Riders to Watch in 2023 – Fred Wright

Riders to Watch in 2023 – Fred WrightImage credit: Cycling Images

A lot has been said and written about Fred Wright over the last year, and with good reason. The young Englishman stormed onto the scene in 2022, regularly challenging in the biggest races on the calendar. He finished in the top 10 on three occasions at the Tour de France and a whopping seven times at the Vuelta, all of which came after his 7th place in the Tour of Flanders. He might not have taken a win this year, but his level of consistency at the very highest level left all of us impressed, it really was a sensational year.

The first time I thought Fred was destined for the top was back at the end of 2021 and it was in the final stage of the Benelux Tour. That day had repeated ascents of the Muur and Bosberg, and Fred finished in 5th place behind his teammates Mohorič and Colbrelli. 

I think because of the success of my teammates, Sonny and Matej, at Benelux in 2021 that 5th went under the radar a bit. We had such a great race and that was by far my best result in 2021. It definitely filled me with confidence going into this year’s classics block, but I’d say the 7th in Flanders was more than I expected.”

Flanders really was a sensational day. Fred found himself off the front of the race with Dylan van Baarle, it wasn’t until the final time up the Oude Kwaremont before he found himself in difficulty. He then put in an enormous shift to try and get Dylan Teuns back in the mix for the podium, but at the end of the day Teuns had to settle with 6th with Fred in 7th. At this point a lot of people started to speculate about what the future would hold, but I don’t think anyone expected his performances in France and Spain over the summer. 

“I’m not too sure why my best results have come in grand tours, but I think I deal with the load of a 3-week race well. As I’m not going for GC, I can get round the mountain stages without suffering too much compared to some other guys and then go full gas for the stages where I’ve got a chance.”

Stage 13 ended in Saint-Etienne, and it was a nailed-on day for the break, which meant the fight to get up the road was insane. That day Fred had the legs to make the move but had to settle for 2nd place behind a flying Mads Pedersen.

“I knew I needed to attack him over the top of the last short climb and get a gap, but I just couldn’t do it, he’d already attacked first at the bottom of the climb and all I could do was follow. Once I knew I couldn’t get away from him I tried my outside chance in the sprint, but he was ridiculously strong that day.”

The penultimate stage of the Tour was a 40km ITT, a horrible way to end a grand tour. After finishing 15th in a similar stage in 2021, I was expecting a good performance by Fred this year, and 8th was certainly that.

“It’s a horrible feeling getting on the TT bike at the end of a grand tour but based off last year I knew I could push for a top 10. Everyone’s knackered at that point so it’s just about not being as knackered, I was way off the optimistic pace I tried to go with but in the end, I was really happy with the result.”

The reward for a good ride at the Tour was a trip to the Vuelta, but I don’t think anyone expected the level Fred was going to consistently display over the three weeks. As I’ve already said, he had seven top 10 results, which put him in 2nd place in the points classification come Madrid. 

“It wasn’t always the plan, but I finished the tour still in a really good place. I hadn’t raced since Frankfurt before the Tour, so it actually wasn’t too bad. Two grand tours are a lot in a year, but I was going better in the Vuelta than the Tour at the end, so it was definitely the right decision.”

Stage 5 finished in Bilbao and Fred was in the break, and with a chance of moving into the red jersey. A day that could have ended in glory turned out to be hugely frustrating with Rudy Molard marking him so closely that winning stage, or moving into red, was very difficult. With all eyes on him, Fred did his best to make sure it ended in a reduced sprint but with hardly any help, it allowed Soler to take the win. Fred still won the sprint for 2nd place, despite doing a lot more work than anyone else, but he ended the day 2 seconds behind Molard, who moved into red. A close but not cigar type of day.

“I was surprised with how well I was climbing and looking back I think I was strong enough to attack. I spent too much time thinking I needed to hang on and worrying about Molard. I let him frustrate me too much and that cost me the win.”

Just two days later he was back in the break again, but it was another frustrating end. Fred and his breakaway companions held off a charging Trek-Segafredo and the stage ended in a sprint between the break.

Image credit: Sprint Cycling

“In Cistierna I just fluffed the sprint, led it out when I should have come off a wheel. I also started sprinting waaaay to early. It was a clear mistake on my part that cost me the win. I was the fastest guy there so really should have been able to finish that one off. It’s all learning though. 

It was great to have the team supporting me on some of the stages and also fighting for breakaways on a few days as well. In that first week in Spain I definitely had some of the best legs I had all year.”

Among all the positives this year, there was a negative. Stage 16 of the Vuelta and as Roglič moved back down the line he collided with Fred and crashed to the ground. It was a heavy crash and it forced Roglič to quit the race, denying us a big fight for red in the final week. Most people who saw the crash thought the same thing, it was a racing incident, nobody’s fault. Then a few days later Roglič was interviewed and he blamed Fred for the crash, it was a challenging time.

“That was a difficult point in the Vuelta, but the team were really helpful, and we came through it alright in the end. It was weird to be at the centre of such a big thing that had happened in our sport.”

As I start to think about 2023, I’m excited to think of what’s to come. If Fred can continue to learn and improve, he’s got a great shot at winning some of the biggest races in the world, he really isn’t that far off.

“For the next few years at least, things are going to stay pretty similar, I’ve really enjoyed my program the last couple of years. Each year my engine has gotten bigger, and I’ve stepped up a level so I’m hoping to do the same next year. You never really know though; I’m learning more about myself each year and what I need to do to get in the best shape. I can see myself getting stronger in the classics, as long as I’m learning from my mistakes and progressing each year, I’m happy.

I know what I want for the next 3 years, and that’s more of the same. I’ve shown I can win some big bike races so that’s the goal, it’s pretty simple. To win Flanders or Roubaix is the dream but I’m realistic, just have to stay focused, ride my bike and see what happens. I know I can also target grand tour stages and help the team so I’m happy doing more of that as well.”

Away from all the cycling chat I know that Christmas is fast approaching, and if you draw Fred in the secret Santa I’ve got you covered.

“I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to Star Wars. I’ve got a Star Wars Lego collection coming along nicely.”

Hard hitting, cycling journalism at its finest! The future’s bright for this one, he just needs to use the force.