When Will Routley won the Canadian National Road Championships last Sunday, it was the end of a 10-year quest for the rider on the Jelly Belly p/b Kenda team.
“From age 17, 18 as a junior I started to think I had a shot at winning Nationals as a Junior Mountain Biker, but didn’t win.” chuckled the 27-year old who started riding a bike at age 14 and raced mountain bikes before switching to road. He did get on the podium as an Espoir Mountain Biker. “There were many times I had pretty decent form and thought I had a good shot but yeah it’s been ten years thinking it could happen and finally it did come together, finally it did happen.”
Had the win sunk in yet? “Yeah a little bit, it’s starting too but I haven’t even looked on the interweb yet.” he laughed when we chatted on monday afternoon following the biggest win of his career. And no, he replied with a laugh, he didn’t sleep in the jersey. “I’m not that crazy. I didn’t really sleep, I just tossed and turned.”
Banner year. “My form has been unreal, mentally it’s been really good too I’ve just been holding on to a positive outlook throughout the year and just focusing on the goal and block out any other distractions and any negativity and all that extra stuff and just focus on the task at hand. The team we have this year has helped with that too, we have a good group of guys who have been supporting one and other and that helps mentally.”
It started at the Redlands Bicycle Classic where he emerged victorious at stage 2, the Beaumont Circuit Race and finished third overall. Then he made it into a long break on stage 3 of the Amgen Tour of California and was awarded the Most Courageous jersey.
A long time however to hold good form since Redlands was in late March.
“For awhile, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to hold it for this long but there’s been these little blocks where I tried to rest as much as possible. I’ve just absorbing it and handling it better this year., you build up year after year after year. There’s been a lot of years of hard work and then also I had such a good winter training. “ explained Routley. “ I think some of the stage races haven’t taken out as much of me as they had in the past so I’ve been able to hold that form a little bit longer. Whereas in the past, a 5-day tour was pretty draining. Korea was 10 days and that was draining but some of the 5 day tours I’ve been able to come out of them with still maybe a little something left in the tank.”
Routley attributes his good form this year to many things, starting off with a really good winter of training with a good group and staying healthy. He sees it as a steady progression and he also has been working on his focus.
“I’ve been seeing improvement each year for the last bunch of years so I think I’ve just improved that one more step again. I do feel that I’m a little bit higher level physically and then mentally has been part of it as well, just more confidence. I’ve been consciously working on focusing on my own self, what I can control and staying positive and focusing on those things and not getting too distracted with the facts that flights are delayed, you’re on race day number 55 and there’s another race looming and all these different things that are tiring and distracting.”
“I have to every day consciously remind myself that yes the form is here so I can win a big race like Nationals and Nationals has been a goal all year so let’s just focus on your strategy for the day and go out and do it,” he laughed.
David vs Goliath. Coming in solo at the Canadian Road National Championships, Routley had a plan which he executed perfectly in a very tactical and tough race. He faced strong teams such as the 12-rider strong SpiderTech p/b Planet Energy, the Garneau Club Chaussure squad, the 4-strong squad of Kelly Benefit Strategies, the Garmin-Transitions duo and other solo pros.
“Being solo, I did have to have a strategy, I went and pre-rode the course a few times.” explained Routley. The race was 14 laps around a 13-km course with each of the 3 climbs followed by gradual pedaling descents. “At first it would look almost too easy but I figured by the end of the day guys would be tired, that’s exactly what happened.”
“I just took it easy for first couple of laps and I actually tried to sit at the back of the field and hopefully guys would just forget I was even there.” he chuckled. “I just wanted to watch what people were going to do and how the race was going to play out and fortunately it started out really aggressive and it was hard. Guys were attacking, attacking and attacking and just kept going and going and that’s exactly what I wanted, the harder the race the better for me.”
An 8-rider break finally made it off the front 3 laps into the race and were quickly establishing a gap.
“All the favorites in the race were attacking, trying to bridge across not quite making it and just marking each other and I was just sitting at the very back of the field at the time and there was a little lull and everyone sat up and fanned across the road and I just went on actually on one of the few flat portions of the course.”
Routley had highlighted the flat sections during his pre-ride. “I thought that was actually a better spot to go because everyone was so concerned about the climbs that the little flat lull in between was the perfect spot to attack because it’s the one spot where people take a quick breather.” he laughed.
And so he went, and no one covered to move. And he went “fast and hard” because he didn’t want to be the carrot to get the field motivated to chase. The now 9-riders off the front rotated through and a gap of 3 minutes was achieved at the end of 5 laps. It wasn’t an ideal situation for Routley with three SpiderTech riders in the group but it was still okay with everyone pulling through until more strong riders bridged up.
“The SpiderTech guys started to attack us and sit on the break so things started to get a little disorganized from there and it really wasn’t organized again for the next 100 kilometers.”
