When Matt Holmes finished fifth at the Tour de Yorkshire in 2017, everyone awaited what would come next for the talented 23-year-old.
Today Holmes is about to turn 25, following 18 turbulent months of injury, missed races and missed opportunities.
At training camp in February 2018 it was looking so different.
His performance in the team’s first unofficial test showed that winter had gone well.
On a wide, empty road in southern Spain, Holmes would lay down 450-watts for 10-minutes.
Only the towering Connor Swift would better that number with 470-watts.
Holmes was keeping good company – and on a slope steeper than two percent, would surely have his day.
That day in particular should have been on Sunday May 6. But instead of testing himself against Greg van Avermaet over the tortuous climbs on the final stage of the Tour de Yorkshire, Holmes was side-lined by injury.
It took until September’s Tour of Britain for Holmes to rediscover any form, chasing both the points and king of the mountains jerseys.
With “the season that went to pot” – as Holmes puts it – now over, it’s time to start again.
We find out what that means and what he thinks might be possible in 2019.
What training are you doing right now?
At the moment I’m doing around 10-12 hours per-week at most – but all the riding has intensity and purpose with zone three and sweetspot efforts. I’m also doing a bit of running.
For example, I’ll do a three hour ride, with three blocks of 30-minutes at sweetspot in there.
I’ve also been doing the Manchester track league. The track isn’t really my thing, I just do it for good training, some high cadence and intense efforts. It’s a race so it just makes you try really hard.
I’m also going to start going to the gym twice a week now, before each rest day. One session will be squats, deadlifts, leg press and core. The other session will be more movement-based.
Both sessions are around an hour long and fit into my three days of training and one day off schedule.
Your training is quite different to the big-miles and no intensity view – how does that approach work for you?
I started with my coach after Rich Handley got a top-10 at the Tour de Yorkshire (in 2016) and recommended him.
His methods were totally different to what I used to do. It was all long rides and climbs as hard as I could.
Now it’s totally different. I’m either riding hard or not at all and it makes sense.
When you look at your file at the end of race its always 300-watts normalised, and that’s what I’m doing in a lot of my training – I’m matching that effort.
I remember when I first started I thought I was doing hardly any volume. But it builds up by the end of the season when I train my hardest.
For the big races, my sweetspot session slowly increases over the months and ends up with four hour rides, with two one-hour sweetspot efforts.
But that increase is very gradual.
Getting a coach has been one of the most beneficial things for my racing. If you do it yourself you’re always tempted to do too much. So it’s quite good to have someone to tell me to do less – and at the moment so little. Now is the time for it because the bigger training amounts will come next year.
I only really started being any good since I started like that.
What advice would you have to riders who are starting their winter training?
Don’t overcomplicate your training, if you want to go faster you have to pedal hard. So I pedal hard.
And don’t overdo it. I definitely overdid it and I think most people would. A coach should be there to stop you doing that.
Keep an eye on what you do, have a plan, plan your training in advance and really knowing what you’re going to do and progressing steadily.
What is steady progress?
From winter 2016 to the Tour de Yorkshire 2017, I went from 80 to 130 TSS in Training Peaks. It was really steady and it was the best I’ve ever been on a bike.
How do you look back at the last year?
It was a shame I got injured and missed a lot of good races. When I did come back it was frustrating racing without the legs to do what I wanted. Like at the national championships, I made the lead group but I couldn’t do anything to really help Connor.
Ultimately, I only felt good at the Tour of Britain.
It was good to be racing again there, winning all of those sprints and getting myself seen on TV. It gave my mum and dad something to watch!
When you attacked on stage two with Hugh Carthy, how close were you to making that lead group of World Tour riders?
I enjoyed that. It was good to actually race it like a normal race and attack them and ride off and do what I wanted.
I was pretty close to making that lead group. It wasn’t far from the top but I was going so slowly by then! Ten seconds more and I could have been into the top 10 on GC. But even if I had done it, I punctured a couple days later anyway and lost around five minutes.
What would your aims be for next year, if you can get a clear run?
I think I would definitely go for the GC again at the Tour de Yorkshire. It’s simpler there, it’s a harder race and the peloton gets thinned out because there are hard climbs all day.
At the Tour of Britain, I would go for breaks again - I could target both the KOM and the red jersey if I did it from day one. This year I started a few days late, tried for everything and ended up with nothing.
Would you not consider GC at the Tour of Britain?
It’s not my cup of tea. The racing is very different there compared to Yorkshire. It’s a big fight in the bunch and that’s something dictated by the big teams. They decide everything.
In our previous interview with Roger Hammond, he said that physically it’s possible for a rider at Continental level to place on the podium or even win the Tour de Yorkshire. What do you think?
I think it’s definitely possible – I finished fifth in 2017 and now we have Ian Bibby as well, he was sixth this year.
All being well we could have two or three of us, because Rich and Erick have also been in the top-10.
We’ve also got Connor. He belongs on a World Tour team. In the hills I think Bibby and myself are equivalent to that – we’ve got a few who are that good.
If we had a few of us, we can win it – just as long as there’s not a time trial.
The main thing is it will be more competitive amongst the team. To be one of the best on the team I’ll have to go away and train so hard – and I won’t be the only one thinking like that – and that will make the team stronger in itself.
Despite a lot of close calls, you’ve not won a national road race yet – which one would you like to win next year?
Any of them would do! Lincoln the best to win and it’s about time I won Ryedale I think. That one suits me.
Lincoln has the best good crowds of a domestic race and it’s traditional. It’s the one that the amateur riders do just to say they’ve done it. It’s a bit like the Ras, it’s got a reputation.
Third at the Lincoln GP in 2017 - could 2019 be the year Holmes takes home the famous cobble?
What will it take for you to win one?
Nothing now! The main problem was I wasn’t on a team with Bibby and it always seemed like when I was away, the whole of JLT would be towing Bibby in for the win!
Whenever I’ve gone close to winning it seems like the entire bunch chases me down.
What did you learn from your injury?
The main thing I learned was to not have my saddle so low! I moved to the Peak District and went a bit nuts climbing. I did as much as I could to get ready for Yorkshire but there is a limit to what your knees can take, and once you go past that there is no rushing it to get back.
If I was on any other team it would have been the end of the world but at Madison it was no stress and that was nice, to feel secure in your job. Instead of rushing back for the sake of it, I was able to take my time and do something good.
It was inflammation in my knee that wouldn’t go away. I’d take a week off, it would feel fine, then I’d do an hour and it came back.
If I could go back in time, I would have stopped for two weeks in the beginning and it would have been ok. But you can never know that.