Countdown to Gibraltar 2019: Long hours in saddle and nose in the books
FROM a young mountain biker mentored by team Guernsey to our top Island Games road prospect at 18.
That’s the story of Sam Culverwell, the British Olympic Academy cyclist who has already earned his pre-selection for Gibraltar 2019.
He headed a powerful mountain-biking team alongside James Roe and Mike Serafin in Gotland 2017 and next year is shaping up no differently, even with MTB giving way to a solely road-based programme.
Culverwell reflected fondly on a fruitful Games debut and feels that team results will remain a key focus on the roads of Gibraltar.
‘A bronze in the mountain bike criterium – I was over the moon with that and it helped get that team medal, which meant just as much, to be honest,’ he said.
‘We know the whole team works so hard, so that was really good.
‘It’s not an individual event, the Island Games, the team is definitely a huge part of it.’
The former MTB specialist has now shifted to road racing and his most recent season has been one of great highs and great lows.
Despite having several major races marred by mechanicals and then a season-ending crash at the Junior Tour of Wales, the highs have been spectacular.
He is quick to list his second-place finish at the international Junior Tour Assen, beating outstanding compatriot Lewis Askey, as a pinnacle.
‘It was a real highlight to get second there, it’s better than I was expecting and also, the racing felt amazing,’ he said.
‘I felt really strong – that was six days of racing, so that was great fun as well.’
Renowned for his strength, Culverwell also highlighted taking bronze in a particularly tough National Junior Road Race Series fixture in Monmouthshire.
‘That was a really brutal race in Monmouthshire, one of the longer ones at 120km and one of the hillier ones as well, so to come third in that was really cool,’ he added.
‘The guy that won [Mason Hollyman] then went on to the World Junior Champs as well.’
Culverwell remains sanguine despite the World Juniors escaping his own grasp, instead eyeing a big dive into the under-23 road cycling ranks.
The newly-fledged espoir recently adopted the coaching of GB’s world masters track champion Adey Dent.
He has recovered remarkably well from his crash in Wales and the results have been promising so far.
‘It’s working out really well at the moment, I’m responding really well to the training,’ said Culverwell.
‘After losing quite a bit of fitness after my crash, I’m already almost back to where I should be – I’m probably ahead of where I should be at this point in winter.’
This training block, base phase, is aimed at gradually preparing him for the season ahead and features some pretty hefty numbers.
‘The last four or five weeks I have averaged 14 hours of training a week, which is quite a lot of volume, although not much intensity,’ he said.
‘You’ve got threshold, which is basically sustainable power ... I’ve got two sessions during the week indoors where I’m trying to up that threshold.
‘On the Sunday, I do a three or four-our ride, which is a really good endurance block.
‘And I also go to the gym once a week for an hour to build up a bit of strength.’
An academic high-achiever with 13 A*s at GCSE level, the Elizabeth College student balances all this with his sixth-form studies – and pulls it off pretty well.
‘I’m fortunate enough that my study periods are mostly in the afternoons and I’m allowed home study,’ he said.
‘I can go home, train and then spend the rest of the evening doing work, so it does mean I can get out and do some good training hours – I even do a two- or three-hour ride after school on a Wednesday before it gets dark.
‘You just need to be really organised with balancing your study and your training.’
Culverwell hasn’t ruled out an odd return to the mountain bike saddle this winter, but it won’t be a mainstay either.
The youngster struggles to see beyond an individual top-five spot in a field awash with depth and unpredictability in Gibraltar, but tips Guernsey’s hopes in the team game.
‘We will go to Gibraltar next year with one of the strongest teams out there, if not the strongest,’ he said confidently.
‘I think we can really take it to the other competitors and get some good results out there as a team.’