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Not just the youngest in the race

Not just the youngest in the race

WORDS: REBECCA BLAND
IMAGES: HONOR ELLIOTT

Foodie, dog lover, and cyclist, Alice Towers is keen to make a name for herself away from the obsession of her tender age at bike races. At 19, yes, she is young, but she’s already achieved plenty, regularly racing high-level races like the Ardennes Classics.

Alice didn’t have the ‘traditional’ path to elite racing that many young racers do now. Instead of being plonked on a bike aged five and winning numerous youth national championships, Alice only began racing properly in her mid-teens, and even then it was grassroots and small local events that piqued her interest in the competitive side of cycling.

“My parents rode and my brother rides too, and we just used to ride as a family. We’d do Saturday rides and go to the café. Then I just entered local circuit races, and when I was about 16, after I’d just finished my GCSEs, I went to do my first nationals. I did alright, and I thought, ‘Oh, this is actually quite good’.”

‘This is actually quite good’ is a humble way of characterising her rise to elite-level racing. Going from racing local circuits to a UCI team in the space of three years is overwhelmingly impressive. Although being a professional cyclist wasn’t a childhood fantasy, Alice’s constant progression made taking the leap from amateur to pro an easy choice.

“It’s actually never been a big dream of mine since I was little, just because I hadn’t really thought I’d be able to, and then as I progressed and kept making steps up, I realised it is actually something that I’m capable of.

“I think it probably wasn’t until I finished school two years ago that I thought, ‘You know what, I actually can have a good crack at this’, and it’s been going well so far.”

Even at 19, Alice displays a level of maturity that many twice her age lack. Some might see her laid back attitude as almost cavalier, but once she sets her focus on something, Alice is highly determined. As her development continues, she’s even thought about her future and put some target races in mind.

“I’d love to in the future be a top rider in the Ardennes Classics, the more hilly races and in stage races. I want to be contending the win for those sort of things. It’s a big claim, but you’ve got to say it before you can attempt it.”

Every rider in the peloton will have ideas of where they want to go, races they want to win or podium at, and for Alice, joining Le Col-Wahoo in 2020 (Drops Le Col at the time) has been a key part of her continual development.

“That is one of my ambitions, I need to do something or do a performance so that the presenters can say something about me on a team presentation”

“I think it’s a great team as you can learn, but you’ve also got opportunities to perform. We get into really high-level races so it’s not like you have to take another step up, we’re already competing at a world-class level. So it’s just trying to take it all in, learn as much as I can off the girls and the staff, and just keep maturing and developing.

“I mean, I can feel a difference. I’m racing the same races as I raced a year ago this year, and I’ve come on a lot in a year which makes me excited to see what’s going to happen in the next year.”

While Alice might take things “one year at a time”, the difference in her ability and performance since joining the team is clear to see. Particularly as she skipped elite domestic racing in the UK and went straight from junior to U23/Senior UCI races.

“It was nice because I didn’t have to scrap at national elite level before moving up, I could just go straight into the UCI level races. It was hard actually because it’s a big step up. Especially because I didn’t race much in 2020 so I basically went from being a first-year junior to racing in the pro races.

“I’m only just starting to get the hang of it and feel like I’m not just in the race, but I’m part of it, sort of. I’m able to race, not just hang on. This team’s just got the environment that supports you to make the step up and it’s really good.”

Feeling like she’s part of the race and able to make an impact is something Alice feels strongly about, as she recalled the factoid that the announcers kept repeating on every stage of the Women’s Tour last year.

“It was six stages or something and every stage you have to do a podium presentation, and they say a little bit about every rider. As I’ve not been around that long, the only thing they could say about me was the fact that I’m the youngest in the race. And I thought ‘It’s not that big of a deal, just stop’.

“It was in October, a week before my birthday, but I was still 18 so they were milking it and it was a bit annoying. So that is one of my ambitions, I need to do something or do a performance so that the presenters can say something about me on a team presentation.”

Chef towers

Away from cycling, Alice’s passion lies in cookery, creating recipes from scratch and gathering inspiration from global cuisine. Most recently, Thai food has been on the table in the Towers’ house, thanks to an influx of tofu from Alice’s latest rest day activity.

“I love making food. I like going to – it sounds a bit weird – but going to supermarkets and seeing what new stuff they’ve got in and seeing what I could make, just for inspiration. Sometimes on a rest day, I’ll just go to Morrisons and I’ll think, what do I fancy?

“I got some tofu the other week. We went to Costco and everything is in bulk there, so I’ve got loads and loads of tofu I’ve been trying to use up.”

Alice is a prime example of why a supportive team environment is so important to a rider’s development. Things like having a team house in Belgium during the Spring Classics so that riders aren’t living out of a suitcase go a long way to developing respect and creating a ‘home away from home’. Additionally, crafting a team roster with complementary personalities and work ethos benefits everyone.

“Everyone operates at a high level and we’re all striving to be the best we can be, so I suppose that inspires you because everyone’s working so hard and I do look up to the girls in that way. I see them working hard and also feel like I have a responsibility to do the same sort of thing.”

Although only a few years into her cycling career, being in an environment with opportunities to learn and hone her racecraft, Alice has made marked improvements even within a year. With such progress and her dedication to being the best she can be, there is no doubt that Alice will make her mark on the peloton and give race presenters something new to talk about – it’s only a matter of time.

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