From two rough years to career-best wins: A chat with Paddy Bevin

He had a horrible start to 2022 as well, but the versatile Kiwi is back winning big races.

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It’s been a great month for Paddy Bevin (Israel Premier Tech). After a tough couple seasons, and after breaking his collarbone in his first race of 2022, the 31-year-old Kiwi has bounced back with the biggest results of his career.

In mid April, at the Tour of Turkey, Bevin took second on the stage 4 mountain-top finish (ahead of Nairo Quintana no less) before winning stage 7 with a late attack from a three-rider breakaway. That win gave Bevin the overall lead. When the tour was called off early in the following stage, due to slippery roads in Istanbul, Bevin was crowned overall winner – the first GC victory of his career.

And then, at last week’s Tour de Romandie, Bevin hit the winners list again. On stage 3 of the Swiss WorldTour event, Bevin sprinted to an impressive victory from a reduced bunch after railing the stage’s final corner.

Bevin caught up with CyclingTips earlier this week from his European base in Andorra and spoke about his first wins in several years, just how bad conditions were in Turkey, taking opportunities that come your way, and what might be next. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Matt de Neef: Congrats on the last month or so. You must be stoked with how it’s all gone? 

Paddy Bevin: Yeah. It’s been really good. I broke my collarbone first race of the year which is a pretty big disaster for any cyclist, and then I came back well. The first bit was really tough when you’re on the couch in February with a broken collarbone and watching the racing all kick off, but I just kind of knuckled down as soon as I could.

The surgeon was really, really good; really supportive with getting back into training quite conservatively, but it allowed me the time that when I did come back racing, I was at race fitness.

How did that crash happen? That was at the Tour de la Provence right?

Yeah. It was just a garden-variety crash in the wet. It was unfortunate – we were in the second echelon. I think it was still 30-odd seconds and the race was still kind of on. It looked like it could go either way; we might get back on. And then there was just a touch of wheels in front and I’m in the grass. 

The worst thing was it wasn’t a bad crash. I just landed awkwardly and did the collarbone, otherwise I would have bounced back up and kept on racing.

Did you know straight away it was broken?

Yep, I haven’t actually done my collarbone before, but there’s a certain almost noise that you feel. When I hit the ground, I knew the near the collarbone was done. Yeah, it was pretty obvious.

From the outside it seems like you’ve come back from injury even stronger, based on Turkey and then Romandie. Do you feel that? Or were you always on a good trajectory?

I had a really good off-season. I think the worst part of breaking your collarbone first race was the fact I was really fit for Provence. I think a part of it is the bunch has been decimated by sickness in the last few months and seeing as I’ve done nothing but sit at home and train I’ve avoided the worst of it, so far. I’m sure I will at some stage.

Not just COVID. There’s a lot of bugs, there’s a lot of viruses going around. And I do think part of that was from the time I was allowed back on the road, I got three weeks, really, really good training where I was doing nothing but train. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t battling that kind of thing. I think that helps get things back together.

But on top of that, you still have to do the training. And with the coach I’ve been working with for a couple of years now, we just knuckled down and used what we knew to do the best possible build-up we could. You definitely don’t expect to come back first race quite so good. But I kind of felt straight away that I was in really good shape once we turned up to Turkey.

Was Turkey your first race back was it?

I did the GP Indurain three days before leaving. A one-day race. So I had that in the legs, but that was the first race back.

The Tour of Turkey obviously went amazingly well for you. Did that unfold as you hoped it would?

It basically came out of climbing better on the mountain day [stage 4]. Once again, it came out of not crashing the first three stages. Turkey was a bit crazy this year. Slippery roads – there was a layer of this dusty film on the roads and there was just crashes. Some of the guys had been down multiple times. Once we figured out what was going on, basically as soon as the pressure came on at the end of each stage, I just tried to find myself a place at about sixth wheel and just sit there and stay out of the mess.

And then we got to the climbing day I was good. When you do a single climb at the end of the stage like that, it is what it is. And I was second – the climb kind of played towards me a bit. It was headwind and it was quite on and off – punchy, steps of the climbs so it was quite hard for anyone to get away. So the further we got at the climb, the more I started to think ‘Man, I’m going to be close here with the option of doing GC later in the week.’

And then yeah, obviously the stage that I won [stage 7], that was the most likely stage that we were going to be able to get separation [on]. All the other ones played out as they were going to. We kind of threw caution to the wind in the stage I won. It wasn’t exactly as planned. It was quite early. But just one of those things, as the race unfolded, I felt like the foot was on the throat a bit and I had to carry it on. So we ended up going from 30 km out and it just played into my hands.

