What's Cool In Road Cycling

Q36.5’s Mark Donovan Gets PEZ’d!

Rider interview: Mark Donovan has ridden the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España and has been a WorldTour rider for three years and is still only 23. Mark has just signed for the new Q36.5 team, Alastair Hamilton caught up with him at the team training camp in Calpe, Spain to hear how it was all going.

Q36.5 Donovan
Mark Donovan – Nice hotel in Calpe

PEZ: So, new team, how’s it been, so far?
Mark Donovan:
It’s been really good to be honest. It’s always nice to have a bit of a change of scenery, and, you know, everything’s new, so that’s always exciting. But in terms of everything you want from a team, it’s all already in place. It doesn’t feel like it’s a new team. Apart from everyone doesn’t know each other, yet. It’s all just come in from what Dimension data was. So it all sort of clicked into place a lot faster than a completely brand new team would have been.

PEZ: My next questions was going to be ‘do you feel it’s a step down’, but looking at everything, the cars, bikes and staff, it all looks like a WorldTeam.
Yeah, I was thinking about this today, is there anything that I sort of noticed that is different? Maybe the way they do things in terms of the equipment and the logistics and everything. The setup has been brilliant, really. Obviously, you’ve maybe got some sort of teething issues, more equipment wise. Not because there are problem with the equipment, but just getting stuff. I guess because of covid and because it’s a new team and everything is new.

The new Q36.5 team Scott bike

PEZ: But you are on the same bike as last year, Scott.
The same, but different. It’s still a Scott, but the foil, I was always on the addict. So it’s a little bit different. But I’ve actually got used to it pretty quickly. Four days on it now. I was sort of surprised actually, how similar it felt, even though it’s quite different.

PEZ: The dimensions are maybe similar.
I am not sure, but I presume it’s relatively similar dimensions, but it’s an aero bike as opposed to a climbing bike. So it’s always going to feel slightly different. But then there are other things, the main difference is the shifting between SRAM and Shimano. You gotta get used to changing gears.

Ready for another hard training day in Spain

PEZ: So how did how did the contract with the team come about?
It kind of happened quite quickly, that’s kind of the story of the team, I guess. It sort of snowballed, and certain things started to click into place. And then it was probably a little bit before the Vuelta, I was talking to the team and my agent Andrew, he was talking to them and getting a bit of info and at that stage it was still really trying to get as much info as I can about the team. Then when I pulled out of the Vuelta with covid, there was an offer there. I liked the idea. And I was like, I’m just going to at least save myself some sleep and commit to it.

PEZ: You did the right thing when you see how the situation is for some guys.
You have to think that back then it was because it’s a new team and if you didn’t know so much and your thinking, ‘right, is this gonna be the idea’ because especially this year, you see what’s happened with B&B and it can go wrong. It’s not very not nice for those guys. I know a couple guys that were supposed to be on the team and then they were left high and dry. Which is not nice to see.

Mark Donovan
Mark in the Vuelta’20

PEZ: Do you know what you’re doing this season yet?
I’m doing Saudi, that’s the first race. After that, it’s a little bit still undecided. That’s maybe the biggest difference with this team, because it’s a new team, the programme is a lot more unsure. They still have done a great job. I’ve seen the projected plan, in terms of getting invites, but it’s still up in the air. A lot of things can change…. I start in Saudi in about two weeks time, so it comes around pretty quickly.

PEZ: You could be racing next Sunday (22nd January) in the GP Valencia:
Yeah, right.

hollyman donovan
Tour of Britain 2021

PEZ: What are you looking forward to in 2023? Now that you know things from your previous years.
It’s nice to have a fresh start. Not that I need a fresh start as this is still only the second contract I’ve ever had, but it’s nice to feel like getting a clean slate. I’ve had some great experience in big races, which was great the last few years, getting to do the Vuelta and the Tour. You know, that was amazing. Maybe on the other hand, it was great to do, but I probably wasn’t going to go there and get results. I think that the thing I’m really looking forward to now is actually getting stuck into races that are maybe not Tour de France level. Not that any other race is. But to actually be able to really get involved in races and getting stuck in and I felt like I can make an impact.

PEZ: Do you think you rode the Tour too early, too young?
That’s a funny one, I don’t think so. Just the experience was worth its weight in gold. It was great to do.

Vuelta’20 stage 11 break

PEZ: You’ve got someone like a Juan Ayuso who was 19 last year when he finished third and there are other guys who won’t ride a Grand Tour until their late 20’s. Not everyone is the same.
Yeah. It would be stupid of me to regret doing the Tour. You know, it’s something that is a childhood dream. And you never know I might not ever do the Tour again. You know, obviously, you’re not going to be getting results there, but you never know. I definitely don’t regret it. It’s something I think about a bit, but you also have to take a step back and look at yourself, I’m still only 23, I’m in no rush.

PEZ: It used to be thought that a rider’s best years were between 28 and 32. Now a young guy, like yourself, you’ve ridden two Grand Tours, things have changed a lot. Do you think it’s harder for young guys?
Yeah. Really hard. I guess I’ve been lucky, well, lucky in a away. It’s a double edged sword where younger guys get more chances, which is great and they get contracts with teams, which is great. But then the other side of that is, there’s more pressure straightaway. Not that I really know, but 10 years ago, if you had for years where you didn’t really do much, finding your feet is normal. But now you do nothing for two or three years, you’re forgotten and it’s on to the next one.

