“With the Primož [Roglič] stuff, I've now got to the point where I just stop looking because it got too much. Regardless if it’s positive or negative it's just a lot of people talking like they are experts of cycling. It’s almost like when I listen to my mates talk about what football players should have done, they don’t really know. That whole thing was big news, that was mad.”
Without me even having to mention it, my conversation with Fred Wright moves quickly on to the topic of that Primož Roglič incident. If you don’t know what I’m referencing, then, really, where have you been?
For those who may make the – arguably – wise decision of staying away from social media, this is the situation in summary: on stage 16 of the 2022 Vuelta a España, a group of five riders broke away from the peloton on a small rise on the final run-in to the finish line. It was Roglič, who then lay second overall on the general classification, who ignited the move, aiming to put time into red jersey wearer Remco Evenepoel.
As Roglič attacked, Evenepoel punctured and had to wait for his team car to get a wheel change (that’s a whole other controversy in itself), but since the mishap happened inside three kilometres to go, Evenepoel would be given the same time as the main peloton.
Still Roglič, and the four riders who could follow him when he launched his attack (Mads Pedersen, Fred Wright, Danny van Poppel and Pascal Ackermann), pushed on towards the line, fighting for a stage win, and, in Roglič’s case, a time advantage on the main bunch that chased behind.
As our leading five approached the few hundred metres of the stage, the Slovenian rider riding hard was on the front, doing what many thought was sacrificing the stage win to gain as much time on general classification. As the line got closer, though, Roglič appeared to change his mind about not going for stage victory and drifted across to the other side of the road towards the other four sprinting riders. As he did so, he collided with Wright, and hit the tarmac in what was a dramatic and high-speed crash. Wright stayed up and finished the stage in fourth place, but Roglič was too injured to continue and left the race that day.
Primož Roglič crosses the line after the crash on stage 16 (Image: Charly Lopez/ASO)
“Initially when it all happened, there was nothing from it,” Wright tells me a few days after the Vuelta has finished in Madrid. He’s now at home in the UK and has had some time to reflect on a whirlwind three weeks. “But the day Jumbo-Visma put their article out [two days after the crash happened] I didn’t sleep that well, and like that was like a big up and down day of stuff going on.”
In the article Wright references, Roglič’s team, Jumbo-Visma, publicly blame the 22-year-old for causing his competitor to crash. “Wright came from behind and rode the handlebars out of my hands before I knew it,” Roglič said in the statement from the Dutch team.
On the same day that the statement was released, Wright had come second on stage 19 of the race, one of his best results in a Grand Tour. “When the stage finished, because I’d got a good result, normally I’d be asked to do interviews and stuff but our social media guys made sure I didn't speak to anyone off the stage because I had no idea what had happened. They took me on to the bus and showed me what Jumbo had written” Wright explains.
“After that, cycling Twitter got really intense. But I sat down with our social media guy and we wrote my Tweet together in response. I knew what I wanted to say and just wanted to leave it at that.”
While Wright himself may have been keen to put the situation to bed, he was bombarded with messages regarding the altercation. “It was a weird situation,” he says. “Whether the messages were positive or negative, my head was spinning, like scrambled.
“There’s been no contact between the two of us [Wright and Roglič] since they released that statement,” Wright explains. “I think really they should have gone to the commissaires immediately after the stage but they did that instead. It’s funny, I was getting sent memes from people but then I got sent the same meme about 15 times, at what point does it get like: okay, I’ve seen this before!”
The young Brit tells me that the opinions of his colleagues in the peloton are what he holds in the highest regard when it comes to racing altercations. “People were coming up to me in the bunch and being positive about it, so that was really nice,” he says. “The thing is, all the people who speculate on social media are the ones that get heard, but if you speak to any guys in the bunch there was no question, the message from the guys in the bunch was just I hope you’re ok, it’s a load of rubbish. All the Twitter warriors were just trying to find something to say.”
Wright is narrowly beaten by Mads Pedersen on stage 16 (Image: ASO/Charly Lopez)
While Wright’s social media presence might have been significantly bolstered by the controversy that surrounded him for those few days, it wasn’t the only thing that defined his Vuelta. The Bahrain-Victorious rider has become well-known for his positive attitude in racing, and his ability to overcome setbacks and keep attacking, despite coming heartbreakingly close to victory on multiple occasions.
“I'm definitely getting a lot better at the finishes,” Wright explains, “I’m getting more patient and I can trust in what I can do at that moment. Although I'm not a bunch of sprinter, I think I know how to be in the right place.”
Wright’s consistently good results – he finished inside the top-10 seven times at the Vuelta – have earned him trust amongst his teammates too. “Our GC ambitions in the Tour and the Vuelta have sort of diminished a bit as the race has gone on so it's given me, in both races, a lot of freedom to be like, okay, let's try this. Let's do this bunch sprint.”
“On stage 19, it was the first time I've had people actually like riding on the front for me,” he says. “I've never had that before. I've been aiming to do well at a race but I've never had the full support of the team in terms of actually riding on the front.”
Performances at the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España have given Wright extra confidence heading into the World Championships in a few weeks time. With Great Britain's Tom Pidcock opting not to race due to fatigue, Wright now explains that he might have more of an opportunity in Wollongong. “The leader will be Ethan [Hayter], but I’m a card we can play,” he says.
“The stage where Roglič crashed [at the Vuelta], when he attacked on the climb I was able to be part of a small group of guys that could follow it,” Wright explains. “That's the sort of effort that you're going to need at Worlds. I know it's not just one time we go up the climb it's 12 times but I still think, fitness wise, there's no question I'm fit for it, it's just whether I've still got that punch.”
For a rider who has come close to his first professional win on so many occasions, there’s been a mounting pressure on social media for Wright to finally get himself to the top step of the podium. It’s something that the British rider himself finds hard to comprehend: “That’s the problem with the social media side of things,” he says. “They’re saying all of this, but I wasn't really near winning a stage of a Grand Tour last year, these results are all part of the process, I’m sure.”
As for the future, Wright is determined not to let the rhetoric surrounding his ability to win get to him. He speaks with a laid back and relaxed demeanour, able to keep things maturely in perspective: “The whole winning thing, the more I fixate on it, the less chance it’s going to happen. I’ve extended with the team, they’re really happy with me and they want to give me more opportunities going forward, so it’s no stress.”
Fred Wright will be at Rouleur Live 2022. Buy tickets here.
Cover image: ASO/Pauline Ballet