On this week’s team call our guest was former Edinburgh RC rider Stuart Balfour. Stuart got the season off to a fantastic start with a win in the Grand Prix L’Échappée acting as a nice footnote to his time as an U23 rider. He’s now in his fourth year of racing for European teams and this season moved from French D1 team Cotes D'Armor Cyclisme to the Swiss Racing Academy , who’s chief is the legendary Fabien Cancellara.
When Stuart first made it to France he had his French Higher in the bag but soon realised his language skills didn’t quite cut the mustard. “Say a phrase confidently. If they don’t understand try another” was his mantra. Learning the language properly became a priority. After a first season constrained by injuries, he progressed to a D1 team and started getting results. Confidence grew as Stuart realised he could be competitive. “First I learnt that the guys I looked up to… I could hold their wheel. Then I grew confidence and tried to beat them.”
His tip is, in tough times, ride the roads you love - which for him was from his base in Heriot in the Scottish Borders, looping the Granites and Yarrow and Ettrick valleys. “Why would you not want to do that for a living?”
On the merits of developing as a bike racer in France he cites the variety of racing on offer, from the rolling hills of Normandy, the cross winds of La Vendée and the mountains of the Pyrénées, Massif Central and the Alps. “France teaches you not to limit yourself to a single niche, like climbing or sprinting, but to be a better all-round rider. It’s best to try everything and good to know that you still have new capabilities to develop.” That all round ability, and enjoying the rhythm of multi-day racing, has helped Stuart to recover and gain consistency so he can improve as a stage race progresses.
With the pandemic impacting racing calendars, Stuart and his teammates approach each race as if it is the last of the season. This creates intense frantic racing where teams are sending their best riders to every race with few relaxed moments in the bunch.
In the World Championships in Harrogate, Stuart raced for GB U23 and got a chance to race in front of family and friends which he described as special. In the breakaway for a long period, Stuart looked like a rider who knew how to handle the situation and command the respect of his breakaway companions. On gladiatorial leadership skills he’s in the privileged position to seek counsel from non-other than Spartacus himself. Cancellara noted that if you want to do it well you need to give “clear and concise orders”.
Stuart has a busy May, including two stage races. It kicks off with Flèche Ardennaise; a 178km day race with a shark’s tooth profile notching up 4000m of climbing. There are two Borders lads in the mix, with DSM’s Oscar Onley also on the start sheet.
Here’s wishing them both good luck and thanks to Stuart for spending time with us.