Alexander Ray of Team Illuminate had a storming Tour de Taiwan last week that landed him third place on the opening stage, 7th place in the fourth and 6th place overall. Not a bad week’s work from the 25 year old. We caught up with him afterwards.
RC: First of all at the end of this week’s racing, how are you feeling about your performance throughout the five stages?
Alex: Everyday was enjoyable, I got to see where my fitness is and what I need to do to prepare for upcoming races. I’m pleased to have raced in a well run event and to have met my new team. It’s still early in the season for me and my fitness is on a good path but I am disappointed not to have done better.
RC: Tell us about what you headed into the race expecting and what you were aiming for.
Alex: I was expecting a tough race and I got that. Racing in new places, comparing ourselves to other racers is always an exciting challenge. My expectations weren’t defined but being able to make the most of racing and to commit 100% to the team is always a top priority.
My Illuminate team mates are all fierce competitors at heart so there was always a strong underlying sense to push the limits and see how we can work most effectively for each other. I’d have preferred more situations that played to my strengths but I did my best. Not losing 2mins in the final kms of the tour would’ve given us a completely different result, there is a certain beauty in the unpredictability of racing; Learning from those situations is the key to future success.
To come away with a stage or hang on for a better GC result would have been super. We were close to winning stages and the overall, everyday was an opportunity to gel with team mates and we certainly did that.
RC: The courses across the five days – with the exception of stage 1 – appear extremely tough with plenty of climbing. What were those roads like to ride?
Alex: Being in the break on day one was tough enough (the riders make the race) even in light of the flat profile.
The stage profiles must’ve been off because the climbs varied from what was in the race booklet, it made me a little anxious because I didn’t really know what to prepare for. Which is also something wonderful about cycling.
Most of the roads were narrow and went through busy little towns and into the beautiful Taiwanese countryside, everyone on the team was really happy with our new Specialized S-Works. It was wild experience and I loved every moment of it. Ripping down the sketchy rain soaked roads is always a good time! Luckily we have an insane combo of IRC rubber and Knight composite wheels which I’m super excited to roll for the rest of the season too!
RC: Tell us about how stage 1 unfolded. Considering it was such a flat stage it looks like there were a lot of significant time gaps that grew.
Alex: With 5 man teams, it’s difficult to control the race. There were a handful of riders that I know are really good and a lot of unknown riders, so breakaways that were able to get established had to have a good combo. This meant fairly aggressive racing for the first 45mins of each stage.
The few bigger teams have respect for each other and are willing to wager themselves against each other each day, it’s up to the smaller teams to see this and take advantage of the bigger teams setting the scene. My Illuminate boys have all ridden at high levels before this race and we sort of fit right in to the action.
RC: You’ve not raced a huge amount with Team Illuminate, but what can you tell us about the way the five of you gelled this week?
Alex: It was all our first time together but it felt as though we’ve been a team for years! We all want to see each other succeed and have similar racing styles, we compliment each other really well. This is the most international team I’ve been on, there is a lot of flair and silliness, saving our seriousness for the business end of races.
RC: After losing time in stage 3 you bounced back in a big way in stage 4. Talk us through what went on during and after stage 3 and how you came back in the fourth stage.
Alex: Stage 3 had a decent climb with about 25km to go. I was in the front group and recovered quickly, before I knew it I was rolling with attacks and making them myself while the front group appeared to be struggling. The group still had too much power so none of the moves were able to get a gap.
In the final few kms there was a sharp rise and more attacks, that put me into the red and I couldn’t hold on, I had to watch in agony with burning legs as the lead group slowly pulled away from me in the closing kms. Our Mexican and Colombian heroes made it over and were GC chances so I was glad we were represented. I lost time because my gamble didn’t pay off. Sometimes you’re not as strong as you think but I’ll try not to give up on that!
I’m fairly confident in my own training and ability to go into the next stages without dwelling on tactical gaffes or simply not having the physical capacity to keep up in certain sections.
RC: You held on to your GC position on the tough final stage to Wutai. Having done so what lessons will you take from Taiwan into the rest of the season?
Alex: I’ll be working on my patience and of course refining my training, I coach myself so I take a lot of external input and try to reflect as much as I can. My fitness is a dream, I’ll never reach a level where I’m happy but it’s a challenge I constantly look forward to and having goals allows me to focus on making small steps with being a better rider. Flavio was more or less our GC guy on the last day but I made the break with a good group and I hung on for dear life. I was virtual leader until the last 2km of the race and lost about 2mins. My head is still down and the focus is on building off the Tour of Taiwan, in a tight team like ours, we’ll be there to support and remind each other of details that will better our chances of wins.