Heading into the final stage of the Tour of Alberta, we took the time to speak with 22 year-old Nigel Ellsay, who is in 7th place overall.

Nigel Ellsay interviewed pre-race
Nigel Ellsay interviewed pre-race

Congratulations on a season during which you established yourself as a young rider to watch for in 2017. You burst out of the gates in Redlands and Joe Martin, and now are in the final block of your season currently standing in 10th place overall at the Tour of Alberta with the TT to come later today. As one of the most prominent U23 riders in Canada, I think it would be helpful for readers and young racers to get a sense of your formation and season to date.

You raced for 3 years in Europe, the last two of which were spent with Sojasun Espoir-ACNC in France where you had some success. You were hired as a stagiare in 2014 then offered a contract for 2015.  Your first full year with us was hampered by injury and perhaps just finding the rhythm of the North American peloton. Can you describe the shift from European to North American racing?

Racing in NA is much different than racing in the amateur ranks of Europe. The European amateur races are very dog-eat-dog. Even teammates don’t seem like teammates sometimes. Across the pond, the racing is full on for 100% of the parcours. There is no respite. In NA the racing can be much more tranquilo at times. Often the pace will sky rocket as selections are made or the break-away goes away. That being said there are the odd knife fights in some NA racing. Criterium racing for one is usually all out war. The final crit at JMSR was for sure. Then there are stages like Sunset Circuit in Redlands classic which are very difficult from the drop of the red flag until you cross the finish like. UCI racing in Europe is a bit of a hybrid between the NA style racing and European amateur racing. For myself? I learned a lot last year in terms of how teams control and how to be there at the finish of NA races.

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We asked you to start 2016 stronger than in 2015, and you did just that. At Redlands, you were in the break all day on the Oak Glen stage. You then came 3rd the following day on Stage 3’s ITT. On the final day, early on you drove the break that helped Matteo secure the overall and as a side bonus won the KOM! Did you prepare differently this year?

Gord warned me it might take a year to adapt to North American racing, and I learned a lot last year despite missing the middle of the season with a broken collarbone. So in the fall of 2015 I sat down with my coach Richard Wooles (a few times actually!). We worked out what went wrong and what needed to change. My training from October to the New Year generally stayed the same. However, by mid-January I adjusted my training from steady efforts to doing more all-out intervals. The six-week block I did from mid-January to the end of February was the hardest concerted block of training I’ve ever done. During some points I thought the training Rich had prescribed for me was meant to kill me. It didn’t though and I began to recite a line used by one of my old coaches, Sharon de Goode. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I guess she was right.

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Well the changes you made with Richard worked because after Redlands, you lit it up at Joe Martin. You were 2nd in the opening TT, 3 sec behind Jamis’ Janier Acevedo. You grabbed a 2 sec time bonus on Stage 3 and ultimately finished 2nd overall to Neilson Powless after an incredible final stage that saw you in the virtual yellow until being held up by a crash with a lap to go. For those interested, here is Philipp Diegner’s “Race in Numbers” for the TT at Joe Martin

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So you were super-fit and then the results tailed off right when we were expecting you to elevate at Beauce and you were one of the favourites to win the U23 TT. What happened?

I went into the Beauce/Nationals block with a lot of ambition. My coach, Richard Wooles and I had put a star around the Nationals TT for the last four years. That and the go ahead from my team to stay in Ottawa and prepare on the Gatineau Park course meant I was 100% focused. I rode Beauce with a combination of allergies, chest infection and asthma. I was hopeful that it would clear up in the following 10 days for Nationals but it only got worse. On the day, I started out strong up the climb to Pink Lake. Soon enough though, my body erupted into a convulsive coughing fit with wads of hard phlegm coming out of my mouth. I fought on but I don’t even know where I finished. [7th in the U23ITT; 8th in the U23RR-editor].

After some time off, you seem to have clawed your way back to form through the Tour of Utah and now you’re elevating at the Tour of Alberta. Can you describe what happened in Stage 1?

Stage 1 was one of those days that all the guys lower on the totem pole look forward too. I was on break duty and found myself in a huge break of 20 to 30 riders with most of the GC riders present. I took pulls like a lot of the other workers in the group to make sure our gap stayed out to give Alex an advantage heading into the TT. [Alex Cataford is Silber’s GC rider for the ToA].

Then the attacking began. A select group of seven went up the road with no Silber. I followed the next attack from Antoine [Duschene, Team Canada] with Alex on my wheel. Soon enough we were across to the new leaders. The winning breakaway gone!

After doing a lot of work early, my legs started to falter. The last time up the climb my legs cramped up and I could only diesel in the last 5km without my legs twitching and collapsing into noodles. That said, I was still very happy with my performance, Alex’s new chances at the GC and our big lead on the team GC. [After Stage 4’s ITT, Alex is in 5th and Nigel moved up from 10th to 7th].

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Nigel was wearing the “Best Young Rider” jersey for Stages 2 and 3 because, as he says, GC Leader Colin Joyce (Axeon) has too many jerseys for now.”