PEZ: Do you think your generation will last as long as Valverde, Van Avermaet and Nibali?
That’s a difficult one. No one knows the answer to that. But, I could see the burnout could be a lot quicker. Maybe not with everyone.

PEZ: But if you’re full gas at 19?
If you just look at it like that, there’s bound to be a more guys retiring at 30 now, early 30s, rather than late 30s.

PEZ: How did you get started?
My mum and dad were never really into cycling, at least not competitive cycling. They always liked cycling and were sporty. And we were taking trips and stuff when we were a lot younger and I guess my mum was always very competitive. So I was always pretty competitive with other other sports. And I used to run a lot, do a lot of fell running in in the lakes, all those county fairs, cross country and all that. And then you do football and all that sort of stuff to school standard. Then I got a bit of an injury with my heels. It wasn’t like I was running full time, but I was growing, I was 13 or 14 and I was running a bit and I got this injury in my growth plates on my heels. That meant I didn’t really run as much, so I just I started doing a bit of cycling. My first race was a cyclo-cross race and I mainly did cyclo-cross for the first four or five years until I was a junior, I did a lot of that.

U23 Worlds 2018

PEZ: No Grand Tour this year, will you miss it and did your first Grand Tour change your body?
Yeah, I would say so. It probably did. That’s a hard one, it’s all pretty subjective. Mentally, obviously, it mentally does a lot. It really does, in terms of whether I miss it or not, I’m almost sort of thinking that I won’t miss it, at least for a little bit. You know, I think in another year or twos time, then I’d be really thinking, ‘okay, need to get back into a Grand Tour’.

PEZ: Maybe after the first week of it on TV.
Yeah, maybe. The Grand Tours are always a big spectacle. You know the Tour is something else. Actually, in a way, I’m sort of glad that I’m not, you don’t have this one thing that you have to focusing on, you can actually spread your gaze a bit more and I think from a personal standpoint, it’s probably going to do me better, because you can then peak for races that maybe other guys aren’t and then it’s going to be better results wise, more opportunities that’s what it comes down to. I have to be pretty honest, if you go to a Grand Tour it’s a big lottery whether you’re going to be even in the race at all, and then it’s a whole different ballgame that whether you will actually be able to get results in stages. It’s so hard, okay it’s a big result if you do, whether or not it actually happens… You have to be in really amazing shape and even if you’re in the shape of of your life, you still might not be quite ready to actually get results.

The Belgium Tour 2022 stage 1

PEZ: Do you think there is too much climbing in the Vuelta?
Maybe, that’s my bread and butter I guess, that’s what I like to do. So, for me it’s good, but probably a lot of guys would say, yeah. It is.

PEZ: You’ve ridden the Tour and the Vuelta, what about the Giro, do you fancy that?
I’d love to, I’d really love to. I was hoping I would have done it last year. But I had a lot of illnesses throughout the spring/end of the winter and I was hoping to get into the team, but it’s was never really going to happen. But, yeah, I would love to.

San Sebastián Classic 2022

PEZ: What is your favourite sort of race?
Any sort of sort of any stage races, that sort of stuff. Although I do love doing different races. So I’m really interested to go to Saudi, it might not be the best race for me, but it’s just something a bit different. The team is also doing Rwanda in February, I don’t know the team for that, that’s a really different race. I did the Arctic Race last year. They might not be the Dauphiné, or another big one-week stage race, but they’re just as interesting. The thing is now, every race is hard. Every race is a good race.

PEZ: The weather in the Arctic Race must have been like Penrith (in the Lake District in the North of England)?
A little bit. Yeah. The first day last year was was pretty miserable, it did remind me of home actually.

PEZ: Do you go home to Penrith much?
I live in Andorra now, like everyone else. I try to go home a bit. Not too much in the winter. It’s a bit grim.

Tour de France 2021 stage 16

PEZ: Andorra can be bad in the winter.
Yeah, I sometimes I’ll go down to Girona, just like everyone else, just to get a bit sun, but we’re at training camps at this time. I do go back to the UK. Sometimes I look at my phone to see what the weather forecasts back home, when I’m somewhere like here. I don’t I don’t miss that. Yeah, it’s a nice smug feeling when you see it.

PEZ: What’s the plan for your career? Where do you want to be in 10 years time?
I just want to enjoy it. I don’t feel like I’m putting too much pressure on myself, I do put pressure on myself when I need to, but I just want to keep enjoying it for at least a while longer while I can. I probably don’t see myself doing it until I’m 40 or even late 30’s. I wouldn’t mind doing something else while I can. There other things I’m interested in doing. My mum was a ski instructor, so I’ve always loved skiing. I’d always be interested in doing something along those lines, whether it’s teaching skiing, or trying to do that sort of stuff. That seems seems a long way away at the moment, but…

UAE Tour 2021-stage 2 TT

PEZ: What about your career? You want to get back to the WorldTour?
Of course, but I have to be honest, I’m not a Pogačar or an Evenepoel, but I’d love to be be able to get stuck into races and actually go for stage wins. I’ve never really seen myself as a proper GC only rider, I enjoy it and try out different things.

PEZ: Are stage races more your thing than one-day races?
Anything really, I like one day races as well. Whether or not they’re probably the best thing for me. Maybe not, but I tend to do better with the longer races and hillier. It’s a hard one, I want to get the most out myself. I don’t want to at least sort of prove to myself that I deserve to be here and be a bit more consistent. You can’t forget that it’s a hard game. Even if you feel like you’re not going amazingly, you’re still a professional cyclists that’s actually doing it. Sometimes you have to realise you’re in a bit of a privileged job.


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