Our Creative Director, Gareth, caught up with Damien Clayton (pro rider for one of our sponsored teams, WIV Sungod) — fresh from a big win at Perfs Pedal Race to get his wisdom on racing and fuelling one-day races.
With the Spring Classics' opening season, and many events on the horizon, Damien’s advice is not to be missed.
Race photography by Tom Austin
Gareth Winter: Congratulations on winning Perfs Pedal Race. I’ve not seen you in ages, I think the last time was outside the coffee shop. How are you doing?
Damien Clayton: Eyup. Yeah, I’d just finished a training ride with Rory Townsend (teammate). We’ll go out for a spin when I’m next down south.
GW: Absolutely. But don’t bring the weather with you. The wind and rain were horrific during Perfs. Anyway, you pulled off a brilliant ride, despite the conditions.
DC: Thanks. With the support and response that I've had, anyone would have thought I'd won the World Championships, but it's only a National B race — though it's quite important because everyone has trained all winter and it's a good demonstration of how you’re going to go for the season.
Perfs is quite important to the local riders — us northerners. It's been going on for 57 years. So the heritage of it is not to be frowned upon. Some big names have won in the past, like Alex Dowsett.
GW: How was the race won?
DC: Everyone knew there was going to be brutal winds. Ideal conditions for me, but I don't think anyone accounted for how much it was going to rain. Me and my teammate Josh Whitehead had a giant target on our backs — Alex Richardson as well (former Alpecin-Fenix). Anyway, Richardson got up the road in the crosswind section. I then clicked off with another rider in pursuit of him.
I knew I was going to catch him at this point, and I've ridden with Alex a lot, so I know how to get in his head (laughs). Eventually, Richardson suffered a flat tyre — I saw his hesitation and just went flat out.
GW: In the cycling world there is a lot of anticipation for opening weekend, isn't there? What do the early season spring classics mean to you?
DC: I think it's the first real sign of how you will go for the season. When opening weekend starts, everyone has their head turned on. But for me, it's the build-up. I mean, in Belgium, the home of the Spring Classics, the whole build up is almost as good as the racing itself. It's better than the Tour de France for me.
GW: Do you have any advice for one-day events? For people who are racing or riding sportives, etc. this spring.
DC: I think your fuelling and your carb loading — that can't be missed. You can't fail to overlook that. You need a full stocked up engine. You know, you wouldn’t set off in your car to drive from up here in the north down to London with an empty tank. It’s the same in a bike race.
You need to train and condition your body to be able to perform over the given distance and intensity. We (Team WIV Sungod) do a lot of race simulation stuff, I do a lot of speed work behind my dad's motorbike to pace me. Otherwise we train as a group to get that speed in our legs.
Let's say there are three five minute long climbs at the end of your race/event. Why not do a ride that will be the same duration as your target, with those efforts in the end. And that's when you know what your legs will be like. Your muscles have a memory, like your brain. You've done it before, so you can do it again.
GW: What's your fuelling strategy like? How often do you try to eat while you're on a long ride?
DC: I've been working a long time with a nutritionist, Charlie Mitten, of Qualified Nutrition. So without working with him, I wouldn't have known half as much as what I know now. He taught me everything, really. He advises, every 20 minutes, you've got to get something in your system.
You want to keep your energy levels consistent. You don't want spikes. Every 20 minutes, as long as you put something in. It takes practice to do this so often, but theoretically, that's the best way.
GW: What's your favourite ride food? What would you like to reach for in your back pocket if you're going out on a long ride?
DC: Obviously, I love the bars — just as a snack. But mostly, I love the little chews. As I said, when you’re riding hard, you’ve got to keep topping up every 20 minutes — just popping one chew at a time is perfect for my fuelling and they taste amazing which keeps you positive when it gets tough.
You can tell when someone's had some of those chews off because that dust gets everywhere (laughs).
GW: Yeah. That's beetroot sugar (also laughing).
DC: Oh, really? Brilliant, aren’t they. They're small, and very easy to digest.
GW: They melt in the mouth, don't they? They’re like a ‘hard gel’ — and it also feels like you're eating something, and you know what that's like — when you just need that morale lift of eating something, rather than swallowing more liquids.
CD: Yeah, there's a high carb to chomp ratio. But if I'm honest, I do like a good gel. Not the typical gels — only the Veloforte ones, because they are made from natural ingredients and digest really well.
I train on what I race as well. So that's probably another good bit of advice.
GW: That's great advice.
DC: Taking a gel while training, people are like, ‘what’s wrong with a banana? And I’m like, yeah, I'm not going to have a pack of 50 bananas in my back pocket when I'm racing.
GW: I’m a big advocate of the humble banana, but yes, I see your point. Mid race, you’re not going to be casually peeling a banana. Also, it trains your gut to accept the same foods on race day.
DC: I have a good vegan brownie recipe which I like to enjoy on relaxed days.
GW: Yes, you are plant-based. Right?
DC: Yes. That’s also why I like Veloforte, because you have loads of vegan products. Which is really good.
GW: Yes, and my favourite vegan product is the NOVA recovery shake, which has a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio — after a ride or after a workout, the carbohydrates deliver the protein to repair your muscles much faster than a standard protein-only shake.
DC: And that's something that people often neglect — is that you need the carbohydrates with your protein so that it gets into your system faster. The NOVA shake is so thick and tasty, it’s like drinking a milkshake.
Another tip, because once you get to these big events I think a lot of people get a bit nervous and start panic eating as well, which I was terrible at last year.
GW: Eating helps soothe the nerves, doesn’t it? Though it’s not going to help with your ride if you eat too much too soon.
DC: Exactly. Before, like, a big race, my nutritionist would lay it all out and be like, okay, so this is what you’re going to eat. And that helped me avoid panic eating, because I had a plan to follow.
GW: Damien, it has been great catching up. I can’t wait to share the road with you this year, and I hope you enjoy your holiday/training in Mallorca next week.
DC: Yes, I can’t wait. Thanks for having me.
GW: Everyone at team Veloforte will be cheering you on this season. Thanks, Damien.