• Alex Edmondson at the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under (AFP)
Rio Olympic hopeful Alex Edmondson is known for his track exploits but signaled serious road potential recently becoming the first Australian to win the U23 Tour of Flanders.
By
Sophie Smith

17 Apr 2015 - 10:00 AM 

His victory over Gianni Moscon (Italy) in a two-man sprint is the type that could seal a WorldTour contract.

Edmondson already has a two-year deal in place with Orica-GreenEdge from 2016 but is still hungry to prove himself in the final season of his espoir career.

“It’s special to have that contract in place, which takes a little pressure off my shoulders,” he told Cycling Central. “At the same time it’s not meaning I am using this year as a holiday. I want to keep on getting as much experience as I can. I need to keep adding results to my resume and show that I deserve that spot in the team.”

Edmondson on Saturday added his name to an under-23 Flanders honour roll that includes Nick Nuyens, who went on to claim the professional event in 2011, two-time Giro d’Italia stage winner Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Kenny Dehaes (Lotto Soudal) and Salvatore Puccio (Sky).

The 177km race was a major target for the Commonwealth Games gold medalist, who undoubtedly has future ambitions on the road. However, his mind is still firmly focused on representing Australia in the team pursuit at the 2016 Rio Olympics and usurping Great Britain.

“I would be lying if I said I hadn't thought about just doing the road,” Edmondson said. “But for me it’s a really easy question. I still love the track and I haven't accomplished one of my most important goals in my life yet - and that's to win an Olympic gold medal.

Yes, I might have managed to complete my goal of winning Flanders but I still love the track and am fully committed to the track program and the Rio dream.

“The Flanders result is amazing and I'm over the moon to have won but it’s time to move on to the next challenge. I am more motivated than ever and I know I will be giving it my all. Fingers crossed in just over a years’ time I can be saying I have completed one of my biggest life goals. Bring it on!”

The grounded Edmondson may not be getting lost in the sweet satisfaction of a record road result but it is one to be noted.

Sophie Smith spoke with the Jayco-AIS WTA rider about how he was introduced to the spring classics and asked him to, just once, relive his epic day at Flanders, from a chocolate-charged breakfast, to confusion at the finish and finally calling his father.

CC: How did you first come to learn of the U23 Tour of Flanders?
AE: When Stuart O'Grady won Paris-Roubaix in [2007] that's when I can clearly remember saying to my family, ‘that’s what I want to do.’ Then when Bling [Michael Matthews] managed to get second in the 2010 U23 Flanders, from then on I always had it in my head that I wanted to win it.

CC: Was it a race you always aspired to win, or thought you could?
AE: Of course I dreamt and thought about it a lot, but to actually take it one step further and be able to stand on the top step of the podium is a completely different story. I was confident coming into the race that I had a good opportunity to get a good result but it wasn't going to be given to me. There was over 160 of the best U23 cyclists from around the world lining up to try and win the same bike race.

CC:What was your knowledge of the course and how involved was your study and reconnaissance?
AE: Luckily for me I had a good understanding of the course from the previous year. I knew the climbs, where the skinny roads were and the main cobble sections were. This was a huge advantage. Also knowing how important it was to look after your bike, your equipment, staying both hydrated and topped-up with food.

CC: Who was most instrumental in helping you to this victory, and how?
AE: I had a few different people I would say played a massive role in helping me. Firstly, [coach] Tim Decker. Straight after the finish of the 2014 U23 Flanders, seeing how I had ridden in the aid of Caleb Ewan, he said, “mate there is no reason why next year you can’t win this race.” From then on that was one of my big goals for 2015. I can still remember clearly the talk we had after the 2015 Track World Championships - when things didn't quite go to plan - that I wanted to make-up for it winning U23 Flanders. His reply was, “well mate, you better stay to your word!”

Also, the whole Aussie team over here, team-mates and support staff, who played a huge role in my result. The boys all rode unbelievable all day. A special mention to Harry Carpenter and Alex Clements, who did a monstrous amount of work on the front for me keeping me out of trouble and right near the front.

CC:How did your day start?
AE: To be honest I woke up a bit tired. I was of course geed-up as it was race day but felt like I could do with some more sleep! When I finally built up the motivation to get out of bed and climb down the two huge staircases to breakfast I was on the improve!

CC:What did you have for breakfast and what was the mood at the table? Were you talkative, silent, hungry?
AE: I tried to stay as calm as possible and not think of the race too much. I ate a big bowl of muesli with yoghurt, a coffee, a glass of orange juice, two slices of toast with Speculoos, a ham and cheese sandwich and two chocolate brioches full of extra Nutella! Don’t tell my dietician!

