French squad Groupama-FDJ have attained a reputation as one of the WorldTour teams most willing to promote and develop young riders and that certainly hasn’t changed this season.
The team has brought a staggering eight neo-pros from their development team to their pro squad for 2023, with sprinter Paul Penhoët, climber Lenny Martinez and puncheur Romain Grégoire among the talents making the jump.
Alongside the four Frenchman, two New Zealanders and an Italian is Briton, Samuel Watson, a 21-year-old from Leeds currently in the midst of his debut Classics campaign.
Watson went to school with Tom and Joe Pidcock, raced for their father’s team as a junior and has Gent-Wevelgem U23, the U23 British road title, and the European team pursuit title on his palmarès.
He rose to wider prominence last summer when he took Mark Cavendish to the line at the British National Championships, and now he’s taking aim at the cobbles with the Classic Brugge-De Panne, E3 Saxo Classic, and Gent-Wevelgem on his schedule this week.
Cyclingnews caught up with Watson during his first date with the cobbles at Opening Weekend last month.
Cyclingnews: How have your opening months as a professional been and what was the step-up like?
Samuel Watson: Yeah it’s been great. I’ve started the season well, got good legs. I had a podium at the Etoile de Bessèges and was close at Haut Var too.
The transition has been pretty easy, to be honest. Especially with having done a few races with the WorldTour team last year, it doesn’t feel like I’ve stepped up. It’s just been gradual throughout last year and then it felt normal at the first training camp.
CN: And before Groupama-FDJ you spent time with Fensham Howes and Trinity?
SW: I was racing for Fensham Howes, which Giles ran, and which he’s carrying on even though he has no children in the team now. It shows how much he cares about bringing guys up.
I didn’t really race many Classics as an U23 rider because of two COVID years. I wanted to perform in my last year of U23 Classics and I did so. So, now just got to perform this year.
CN: You’re into the Classics but you’ve also raced and had success on the track, too?
SW: Last year I did the U23 Track Euros and came second in the Madison, then won the European team pursuit title as a junior. But I don’t know if I’ll do track again.
CN: So why did you choose Groupama-FDJ?
SW: I was friends with Jake Stewart and Lewis Askey, who were in the team at the time and they were raving about how good the team is. I needed a really good calendar because I kind of missed two years and that’s exactly what FDJ did and it turned out to be the best U23 team in the world.
CN: Looking back before the development teams and the WorldTour – how did you get started in cycling?
SW: I was always into sports and then I really enjoyed anything with two wheels and started just riding my bike up and down the street. My grandfather found me a bike out of a skip and that was my first bike. I loved riding that.
Then I went to school with Joe and Tom Pidcock and it just progressed from there and that’s how I got into cycling.
CN: This year is your first in the pro ranks. What are your aims for the season?
SW: Of course, it’s about learning and progressing, but I certainly want to win a race this year.
The Classics like Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – I think I want to do these races because this is where I want to perform in the future. But it’s also important to do some smaller races to learn how to win.
CN: You’re obviously into your Classics. Are these races the dream for you?
SW: I’d certainly like to be up there in these races one day.
It has to be Roubaix, I think. If you win that then you’re just a hard man, aren’t you?
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