From climber and road racer, to crit rider – Rich Handley has transformed into one of British road racing’s most versatile riders.
Top-10 in the 2015 Tour de Yorkshire and the 2016 Sibiu Tour, Handley’s 2018 season showed contrast with third at the hilly Chorley GP and second at the Tour Series in Motherwell.
In 2019, Rich is taking a different direction, where he will self-coach and try to find the limits of his abilities, both as a rider and his own coach, while riding in support of the team leaders.
We talk to Rich about the past two years with Madison Genesis, how he has changed as a rider and why, and how he will be changing his training for the coming season.
How was your off season and what did you get up to?
It was great – I had a month of nothing! I know some teams continue racing after the Tour of Britain, but I think it’s a good time to stop. Our squad isn’t big enough to race a split calendar, with one bunch of guys for the road races and another for the crits. That means from March until September we have a pretty packed schedule without any downtime.
When did you start training again?
I did a few mountain bike rides with over at Llandegla with Chris Lawless and Liam Holohan, but I really started back up a week before Erick’s stag do.
I knew it was going to be a messy couple of days so I did some panic training so I wouldn’t feel so guilty about it after!
What training are you doing now?
I think until Christmas it’s just a case of getting out relatively regularly. You don’t have to apply too much pressure. You want to enjoy riding without many specifics.
So my focus at the moment is to do some rides and get fit enough for the training camps in the new year.
Have you made any changes this year?
Yes, I’m coaching myself this winter.
I wanted to try some different stuff. A lot of it will be what Bob Tobin, my old coach, set for me and showed me worked.
Working with him was great but I wanted to have a bit of a new stimulus – a bit like in 2015, which was the first year I was coached by Bob.
What approach are you taking?
I wanted to change my training a bit more drastically, because I will have a bit more freedom. The shorter stuff works but I like going exploring and doing longer rides.
This winter I’m sticking with a lot of zone three and zone four efforts. But I’ll be shortening the duration of those rides slightly and once per week, heading out and doing a longer ride, longer than I would usually race for and exploring the local roads and just having some fun while being out riding.
If you spend too much time doing the same things you can end up… you can become good at the sessions themselves.
With that freedom also comes the challenge of being objective in your self-coaching. How are you planning to address that?
In general I find the winter is quite easy, but you can get drawn into doing too much. A couple of years ago I did it and hit the start of the year too good almost, I had nowhere to go as the season progressed.
Because of that I have found I can get to a good place with relatively low intensity training. Once I start with the high intensity, my level seems to come up very quickly.
I think in the summer is the hardest time to be objective. With all the racing, sometimes you can’t see wood for trees. You have to be quite critical.
It helps that I always write down my plan, I’m quite thorough with it and if I’ve planned a session, or a series of sessions, there’s been a reason for doing it.
When things are tough during the season, it’s easy to change things if your legs feel bad – whereas if you have a coach then psychologically it can be easier, you have to do the session, hit the numbers and mail it in.
Even for experienced professionals, is that a hard line to tread and something you anticipate?
I think every rider has those thoughts. Especially when you’re getting in to the season you have to do a lot of hard training and you’re on that edge. It’s when you’re going to go best but it’s also when you’re most at risk.
If you’re tired, and you have a hard session to do then it’s really easy to question if you are be doing too much.
And when you’re self-coached and take that option – sometimes that easy option – to change a ride because you feel bad… that’s when having someone is useful.
What will you do in that situation?
For me, a lot of that you can get from teammates, by talking things through.
How much do you know about your limits, and how do you manage that aspect of training? Is there much you can learn year-to-year, can you replicate things from previous successes?
You learn but you never totally know because the limits are so fine.
Things change year to year, so you can’t just replicate the last thing you did that worked. There are so many variables both in and out of your control. That could include injury or illness, and that could be a teammate having to sit a race out, and you have to come in and take their place on a day when you had some other training planned. So the whole team setup influences things.
What races are you looking forward to?
I’m not too sure where my schedule will go to. At this stage it’s still too early to tell, but we’ve got a strong team this year.
Last year I liked doing the Tour Series but I don’t think this time I will be in that team. That will influence what I will do this year.
In 2018 I never targeted the Tour Series and I would like to have a go again but there are better riders this year. We have a strong team for that.
Which races did you enjoy in 2018?
Definitely the Tour Series. This was the first year I was in a team that was contesting it.
I really like the whole thing – of course it was stressful at the time, but good. I’ve certainly got more confident with crits the last couple of years.
I’m not the fastest there, I still worry about the bunch sprint ones, that’s when I’ll be shown up!
I don’t think it’s possible to change that much, of course you can work on improving it, but to a large extent it doesn’t matter how much I do, I’m never going to be contesting the sprints!
My strategy is to train it enough and get the benefit in other situations, like in smaller bunch sprints, or kicking out of corners.
What have your favourite moments been in your two years at Madison Genesis?
Seeing Connor progress, to see what he has done in the last two years was great.
That first Tour Series he rode and won two rounds in, he was massive part of the team.
Beyond that I like how the team races aggressively, taking it on and it is good to race like that.
Personally there have not been that many races that I’ve done for myself. Usually I’m helping Connor, Matt or Johnny and I enjoy doing that.
I think I’ll always be there when the race is on and I quite enjoy helping. I get as much from that as doing something myself.
When you first came to prominence you were seen as more of a pure climber, now you have developed into more of an all-rounder – how did that happen and was it a conscious decision?
If you asked me five years ago I didn’t think it would have gone like this so yes, it is a surprise but I’ve enjoyed the racing just as much.
I definitely used to be better at climbing but never used to be as good at the crits, so that’s how I think I’ve changed – but then both of the UCI races that I’ve won were pan flat!
Of course I can still climb but I’m not going to trouble the best guys like Matt Holmes or Bibby.
It was never part of a plan, it just turned out like that and a bit of it was what races you’re put in.
With Matt and Erick being good GC riders, plus the addition this year of Bibby as well, you don’t need four GC riders, you need a rounded team.
Would there be any race that you’d like to do well at?
The CiCLE Classic is one I do like. We were really unlucky this year, I think we had five of us in the top-20 into the last lap and it was just unlucky Connor and Johnny punctured.
It’s a good race and the sort of one I think I got better at.
But generally I don’t ever prioritise one over another, I try and take them all evenly.
Do you have any personal goals set for next year?
I don’t really set goals, things change so fast. I never plan to be flying for one race, I aim for a period of going quite well,
I think its hard to nail down one, on the road it’s not like a time trial, there are a lot of other things and tactics so I try not to set these aims.
You’ve been in the domestic scene since 2010 – how have you seen things change?
The first year I was a senior there were 17 prems - or days of racing prems.
Now it’s nothing like that at all, and you do have to start being more specific about how you target races because they are more spread out.
The riders have changed a lot – pretty much all the guys I looked up to have retired now and I’m not one of the youngest anymore.
It’s interesting to see the developments and changes and one change I hope to see is the Tour of Britain qualification process.
Having that system in place means riders are not risking so much at the races – they have become scared to lose too badly, because it might cost you your place to qualify to one of the most important races of the year.