A breakthrough year, ambitions for the future, and the next generation of British stars with Fred Wright
After making his professional debut in 2020 with Bahrain Victorious, Londoner Fred Wright spent the next several years slowly but steadily developing his skills, culminating in a breakout season this year.
From spring through fall, the then-23-year-old was a mainstay atop the podium, finishing in the top ten in the Tour of Flanders and becoming a mainstay in the race’s breakaways at the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espaa.
He came close to winning in Saint-Etienne in July and finished in the top five five times throughout the Vuelta. Wright has already become one of the race’s emerging stars, and his first professional victory is likely just around the corner.
Wright’s contract with Bahrain Victorious was extended in September, and he is expected to play a major role as the team’s skipper in the Classics and Grand Tours moving ahead.
At the recent Rouleur Live event, Cyclingnews spoke with Wright about his finest season to yet, his future aspirations, and the rising generation of British riding. You won’t want to miss this in-depth conversation with one of the most promising young riders in the peloton.
Cyclingnews: You’ve emerged as a major force among 2022’s breakout riders. In what ways do you think this year’s race fell short of your expectations?
Ahead of the Battle of Flanders is where I believe it all to have begun, says Fred Wright. I was gaining skill, gaining self-assurance, and gaining familiarity with the courses with each race I ran. I felt more prepared and confident than I ever had before for the Tour of Flanders. Knowing the track intimately takes time, but I was confident in what was to come and the strategy.
We got along well as a team and all that, so when we started the race, I thought I would perform better than in prior years. I didn’t anticipate the outcome, of course, but I did think I’d do better. Even simply being in that little group of us, six or seven of us, when we entered the Kwaremont for the final time was a marked improvement over the previous year and a portent of good things to come.
Since then, I’ve entered every kind of race thinking, “OK, I was seventh in Flanders – it’s nothing to be scoffed at,” because to the self-assurance I gained from finishing in the top ten in Flanders. This was essentially handed to me for the remainder of the season.
Then, to make it to the Grand Tours in the fashion that I did… Honestly, this is the happiest I’ve ever been. The common sentiment is “well, you should have gotten a victory, should have maybe won a stage,” but I believe this is a great improvement over last year. I’d rather not focus too much on where or when success will arrive.
The current phase of my life is one with which I am really satisfied. We’re pleased with the group’s performance and eager to move on to the next year. My workouts and other activities have kind of gotten back on track. Thus, I anticipate it with anticipation.
CN: Did you anticipate this level of improvement at the end of winter/beginning of the season last year?
FW: I mean, I crashed in the Saudi Tour and didn’t finish after breaking my collarbone in December. It felt like “well, this start hasn’t been so great,” but an injury can sometimes be a godsend because it forces you to practice harder or whatever, and I believe it turned out very nicely in the end.
After breaking my collarbone, I still went on the turbo loads, so it wasn’t too much of a hindrance. How my preparation prepares me for this year (assuming, of course, that nothing unforeseen occurs) will be fascinating to see. But I didn’t anticipate doing two Grand Tours, much less doing so well in the Vuelta. To be able to add some animation to the races was a lot of fun. Having my work featured there was, I suppose, kind of an honor.
After that, CN: You clearly had a great spring, since you finished in the top ten at the Tour of Flanders for the second time. When you left Antwerp that morning, did you have any inkling that you’d end up with that outcome?
FW: I’m not sure I’m the most confident person in the world; at least, not when it comes to my ability on the bike. In other words, I have no idea how well things are going.
On the other hand, I’d like to believe that when I entered Flanders I thought, “OK, these are some of the greatest legs I’ve ever had.” The least we can do is try. It was comforting to learn that emotions led to a positive outcome, especially given that even while feeling great, things don’t always pan out. Nonetheless, I believe I now have the confirmation you need to proceed. That race is one in which I want to excel in the future.
CN: So, it’s no secret that we’ve seen you make breaks and come close to stage victories on several times in the Tour and Vuelta. You’ve had a successful season, but are you still bothered by all those close calls?
FW: Lots of nail-biters, but to shine brightly in two of the biggest events of the year… To be honest, at this point in the season, I’d be happy with whatever I can get.
Perhaps you tell yourself, “Maybe I could have done this” while reflecting on your past actions. The only other instance I can remember of was during stage 7 of the Vuelta. There were maybe five or six of us, and we all kind of ran together. That was the one that maybe should have gone my way but didn’t, and I know what I did wrong.
These things, though, seem so much clearer in retrospect. You can’t think too deeply into a situation, and I’ve found that the best approach for me is to make things as straightforward as possible, to learn from my errors, and to look for new opportunities, whether they be in the modern world or the Classical one. Keep at it, and success will come your way.
Can you learn anything from finishing second, third, or fourth that will help you win more games next season?
