One of Britain’s most promising under-23 riders, Joey Walker’s 2018 season and Tour of Britain came to an unceremonious end, as he went through the back of a car window in the race convoy.
Six months on, Walker has made a full recovery and is in Madison Genesis colours.
With designs on national titles and a call-up to race at the 2019 UCI Road Race World Championships in Yorkshire, it’s easy to see why it’s his final year in the under-23 category is a pivotal one.
We catch up with Joey after a successful period of pre-season training and begin with discussing the after-effects of that crash.
How has your off season and pre-season training been?
I had the bad crash in the Tour of Britain and ended up having 6-8 weeks off the bike and that knocked me back quite a lot.
For two weeks the wound didn’t heal because it hadn’t been cleaned out completely, then I had an operation, then four weeks after that I could do some bits on the bike. It was longer than I wanted off.
I didn’t have a full mental rest because of that – I couldn’t go on holiday. And all the off-season I was thinking about and Googling what anti-inflammatory foods I could eat to help make it recover faster. Usually you can just eat chocolate!
It is annoying because I wanted to finish the Tour of Britain but it could have been worse, I could have only one eye.
It sounds like a pretty serious crash and recovery?
Yeah it was. When the crash happened it was a bit of a nightmare, it got infected after two weeks, and I had another surgery. They didn’t want me to ride, I couldn’t to start with anyway because I had drains in my face.
And when they were removed I couldn’t get the blood pressure up or it would start bleeding.
Psychologically, was it better that you crashed at the end of the season, rather than having to get straight back into racing? Do you think the crash has changed your mentality?
I haven’t been in a race yet so it’s hard to say, but in the convoy I’ll definitely have more respect for the cars. On the roads I’m fine mentally but I’m still yet to do that first race.
Because it has been such a long time it’s almost better I think. I’ll have forgotten about it when I come to race - I hope so anyway.
So, you started training later than you wanted, but how has it been so far?
I’m pretty happy with the winter I’ve had. It’s about consistency over winter. I always go away to Calpe before Christmas for two weeks and do some hard work, which means I can kick back over Christmas.
Then I knuckle down again, so I don’t get battered by the older ones who have that strength in depth!
I felt good in the efforts on the first training camp and I took some confidence into the second camp.
That first camp was good to get used to everyone as a team and know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses on and off the bike.
And every day on the way home we started racing - a bit harder than we wanted to on some days I think! But it’s how you find out more about people.
How do you feel in training – have you got any numbers that you’re checking your progress against?
I’ve not done a test yet. I did an effort up the Col de Rates and was 30-seconds faster than last year which was nice – but maybe it was a good tailwind!
It’s little tests like that I prefer over 20-minutes on the turbo. I prefer picking a climb and beating my personal best.
Have you been doing any gym work as well?
This is the first year I’ve hit the gym quite hard for more peak power and that should help with my 20-minute power as well. So I do gym twice a week and long rides. We’ll see in the racing if it’s helped.
I used to do it with the British Cycling Academy and as a junior on the Olympic Development Programme and I don’t know why I stopped, I thought I’d go old school with the base miles. But this year I’m back in the gym.
It’s nice because it gives you a mental rest, you’re not on the bike every day for five hours. You can break it up by having a couple of days when it’s two hours in the gym and then Zwift in the evening.
Of course, now the training intensity is picking up, it’s time to cut back the gym time and put in some more specific race efforts and the odd long ride.
Is this something a coach prescribes?
No, I do my own training. I’ve had about four coaches in the past and I’m one of those who prefers to do it myself, because I have the motivation.
I’ve never got on with coaches; I don’t know why and that’s why I coach myself now. It’s not a performance loss I don’t think.
Of course I have loads of people I turn to for advice. Ben Swift told me what to do in the gym, and my dad as well has a lot of knowledge. Picking information from a group, along with my own experiences and then putting it all together, I enjoy doing that.
What about yourself – a lot of the riders on the team have clear abilities, but you’re the second-youngest on the squad, you’ve done well in road races and criteriums, what are your ambitions?
I’ve still got to make a name for myself I think, I’m still young.
I’m still aiming to break into the World Tour and I have two years to do it. Being on this team you’re in the races you need to be to get you noticed.
Step one is to make the team selection and then it’s to prove myself at the races. I still have that fire to make it to the top.
Growing up you look at Madison Genesis as one of the best teams in Britain, so joining the squad on camp you realise how strong the team is.
We’d be racing up the Rates, and you’re on the front going really hard and when you look around you expect only a few can keep with you, and when you look they are all there on the wheel!
Who was up there, who was impressive on the camp?
Well, I think you can imagine who it was… Connor. He just puts out watts. But I’d have picked that before we’d have gone.
Mike Cuming was also going well.
It will be interesting to see at camp two who has put more work in now. Because we will all want to be smashing each other on the second camp.
And of course the first camp was a chance to get used to the equipment. On the new tyres you’re getting the descents in on them in the wet and dry – and they’re good.
And how is life different on training camp to being at home?
You do go into a different mode. You treat it almost like a race, fuelling for it, massage and a nap to recover. There are no distractions, you’re purely training and resting.
What about from a training point of view?
It was similar at camp to what I expected. I rode under Keith Lambert in the past who is old school, so I thought it was similar to that. We did Roger’s training and then harder as we ended up racing on the way home each day.
Then when we got back, being in two villas it was more relaxed than in a hotel. We had food and played cards, it was a good atmosphere.
It’s strange though because last year I was one of the older ones and coming onto this team as the second youngest is strange. But it’s good to get their experience.
What about after the camp – what do you do then?
You don’t want to get carried away, I’ll just let it sink in over the week then back into normal training nothing silly.
What about your aims for the season?
We all had a sit down with Roger and I highlighted the Tour de Yorkshire. That race has added significance because another aim is getting selected for the under-23 road worlds.
The Tour de Yorkshire is the only place you can ride the finishing circuit. That will help me toward another goal.
Then there are the under-23 national time trial championships. If you’re winning that kind of race, that’s what bigger teams are looking for.
So it would be good to get some big results and get my name out there.
So does that mean you will have a primary focus on the road and your time trialling?
In that chat, because I won some crits last year, I said I’d like to be considered as part of the Tour Series team.
Of course, I have big ambitions on the road as well but I think you can split the season into two parts, covering big miles into the Tour de Yorkshire and then straight into the Tour Series.
Being an under-23, does that change your approach to racing? How aware are you of trying to be the top young rider?
It is quite strange in that it’s only Joe and I as under-23 riders on this team.
In the national series, you’re aware of the under-23 category for sure, if you’re up there with another under-23 rider, you know you have to beat them, as well as trying to win for Madison Genesis.
You want to be the best and you’re aware of it so you’re noticed for GB selection at end of the year for Worlds.
What road races would you be looking to target – can we add you to the list of riders who want to win the Lincoln GP?
It’s a special race for me because that’s how I got into racing. When I was 10-years-old, I watched Russ Downing win that race, and that’s what got me into cycling.
Lincoln round our area, well, everyone rides out to watch the race and rides home after with lots of stories to tell.
So yes, put me on that list of guys who wants to win Lincoln as well!