Putting a talented young climber and one of the sport’s top teams together seems like the perfect recipe. But, as any good chef will tell you, the ingredients may be perfect but timing is also crucial. Josh Edmondson and his new team manager Kurt Bogaerts speak about how the rider is thriving after taking a step back.
Signing with a team such as Sky would make any young rider feel they were on the fast track to success, not least when you are just 20 years of age inking the deal and have a two year agreement in the pocket.
However when things don’t work out, and when that contract is not extended, it can seem like the beginning of the end. Particularly when the search for another team is a complicated, prolonged one and the only solution is to drop down two levels to a Continental squad.
Josh Edmonson, however, is hoping to show his career diversion is the best thing that could have happened to him.
A talented climber who finished fourth, seventh and ninth on stages plus tenth overall in the Giro della Valle d’Aosta World Cup race as a 20 year old amateur, Edmondson then placed a very solid 16th overall in the Tour of Britain.
Unsurprisingly, those results marked him out as a very big prospect. A young rider who is already performing against the pro teams in a big UCI event? That’s something which draws attention, and one that led to several offers. One of those was from Team Sky, the team which had won the Tour de France months earlier with Bradley Wiggins, and the-then Colpack and British national team rider quickly signed on the dotted line.
“We have been keeping an eye on Josh since his time on the Olympic Development Programme and feel he is more than ready to take the next step in his career with a move up to the pro ranks,” stated Sky principal Dave Brailsford at the time.
“With the coaching and support staff on Team Sky, Josh is in the best possible place to continue his development and we look forward to watching him grow as a rider.”
For a while things seemed to be going to plan. Edmondson got things off to a fine start with seventh on the Alto do Malhao climbing stage plus 16th overall in the Volta ao Algarve.
Solid rides in the Volta a Catalunya (74th) and Flèche Wallonne (43rd) while working for the team were encouraging, but a string of DNF placings showed that riding at the top level of the sport was tougher than he might have anticipated.
Edmondson turned things around somewhat by the end of the year, placing 35th in the Tour of Beijing and then netting a very solid ninth in the Japan Cup.
However year two was a quiet one. The 2014 season had a couple of strong results, namely fifth in the national road race championships and 12th on stage four of the Tour of Austria, but other than that his palmares from that year show a lack of progression.
Some suggested that he was frustrated not to get his own opportunities. There were rumours that his work ethic wasn’t what the team’s coaching staff deemed necessary. Whatever the reason, Sky passed over the opportunity to ink a new deal with him and he was left looking around.
The outcome was a big contrast to what Edmondson had said when he signed up with the team. Speaking prior to the 2013 season he was full of optimism about the time ahead, talking about his excitement in joining the squad and in embarking on what he felt would be the next step in his career.
“It’s an amazing set up and a huge project. Meeting the team you can see that it is one big unit and that the support you get – with the best coaches and nutritionists in the world – is second to none,” he enthused then.
“I see myself as a climbing specialist but my main aim with Team Sky is to develop my tour riding and get used to competing alongside the best riders in the world.”
Looking for a new squad was sobering; so too the fact that it wasn’t until March of this season that he found a slot. Since then, though, the signs have been encouraging and Edmondson appears to be moving in the right direction.
Stepping back but moving forward
The Briton’s signing was announced by the An Post Chainreaction squad in March. Going from a WorldTour to a Continental team was definitely a change in trajectory. Unsurprisingly, that team’s general manager Kurt Bogaerts was enthusiastic.
“We have got Josh Edmondson on board, a rider who I see as a really huge talent,” he told CyclingTips at the start of April. “A climbing talent, one that we didn’t really have in the team before. Okay, on the middle climbs we have Sean [Downey], Xandro [Meurisse] and Jack Wilson who can handle that type of course, but now we have a talented climber in the team who brings new motivation.
“Also, we changed the programme to include hillier races that are more suited to him. For example, if we go to Azerbaijan there are two hilltop finishes. There is another motivation when there are stages like that.”