FW: I see it as all part of the same process. There isn’t anything about it that reminds me of a single thing. I would say it is gaining wisdom through experience. My ability to learn new things and adapt to them is, I like to believe, above average.
Perhaps there are instances when I overanalyze situations to an unhealthy degree. But I’ve always been adept at taking in new knowledge, and I’ve learned a lot through my many life experiences. I’m hoping that eventually this will amount to something significant.
CN: You’ve shown yourself this season as a sprinter, a rider of hills, and a contender on the cobblestones. If you could choose one field to specialize in, which would it be?
FW: [A multitalented player] is roughly how I see myself in the future. That is my intended destination. I see myself winning bike races in the last sprint, either from a solo break or a smaller group.
That’s what I believe offers those all-around qualities: the drive to do your best at a major Classic and perhaps win it. That’s something I’d want to work toward in the near future, so we’ll have to see what develops. Considering how smoothly things are progressing, there’s no need to slow down, right?
My season has gone somewhat like this for the previous two years: I go all out for the Classics, take a little rest, and then travel to the Tour to cheer on my teammates and support, but also to seize possibilities during individual stages. As for myself, I’d be happy to continue doing that for the next three years. I believe this is a fantastic approach to structure the season.
CN: You’ve improved your performance this year, but it still hasn’t been nearly up to the standards set in 2021. Overall, how would you rate the season that Bahrain Victorious had?
FW: I believe it would have been difficult to repeat the events of 2021 anyway. The squad had an incredible season. However, it’s not as if we didn’t put in the same amount of work in training and other preparations.
The fact that success in the sport depends on so many other factors than simply how hard you practice is what makes the sport so exciting. Yes, we didn’t win as many races, but there’s no reason we can’t win more races next year.
While it may be true, consider that Matej [Mohori] won San Remo despite your claims. In cycling, it seems like everyone just cares about how they fared in the most recent race, but I had a terrific season overall.
CN: It’s hard to believe that just more than a year has passed since you and Sonny Colbrelli were rejoicing in the Roubaix velodrome after their victory. Tell me about your experience racing with him and what transpired this season.
FW: You know the kind of rider he is, and how powerful he was last year, and it was really pretty wild, so he was someone I looked up to.
One of the most memorable times of my life was being a member of his winning squad in Roubaix. What a terrible shame this is. I feel terrible for him and wish for a fresh start for him. The fact that I was there at his victory in Roubaix… I enjoyed his time on the team much, but at this point I have no idea how things stand between us.
CN: There will be a lot of new faces on your club next season. There will be seven new faces, including Andrea Pasqualon, Nikias Arndt, and maybe other lesser-known riders, but no Teuns, Colbrelli, Sánchez, or Tratnik. Tell me about your new team mates.
FW: They’ve definitely beefed up their support for Phil Bauhaus and his trailing train, in my opinion. He’s never exactly got the right group of men to deliver him like that.
He’s got one of the finest kicks and I believe he’s one of the quickest guys around, but I don’t think he’s had the chance to prove it as much as he should have. Personally, I believe he can run with the best of them in the sprinting event, and that’s fantastic.
The new guy, Nikias Arndt, is Phil’s closest friend in the whole wide world. The way you said it is amazing, in my opinion. Great Classics riders like him and Pasqualon have helped us strengthen our squad. When it comes to the Classics, I can’t help but feel optimistic since we’ve made some significant improvements to the squad.
CN: We’ve spoken about this before; describe your perfect 2023 season in terms of objectives and competitions.
First, there’s the preparation for Flanders and Roubaix. And then, after that, I’m hoping, the Tour. That’s what I’d want to accomplish, albeit we’ll have to discuss the best course of action.
Obviously, following the Tour de France, the World Championships will be held in Glasgow. Timing-wise, I find it to be rather convenient. To be honest, my plan is to exit the Tour as I did this year and go right into the Worlds. Considering we’re in Scotland, it’s a lofty objective as well.
CN: At long last, you made your way onto the platform tonight to discuss the Herne Hill velodrome. You are part of a new generation of young British riders that have grown up racing in the United Kingdom, with riders like Ethan Hayter, his brother Leo, Thomas Gloag, and others. The future of British cycling is bright.
To quote: “FW: It’s really thrilling. You have the cyclists of Herne Hill and the rest of Britain. Many new riders are on the horizon, and that number will grow as the industry continues to thrive.
Lots of youngsters will look up to Ethan and me and Leo since we’re role models. We looked at the 2012 Olympics and the time of Wiggins and Cavendish as an example. Because of it, we decided to take action.
Please don’t worry yourself too much about it, since we spent the whole time just reveling in the thrill of cycling. That’s where we should be putting our efforts, and it’s nice to have that option as well. It seems like just yesterday that we were the ones being looked up to, and now it is our turn to be the ones who children look up to.
Seeing so many promising young British males making their way to the forefront is fantastic. It will continue to grow as teams respond to the success of young British men by investing more on young British players.
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