Chris Snook of new UK outfit Madison Genesis has just been racing the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Tyler Farrar, Alejandro Valverde and Tony Martin in Challenge Mallorca, but he’ll be back in the office catching up with emails on Monday morning. How does he manage to combine racing at a high level with holding down a fulltime job? We caught up with him at his team training camp on Mallorca after the race to find out.
Madison Genesis have gained a lot of publicity recently, largely for their decision to ride a steel bike. Team member Ian Bibby won first time out at the IG London Nocturne at the London Bike Show last month, and now they’ve been duking it out with some of the big boys in one of the big early season races. Sky, Garmin Sharp, Movistar, Lampre Merida, Euskaltel Euskadi, Orica GreenEdge, Omega Pharma Quick Step… they were all there. It has been a big step up for many of the Madison Genesis team, not least for Chris.
Chris’s day job is as Press Officer for Madison, the company behind Genesis and the UK distributor of brands like Shimano, Cervélo and GoPro. He’s been with Madison for the past two and a half years, so he joined long before the team was established. He’s the guy that we ring up when we want to get Madison kit in for review on road.cc, and he organises getting us to Shimano new product launches, for example, so we know him pretty well.
Like the vast majority of people who race bikes, Chris has to manage his training and competition around a fulltime job. The difference from most is that he’s racing at a very high level. He’s the only member of Madison Genesis who is trying to combine a race career alongside another occupation, albeit one in the bike trade.
We grabbed him during the Madison Genesis camp to find out how it’s going…
road.cc: So, what was it like racing some of the biggest names in cycling last week?
Chris Snook: For a long time in the lead up to the race it was exciting but also I was thinking I was going to get my head kicked in! I work fulltime and these guys get paid hundreds of thousands to ride their bikes, some of them millions, and there’s me rocking up on the start line. But that changed to nerves at the start of stage one and as the race got going I realised I was alright with it.
At what stage did you begin to relax a bit and start to think you’d be okay?
After a few laps I realised that I could navigate my way up the bunch. Alex Dowsett [GB rider on Team Movistar] came up to me and had a chat. He recognized me from the nationals and last year’s Shimano Dura-Ace launch, and when you get people like that talking to you in the bunch it’s quite nice.
The following day I felt a lot more confident, like I was a part of it. But that stage was quite hard.
Where were you in your racing before joining the Madison Genesis team?
I’m 26 and haven’t been racing that long – for four seasons. I started racing after uni and then two years ago I raced my first Premier race.
I rode a few more Premiers last year and rode the nationals as well – which I found tough because I was just back from a Shimano product launch, jet lagged, and I hadn’t ridden my bike for a week.
How did you come to join the Madison Genesis team?
Madison approached me, knowing the results I had been getting. They spoke to Roger [Hammond, Team Manager, Madison Genesis] and he was keen to have me on board. It works out well for Madison to have an employee on the team.
Is it ever awkward to be both a Madison employee and on the team?
The way Roger and Madison see it is that when I’m with the team I’m not anything to do with Madison, I’m a team rider, and vice versa. It was a bit odd at team meetings to begin with but now it’s quite easy to switch between them. The riders see me as a rider.
How is it to be riding at a high level while working fulltime?
It means that I have to be more disciplined with time and make more sacrifices. I might have to get up early and do a session before work, then go and do my job. Then, when I knock off work I go and do the training, get back, have dinner and go to bed – and that’s it.
Then weekends it’s the same sort of thing: get up early, do your training in the morning, then you have the afternoon to catch up on real life.
How much training do you manage to fit in?
It varies. If I have meetings or have to travel, I can’t always do what I want to do. To an extent I just have to accept it.
We have a form coach, Stephen Gallagher, who is helping me fit my training around work. I get my training through every day on my phone – we do it through Training Peaks. If I’m caught out of the office or something changes, I phone Steve and say, “Look, I’m stuck,” and he might say to get on the rollers if possible, and then he’ll juggle the rest of the week around. He’s being quite flexible because I have to be.
Training seems to work out at around 15 hours a week. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a bit more when we get longer evenings. I’ve been able to get a few longer 17.5 hour weeks, juggling time around. Over Christmas I was able to get a bit more in when I wasn’t working.
How do you think all of the training and racing will impact on your work?
So far Madison have been really flexible. If I need to split my time between training and working then they have given me the flexibility so I can start the day earlier and finish an hour earlier and get a longer ride in the evening.
With racing they are going to give me the time off and put structures in place so that when I am out of the office there are people who can cover what I would be doing. I have to reply to emails in the evenings and kind of delegate from out here.
It sounds pretty full on…
It is. Last week I had to finish racing Challenge Mallorca, fly home that evening for the Shimano new product presentation [to UK dealers and the media], then come straight back here for the training camp.
But I’m motivated and it’s paying off. I’m seeing improvement quite rapidly. This Challenge Mallorca race was evidence of that, being able to keep up with those guys and on stage one feel like I wanted to challenge for the sprint on the line, but I got caught behind the wrong crash.
Was there anything that surprised you when you raced last week?
I noticed the difference in the style of racing. In the UK it goes hard from the start and then slows and there’s a bit of attrition.
