZ: Do you think the win will help your chances of a Tour de France place?
Steve: I hope so. I think it’s more important to be consistent and reliable in the races coming up.
It couldn’t happen to nicer bloke.
Stephen Cummings; overall winner of the 2014 Tour Méditerranéen.