Things are moving quickly for Alice Towers. I’m speaking to her via FaceTime a few days before she will get on a plane to fly to Australia and compete in her first World Championships. She’ll do so as the British elite women’s national road race champion, a title she secured with a mammoth solo breakaway around the roads of Scotland a few months ago. It was a race which Towers wasn’t really expected to win, but the longer I speak to her, the longer I understand that the 19-year-old isn’t an athlete who will be held back by the expectations of others.
“I was quietly confident, I knew I was in really good shape,” Towers says of the days leading up to the National Championships. “I had done a really good block of training and I was feeling good. I wasn't a main favourite so there wasn't any pressure or expectation. I just went into it thinking anything can happen with an open mind. I had secret ambitions. I never like to admit it but I was hoping for something.”
Towers is modest in her answers, but when a rider attacks solo – and fully commits to the move still with over 30 kilometres of a race remaining – they need tenacity and confidence. It’s this plucky attitude that caught the attention of British rider's current team, Le Col-Wahoo, at the end of 2020 when she was set to move up to the elite category.
Earlier that year, at only 17-years-old, Towers was riding as a stagiaire with a Spanish team and was finishing UCI races alongside some seasoned professionals, despite still being a junior herself. “Tom Varney [Le Col-Wahoo general manager] contacted me saying after those results he would be interested. I met him in a cafe and it was really nice and casual the way I started talking to the team.”
The reasons why Towers – an exciting up and coming talent with a promising future ahead of her – was a strong signing for Le Col-Wahoo (then called Drops-Le Col s/b Tempur) are clear, but Towers joining the team worked for both parties.
“When I was 15 and 16 I had looked at the girls on that team, I was inspired by them. Their race program at the time sounded really good,” explains Towers. “It was a nice step because it was a British team. The stuff I did in Spain was amazing, a really good opportunity, but I think it would have been quite a challenging place to go as a first year because everyone was Spanish. Le Col-Wahoo was a good stepping stone for me to the pro peloton, and I think as a young British rider, there's no better place to be than on that team.”
It’s true that Towers has thrived in the environment that Le Col-Wahoo has provided her with in the first two years of her career – her win in the British Nationals was one thing, but it’s not the only impressive performance that the 19-year-old has had this year. She finished some of the toughest Classics, like Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the Tour of Flanders, and secured her best result at UCI level with a top-10 finish in the 2.1 registered Lotto Belgium Tour just a few days after winning her national title.
“That was really cool actually, especially being so soon after Nationals. It didn't quite feel real yet. To be able to race in the jersey, which was still my podium jersey but the soigneurs sewed up the sides so it was less baggy, it gives you that extra few watts,” she says.
As is the case with most sporting success stories, Towers didn’t get to this point in her young career alone. Scenes of her embracing her parents at the end of the National Championships were a sign of the journey that her whole family has been on to support her – and her brother who races full-time in Spain – to achieve their cycling dreams.
“My dad is like my number one fan,” she says. “He helps me out so much. He is my mechanic and he does a lot for me and I do appreciate it. He understands because he used to also race bicycles, and he also used to race motorbikes. So he sort of knows what it's like to be in the sporting world. He's quite helpful with that and he's taught me how to go fast downhill.”
Seeing Towers pull on the Great Britain jersey at the World Championships in a few weeks time will be a proud moment for her parents and Alice herself. It will be the first time she’s raced in the GB colours, since the 19-year-old wasn’t part of the national team as a youth or junior rider. “I think we will get the kit at the airport on Thursday. I'm looking forward to that,” she says.
Opting not to be a part of the national team as a young rider means that Towers’ pathway to the top has been a different one to some of her competitors. The British rider only began securing notable results when she joined the junior ranks, and it was from then that her whirlwind few years as a professional bike rider began to spiral.
“I know some people when they were little they dream of wanting to be a professional cyclist. I've never really had that end goal in mind,” explains Towers. “Every time I take a step up I start to realise, I'm here, I can make the next step now.”
“When I was a junior, I realised this is something that I would want to do full-time. The progression I've made, it's been quite quick, but also it's been manageable. It's been nice to do it on my own pathway, instead of going the Academy route, because I think a lot of people think that's like the only option, but it's definitely not. There's definitely other ways to do it.”
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Towers is the future she has ahead of her and the potential she has as a rider. The World Championships are next on the horizon, and with a rainbow jersey being awarded for the first time to the best placed U23 rider in the women’s race, there’s a serious chance that Towers, or one of her teammates, could find themselves on the podium in Wollongong. The young Brit remains tight-lipped about GB’s plans for the race, but she hints that the U23 competition will be a target for the British team.
"I feel like I've just got back into fitness just at the right time," she says. "My personal ambition for Worlds is just to have a solid race. I don't like saying it, but I do have a bit of quiet confidence.”
The 2022 season may have been a dream come true for Towers in many ways, but, as is to be expected in the unpredictable sport of cycling, there have been some setbacks too. One of the biggest was missing selection for Le Col-Wahoo’s Tour de France team.
“I would have liked to do the Tour but it wasn't on my program, unfortunately, which was a shame, especially to wear the British champions jersey at the Tour for a British team would have been nice,” she says. “There's always another time and I think the girls on the team did a great job. It was really good to watch that. I was a little bit jealous but I'm sure there'll be more opportunities for me.”
Aside from her personal ambitions, be that in the World Championships in a couple of weeks' time or her bigger goals for the rest of her career (“the dream would be to win yellow at the Tour de France one day”), Towers also notes how privileged she feels to be coming into women’s cycling at a time when the sport is gaining so much momentum.
“I think the way things are changing and the amount of things that are happening at once, it's crazy,” she says. “I've only been in the sport for not even two seasons yet and I've noticed the difference. The girls that have been racing in the team for a while, they say it's incomparable how much it's changed.
“If it keeps going like this, who knows what's going to happen in the next five years but it's definitely inspiring to be a part of cycling at this time.”
Alice Towers will be at Rouleur Live this year, buy tickets here