The Next Generation: Dan McLay Get’s PEZ’d
Dan McLay: A young lad with the World in front of him…Belgium calls! Dan is already a World champion; he has experience on the track, cyclo-cross and the road at the highest junior level, now it’s time for him to crack the big time. He’s following in the footsteps of Adam Blythe into the Belgian World of the Davo team and the guiding hands of Tim and Jos! Let’s look at the hopes and aspirations of a keen young champ…
Two years ago I interviewed Adam Blythe when he was about to start his continental career with the Amateur DAVO team. Soon, he moved up to the Omega Pharma-Lotto team where he won the Circuit Franco-Belge at the back end of last year. Well, I had a case of dйjа vu the other day when the same thing happened again with the next generation of Young Guns; Dan McLay.
Dan McLay was in Spain in February training with the DAVO team preparing for his first full Belgian season on the road, and at only just 19 it’s a brave step to make. He has the pedigree behind him of a champion, as his father was a top rider from New Zealand and Dan himself was 2nd in the junior Paris-Roubaix, and he is junior World Madison Champion (with Simon Yates) and has also dabbled with Cyclo-cross getting 3rd in the junior British National Championships in 2008.
I met Dan at his hotel in Benidorm, and we went down to a beach-side cafй for a coffee, and I offered Dan a cake, but the true Pro (to be) could not be cajoled in to one of the sweet delicacies, so I thought I’d better not have one either! So to Dan:
PEZ: You are just 19, what races will you be riding in Belgium?
Dan McLay: It’ll be mostly a mix of under 23 and under 25 races along with the InterClub, the Top Competition events, and the Belgian Trophy races.
PEZ: Last year you were 2nd in the Junior Paris-Roubaix and Junior Madison World Champion, bit of a mix isn’t it?
Dan: Yea, I’ve always tried to do a bit of everything, track, road and Cyclo-cross as well. I think if you are good at one you can be good at them all. But now is the time to focus on the one thing. I’ve stopped racing track now, I rode on the track in the winter for the speed, but not as preparation for the track, it was training for the road. I’m not taking it seriously so I can concentrate on the road for the next couple of years.
On the podium at the Junior Paris-Roubaix.
PEZ: Your over six feet tall aren’t you, so you’re not a climber then?
Dan: Yea, six foot one and a half, no not a climber. Really I’m a sprinter or a cobbles rider; I can get over the climbs OK, but nothing spectacular!
PEZ: So what kind of races would you think you would do well in if all goes to plan?
Dan: It’ll be the Spring Classics, which ones I’m not sure. Paris-Roubaix or Milan-San Remo, not sure yet if I’m a sprinter or a man for the cobbles. Now’s the time to find out!
PEZ: Do you still have any links with the British Cycling set-up?
Dan: I’m not on any of the programmes or anything, but I try to keep in contact, let them know what I’m doing. Hopefully I’ll be selected for the Worlds at the end of the year and the U23 Tour of Flanders, which I would ride for the National team; it’s a Nations Cup event.
PEZ: I think Adam Blythe said the same sort of thing, hoping for a call up.
Dan: Yea, I let them know early enough what I was going to do, and I think I left on good terms, so hopefully I’ll be in there for selection. It’s difficult, but if you do enough on the bike then eventually people have to take note.
PEZ: So is Belgium the way to go?
Dan: For me and the sort of rider I am, yea. I can race a lot which suits me, I need to race a lot. If I only race 40 times a year it isn’t enough for me. The team have a great program, the best staff, there is a lot of racing and it’s a good set up, they have everything.
PEZ: Davo is the best team in Belgium, they say!
Dan: It has the best record really; they must have sent the most riders to the Pro’s.
Dan has gotten the chance to race for Belgium’s top development team.
PEZ: How did that come about?
Dan: Well, early on in the year (2010) I wanted to keep my options open, so I just sent a few e-mails to a few different teams. They contacted me, and I kept in touch, and then half way through the year I decided that this was my best option.
PEZ: Do you think your ride in Paris-Roubaix made a difference?