So three of you got away on a climb with 30 km to go. Did you start that move?

It was us. The team rode – there was a climb that kind of went up and down, and had a really steep pitch. And we knew it was steep and we knew if we could get on the front foot on that climb somewhere, there’d be a good chance to create something later in the stage.

But as it played out, it was all on from basically the bottom of the first step, about a quarter of the way up. So it was early, but it was just a matter of getting … we needed separation. Turkey is a race that if you want to win it, you need separation. There wasn’t enough time bonus left to be chasing around and there was some really good sprinters there so we found it tough going to get any time bonuses back on any other stages. So it was kind of … we had to go all in on getting some gaps and and going from there.

You’re obviously a very versatile rider – good against a clock, good in a sprint. In that situation where there’s three of you there, what do you think yourself: ‘I can beat these guys in the sprint!’ Or ‘My best chance is to go alone’? Or is it just about reading the race as it unfolds?

It was great that there were three guys. First and foremost, that day was to try and win GC. So there was no hesitation about riding with the other two. [Nicolas] Edet stopped riding early and I was like ‘Well, I get that he’s further down GC’. And then Jay [Vine] was kind of in and out a little bit and then off a lot towards the end. I was like, ‘I get that too. I’m not really too worried. First and foremost, we’ll try and get the GC because I’m the best placed for GC here and obviously we’re making raw time.’

And then the stage kinda fell into my lap a little bit. I remember rolling with about 5 km to go. I think I was on the front for most of the last 10 km. Jay pulled a few turns to keep it away, but he was being told to stop.

And I remember thinking through my head ‘OK there’s a few things that are going to happen here.’ But Edet attacking with 1.5 km to go and Jay covering him wasn’t really the move I was expecting and it just kind of fell to me. And I’ve raced enough to know what to do in that situation, and that was just hit them straight away and go from there. So it definitely wasn’t the plan I was thinking in my head, but sometimes you’ve just got to go with what you have.

The last stage was obviously called off due to the weather, meaning you won the race overall. Can you describe what it was like out there on the road on that final stage in Istanbul?

I’ve never experienced roads so slippery. The reports made it sound like it was bucketing down with rain, and it wasn’t. The fact was, it’s a city circuit. Before we had started the commissaires had always said that if it rains, they’re going to neutralise the finish because it is a city circuit and slippery and whatever.

We rolled out and then we got this tiny little film of rain. There was a straight 200-metre downhill into a roundabout, and about halfway down, 40 guys out of the bunch were on the ground, on a straight line. And we kind of went around a turn at the bottom. I was about eighth wheel, and I remember looking back thinking, ‘well, it’s either going to be the race or the race is going to stop’ because probably the 30 guys that got through, two corners later, there was another 15 on the ground behind who were chasing the front of the race.

And at that point, we’re kind of sitting there like, ‘guys, we can’t race’. Everyone’s gotta wait for the teammates to come back. There’s so many guys – the cars were blocked. Eventually a group stopped, we stopped and waited. And it was fairly unanimous.

Look, as the race leader, it was a weird situation. You’re like, ‘Well, I’ve gotta race my bike. If they’re going to race, we’re going to race.’ I had no worries about that. But for me the right call was made. It was absolutely unraceable. It was pretty much unrideable. I’ve done a fair amount of racing in Asia and I know those city roads get slippery when it’s wet. Istanbul obviously hadn’t had any rain for a while. And as soon as [crashes were happening] in a straight line, it was unrideable.

Crashes galore on the final stage.

So was it you as race leader that suggested that you stop or was it somebody else?

No, no, no. I didn’t have the balls to do that as a race leader! That’s not my call to make. We couldn’t find the union representative because he was picking himself up off the ground somewhere. Out of the big group that stopped there were a fair few riders that were sitting there like ‘We can’t do this’. So I went and spoke to Jay and Eduardo [Sepúlveda], who were second and third on GC, and I was like, ‘What do you guys think?” And everyone’s like ‘we can’t really race. It’s not possible.’ So it was fairly unanimous. I don’t think there were too many guys that were itching to have a get-down in Istanbul on the last stage.

Bevin (right) as the stage comes to a close.

Had you come to the race hoping for GC or was it just the case that the team wanted a good GC result and you were best placed going into those last stages?

A bit of column, A, a bit of column B. The points thing – the team wanted to go there to get some UCI points and we went into the climbing stage with three guys that were to have a go on the climb. I was one of the three and then I was the best placed of the three; second on the stage. So it switched straight away to try to find the last seconds.

