From almost quitting to WorldTour prospect: A chat with sprinter Blake Quick
After a tricky few seasons the 21-year-old Aussie seems destined for big things.
After a tricky few seasons the 21-year-old Aussie seems destined for big things.
Few riders shone brighter in the truncated Australian summer of racing than Blake Quick (Inform TMX Make). The 21-year-old Queenslander sprinted to victory on both days of the Bay Crits (and the overall title) before heading to Nationals in Ballarat where he sprinted to the U23 Australian road title from a small group.
From there Quick headed over to Adelaide for the Santos Festival of Cycling where he won the standalone criterium and stage 2, both in a bunch sprint.
Quick’s January was a breakout moment, but it wasn’t the first time he has shown tremendous potential. In 2019, as a 19-year-old racing for the St. George Continental team, Quick managed a stack of top-10 finishes in Asian races, including two second-place finishes at the 2.HC Tour de Langkawi. But in 2020 and 2021 Quick faded from view, with many assuming his rise was over before it really began. His recent summer suggests otherwise.
Chatting to CyclingTips on Wednesday from his home in Brisbane, Quick spoke about his “rollercoaster” ride through the sport, how he’s had interest from WorldTour teams after a great summer, and what he’s hoping the rest of 2022 might bring.
Matt de Neef: Have you had a chance to reflect on what you managed to achieve over the past few weeks with Bay Crits, Nationals, and TDU?
Blake Quick: Yeah, I don’t know. It has been a big month, but I feel like with cycling at this stage it’s always just onto the next thing. You kind of just tick the box and then you go straight to [the next thing]. I did Bay Crits and did well at Bay Crits then after Bay Crits I was like “Right, Nationals next week.” and then after that I was like “TDU”. I don’t know, I think Nationals will sink in when I get my jersey, but other than that I think it’s just onto the next thing, really.
Will you get many opportunities to wear the national champ’s jersey this year?
I hope so. I hope I get to do Baby Giro, which will be 10 days, so I’d get to wear the jersey for 10 days and then a few more one-day races like Roubaix and stuff, those U23 ones. And I’m sure there’ll be an under-23 tour there somewhere. But maybe like 20 days?
Bay Crits was the start of a great run for you. Did that give you confidence to go on from there, or did you start the summer thinking “I’m going to win a bunch of races in the next few weeks?”
Well, originally, the plan was just doing Nationals. That was what I was really trying to win, and then I came in and Pat [Lane, Inform TMX Make general manager] was like, “Yep, we’ll ride for you at Bay Crits.” That definitely made a huge difference, I think, just mentally being able to … You always back yourself to try and win but when you do win it, it kind of takes you to the next step of like, they have to try and beat you. And then, going from there it did give me a lot of confidence, which I think made a lot of difference for sure.
The InForm guys were telling me that at the Sunshine Coast NRS event at the end of last year that they weren’t sure you were in their best seven riders. And then you turned it around into this amazing January. Was there a turning point for you? Or was it just about getting opportunities?
I think it was probably more about opportunities. I broke my collarbone at the end of last year and then it took a bit to come back from that and then coming back from that at the Sunny Coast, I mean, I was definitely nothing special. But then, you know, a few more hard weeks of training definitely made the difference, I think.
But after a season in Europe last year … I only got to race for a month before I broke my collarbone – but even just after that my level’s come up a lot. I probably say that the biggest change would be the expectations of myself, at training and things like that.
You just expect to get more out of yourself, or you’re training harder?
Yeah, I just expect more out of myself and I think also my baseline level has come up a lot. Even after a break I’m still pretty good.
For people that will be reading this article that aren’t familiar with your journey before this year, how would you describe your progression through the sport?
It’s definitely been a rollercoaster. From winning junior world titles [on the track] and then having a really good first year in Asia with some really big results, and then 2020 a year of nothing and then the start of 2021, nothing, and then going to Europe and getting some really solid results. They were only top-30s or whatever but when you look at the top 10 and it’s got Remco [Evenepoel] and [Julian] Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert and all those guys, it is a big result. It’s hard. It’s very hard to get there.
And then coming out of this summer, again, being back at the top winning level, it is where we’re at now, but it definitely comes with its hardships. You break a lot of bones and you have to learn to be super disciplined and it’s hard to do that all the time.
Trying to move to Europe last year was probably one of the bigger hardships for me. Even though our team [British Continental squad Trinity Racing] was really good and really supportive, I think a lot of the time they kind of forget that everyone else on the team gets to go home, whereas we just go back to Girona or wherever. Life is a lot easier when you’re actually on tour.
In 2019, you got those big results. A couple of second places in Langkawi were massive. And then 2020 was a much quieter year for you. What happened there? Did you kind of drift away from the sport a little bit?
For the start of 2020, my goal was to take the start of the year really easy and then try and have a big European season, which obviously never ended up happening because of COVID and such.
At the end of 2019 I asked someone at CA [Cycling Australia, now AusCycling] if I would actually get the chance to do any of Cadel’s [Race] and [Race] Torquay or anything like that, and they basically just said no. So I was like, “Alright, I’m just going to have an off-season then and try and make sure I’m going really good in the middle of the year.”