Dan: Yes, I think it stood out on my palmarйs on the e-mail. It made a difference. And also some other results from last year; a three day race I rode that is really important to the Dutch and Belgians, I didn’t realise how big it was at the time. The winner of the Junior Paris-Roubaix was the then current World Champion; Jasper Stuyven, he won that as a first year Junior. (The junior Paris-Roubaix has 16 cobble sections in its 123 kilometres)
PEZ: How well do you know Belgium?
Dan: A little bit, I’ve done a few races in Belgium, I know how the races work, obviously it will be a bit different, I’m still yet to understand the place fully! Its more relaxed…it’s good.
PEZ: You will be staying with the famous Tim (Harris) and Jos (Ryan), how did you get to know them?
Dan: Yea they are pretty famous back in the UK, I don’t remember how I heard of them, but I contacted them to see if they had a place for me to stay and thankfully they said they could find somewhere. (Tim and Jos are based near Antwerp and have organised lodgings for many riders and teams in Belgium over the years)
PEZ: You were born in New Zealand?
Dan: My dad is from New Zealand and my mum is English, I could ride for New Zealand (if I was good enough!), but I’m happy riding for GB.
PEZ: How did you get into cycling?
Dan: My dad rode a bike and my mum did some cycling, so it was through my parents, I just learnt to ride and my dad was racing and I was just messing about on my bike, so my dad spoke to the organiser and I rode a small race, that was when I was about 5 years old. Eventually I did a bit of mountain biking. I did my first competitive race at 14, I started young I guess! I don’t think it makes any difference, but you could learn things about racing before others, but some people never learn no matter when they start.
PEZ: Were you helped by the Dave Rayner Fund?
Dan: This year they are giving me some funding that should see me through the season, it’s really good and helps out a lot, I couldn’t do it without that help, it makes a big difference. I applied to them in the usual way and I’m glad they thought I was worth it.
PEZ: Have you riden many stage races?
Dan: Yea, in my last year as a junior we did some stage races with the national team, I was OK, but when it’s really hilly it’s not for me. We did one in Germany, I was going well by the end of it, so I think I can do well in stage races, but for me the best races are in the Spring!
PEZ: Where would you like to be in two years…five years…ten years?
Dan: in two or three years I want to be riding with a Pro team really. I don’t want it to take too long or I won’t have any money left! And then I’ll see where I go from there. The first phase is to be with the Under 23’s, do well in some races and turn Pro. The ultimate dream would be to win a Classic in my career. Roubaix or San Remo would be the ones; mind you Flanders is the World championships for a Belgian! Aim for the stars and reach the moon!
PEZ: Would you go back to ride on the track?
Dan: I would consider it I think. If I didn’t make it on the road I don’t know if I’d go back to it, at some point in my career I would go back to it. I would ride the “6 Days” or something like that, as long as I didn’t have to be in 100% track form. I will always use it for training for the road when the weather is bad it’s a nicer place to be for an hour or so. If there was an opportunity for the Olympics, then yes. Everyone wants to ride the Olympics.
PEZ: I was talking to Taylor Phinney at BMC and he was saying that now with the Omnium it’s all different.
Dan: I don’t think it holds the same prestige, winning the Points Race or the Madison or the Pursuit is quite something, but the Omnium doesn’t carry any weight. To win the 4K Pursuit you have to be a strong guy.
PEZ: What about the Sky Team last year, for all the money they didn’t do so much?
Dan: They are a good team, but it was only their first year, for another team it would have been an OK year, but they are so big.
PEZ: Stupid question, but would you like to be with them?
Dan: Yea sure, who wouldn’t. I want to be good enough.
PEZ: Normally you would go from Davo to Omega Pharma-Lotto?
Dan: That would be a great team to go to. Kurt Van De Wouwer, our Sports Director, says it would take maybe four years before that point, but I would hope it would be three. Riders are signing Pro younger, so…I’m just 19, so at 21 that would be good. The French seem to be the only ones signing Pro at 26 and 27, but it’s already too late for most people. Once you’re out of the under 23 category it’s really difficult.
PEZ: What about the scene in Britain?