I was really happy that the team didn’t default to ‘Hey, second is really good. We’re actually not going to push the boat out.’ That was never mentioned. In my mind I was kind of waiting for [them to say that]. And a bike racer it’s not something you want to hear. But to the credit of the directors there that was never an option. That was not something that was communicated and we were all in for ‘how are we going to win this bike race? Which I loved because I knew the style of racing in those last couple of days – it was going to get a little bit loose. It was going to get technical and it was going to be a bike race. So I was chomping at the bit, once we got the all clear.

So, Romandie. You said after your stage win that the last corner was crucial. Had you gone and recon-ed that last corner and worked towards that stage in particular?

The stage, yes. I looked at the stage on paper. I saw the last two climbs and I was like, ‘that’s my day.’  The last corner is funny. Everyone has said that. We actually rode through it 25 kilometres into the stage and apparently I was the only bloke that looked at the last corner and went ‘I can probably have a crack from the corner’! Because everyone else seemed surprised when we came around there.

I remember coming around the corner thinking I’m going to have to dive right, because obviously the right-hand turn everyone’s going to drift left. And then the three riders in front of me followed each other right and gave me a clean run down the left. So once again, sometimes it’s just an instinct thing, a racing thing. The opportunity was there and you just go.

Watching the replay, it sort of looked like you were the only guy that really put yourself in the right position …

I feel like any time the rider in front of you hesitates, it’s going to make you look better, make you look faster. I was on Ethan [Hayter]’s wheel. Ethan hesitated, and that’s always going to make me look better. But also it was a full sprint from the corner and no one really got ground back.

I was surprised. It looked very tame, looking at the replay. Of the things that I thought in my head were going to happen, that didn’t really make the top five. But you go with the race that unfolds in front of you.

On paper, you’d have to say the last month has been the best month of your career. Do you feel like you’re in your best form, or doing your best racing? Have a couple things fallen your way? How do you reflect on that?

Firstly, I’m first to admit that I struggled the last 18 months with COVID, with the way COVID affected our racing, our calendar and all of that. I felt like my results 2018, 2019 were really starting to get really solid. And then COVID hits early 2020.

2020 for sure – it was a mess and a lot of riders didn’t get it right, and that’s life. Everyone was dealing with the same thing and some dealt with it a bit better than others. And I’ll be the first to admit that I really struggled coming back that season. And then that spilled over into 2021 a little bit. I kind of felt like once again we were still jumping around. We didn’t really know what was going on. There’s still a lot of COVID protocol, a lot of race changes, but I felt like my results at the start of last year were good.

I once again had a good Romandie last year, a good Basque. I’d done a lot of work with the team through the early races, a couple of nice time trial results, built up to the Olympics. I actually got shingles after the Olympics and that torpedoed the end of my season. So you can kind of lump that into the same … the two years were hard. Not harder than anyone else’s, but from a results perspective it makes it hard.

And I think that when you’ve had a pretty off period, any time you come back into form, it’s going to look really good. And I feel like for me that’s part of it. I’ve just been off the boil, it’s been a battle. And I wouldn’t say the physical numbers power-wise are that different. But the last month there’s been opportunities partly because of the way the racing’s gone.

Within the team we need points and it’s also partly the way that racing has stepped up. You go to a stage at Romandie with those two climbs at the end and we ride the climbs so hard. There are only 30 or 40 guys making it over in contention and that really narrows down the guys you’re racing in a reduced sprint. And I feel like the harder racing gives me an opportunity in some of those reduced sprints just because you have to be fit to get there. And then there’s just not that many fast guys.

And you look at the races, there are a lot of days like that now where the climbing is so fast that the reduced bunches are really reduced bunches.

Bevin winning the reduced bunch sprint at the 2022 Tour de Romandie.

What sort of rider do you see yourself as?

All-rounder, which is hard. It’s a very hard way to get results! It is what it is. I’ve had some really nice results across a real range of disciplines and terrains and I actually kind of enjoy that. Probably, though, the one last thing that has changed in the last few months is the time trial’s on the backburner a little bit. We’ve been developing a bike. It takes time.

When I broke my collarbone … I haven’t trained on the time trial bike for three months. The focus was to get fitness back and climbing fitness and race fitness. So I kind of had to relent on the time trial stuff and I feel like that may have also helped open up the other side a little bit more for the moment. And the reality is the training didn’t really change that much. You just adjust it to the racing you’re going to and I had probably only one or two time trials in the next six months. So just resources-to-results wise, you have to start looking at where you’re putting your energy.

