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Fred Wright is in his element at a grand tour.
“I just really love being at these, getting into the rhythm of one,” he said, talking to VeloNews over the phone from his hotel room before the Vuelta a España. “It’s a good life.”
He’s embarking on his second of the season at the Vuelta a España, thanks to his sparkling form in the first one. Wright was going so well at the end of the Tour de France that the decision was essentially made there.
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The 23-year-old was a persistent animator in the last fortnight of the Tour de France, showing his versatility. He was the last breakaway survivor on stage 8 into Lausanne, ninth in an uphill finish into Megève on stage 10 and second to Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) on stage 13 to St Etienne.
What’s more, on the race’s final weekend, he was eighth in the TT and sprinted to tenth in Paris.
“It’s a big confidence boost because I know if I keep putting myself in that position then the big win I’m looking for is around the corner,” he said.
“Whether it comes in this Vuelta or the classics next year, or even the year after, something good is coming. I’ve just got to keep plugging away.
“Over the past three years, I can feel myself getting better and better, learning. Last year was good and this year was a progression. Even in Flanders, I’ve done three, and each one I could feel myself getting further into the race.”
Wright was seventh in the Tour of Flanders this year – the podium beckons if that trend continues.
The Wright stuff
Where did that flying French form come from? Wright had COVID-19 in mid-June, missing Tour de Suisse after an altitude camp when going well.
“That sort of stalled things,” he said.
“So I went into the Tour not really sure where the form was truly going to be. But in the end, it was great.
“It’s hard because everyone’s knackered at the end of three weeks. I think it’s more I wasn’t dying off as much, rather than coming into form. That’s a trait in the two grand tours I’ve done previously to that, I’ve observed I don’t tend to tail off as much.”
Riding two grand tours in a season will certainly test Wright’s recovery abilities. At the Vuelta, he’s looking to mix it in the bunch sprints and find breakaways again, while aiding Mikel Landa in his hunt for victory.
He also shares the Vuelta peloton with his friend and childhood VC Londres (VCL) clubmate Ethan Hayter. “He’s a real good mate of mine. It’s wicked to have two ex-VCL riders in one of the biggest races in the world. And there’s more of us to come as well, on the up.”
They’ve come a long way from doing umpteen laps of Herne Hill velodrome in London, one of the world’s oldest, which is their club’s home track. Wright popped back there after the Tour to watch track racing.
“Everyone was wanting to talk to me and say ‘well done.’ It’s a strange one, you don’t realize what it means to people who are watching [the Tour de France],” he says.
“It’s sweet seeing all the youth riders, signing things for them at track league. I almost wanted to say: ‘leave me alone, I didn’t even win a stage. Wait till that happens and we’ll do all this stuff!’”
After all, another box to tick for Wright is a first victory as a professional: “It’s all well and good animating the races and people saying ‘oh you did a really strong ride,’ but we’re in this sport because we want to win bike races. You don’t want to grab at it too much, but hopefully that win is coming soon.”
Working out his pro cyclist type
Then there’s the lingering question of what kind of rider Wright is: baroudeur, classics specialist, puncheur-sprinter? Or all of the above: he’s been seventh in Flanders, up there in bunch sprints, in numerous breakaways and can time trial strongly, as the recent Commonwealth Games silver medal showed.
“It’s hard because you don’t want to just be good at everything. You want to be really good at some things. I guess maybe I’m really good at being versatile. It definitely favors breakaway scenarios, especially in grand tours.”
Beyond the Vuelta, the world championship road race in Australia is a strong possibility for him too.
“Hopefully I’m going to be in the team and if so, I’ll use the Vuelta to get ready for it,” he said.
Tom Pidcock and Ethan Hayter are expected to also be selected in a young and motivated Great Britain team. “Sooner or later, someone’s going to win a world title from the British guys. It’s definitely swinging that way,” Wright added.
Relaxing with a Rubik’s cube
Away from the racing, the genial Briton has a few things to keep him entertained at the Vuelta: a Nintendo Switch, a “Game of Thrones” book and a Rubik’s cube.
“I watched a YouTube video on how to do one at the start of the season then left it in my room and had to relearn how to do it, and beat my fastest time.”
Then there’s the bonhomie with his Bahrain Victorious teammates. “It is really good fun being on the road. We’ve got a really good group here, I think the stress of the Tour kind of takes it away and obviously the raid we had [before the race] didn’t help things.
“Having Wout [Poels] too, I think we missed him a little bit at the Tour, he’s always got something to say or joke about.”