Dan: There are a lot of teams, and they do help some of the younger riders, but some of them are bit dead end, they’re not going anywhere. They are Continental or less and don’t have to pay the riders. I got a lot of help from Pete Hargroves of Hargroves Cycles, which was great; he helped me Big Time to get here where I am now. Especially with Cyclo-cross you need two bikes and all the other stuff you need for cross, you break a lot with Cyclo-cross! Last year he helped with a road bike and good kit for a junior, just everything I needed really. Nothing extravagant, but the right stuff. We rode as a team, there were usually three of us and it was nice to have one of us up the road. With Davo I’ll be on a Ridley Noah, pretty stiff, with Shimano, fairly standard for a Belgian team.
What was it like riding for the Great Britain team and being part of the “Performance Plan”?
Dan: It was good; we would get our training and then go away for an event every few weeks. It pretty serious, but I think you could take it as seriously as you wanted. Between the other lads we had a good laugh, but we got on with the training. I enjoyed a lot of it and there were some bits I didn’t like, but you just got on with it. It can’t all be your own way. I definitely learned a lot for it. The training methods on the track were very serious, something I’d do differently, but they knew what they were doing. I was never stopped from doing what I wanted, I still rode cross and the road, I couldn’t do a full Cyclo-cross season, at first it was no, no, no! But it worked out OK. I won’t be doing any cross now, it too cold! To do cross properly you need to be in good form, in Belgium its racing, in Britain it’s a time trial.
PEZ: Do you time trial well?
Dan: Don’t know! I’ll be OK in the prologue kind of things, but I just don’t know. I rode a couple local 10 mile TT’s in England, but that’s all. Time trials can only be taken seriously if it’s part of a stage race or the World Championships I think.
PEZ: Have you noticed a difference in the training with Davo?
Dan: Yea, with Davo on the early part of the camp we’ve just been riding, taking it pretty easy. With the national team it was different, maybe because we were juniors, we would be half wheeling each other, so after 2 hours….With Davo it’s got gradually harder over the two weeks, with juniors after 2 days everyone would be in a box!
PEZ: Your DS is Kurt Van De Wouwer, he got lost when he was here with Adam, has he got lost this year?
Dan: Kurt’s a great guy, no we’ve not been properly lost yet, but we have never been under the distances we should have done each day. The lads were telling me stories from other years and almost every ride was from half an hour to an hour longer than it was meant to be. I think he knows where he’s going! There’s always a bit of attacking up the hills, but we say together, you ride at your own tempo on the climbs and we get together at the top. Some guys are meant to be climbing at thresh hold, but it well balanced. Most days have been between 120 and 180 kilometres in the hills, tomorrow is a 180 kilometre day, so that means it’ll probably be 200! It’ll be hard, but I like it like that, better than sitting at home!
PEZ: Any interval training yet?
Dan: Yes, 10 minute blocks, through and off up a climb, split into three groups, it get blown apart a bit, but its good training. We also tried sprint training up the same climb, I took the first one and then they all wanted revenge on the others and attack would go in the middle of the climb. It’s not the time of year for intervals yet.
PEZ: So when you’re finished here, what’s the plan?
Dan: We’ve got another few days in Spain, then back to Belgium for the team presentation and an easy week before the first weekend of racing. There are two single day races at the end of February; I’ll be riding one of them. Then the same the next weekend before a couple of short stage races. There are usually six, seven or eight riders in the team for those races and there is around twenty in the team so there is enough for everyone to get a ride. Some of the real climbers are taking it easy now, but it being a Belgian team they want to be going well at the start of the season. By the middle of the season I should have a better idea as to what I’ll be doing. My first race is flat and 176 kilometres, it’ll be fast, but a lot depends on the wind.
A young lad with a big future and an open road in front of him to learn the ropes for a professional career. A big strong lad with a strong character, all his strengths will be put to the test in Belgium, let’s hope he can follow in the footsteps of all the riders that have trodden this path before him. Good luck Dan!
***First win came in the amateur version of the Dwars door Vlaanderen; the GP Stad Waregem on Wednesday 23rd March 2011***