For me, it’s been refreshing. It’s been a long time since I’ve sprinted. It’s been a year. Probably Romandie was the last time I actually was involved in any form of sprint. That’s just the way racing goes and as not a pure sprinter, I’m not there. Nowhere near it. So I kind of don’t get too involved in the big bunch sprints. But certainly as the group reduces I find it a good place to chase results.

Are you disappointed you’re not going to the Giro? It feels like with your current form you’d have been a great pick.

I did ask. The team’s plan was to take [Giacomo] Nizzolo to the Giro as a sprinter and put all the resources around him. I did ask. After Turkey, I was like, ‘How about it, guys? The form’s definitely there.’ And they were like, straight up, ‘no’. And that’s the team’s plan. And unfortunately, as a rider …   it’s hard when you know you’ve got form and you’re watching the biggest race of this period go on, and you’re not there.

So yeah, it hurts a bit. But that was their plan and to their credit, though, they’re standing behind their original plan.

So what’s next for you?

I am in the middle of a really big block. I did Turkey, Romandie, I go to Hungary next week [the UCI 2.1 Tour de Hongrie], [Tour of] Norway the week after, then back to Tour de Suisse a week after that. So it’s a lot. Obviously, some of it’s coming down to we’re chasing UCI points.

But yeah, for me, I think the big goal of the block is probably Suisse, the biggest of the three races. Hungary is a lot of flat sprint stages and we’re taking sprinters there and then a climb at the last stage. So it’s a bit of a mixed bag. But yeah, as an all-rounder that’s what you get. You kind of get what you deserve! It’s busy; it’s a lot of race days in the next six weeks.

And Tour de Suisse – stage wins will be the goal there I guess, rather than GC?

Yeah, stages not GC. The climbing is good but I find when you go to the mountain days it’s a different story. We saw at Romandie – I would have liked to be better on the mountain day. I was pretty solid the last TT but the mountain day when you’re kind of mountains all day I just suffer a bit and I think that’s just a product of not having raced a lot.

You can kind of manage the time trial effort or you can manage the one big effort but it’s a very different prospect when you’re doing 4,000+ metres, up and down all day at a solid tempo. That’s something I would like to improve, but it’s not something I can do basically without racing. You just need a few more mountain days. And then having not raced for two months and coming back, it’s just one of those things.

And what about the Tour or the Vuelta?

At this stage no Tour and no Vuelta. The Vuelta is a possibility once I see how the season goes, but there’s also a lot of other racing around there which may be better suited. I just don’t know. But all I know at the moment is no Giro, no Tour.

Bevin, then Kiwi TT champ, on his way to second on stage 10 of the 2019 Vuelta a España.

I know it’s further down the line, but this is a contract year for you, right? Do you think about that sort of thing? Or do you just get on with it?

Just get on with it. For me, whether you’re in the first year or the second year of a contract, it doesn’t make any difference. I’ve had results on day one of a contract or day 730 of a contract.

You know, it doesn’t really worry me too much. It’s about bike racing. I think that’s where I’m at now. Coming back from the COVID years and the rough couple of seasons where it’s been tough. I just want to race. You just wanna be part of wins, you want to win, and you want to race.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

It’s still pretty weird times. This team and a couple of others, and I think more and more are about to find out about the way the sicknesses rip through teams. It’s been really hard. I know we’ve suffered and we’ve suffered to the point where we haven’t been able to send a roster to the Tour of Flanders.

That’s mind-boggling as a professional team, but when you’re inside, you’re like, ‘Man, we’ve just got so many guys down and it’s so hard.’ And you start to balance how quickly you can send a guy back to a race and not infect everyone else? And this is even outside of COVID.  

What do you put these illnesses down to?

From talking to the doctors, they’re just saying we’ve all been masked up, we’ve been so careful for two years that we’ve more or less wiped out the common flu and the common viruses that you see all the time. Where in the bunch, you know, you go to a wet Paris-Nice, you go to a wet Romandie and half the bench comes out with the sniffles. And now it’s come out guys are down  for a week with the flu.

We’re all still getting tested for COVID and then PCR tests and then multiple antigen tests. And it doesn’t seem to be all COVID. It seems to be a real mixed bag. Some guys, it’s gastro, some guys it’s bronchitis. They’re saying the fact that we’ve been so isolated from anything while battling COVID means that we’ve created a bit of a monster.

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