When we speak to Adam de Vos, Canadian national road champion and pro racer plying his trade for Rally Cycling, he is on the verge of embarking on a long block of racing – after which he’ll come home to Victoria, British Columbia for some training and family time.
De Vos describes himself as “kind of a wine guy”, and as a result of his interest in fine vintages will be carrying a little bit of extra weight in his suitcases when he heads off around Europe for this latest block of competition.
“I stupidly decided that I was going to bring six bottles home, so those will be in my bags along with all the race stuff. It always ends up that as soon as you get [to a race] the soigneur hands you five million things that you didn’t really account for, so you end up with a lot more stuff than you brought over in the first place.”
The wine thing is, in part, a result of the pandemic. Prior to everything shutting down, de Vos was more of a bar-goer with an interest in cocktails. Reading about and trying out new wines was a way to replicate some of that feeling but at home.
“It just kind of snowballed from there, learning about it. Two of my best friends manage a liquor store and they're quite knowledgeable about wine. I guess I got into it pretty quickly and decided that I was going to actually learn about it and read books about it and stuff like that rather than just drink it.”
And what exactly will he be bringing back to Canada with him?
“There's some Austrian stuff and an Italian one, a couple of Spanish ones and one from this island, it's, I think 200km off the coast of Sicily, called Pantelleria. It's a volcanic island so it's kind of cool just how remote that is to be making wine on that island."
When he’s not tracking down volcanic reds and Austrian whites, de Vos is flying the red and white of Canada as the current national road champion – and he is in the unusual position of having worn the jersey for two years, thanks again to COVID-19. By the time nationals happen in 2021, it will have been two-and-a-half years since he won in 2019.
“As soon as I started racing I always wanted to win nationals and when I was under 23 I was second in the TT and the road race, and it was quite a bummer. Actually, when I first started cycling I never thought I was going to be any good, so I was like ‘maybe I'll just focus on cyclocross because I have a better chance at winning nationals in that’. In reality, I was even worse in cyclocross – so that was kind of a non-starter!
“But I always wanted to win nationals and not achieving it in under 23 kind of ensured that I still had that desire as an elite – so perhaps it’s a good thing that I didn’t. I don’t think anyone really remembers who wins U23 nationals."
“Winning elite nationals was huge for me and my parents were there to see it. I was really proud of it.”
Having the maple leaf on his back means people know where de Vos is from right away, he says.
“You always feel like you stand out a bit, or even when you're just here abroad. If you're wearing Rally Cycling kit someone might not know where the team is from or whatever but if I'm in the national jersey they're immediately going to know I'm Canadian which is, I mean, Canadians have a pretty decent reputation so I guess that's kind of nice.
“It definitely does feel a little special and you do feel like you stand out a bit. Which can be a little more pressure, and if you're riding like shit it kind of feels bad that you're representing Canada and not riding well, but everyone has those times when they're not riding well so I don't tend to think about that.”
And of course, when you are the only rider on the squad wearing a specific kit, you have a whole bunch of extra responsibility.
“I'm honestly pretty nervous that I'm going to forget to bring a jersey one day to a race. It’s fine if you're just in the regular Rally jersey, the soigneur probably has an extra one, or your teammates will have extras, but there's no backup for me!”
“There’s probably a 200CHF fine too if you don’t wear it, I’m sure, or more actually, who knows.”
Adam de Vos converted to cycling as a junior after doing competitive swimming for most of his school years. He instantly loved racing his bike, finding the huge number of ‘moving parts’ to a bike race much more interesting than a sport he felt had become “predictable”. Now he enjoys the life of a pro cyclist, which entails a whole bunch of travel – something de Vos says he relishes rather than resents.
“I really enjoy it actually. I would say I enjoy going to far-flung places or places that I haven't been before, more than I enjoy being away for months at a time. I guess that's kind of obvious. I would always be the one to put my hand up for Tour of Oman or Saudi Tour or whatever, Langkawi, all those kind of ‘out there’ races that are off the beaten track a bit.”
De Vos also observes that sometimes the connections we make through the bicycle are what really bring a place to life when we visit. Austria proved to be one of his favourite places he has visited for just this reason.
“We did a one day race in Austria and it was the only time I'd been there – and I actually won the race too, which is probably helping my memory make this better. But I just remember that we were in this tiny town in Austria and didn't know any of the routes, and the race organizer was like 'Oh, we'll get these two guys from the teams from around here that are in the race to ride with you'. And we just did some super amazing ride with these two super friendly Austrian guys. We went into town and had dinner with them and everything so it was just a good experience of actually interacting with local people which – oftentimes in cycling, you just see the inside of a hotel room and the inside of the race bubble and you're not really experiencing it as much as you could or should."
