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Road Culture

Sweary, teary, and so very tired: Fred Wright was the revelation of Flanders

Britain's new Classics contender left it all out on the road. Empty at the finish line, he held back happy tears.

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Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) entered the WorldTour on the eve of the coronavirus pandemic. Sheepish, he dutifully followed Mark Cavendish around the hotel at his first pro race in Saudi Arabia. The then-20-year-old talked excitedly about the big races he would ride in the future. The Grand Tours, the Monuments, how he was ready to learn and experience them first hand.

Fast forward two years and he’s just crossed the line after a stormer of a ride to finish seventh at the Tour of Flanders. “I’m fucking happy with that!” he exhales, crumpled over the his handlebars.

Riders crawl through the mixed zone after an unforgiving 270 km where Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar put the peloton to the sword. Wright is empty, eyes glazed over, his face caked in salt and dirt.

It was a grand day out for Bahrain Victorious. Milan-San Remo winner Matej Mohorič was relatively anonymous as he handed the reins over to the unassuming trio of Wright, Jan Tratnik – who exploded up the Paterberg on his way to 12th – and the crafty Dylan Teuns – who ultimately joined Wright by race’s end to finish sixth.

This momentous day for Wright began when he followed Dylan van Baarle’s move off the front of an increasingly select group with around 50 km to go. It was a speculative effort, which was needed when the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel were lurking ominously, just waiting for the right moment.

“I knew being ahead for the Koppenberg and Taaienberg was going to help because obviously Mathieu and Tadej are better than me on the climbs,” Wright says. When that pair did make their way across it was a blessing and a curse, propelling Wright further up the road and away from the competition but in the knowledge that their fearsome form would make him surplus to requirements at some point or another.

“I tried my best to follow, but I could feel what my limits were.”

Fred Wright (far right) holds on to a career-changing moment.

Van der Poel and Pogačar built up a lead of half a minute, allowing them the time and space for a cat-and-mouse end to a scintillating race. The victorious Dutchman cut it fine and Pogačar was swamped in the sprint as two more joined the contest. By this point Wright had been decoupled, teammate Teuns taking over, the Brit’s legs done but his objective more than achieved.

“I’m not going to lie, not one bit,” he says of whether he thought he’d make it back in the final few hundred metres to sprint for the win. “I said to Dylan [Teuns] that he had to go. I was ticking down the kilometres. I swear that was the longest 10 km I’ve ever done, especially with the headwind.”

Wright is too spent to hide any emotion. As the magnitude of what he’s achieved sinks in, and what it will mean for his young career, his eyes water up. A mix of exhaustion, elation, a love for pure bike racing.

In tandem, he receives the most exhausting question sports journalists ask athletes: “What does that result mean for you?”

“A fucking lot!” he says.

Wright is a refreshingly unfiltered addition to the peloton. He speaks well for a rider of his tender years in the bunch. He has the brain and heart to match a formidable pair of legs.

Another reporter attempts to move the conversation on to a more analytical reprise of Wright’s performance, but he’s done. Today was mostly about his legs announcing himself to the wider cycling world, as a true contender in the Classics, these toughest of bike races.

“I can’t really speak,” Wright admits, trying to be polite. “I’m so tired. I think I need some food.”

Today will be the first feast of many now that Wright has had a taste of what he is capable of.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.