Here it might go from the gun and then it’ll back off again because you have these strong teams who can control it. People will be looking for an early break so it’ll be quick, and then a big team might be satisfied with a break that’s gone up the road so they’ll want to shut it down. They’ll move to the front, unclip the pedals and call a pee stop, so the bunch slows and the break has gone then.
Then you spend a lot of the ride at tempo until it’s time to chase and it gets more strung out. You’re chasing and you get teams moving to the front trying to split it in crosswinds…
When you’re a part of the peloton, is what’s going on as clear as when you’re sat at home watching events on television?
Yeah, it is. You’ll be looking to your left and you’ll see a couple of Garmin riders move up and then another five come past so you think that something is about to go down. You think you’d better get on them and follow them to the front.
How would you say the race went overall for you?
It went well. I did as well as I expected – better, even. I was never going to be up there on the mountain stages, especially not having ridden the mountains in a training camp beforehand, so those two stages were hard for me. But for the team it was brilliant. Stage three was a highlight with Brennan Townshend in the break for 105km from 8km out, and then Ian Bibby getting 10th overall on the stage.
What’s it like having very experienced people like Roger Hammond around?
Roger has been really good. His experience comes across every time you speak to him. His Classics experience was obvious in the race, talking about the wind direction and what teams would be doing on certain sections of the course, what to watch out for in terms of their formation and what they do. He was able to tell us where we needed to be in certain situations so as not to be out the back.
Everything that he said seemed to happen and he’s really supportive having been through the lows and the highs.
What are you hoping to achieve this year?
As a team, we want to establish ourselves as top team, really. Whether we’ll do that in year one, I don’t know.
We want to get a ride in the Tour of Britain. Our performance here has helped us stake a claim to that. And then the team’s ethos is to develop riders – to get riders onto Pro Continental contracts or, with Ian Bibby, on to Pro Tour teams. It would be a shame to lose him but that would be job done.
How is the season mapped out for you?
We’re still working on that. The next big race for the team is the Tour of Taiwan in March, and we’re looking towards the Premier Calendar domestically, and the Tour Series, National Champs, and hopefully the Tour of Britain.
Roger has plans for foreign races as well. Some of the invites and acceptances have depended on how we performed out here and how we perform out in Taiwan as well.
How would you like to see your racing career develop?
It’s hard to say. We’ll have to see how it goes. There are two things with me: my job and my riding. So, I’ll see how the riding goes and then see what happens from there with the balance.
How has the training camp been and how has it differed from what you could do at home, fitting in your training around work?
For the most part, when you’re at home you can do very specific sessions in your zones. It’s not so easy to do that on a camp with other riders, but what you can do is get five hours of riding in, and it’s a welcome change of scene, especially when you know it’s snowing at home.
It’s like a mental reset to keep you motivated, and you get that horrible block of February out of the way. Plus, you’re able to get your efforts and intervals in on the mountains here.
Is the training very different from what you’ve done before?
Yeah. Previously where I’ve been doing long base, zone two miles, and doing some hard reps on climbs, this is more like an hour’s warm up, 20 minutes in sweet spot, 10 minutes off, then into another interval… so it’s very structured.
You get a bit of high-end in there but overall it averages out at about a zone 2 ride.
Is the Genesis Volare bike still undergoing development?
We have a second generation coming soon. The bike we are on is fairly close to what will be the final version, but there will be a few tweaks.
We’re going to bring the top tube down so it’ll be a compact frame as opposed to traditional and that should lop a bit of weight off – we’re thinking about 200g. That’s partly down to rider feedback. Compact is what a lot of people are used to now. A few riders have said that it rides a bit harsh at the minute, so we’re looking to build a bit more compliance in.
When do you think the bike will be completely finished?
From speaking to Dom Thomas [Genesis designer], we want the bike to be in the 2014 Genesis range. As far as I understand, there will be a 953 version, the same as the team rides, available as a frame and fork or as an exact team replica with Dura-Ace. There will also be a 931 version and an 853 cheaper one in replica colours.
How have the other racers reacted to having steel bikes in the peloton?
At the start of the race it got a lot of interest. Lined up at the start of the first stage, Orica GreenEdge were asking what the bikes were made of and saying that they look good. That was the feedback. And Tyler Farrar (Team Garmin Sharp) said they looked good too. They got a bit of interest.
Everyone is talking on about the kit too. It’s Madison clothing so that’s another development. We’re going to do a whole new range of jerseys, capes and shorts. We’re going to get first prototypes of aero jerseys and things through in the next month or two, so I guess it’ll be a spring 2014 range, although jerseys will probably be sooner.
What’s next for you?
We’re going back home at the end of the week. I’ll take it easy for a few days and catch up with work again before getting back into training.
From what Roger and everyone else is saying, we’ll see the form coming as a result of this training camp in about two weeks. A few of us will be doing the Severn Bridge Road Race at the beginning of March which is pretty much bang on two weeks after this training camp, so hopefully we should be going well.
Are you enjoying it?
Yes. There’s no point doing it otherwise. It’s not easy, but you can’t expect it to be. If you want it, you’ll make allowances.
For more info on Madison Genesis visit their website.
Race photography Richard Bennett.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a youthful 45-year-old Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.