And then obviously, January rolled around and they’re like “Yep, you’re doing Cadel’s and Race Torquay” and I was like “That doesn’t help me, does it?” They just shafted me which they love to do. And then from there on, I was just getting my arse kicked the whole start of the year, and I’d kind of start to get the ball rolling and then I’d get sick or I’d have an injury. And then COVID kicked in, and I basically just shut it down again because no one was racing and no one could ride. And I was just like “Well, there’s no real point.”
And then I started up again on the track trying to make the [AusCycling] Track Academy, which I didn’t end up making, which was a shame because I was definitely, probably the best contender, but they didn’t really want a bar of me, again. And then after that, I basically was kind of stepping away from the sport at the end of 2020.
And then Pat [Lane] called me and was like, “We’ve got a partnership set up with Trinity next year and we’ll be able to send you to Europe if you would join Inform.” So from there I was like “Alright, here’s another little incentive” and I thought “Why just throw it away? I might as well have another crack.” And then I came back and went from there.
I still had a slow start to 2021, but once I got the ball rolling, I was going really good. But it was obviously hard to show when you’re doing such big races with such big names. And then I broke my collarbone and I had to shut it down again, and then I was basically just rebuilding in Europe. And the first thing that kind of popped to my mind was “Well, I want to try and win Nationals.” So to do that I just called my coach and I was like, “What am I going to have to do to win Nationals?”
We just kind of built a plan and I actually ended up doing a little bit of time in Andorra, staying at 2,000 metres, doing a little bit of altitude work and building the base and building the engine. And then once I came home, it was all about just trying to get as much racing and as much intensity in as I could. And then I came into the start of the year with some good legs, a little bit more racing and some confidence with some wins …
I was probably riding a little bit out of my skin towards the end, but probably more so at Nationals, to be honest. It was definitely a very unexpected win for a lot of people. Yeah, it was good to show them I wasn’t just a one-trick pony.
Why do you think it surprised people?
I think a lot of people had written me off, to be honest. Even the likes of Tim Decker [AusCycling’s head track endurance coach] and those guys had definitely written me off and didn’t want to give me a second chance. Not even a second chance, just didn’t want me there trying to win for them. And then I guess to prove them wrong obviously meant a lot to me and the people around me that have been supporting me all the way. So yeah, that was nice.
How important has Pat Lane been through this whole thing? From the outside it looks like he’s taken you under his wing and helped guide you through this last little while.
Yeah, for sure. Pat’s been huge for me. He always puts his neck out for me, Pat, and he looks after me really well. And even now after all the racing’s done, he’s actually kind of doing a little bit of managerial stuff for me, even though I do have a manager and he’s very good.
But Pat’s always trying to keep the door open and talk to people for me. Even outside of cycling, which is pretty unheard of for someone like that.
Pat was telling me that you’ve got some interest from a bunch of WorldTour teams as a result of your summer …
Yeah, I do have some interest. I mean, you never really know with these things. They could tell you they want to give you the world, but you never really know until you sign the dotted line. They love to gas you up and get you super keen and confident and then shut you down. So you never really know until you sign the dotted line.
But yeah, there is a little bit of interest, but I’m just going to keep chipping away and trying to keep winning, basically. And then hopefully it will happen.
Are you hopeful that you’ll be able to sign a contract for next season?
Yeah, that is the goal, definitely. I really want to take that step up to the WorldTour and then try and win some bike races there. I mean, I definitely don’t want to be working a 9-5 for the rest of my life and if I got to ride my bike and get paid to do it, that would just be … If you think about it, it’s a pretty insane career.
What do you do for work at the moment?
At the moment, I am pretty much doing nothing, just riding my bike. But before this, I did some concreting and I was working at a pub, at a bottle-O [bottle shop], serving people basically.
And so what does the rest of this year look like for you? I believe you’re heading over to Europe with Trinity again.
I’m actually supposed to be landing in Spain today but because I got COVID, obviously I had to delay that. So I think probably Saturday or Sunday I’ll land in Calpe and I’ll go straight into the training camp, basically. And from there we’ll go to a few races straight away early in the season and then the rest of the calendar is … I don’t really know what’s going on, especially with COVID. For the smaller teams like us they don’t really give you a locked-in calendar.
And so what would you like to get out of this season?
I want to get a few more wins. I’d love to win a stage of the Baby Giro and also a stage of Tour de l’Avenir, and then to come home and race Worlds, for sure, in Wollongong would be huge. I haven’t had a really good look at the course, but if the course is somewhat suited to me … obviously everyone would want to win that race, but it’s a big race and I’d definitely love to have a really good ride there.
And looking further down the road, you mentioned you’d love to sign a WorldTour contract and win races there. Are there particular races that you’d love to win at some point in your career?
Yeah, I do have a few big ambitions. Probably my biggest dream is to win the last stage of the Tour de France on the Champs-Elysées, which is a very big goal but I don’t see why it’s unachievable if I can put in the work and get there.
What sort of rider do you see yourself as? Obviously, you’ve got a very good turn of speed, but you showed on stage 2 of the TDU that you can also climb well. So do you see yourself as more of an all-rounder or more of a pure sprinter?
To be honest, I see myself as more of a pure sprinter with the ability to get through a bit of a harder stage. And maybe some of the bigger one-day races I’d love to have a good crack at as well, like Roubaix and Flanders and those ones. But probably more of a sprinter to Classics kind of rider.