Let’s leave the reader’s hanging, as the Tour of Alberta is still on as we talk. It’s been an incredible season for Silber so it will be interesting to see how things go during the final two stages of the race. What are your final races for 2016?

Once the ToA concludes, I’m hopping the first flight to Quebec City with five other of my SPC teammates. After a few days rest we will be dawning the colour of our great nation at the GPCQM. [World Tour races in Quebec on Sept 9 and Montreal on Sept 11]. My first opportunity to do the WT races! After GPCQM, I will head home to Courtenay for a few weeks of classes before my final race of the year: the UCI World Championships in Doha, Qatar. 

Ok, before letting you go I’ll ask a few questions so readers get to know you better.

 A lot of people seem obsessed with volume these days and have been asking me… how many kms do your guys put in before Redlands? Are you a big volume guy like Matteo?

I think I am closer to the mean in terms of pre-season kilometers for a domestic pro. From January 1st until the first stage of Redlands I logged 7,535 kilometers. I currently like riding my bike and I hope to keep it that way. 😉

What is your favourite meal after an arduous road race?

If we have a transfer directly after the stage, then a Fanta (maybe two) and whatever food our amazing soigneur Delphine Leray has prepared for us. Sometimes this means sandwiches, bean salad, or whatever else she dreamed up. She does an amazing job helping us focus on simply riding our bikes. Her protein bars are legendary too.

I know you’re into coffee and served me some tasty, life-sustaining brew at camp. What tools do you use to make such a quality cup of java? (I’m taking notes). And where do you buy your favourite beans?

Coffee can be a dangerous topic around our team. Espresso (no “x” in the pronunciation please) or brewed? Don’t be caught with milk or sugar in your coffee especially. You may be forever loathed.

I usually change up my travel coffee gear depending on how long I’m away and how much space I have in my bag. In my pool of brewing equipment available for travel selection I have a couple kettles, Aeropress, Freiling pour-over, Hario v60 and Porlex grinder. It’s also important to travel with a cup or thermos appropriate to your needs. I like to travel with both but usual side with a small stainless steel cup with a lid. I buy beans from my local roaster, Red Tree Coffee in Courtenay. However, the coffee scene in the Pacific Northwest is top notch and exploding. Most coffee shops with scrubby looking owners or baristas wearing plenty of plaid or tattoos are probably first-rate choices.

© VeloImages
© VeloImages

Gord claims none of the young riders on the team understand his references to 80s pop culture and movies, and can barely tolerate his love of classic rock. Can you name a movie from the 80s that you’ve seen–and liked–since being on Silber? No googling allowed.

Ya the 80’s was kind of a dead era. Sorry Gord. To be honest though, I only saw The Breakfast Club a couple months ago. It was above average I guess.

"Above average... you guess?!! What's your damage?!"
“Nigel, the 80s were gnarly!! What’s your damage?!”

What music are you listening to lately, and has Gord ever heard it?

I listen to pretty much anything “good”. The highest hit count in my music library is soft rock and Canadian Indie music. Has Gord left the 80’s music wise? I avoid country.

If you knew Canadian soft rock AND the 80s, you would know that I originally wrote: "If I had a rocket launcher, it would be an Argon 18."
If you knew Canadian soft rock AND the 80s, you would know that I originally wrote: “If I had a rocket launcher, it would be an Argon 18.”

You’re from Courtney BC. The riding on Vancouver Island is epic: mammoth ferns expanding under huge, majestic trees along the roads near Sooke… Sounds like an exaggeration but there is something both exaggerated and ancient about the landscape on Vancouver Island. What’s your favourite ride when home?

My favourite ride while home is a big loop of the Comox Valley. It’s not a massive loop as it usually takes me 4-5hrs. It starts off with a rep up Mt Washington and Forbidden Plateau, out to Comox Lake, back though Cumberland with a stop for coffee and doughnut at Cumberland Bakery, and a final march along the ocean front taking in Comox Bay, Point Holmes and Little River.

Rain and racing: Like it or just do it?

If I have good rain gear, I can do well. With the creation of products like the Giordana G-Shield and Velotoze I am much less affected by the cold and wet conditions. I got plenty use out of these products at the Spring Series racing in Vancouver this year…

What do you do when not riding a bike? 

I’m currently chipping away at a Business degree. This takes up most of my time during the off season. I also take a course or two through distance learning when the fall term is over. When I’m not training or learning, I read, listen to music and try to do normal young adult like things.

©VeloImages
©VeloImages

Any shout outs to someone who has helped you elevate?

My coach, Richard Wooles, and my parents have been the steady helpers for me over the last five years. Last year I also started getting some help from local Chiropractor Dr Derek Vinge who has helped me with some ailments I’ve had including my collarbone re-habilitation. I am very grateful for these people and for all the support from both Global Relay Bridge the Gap and Silber Pro Cycling.

The Team

Written by The Team

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