With three laps to go, the group had swelled to 26 riders at the front with three more from SpiderTech bridging up. “Making 6 SpiderTech guys and that’s what I was hoping didn’t happen.”
But the big group lasted less than one lap. “You could definitely tell they were a few heavy legs in the race and there were some attacks and counter-attacks happened and we split up again and then it was down to another group of 10.”
Routley was in the lead group with his two winter training buddies Rob Britton (BISSELL) and Nic Hamilton (Trek Red Truck p/b Mosaic Homes). The group also included David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit) and the SpiderTech trio of Andrew Randell, Bruno Langlois and François Parisien. All strong riders with many having good showings at Tour de Beauce and Philly, but Routley was not marking any specific rider. Behind them, the remnants of the break was chasing while the pace in the lead group was maintained from non-stop attacking.
Randell took a solo flyer at the start of the penultimate lap. “Guys in ones and twoseys would attack and try to spark something to bridge across but guys would chase and then it would be negated. We were holding at 30 seconds because guys were trying to bridge individually and didn’t want to work together.”
Then a flat section again. “Again I just saw a little lull when we were on the flat stretch of the course to the park and I went and sure enough I got a little gap. Again I punched it and got across to him and fortunately he was willing to work with me so the two of us worked and we held on to the 30-second gap.”
The pair worked together until the final climb when Routley tried to shake him off and Randell was told to stop working with him. “So I attacked, and he just drove up right next to andrew and I think told him ‘No.more.working.with.Will’.” said Routley about SpiderTech DS Steve Bauer giving instructions to Randell.
Routley lead out for the final 5k run-in to the finish line. “But I didn’t have to work super hard because we had a 30-second gap and I was able to let that come down to about 10 seconds a the finish.”
“I felt pretty confident.” said Routley who had tested his sprint in the final stage in Beauce when he finished third out of a breakaway. “I took the pace down pretty slow so we both had to sprint from a low speed so I kind of went from 20k/hr to 55k/hr so he didn’t get a huge benefit of a leadout from me. I think I played it well, I had a sprint in me and it worked.”
“Piece of me at the back of my mind thought I had it for three hours of the race, for most of the day but I mean, do you know you have it? Not really until you cross the line.” he replied with a laugh when asked when he knew he had the win.
Future. “I’m just totally excited for the jersey and being able to wear it for the next year, it’s going to be a lot of extra motivation.”
The Canadian rider was probably underestimated in the past but no longer. “As terms of the career, yeah I think I’ve been a little unrated, I mean I’ve done quite well last year maybe not getting the big win but getting podiums and getting top 5, top 10 on GC so I was in there. “
But this year, though he has only won the races this year, he “managed to eek it up to score a couple of wins. The two biggest wins I’ve had in my life.” said Routley about Redlands and Nationals. “So it’s a pretty awesome year.”
But he thinks there’s more. “I think I was maybe a late bloomer, I’m 27 but I think I’m still improving and I still have a ways to go, so I’m excited about the next couple of years.”
So what about racing in Europe? “Ohhhh, that’s a good question. I’m totally opened to the idea. I think you have to try racing at the pinnacle of the sport for some time to see what it’s all about and I definitely would like to do that. If that’s where I stay long term I’ll have to see where it goes. But I do feel as though I certainly haven’t reached my peak yet.”
He will have a chance to test himself against strong riders at the two ProTour races in Montreal and Quebec later this year. “I believe that I’ll be doing those races in Montreal and Quebec as well as the Commonwealth Games in October in India, that’s a big one for us, that’s pretty exciting.”
As for the World Championships, it depends on how many spots Canada will have.
Maple Leaf and Jelly Belly. “I sent them the rule book because there are specific guidelines as to how you can put the sponsor on there but they are working on something right now and I think it’s going to look pretty cool. Hopefully, with jelly beans I think you can make something pretty neat. I’d like to see a Canadian flag made out of a jelly bean, you just put a maple leaf in the middle of a jelly bean and that’s practically a flag right there.” he laughed. “Who knows, we’ll see how it pans out. I can’t wait to wear it in my next race.”
Routley’s first race as the National Champion is the Yaletown Grand Prix, in Vancouver BC on Canada Day (July 1st). “I won that last year so I have to go defend and that will be my first time in the jersey wearing it, and all the Canadian pros are going to be there, like Christian, Svein and all the Kelly Benefit guys so its going to be a really good race actually.”
He’ll follow that up with the Tour de Delta, again in BC, in two weeks which is also doubling at the Canadian National Criterium Championships. “Hopefully I have my fingers crossed that I’ll have the Jelly Belly p/b Kenda National Champ jersey by then.”
“I’m totally psyched especially my first races in it I’m going to do in front of family and friends and everything, that will be really cool.” Routley concluded.