Youth Time sits down with British cyclist, Red Walters, as he gets set for a big year on the bike. A year he is determined to not let slip away.
If you head on to Red Walters’ YouTube channel, you will find his main video dedicated to his first five years in cycling.
This may seem unremarkable, but click on it and you will see a cyclist on the rise. The first few seconds show him in his home village, barely moving forward.
Just two years later, the lycra was in full force and he was winning races in Europe on the road, and having success on the track in the UK. The secret? Determination and confidence.
“I wasn’t really a cycling fan when I was a kid,” Red tells Youth Time from his bedroom on a Zoom call, where a pristine track bike hangs behind him on a wall. “I was into F1 and computer games, but after my GCSEs [A UK qualification taken at the age of 16 at school] I wanted to take up a new hobby and my Dad bought me a road bike after we had made a deal.”
This was where the love affair started. A week after getting that bike, Red Walters joined a local club, Sotonia CC, before progressing enough to join a domestic team in the UK called Vitus Pro Cycling, alongside Olympic Champion Ed Clancy. The path to that team showed Red’s characteristics perfectly, his determination.
“2018 was a really big year, I was really progressing and I was getting more and more wins.
“That was when I decided that I really wanted to join a continental team. I emailed so many teams – there were seven in the UK – from around Europe. It’s like a job application really. I emailed my CV around and just asked anyone for a ride.
“I actually missed off Vitus in my first round of emails because I couldn’t find their email, but I found it on the UCI website and so I set it off quickly.
“Three days later, I got an email back and they said they loved all my videos and they wanted me to come up for an interview. They offered me a ride – it was such a cool experience, going from a local club to a professional team.”
Ultimately, for Red, the year at the now defunct Vitus was disappointing due to a shortage in racing at that level for him, but that hasn’t stopped him looking for the next step. It saw him take a step down, wanting to find more racing, as he teamed up with Black Cyclists Network – a team that is also pushing diversity in the sport.
This lesson can be felt in any profession, not just cycling, where you push your name out to as many people as possible and never take no for an answer.
Talking to people and making acquaintances can be the difference between success and failure – a skill instilled into him by his father.
He explains: “The biggest thing for me is networking. My dad, who works in marketing, was big on it. He was saying to me: ‘You have to network and build contacts.
“As an 18-year-old, I didn’t fully get it, but now I see that by being polite and getting to know people it opens up all the doors. Everything that has happened to me is because of this.”
Red adds: “I’ve always been really ambitious, I try and not limit my confidence – that’s what I try and do. They say: ‘Shoot for the stars and you might hit the moon’. It may be corny, but I totally agree with that. I aim for the top and I see no reason why I can’t get there.
This ethos also shows up in Red’s academic life. With offers to study Mathematics and Computer Science at Bath and Southampton University – where he once rode and had a selfie with Chris Froome – waiting for him, he chose to continue forging a career in cycling for himself. Once again showing his commitment to making a name for himself in the sport.
On The Continent
At just 22, Red Walters has his whole career in front of him, but like many of us, it has stalled somewhat due to the global pandemic. Last March, he took on his longest and toughest race to date, a UCI 1.2 race, Grand Prix de la Ville de Lillers Souvenir Bruno Comini, and was set for another year of progression.
Instead it was a year of highs and lows, without many races. But that didn’t mean the London-born sprinter was resting on his laurels.
“It was a frustrating year,” Red remarks. “I’d done ok in my big, big race but then lockdown hit.
“I did a few bits of racing in the summer, but nothing big and I decided to switch my coach to try and move forward even more.
2021 was due to be another year of building his career. Red Walters signed, after sending another 200 emails to tams across Europe, with French outfit, CC Plancoet, who are based in Brittany – a cycling heartland that is also home to five-time Tour De France winner, Bernard Hinault. In the UK, he will continue to race for Black Cyclists Network.
A New Direction
Speaking about his new team and taking the plunge across the English Channel, Red explains: “For a while it’s been a pathway for British and Irish riders and I think, now more than ever, if you look at British teams – even before coronavirus – it wasn’t doing great at all.
“I think, pre-Covid, we are down to eight races on our national series across the whole year and just two UCI races (the Tour of Britain and the Tour de Yorkshire).
“Even if you do well in these races, it doesn’t hold the same level of accomplishment as in Europe.
“In France it is their national sport so it is just bigger, more like football in the UK.”
As we speak in early February, he would have been heading across the channel is just four days to start his latest adventure, but, sadly, that has been postponed due to the ongoing pandemic.
However, he remains upbeat and is ready to test himself at a higher level.
“I want to keep road and track going as much as possible. You see Mark Cavendish and Elia Viviani and they both combine the two disciplines, so I want to keep that up.
“I’m also dual nationality through my mum so my ambition is to ride for Grenada at the Commonwealth Games next year.”
Again, his determination and ambition shine through and he is just as certain on his current, major goals as anything else we have spoken about.
“I think realistically I am not going to get a medal [in Birmingham next year]. Well, who knows? If I do an insane ride then maybe. The Individual Pursuit is something that I want to do well in. That’s proper ‘in my dreams’ sort of stuff.
“But long term I’d love to win a grand tour stage as a sprinter. I can’t win the Tour de France as a sprinter but I can win a stage and that would be the top of the list.”
He is not the only one fuelling this dream. One of his main sponsors, again sourced through his contacts, SiS, are hoping he can become the first Black British rider to take on Le Tour.
And, as fate would have it, his current team in France is just two steps from Chris Froome’s current squad of Israel Start-Up Nation.
Instead of selfies, it could be teammates for the two British riders in the not-to-distant future.
Red Walters chuckles at the suggestion, but if he continues the kind of improvement he has shown since those first pedal strokes in his village, then the sky could really be the limit.
Photos: Red Walters
Hear from another inspiring sportsman as they look to achieve their dreams in 2021:
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