Edmondson quickly responded to that show of faith, as well as to the opportunity to chase his own results. He finished a solid 22nd in the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire, and then went on to that Tour of Azerbaijan. Eight place on stage two showed his form; victory on the following day’s stage to Qabala confirmed it.
His relief at the result after two seasons without a win was evident from his post-race tweet. “Wasn’t expecting that to work!,” he wrote. “Normally my daft attacks don’t work out.. Bloody glad it did though!”
Bogaerts was complementary, saying afterwards that the manner of the victory – specifically the way Edmondson was able to hold off the chase behind – was something that impressed him.
Since then his momentum continued. After placing sixth overall in that race he went on to the An Post Rás in Ireland and finished up second overall. In ending the eight day event one minute and five seconds off the time of the final yellow jersey Lukas Postlberger (Tirol Cycling), he was left wondering what might have been had the race not been the flattest in several years.
“I am happy with the result, but it would have been nicer to have had a few more climbs, a few hilly stages and to try and win,” he told CyclingTips. “But it panned out the way it did so I am pretty happy.
“I wanted to win coming here, after being in Azerbaijan and seeing my form coming through. I thought I could win. I thought myself and Ryan [An Post Chainreaction team-mate Ryan Mullen, who ended up third overall] were a bit unlucky on the first day to miss the final move. We also had a bit of bad timing with punctures. Like I said, we just need a bit of a hillier race to be able to try to get more.”
Boagerts agreed: “To take yellow we really needed some hard climbs where Josh basically could make the difference. We didn’t get these opportunities.”
Both were however gracious in their praise for Postlberger, who inherited the race lead after stage one winner Francesco Reda (Team Idea 2010 ASD) was disqualified on day two for holding onto his team car after a puncture. The Austrian rider defended from that point until the end of the race, resisting everything that was thrown at him.
The most important thing, though, was not the final result but rather how he has bounced back from a demoralising departure from Team Sky. He was upbeat on how that transition has been. An Post Chainreaction may be far smaller but, at this point in time, he feels it is a good fit.
“For Josh it is really important that he gets his confidence back”
Asked about his experience thus far, he is enthusiastic. “It has been great, really,” he said. “I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it is a really nice team, I have really enjoyed it. Kurt is really supportive. The guys who are here, the team, the other riders have been brilliant. I get on really well with everyone, it is nice.”
So what has been better for him about the new arrangement?
“I think there being a bit more freedom in racing,” he explained. “Things like that have been much better for me. I have been a lot more motivated to train. I know I can come to races and try to win, so that is really nice.”
Bogaerts wants to make the most of that motivation and said that he will put Edmondson in races that suit his abilities. These include the upcoming Boucles de la Mayenne and the Ronde de l’Oise. After that, he hopes that he will have a chance to show off his form in the British nationals.
“For Josh it is really important that he gets his confidence back,” he explained. “He had a really good Tour of Azerbaijan where he took a stage and was good overall. Then here in the An Post Rás we were going for a good GC with him, and he did that.
“In the short term he takes already a good chunk of UCI points, which will be important at the end of the year.”
Much as a rider like Edmondson is a major boost for the team’s results tally, Bogaerts sees the bigger picture. “We want to move him up to a higher level again,” he said. “Either that happens with our team, if we can go Pro Continental, or it is with another team.
“When I take riders like him on board, I want to give them their self confidence back. I know he has loads of talent, but then I also want to give them an opportunity that they can move up. Basically, that means helping them get results and points.”
Edmondson knows he is on the right track and is clear that getting back to the WorldTour is a priority for him. “I feel like you need to stay at that level to be competitive there,” he said. “Having this year to race for myself has been really good. I think I have come on a lot, so I think if I could go back it would be perfect.”
In order to achieve that, he is hoping to do hilly races for the remainder of the season, drawing on his natural strengths and making the most of the chance to lead a squad.
These events include the Tour of Britain, the race where he first attracted a load of attention from the sport’s top teams.
Three years after that breakthrough ride, he wants to go back there and underline that being let go from a WorldTour team at 22 years of age was not the beginning of the end but, rather, the end of the beginning.
In other words, that stepping back is sometimes crucial in moving forward.