I am pretty laid back come race day. I am not the sort of person who gets quiet and thinks about the racing to seriously. I like to leave it as late as possible and wait till I get to the race to start switching on about the job at hand. Otherwise I feel as though you are just wasting useless energy!

CC:Were you nervous upon race arrival and if so how did you combat this?
AE: Not really. I have had a lot of practice dealing with pressure and nerves thanks to all my track racing. I think that played a really big role in my result as I didn't use up too much nervous energy before and during the race. My parents always tell me before a race, ‘as long as you give it your best that’s all you can ask for.’ So that’s what I told myself. Thankfully it paid off!

CC:When was the team meeting and what was discussed?
AE: We had our team meeting before dinner the night before. [Sports director] James Victor went over the course, the competition, the weather conditions and what direction the wind was going to be coming from as this could play a big part in the race.

The plan we came up with was that Robert McCarthy and myself were going to sit back and if it came down to a sprint finish, which in past years normally happens, then that would be what we were best suited to. Miles Scotson was to sit back and wait for a late attack over the Koppenberg and use his strength to ride to the finish solo.

The other boys, Harry Carpenter, Alex Clements and Oscar Stevenson, were there to help get us to the finishing laps in the best condition possible, and then help to keep us up near the front for the hills and cobble sections. A special mention has to be made to these three for dedicating themselves to the team when they could have said, ‘no, I want to try and ride for myself and get the best result possible.’ Instead they rode the front, went back to the car and got water bottles and made sure Miles, Robert and myself had the best chance of getting a good result. I know for certain if it wasn't for the boys I wouldn't have been able to win the bike race.

CC:How were you feeling on the start line?
AE: I had a lot of mixed emotions and was freezing cold. I had dreamt of this moment for a long time, had high expectations and wanted to stay to my word and come out with a win, but I wasn't panicking about it. All I could do was ride good position and look after myself for the last two laps of the finishing circuit.

CC: Can you outline what the critical points of the race for you were and how you tackled them?
AE: There were a few critical points along the race route, which we had spoken about in the team meeting the night before. The first was the right turn at the 115km mark where the first set of cobbles were waiting for us. From then on really we needed to ride good position over the cobbles and the climbs. The main point though was at the 158km mark. That was where we were to hit the Koppenberg. It had never been included in the U23 version, only in the professional race. That’s where luckily, thanks to Alex Clements, I managed to hit the bottom in second wheel, which as a result helped me get over the top with just three other guys.

CC:At which point did you know you were going to win the U23 Tour of Flanders?
AE: Well, this is a funny one. I didn't get this feeling until after I had crossed the finish line and had done a U-bolt back to my swanny. With about five kilometres to go I had spoken to a race motorbike out on the course. I had said, ‘this is a stupid question, but are we the lead riders in the race or are there guys up the road?’ He just held out four fingers! From then on I thought I was racing for fourth! I think he thought I had asked how many kilometres it was to the finish.

CC:What was going through your head as you approached and crossed the finish line, and on the podium?
AE: I had made it come down to a sprint between the Italian and myself. I was telling myself, ‘mate, you have left this to a sprint, you better not f--k this up!’ It’s probably not what you should be telling yourself. Thankfully I managed to win the sprint, which I thought was for fourth place. I was actually still really happy with that result but then when I found out that I had won I was in disbelief. I couldn't believe that after all those years of dreaming I had managed to complete my goal. My eyes were even a bit watery. Standing on the podium was overwhelming, I was still in disbelief!

CC:What was the first thing you did after the race?
AE: I went and thanked all my team-mates and staff for all their help. Cycling is shit sometimes. It’s a team sport but then only one person gets to stand on the top step of the podium and get the prize when, in reality, all my team-mates deserve to stand on the podium with me. After that I had to go a bathroom while I waited to be drug tested.

CC:Who was the first person you called?
AE: I didn't actually call anyone as my phone wouldn't work. I only had an Italian SIM Card and I was now in Belgium. When I finally got internet I got in touch with my family. My Dad was actually in a plane on the way from Paris to Hong Kong. Afterwards he said he had paid to use the internet in the plane to follow tweets of the race!

CC:How did you celebrate?
AE: At dinner the lovely people at the Hotel Lepelbed surprised us by giving us all a glass of champagne when we sat down for the team dinner. It’s amazing how such a small gesture could mean so much. It was great to be able to share the success with everyone as it wasn't just my win, it was the teams.

Twitter: @SophieSmith86