That time James Knox broke the Rocacorba record

That time James Knox broke the Rocacorba record

I can inform those with little time nor inclination to read the below that there is a video at the end of this story - although it makes more sense with the written words.  Your call...


In 2016, while working with the GB U23 team, I visited the Ronde L’Isard (a prestigious amateur stage race that goes deep into the Pyrenees). That evening, while awaiting for the food to arrive (literally arrive as it was being delivered to the makeshift ‘restaurant’ by some outside caterers) I sat on the terrace with a couple of the GB team, as time went by a couple of other British riders joined us, although Team Wiggins rather than Team GB.

I didn’t really know either of them, yet we got chatting after a bit, and it turned out one of them would be coming to Girona to live a few months later, ‘Here, I’ll give you my number, if I can help with anything when you arrive hit me up.’ That’s what I said, and my number I gave.

Race didn’t go so well for Team GB; that was to be expected as it’s primarily an Olympic track-endurance program using road racing as a foundation block. The kid I’d given my number to finished fourth overall.
The year carried on, my role with Team GB diminished, and I sort of forgot about Ronde L’Isard. Then early November 2016 I get a text message from a UK number I don’t recognise.

Hi David, we met at Ronde L’Isard and you gave me your number. I’m in Girona now and wondered if you could recommend a coach? James Knox

Bof, I had no idea, and responded saying that I’d ask around. After a day or so thinking about it I decided that I should fess up, yet a pang of responsibility hit home, I remembered what it was like to be abroad and young and it being the be all and end all of your entire life.

Hey James, no idea unfortunately, been out of it all too long now. I can help you over the winter if you like? It’s not exactly rocket science at this time of year. Want to meet for a coffee and discuss? D

And so it began, Team Wiggins weren’t coaching him, and he’d never even met Sir Bradley for god's sake, so I felt even more of a responsibility to help him.  I started giving James training programs, they were fairly loose affairs, I’d explain them to him and get him to map them out and then we’d simply Whatsapp back and forth about how it was going. We’d meet occasionally in Girona and he’d ask my opinion on generally everything.


My advice on agents was a recurring theme.  James was being pursued by three or four.  My advice was to respectfully decline any agreement offered as he was the only person responsible for his future in this, the very early stage of his career. He had to work hard and race well, then if the results came the professional teams would follow in tow, that would be the time to work with an agent. As for everything else, I’d just share what I’d learnt, which no doubt was consistently contradictory.

The great thing about James is that he asks the right questions, and then, most shockingly, listens and pays heed to the answers. It was easy to work with him, it was clear from his response to the training I gave him that although he had a lightweight chassis he had a big AF engine. What was most surprising was that he was also totally chill about science and power etc. Which for me was encouraging as it meant he was a blank slate in this brave new world of cycling and therefore untapped - in honesty I couldn’t believe he hadn’t been spotted earlier (but that's another story) as he ticked all the outlier boxes.  All of this made my life easier as we never shared data, only heart rates and sensations.


It didn’t all go smoothly, he got tendinitis at an early season team training camp, then had to stop training for a while, then sucked in racing. But then things turned, he started to finish races, then he got second at the U23 Leige Bastogne Liege (which gave me a never-before-felt type of joy), then things began going well again.


Then he got tired and things didn’t go so well again. By all intent and purposes it was a normal cycling season (they’re almost always roller-coasters), albeit he was existing at the higher end of the results sheet.


I made sure he got his team to give him a TT bike for Girona, I set his postion up in the kitchen of the CHPT3 studio then took him out and showed him my old TT training circuit.  We’d talk over coffee, we’d Whatsapp randomly. It had nothing to do with anything apart cycling life and bike racing. It was good for both of us.  


He makes me feel older, which isn't bad because it reminds me of what it was like to be young and at the beginning of a cycling career, something I am thankful I will never have to experience again.  That is one of the reasons I wanted to help him, because it was similar help that jump-started my career.  


I could keep writing about this because it has taught me so much, being (for a brief time because I know James will now move on) a coach and mentor of sorts has been an enlightening experience, I have derived more satisfaction from it than I could ever imagine.  


Often it's more fun battling for a podium than winning alone, which perhaps sounds a bit abstract, but it sums up what it's like, the journey and the people you share it with are so much more important than the outcome.  


I suppose I'd be told it's wrong to create something about somebody who isn't on brand, after all James is representing Rapha, Skoda, Wiggins, Pinarello, while we're CHPT3, Maserati, Millar, Factor.  Ah well, we're CHPT3, we don't really care.  Which I suppose is the point, we're just having fun doing what we love and doing it well outside of any preconceptions. 


I made the below video a few days before James went to L'Avenir .  It was the completion of the final training block I'd given him, and I wanted to watch him testing one final time up my favourite mountain, Rocacorba.  I had a feeling he was going to do something special, I had no idea just how special. For that reason I have put my old TT warm-up music as the soundtrack, 'Underworld - Jumbo,' because it reminds me of when I used to go fast on a bike.  Welcome to CHPT3.