Another race de Vos is happy to revisit is the Tour de Langkawi in 2018, which he came away from with a stage win. [perfectpullquote align="right" bordertop="false" cite="“It was one of those things where I might not have gone in the breakaway if I still felt good”" link="" color="#1f6d79" class="" size=""][/perfectpullquote]
“The group of guys we had at that race was just perfect to make the most of enjoying being there and having a fun time, everyone cracking jokes but I really enjoyed that race. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever been that tired in an airport and having one more flight to go to even be there. I was already just conked out. I crashed the first stage super hard doing a leadout. I crashed probably at like 60kph an hour and I had road rash all up and down. It’s so hot there so it’s extra uncomfortable, you can feel your road rash burning, it’s impossible to sleep. And then the next stage I went in the breakaway and won the stage.”
For de Vos, going in the breakaway was like admitting he no longer had a shot of getting a result at the race.
“It was one of those things where I might not have gone in the breakaway if I still felt good, and would have been like ‘I’m going to wait for another opportunity’, but I just knew I hadn’t slept and yada so I was like ok, I’ll go in the breakaway. We had a guy on the team, Will Routley that was always a really good breakaway rider. He actually won a stage of Tour of California from the breakaway, and he had passed on some of his knowledge. I feel like I led the finessing of that breakaway into winning just by coaching the people in the breakaway about how I thought we should ride it, and it worked.”
If you've ever won a bike race at any level, you can probably recount most of how the race went down. There's something about success that sears itself into our brains, and for a national champion regularly racing against WorldTour riders, that's no different.
“It was a really flat stage. Obviously, the thing about the breakaway is there's enough people in the peloton – especially on a flat stage – that if they really wanted to ride hard, they can catch you. There's nothing you can really do about it. But the thing is, everyone in the peloton is trying to do it with as little energy as possible and what you're trying to take advantage of in the breakaway is that, coupled with the lag of the commissaires reporting the gap. And the fact they don't want to catch you too early, they want to catch you within the last 10km.
“It’s kind of like a balancing act for the people chasing on the front, and then you're trying to counterbalance that in the breakaway of when you're going to really ratchet it up and try and out ride them when they don’t think you’re going to have the energy. So in that situation, the gap was pretty steady and I wanted us to ride slower so that we weren't using energy, and I knew they would ride slower to keep the gap where it was.”
The small group was able to stay away, and the fast-finishing Adam de Vos was able to outgun the other riders left from the breakaway to take a big win.
“After the final intermediate sprint, it turned into a tailwind so I said okay, after the last sprint, the strong guys that are not going for the sprints because it didn't really matter for us, we ride as hard as we can. We're going to drop all the puncheurs that went for the sprint, they're not going to be able to get back on. So there were just four or five of us down from like eight, and then we could just rotate super hard in a tailwind. It was only something like 30km after that, and with the tailwind, the difference in speed in the peloton versus the breakaway is a lot lower so you can hold your time a lot better.”
When it comes to places he hasn’t yet raced but would like to visit, de Vos mentions Japan.
“I’ve heard the riding there is amazing. And to just go somewhere new, I mean Malaysia was definitely a fun experience but I think a more, like, I mean Kuala Lumpur is a huge metropolis but some of those Japanese cities that have a lot of new and old culture there mixed in would be kind of neat to experience. And then if you can ride in that situation and do touristy stuff as well that’s kind of the ideal.”
De Vos has seen a lot of the world on his bike, but his home roads and trails still clearly hold a special place in his heart.
“The North Shore of Vancouver is completely famous for their super technical, amazing mountain biking, and then there's Whistler. Victoria also has amazing trails and actually, within the last couple of years it’s been the new training centre what-have-you of the Canadian national team for mountain biking. There's actually a lot of mountain bikers moving, and even permanently moving to Victoria from Ontario and the east coast and that kind of stuff.
“Victoria road riding is really great too. I think Vancouver is probably better suited to mountain biking just because there’s a lot more traffic and the roads aren’t as well suited to riding as they are to cars. Which is I’m sure, similar to a lot of places. But Victoria is a pretty small city while still having everything you want – and it’s really easy to get out of the city immediately and into quieter roads. It’s also pretty moderate as far as Canada goes, climate wise.”
You can follow Adam de Vos on Instagram at @adamdev
All images courtesy of Ethan Glading