Thomas Gloag to Team Jumbo-Visma caught a few by surprise. He’s their first British rider this millennium and most expected that he’d join Ineos, but there are a growing number of options for young British pros and it’s great to see Tom head down a lesser worn path. After a very impressive performance in Tour de l’Avenir in 2021, it was no surprise to see many of the best teams take an interest, but this year didn’t always go according to plan.
“This year was a massive learning curve. The last few years I have, on the whole, been incredibly lucky with illness and injury. However, this year was quite the opposite. Before June it’s not a hyperbole to say that every few weeks I had an issue that kept me off the bike. Obviously at the time that was rough but, as the cliche goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and hopefully dealing with some adversity will make me better at overcoming obstacles in the future. This won’t be the last time that things don’t go to plan.”
The early part of the season had badly affected by a training crash in May, which ruined any hopes of a decent result in Alpes Isère Tour.
“I went there after having crashed pretty hard in training resulting in multiple stitches in my knee and 10 days off the bike. I had no fitness and was frankly rubbish. The last day I crashed out of the grupetto and that was definitely a low point. They never tell you that the race is far harder at the back than the front.”
Tom did manage to net a few decent results in the coming months, 3rd place in stages in both Giro Valle d’Aosta and Tour Alsace, but more was about to come with a win in the biggest under 23 race on the planet. Tom takes us through his win in the Tour de l’Avenir.
“Sam Watson was absolutely flying and all the flatter days we were all in for him. He was practically on the podium every day and was very unlucky not to win a stage.
That day looked good for him too and so with 50km to go when a few of the Dutch and Norwegians chipped off the front after an intermediate sprint I bridged the gap to get a body in the move and save the boys legs behind. Just after I got across the heavens opened, there was a massive crash behind, and we hit a finishing circuit with really narrow roads.
The holy trinity of those circumstances gave us a really strong position and with 4 Dutchies and 3 Norwegians in the break we had the team numbers to really drive it forward.
As soon as the group had got past the initial phase of smashing it to establish a bit of a gap, I sat on. I had no intention to help the break reach the finish. In the group were all the previous stage winners in the race: real fast men I had zero chance against in a sprint to the line. I ended up walking a pretty narrow tightrope of trying to do as little work as possible and not making myself a target to get ridden out the back. In those scenarios it’s easy to lose concentration and for a small group to chip off the front. With the right composition (a Dutch and a Norwegian) if a group went, we would have no chance of bringing them back. Everyone’s own ambition would have killed any meaningful cooperation and it would have been race over.
On the last lap that’s exactly what happened. Hessmann hit it on a descent through a narrow, wet town and got a bit of a gap. Then I jumped across on the next rise with a Danish rider. Race over. Even though the Dutch and the Norwegians had the numbers, 40km out front smashing it probably took a toll on them all.
To be honest I was super lucky with how the race turned out. No one in the break expected me to pull with Watson behind as favourite for the stage and because no one was worried about me in a sprint. The other two guys opened up too early with 300m to go and both just ran out of gas, so I was able to come round.
Really on that terrain there were probably 5 guys in that group of 11 (including the two at the end) who were stronger than me but, luckily for me, there’s more to bike racing than raw power. After a pretty rubbish year, I definitely enjoyed being at the front end of a bike race for a change.”
The stage win meant that Tom moved into the yellow jersey, but he slipped down to 2nd after the next stage, which was a TTT. Unfortunately, worse was still to come.
“How the tides turn! Prior to me getting COVID on stage 7 I was in the best shape of my life up until that point. Coming out of the rest day I was really looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into some high mountains. Alas, a massive bonk and then DNS on stage 8 was not quite what I had in mind.
I was really disappointed not to find out where I stacked up against the GC guys, but I still look back on that race with pride. It didn’t end up how GB wanted going into it, but I think as a team we rode the best we could. Sometimes there are circumstances that are out of your control, and I think this was one of them, so for me now it’s hard to be too disappointed with the race.”
This was to be the end of Tom’s under 23 career, he was about to make the move to Team Jumbo-Visma.
“I raced against the development team a few times last year, so I was kind of on their radar and then did some testing for them in May. From there they gave me an offer, which I bit their hand off for!
Starting out I never dared imagine that I may one day be racing a bike for a living, so that fact alone is pretty surreal to me. I’ll do my best to make the most of my abilities as a bike rider, whatever level that means I end up as.”
Tom joined the team as a stagiaire and raced Giro dell’Emilia, Tre Valli Varesine and Gran Piemonte, but it wasn’t a case of him moving into a domestique role and riding for others, he jumped straight in at the deep end.
“I wasn’t a protected rider but rather had a free role. In fact, apart from Piemonte (where Kooij was the man) everyone had free roles, which isn’t the way they usually ride. It gave me a great chance to give the races a crack and learn from first-hand experience. I feel very fortunate that I got to give that level of racing a good go as a stagiaire. I still have, of course, so much to learn but it definitely gave me a better understanding of this level of racing.
I’m really enjoying working with the team. Obviously, it’s early doors so I’m still learning the ropes of how everything works but I love their approach to bike racing. All the tools are there to ask questions and get better as a rider, which is all anyone can ask for.”
Giro dell’Emilia was first, featuring my favourite climb in cycling, San Luca. How did Tom find it?
“Brutal. That kind of climb I struggle on the most. Normally I spin a pretty high cadence but that’s impossible on San Luca. It’s such a massive wall that even the best guys are churning up it. I was way out of my comfort zone, what a climb!”
12th place was a decent start for Tom, racing against some of the best climbers in the world. A few days later and it was Tre Valli Varesine, a race that UAE were keen on making very hard.
“It was such a fight all day. The pace started going into the circuits and never let off. Going up the climb the 4th time of 11 I was already suffering and had a look around. To see a full bunch of 160 riders was not a pleasant view!
I kept in the hunt but was a bit far back going into the second last climb and had to chase back on. I carried my momentum forward and there was a bit of a lull in the group as I got back on halfway up the climb, so I went straight over the top.
I had good legs, but Mas came across and wanted no part of it (they were all in for Valverde), so the race came back together pretty quickly.
After that I wasn’t proactive enough in positioning myself well enough for the sprint. I’m nowhere near fast enough to win from a group like that but a lot of it is just positioning. If I end up in a situation like that again I’ll take some confidence from Tre Valli and keep focused until the end.”
Before we move onto next year, Tom told me what he learned about himself in 2022.
“This year really affirmed to me that I love racing my bike. I definitely have a deeper appreciation for the sport and am looking forward to working on being better.”
I’ve watched Tom race many times, and one of the things I like about his style is his love of an attack, he’s not shy at giving it a go.
“It’s the style of racing I enjoy most. Plus, I have a pretty weak sprint, so I’d rather go to the line with as few people as possible and hope they’re as tired as I am.
I’m not really sure what type of rider I’ll develop into, but I’d like to lean into my strengths, improve my weaknesses and find out how far I can go. Impossible to say what that is yet, but that’s a boring answer I know.”
He’s certainly on the right team in terms of getting the most out of himself, there’s no better team at allowing riders to grow and improve, it looks like the perfect environment for Tom to learn his trade and develop as a cyclist.
“Next year it’s hard to quantify a good year in terms of results. Personally, it’s a year of learning and improving, which is a pretty rubbish response but true. I’d love to be at the pointy end of some races, really getting stuck in, but I have no idea where I stack up against a pro peloton. Suppose we will see pretty soon!”
We certainly will. Tom Gloag is an exciting talent, under the guidance of the Jumbo-Visma staff, I’m expecting big things.