For all the time we spend watching the pros race their bikes, we often don’t actually know that much about the people under the helmets and sunglasses. That’s why we decided to dive into a series of Q&As with riders that seeks to dig a bit deeper than the standard interview fare of “what are you targeting this season?” and “take us through that finale.”
To kick things off, we sat down (well, digitally at least) with Ben Healy of EF Education-EasyPost. We talked about memorable moments, meals, and rides, UCI rules, and more as we learned about where the rising Irish star is coming from and where he’s headed …
Escape Collective: Ben, you’ve been a Grand Tour stage winner since last May, but it wasn’t that long ago that you were an amateur hoping to break through to the next level. Was there a moment in your early career that you remember suddenly feeling confident that you were going to make it as a bike racer?
Ben Healy: My first stage [win] in [the Tour de] l’Avenir, it was for sure that. Whenever I think back, it’s like, ‘This is it,’ you know? I struggled to get onto a decent under-23 team and I struggled through that year as well to balance racing and my A levels. [Schoolwork – Ed.] I hadn’t really prepared for it and I wasn’t expecting to go and it was just an opportunity. And, yeah, I remember having amazing legs that day, and managed to get into the break with some pretty good other riders as well and just being able to finish it off in the final. Coming into the final I was thinking, ‘There’s three of us here, even if I get third, it’s gonna be amazing.’ That feeling of crossing the line and the crowds bashing the barriers all the way coming up to the finish line, like, ‘Yeah, this is it. I’ve got what it takes to turn pro in the first place.’ That was the first moment of realization. That’s what makes it really, really stand out.
[Ed. On stage 5 of the 2019 Tour de l’Avenir, Healy broke free of the peloton with Morten Hulgaard and Matteo Jorgensen, and the trio stayed clear to the finish.]
I’d clipped off from the other two guys with like 5k to go, and the other two were full-gas behind as well. So the gap was only ever like five or 10 seconds all the way to line. It was a wet day where we finished in like a little town in France and surface was like slick tile. I remember, you know, I was like, ‘I’ve got like five seconds, I need to go quick but I don’t want to go full-gas and and stack it.’ So there was always pressure from behind and I was never quite sure until I made it to the line, but from that last corner, in the last 150 meters, I knew I had it and then I could soak it in. But yeah, I think that’s what kind of made it as exciting as well. I didn’t actually know that last straight.
EC: Is there another pro in the peloton who you would want to be more like in some way?
Ben: The first rider that springs to mind now is Rui Costa. Now he’s on the team, he’s got such a unique racing style, quite a canny, patient one. Maybe a bit negative, some might say, but I think he really knows how to win a bike race and really knows how to keep his cool. And yeah, he’s someone that I actually grew up watching. I remember when he won the World Championships. Now he’s on the team and he’s such a nice guy, and he works flipping hard as well. I think the way he races, and that he’s got a bit of a better sprint than me and that’d be nice to have as well, that’s why I’d say Rui Costa.
EC: What was your best subject in school? Have you thought about what you might have done for a living if not sports?
Ben: Maths for sure. I was always really good at maths and sciences. And then anything like English-related was I was pretty bad at it. So from A levels I did maths, physics, and P.E. I think I would have gone to uni doing something to do with maths, like engineering or maybe physics. So I probably would have gone down that that sort of route. And where that would have ended? I’m not quite sure. But I for sure have like an interest with like, mechanical engineering or something to do with physics, and I already really like astronomy and stuff like that. Maybe I would have ended up somewhere down that line.
EC: How would your friends describe you and your personality and interests – without mentioning bikes?
Ben: That’s quite a difficult one, to be self-reflective … I think I’m quite a sociable, outgoing person and I’m not afraid to go against the grain in a way, I guess. I always like the controversy of people [being] like, ‘What’s he doing here? What’s he doing there?’ That’s something that maybe fuels me a little bit you know, almost like, like annoying people. Not pestering them, but doing something that they don’t think I should do.
EC: What does your perfect long ride look like?
Ben: It’s actually on my Strava. We did a really good ride this summer, me and a few friends in Girona. James Knox, he knows every single road in Catalunya, so we just left it up to him. To get out of Girona, a solid chop along the main road so you get out quick and then it was climbing in the north of Catalunya, the foothills of the Pyrenees. It was like 245k with like four and a half thousand meters of climbing or something then it was just all day out on the bike with a solid cafe stop halfway round. And a few punches on the way as well, and then a chop to the finish back to Girona. That was probably the perfect ride. It’s not something that, as a pro, you can be doing every day, but it was something that was proper enjoyable with a few friends.
EC: Is there anything that you wish more people knew about life as a pro bike racer?
Ben: It’s so much more than just bike riding. When you start to tally up everything else that we do around the bike, it is actually like, a full time job, I’d say. You’re thinking about everything you’re doing all throughout the day, all the time, you know. I think some people just think we just get on our bikes and that’s it, but it’s more of a lifestyle than just a hobby.
EC: Who has been the most influential person in your career up this point?
Ben: I’d say my coach. I’ve been with my coach, Jacob Tipper, for about seven years. He’s guided me the whole way. Whenever I’ve got a question or concern or worry there, it’s always, he’s the person I turn to to ask. I have full faith in him and really believe in what he says, so for sure it’s him. He’s looked after me since I like under-16 [category], and part of the reason why I joined EF in the first place was because I could still be coached by him. The past couple years have gone well and he’s had a big influence.
EC: What is something in the world of pro cycling that you wish you could fix or change?
Ben: The way the UCI drops rules on us … I’ve been running turned-in hoods, for example, since I’ve been under-16. I’ve never had any problems and it’s just all of a sudden they think it’s unsafe, so it’s just dropped on us like that. I think it’s kind of unfair, and it’d be nice to have some more discussion with that, but it is what it is. I can’t complain about it too much.
EC: What is your favorite way to spend a day off the bike?
Ben: At the moment, me and my girlfriend just recently got a puppy. I really love just walking and spending some time with my girlfriend and the dog. Great downtime for me. It’s a miniature dachshund called Olive. She’s a girl. Super, super crazy dog, but we really love her and it’s awesome.
EC: If you can have the perfect meal to celebrate something great, what are you eating?
Ben: The last meal we had with the junior team that I was on, with some friends that I’m still super great friends with now and that I consider close friends, we went for a meal in Pisa after our last race. We had this seafood pasta on the seafront. I’ll always remember that. I think that was probably one of the best meals I’ve ever had, so I’d really love to have that again.
Where to find Ben:
Instagram – @benhealy._
Strava – Ben Healy
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