James Fouche has already begun making a name for himself in the northern hemisphere, with two wins and a second place finish in just a week of racing on the Belgian kermesse scene. His track record so far is impressive and a great sign of things to come. One man with whom this might come as no surprise to though is coach Patrick Harvey, with whom we got to have a chat about the Kiwi talent.
RC: James really looks like he’s taken to the Belgian racing scene like a duck to water. Why do you think James has adapted so well to kermesse racing?
Patrick: James has always been a rider naturally suited to kermesse racing. With his strong time trialling background and natural strength we always believed he would thrive in this style of racing in Belgium. James has always suited racing that is hard from the get go and puts riders under pressure as he has the mental capacity to suffer and is no stranger to getting in breaks and working hard to make it stick. Add in James’ natural affinity with tough conditions – cross winds, cold or heat and his liking of shorter power climbs you can see why this suits him. Although we are working on his raw sprinting the nature of the racing which strings out the field early on and usually forms a select group in the final stages of the race allows James to put any natrual sprinters left with him under pressure so he then has a chance in the finale!
RC: He’s been promising for some time as a junior rider, but certainly for us at RoadCycling the first time we saw something of an ‘x factor’ was at Elite Road Nationals where he was holding his own amongst the likes of Jack Bauer, Joseph Cooper and co. What are James’ strengths and what does he have as a rider that sets him apart?
Patrick: James doesn’t need others around him to challenge himself so the focus and determination he gets during training comes through in racing when key moments in a race require that single minded determination and confidence to give it a crack or go at it alone. James also seems to have an innate ability to pick the key breaks in a race when mixed with his self confidence really sets him apart. Instead of letting the race control him – he takes control of the race for himself.
Another key factor for James is the respect he has from other riders. If James is in the break others with him will know he will give it his all which I believe has often led to the success of these breaks. As you pointed out Elite Nationals was a great example of this but for us James clearly showed this the year before at Oceanias in incredibly tough conditions when James was in the break from the beginning of the race in a very competitive field and pushed the break so hard they had an unassailable lead. In this case he could have sat in but in fact pushed everyone so hard eventually he went clear with 30k to go by himself! That is confidence especially when you have riders like Robert Stannard chasing you hard in the peloton!
RC: What can James get out of Belgian racing that he can’t from New Zealand/Australian racing?
Patrick: Belgium adds quite a few elements that he wont get here and in Australia.
Bigger more competitive fields means that James not only has to use his strong riding to his advantage but he has to work on positioning and tactics to come out on top. The courses are obviously more technical with differing road surfaces and road furniture so his bike skills are also put to the test. Riding ‘solo’ also means he has to really ride smart if he is to have a chance against the teams that are racing. The biggest feedback from him so far is that ‘I can’t just ride hard, I have to be thinking, watching and making smart decisions right from the get go!’.
RC: What are you encouraging James to do in terms of progression and development while in Belgium and are you able to share with us what the end goal is of his time in Europe?
Patrick: One of the biggest challenges for young U23 riders in their first year overseas is how they can still progress their training (and especially their base levels of fitness and improving their weaknesses) while getting the racing and experience they need overseas. Often riders come back over-raced, tired, sick and with less form than when they left. With James we wanted to avoid this and aim for a steady progression over his first two years as an U23.
Going into this year we had 3 main goals and a couple of other targets:
1. Expose James to as much different racing as we can without him blowing up. We believe we have done this with racing in the US, Italy and Belgium with racing at altitude, in the mountains, on the flats, tours, crits and kermesses.
2. Rather than focusing on results to focus on the process at each race and learn as much as possible from each stage. With some excellent self reflection after each race we feel James has done a great job of this! We have a great cycle of plan / race / reflect!
3. Do enough during his racing block to help him secure a spot in a UCI team for 2018. With a top 10 stage result in the US, a strong performance at the Giro and his awesome results in Belgium we think he should achieve this!
4. Progress his base endurance and strength. We achieved this with a great block of training in Italy after the Giro!
5. Learn how to travel, live, train and race as a professional. This is probably one of the key factors in the first few years as an U23. No matter how good your training and racing is if you don’t get the other aspects right then you won’t succeed. We have been working with James on recovery, nutrition, strength and conditioning and the ‘business’ of cycling as well.
Specifically for Belgium the idea was to go and experience a different type of racing, learn as much as possible and have heaps of fun! Obviously this worked!