From Bolton to Bordeaux: Benjamin Peatfield's Untrodden Path
At the start of 2021, Benjamin Peatfield- known as Benj- started a new journey that was unlike any other junior from previous generations of racers. At just 16 in his first year of juniors, Benj signed for AG2R Citroën Under-19s, a team well renowned for dominating the European junior scene and producing some of the best French WorldTour riders for over 10 years. However, this was the first year that the team opened their doors to a foreign rider, making Benjamin’s path unlike any other.
For his first year as a junior back in 2020, Benj was based in the UK finishing his GCSEs and was supposed to travel to Europe for UCIs and team training camps. However, as we know all too well, Covid-19 disrupted the 2020 season and wiped out any opportunities for Benj. Although last year was a frustrating one for us all, it was not all bad for Benj; once he had finished his full time education and Covid restrictions eased, he spent time in France over the summer, before moving there for his second year as a junior to live with a French family-whose son raced for the team- and to go to college in France.
In September 2020, Benj moved to the Charente-Maritime, just Northwest of Bordeaux and only 20km from myself in the next town on. I spoke to Benj about his new life in France and how the past 8 months have gone with enrolling into a new college, learning a new language and living with a new family. We naturally discussed bike racing and his big plans for the upcoming season, which he hopes will prove to be a breakthrough year, in order to gain him a place on a top under-23 team.
Deep in the pain cave during tests at training camp. © Gussev Photos
First off, for those who don’t know you- what type of rider are you and which professional riders would you relate to most?
Personally, I like to class myself as a bit of a Classics rider. However, I am also very capable in a sprint. When I was younger I liked to compare myself to Mark Cavendish, but as I am growing older I see more and more of a resemblance with a rider like Mads Pedersen- someone who is both a sprinter and a Classics rider.
Those from the Northwest will be familiar with the name Peatfield, but what brought you into cycling and bike racing?
So, I started racing when I was around 6 years old. I had a Raleigh MTB that I would turn up to the local crits on. I got into it through my two older brothers, each weekend they would go racing and I always looked up to them and thought it was so cool and wanted to get in on the action. Before this point I played for my local football team, but it didn't take long for me to catch the cycling bug and not so long after, I left the football club and joined my local cycling club- Bolton Hot Wheels CC- instead. This club provided me with the foundations for racing and was what turned me into the racer I am today.
Not long after, I was picking up wins each weekend and in my second year as an under-14, I joined my first proper team, Green Jersey RT, where you and I became teammates. This team was fundamental in my progression. The team helped out with kit and bikes and put me in a really fun and stress-free environment to race my bike. I stayed with the team until I turned Junior. In my final year with Green Jersey, I was also part of the Great Britain Development Apprenticeship Programme and began my first ever season with a coach and any kind of structured program. From here, I just continued to progress and that led me to where I am now- living in France and riding for AG2R Citroen U19 team at the age of 17.
Riding for AG2R Citroën U19 team and living in France at just 17 is an original path, when and how did the move come about?
Yeah, it’s pretty unheard of for a Junior to move country for racing, so it was an opportunity I couldn't miss out on!
It started early days in my time on the British Cycling Apprentice Programme. If I’m honest, it just wasn't my style and I quickly learnt that it wasn't the path I wanted to take, so began to look for alternatives. I came across their application form on Facebook, which I filled out and sent over to them. At the time I had just come back from a trip to Belgium, where I picked up an impressive win where I went solo with roughly 30km to go and held off the peloton. This caught the attention of the team and after some back and forth interviews, I was offered a place on what was at the time called Van Rysel-AG2R La Mondiale U19s. Alongside fellow Brit Oscar Onley (now riding for Development Team DSM), we were the first British riders on the team, which was a prestigious feeling.
For my first season with the team, I never actually got to race with them, due to injury and the Covid-19 situation. But after numerous training camps all over Europe that year, I felt at home in the team. So, when I was offered the opportunity to live in France full-time it was an opportunity I couldn't say no to. I am living just north of Bordeaux, on the west coast of France, with my teammate Yanis Seguin.
Benj taking his first win on the continent at GP Zandvoorde. © PeRemPics
As we all know, moving to France is a leap of faith and a tough challenge for young adults- never mind a teenager! How have you found adapting to French culture and life? Both on and off the bike.
I would be lying if I said it wasn't a struggle at the start. It was a huge lifestyle change and starting a new school where everyone speaks a different language to you was possibly the toughest part of the situation. If I could go back, I wish I had learned a bit more French, but if I’m honest there's not much that can prepare you for that change. Despite this I would 100% say that the decision to make the move was the best decision I've made in my life so far and I would urge anybody, given a similar opportunity, to grab it with both hands. On the bike since arriving I have struggled with a lot of injuries, the most recent being a broken collarbone whilst on training camp with the team, but other than a couple of setbacks the training conditions are perfect, despite the lack of hills in the area.
Do you ever look back and wish that you hadn’t joined AG2R Citroën and stayed in the UK?
NO! Not at all! For my development as a bike racer, I feel as though I am in the best position I could be at this moment in time.
Benj on one of his first training camps with the team back in 2020, with his housemate Yanis Seguin. © Gussev Photos
As a former team mate at Green Jersey Race Team and a GB Apprentice, what is the most valuable thing that you learned in the UK that has helped you transition onto the continent?
Numbers aren't everything! I have never been the person with the best numbers, but what I do have is tactical awareness, bunch skills and technical ability. All of which are just as important, if not more important, to develop before your power numbers. Hence why throughout the winter, MTB and Track are a huge part of my training, as they bring these abilities on in leaps and bounds.
Whilst racing in the UK throughout your youth, you picked up some top results. What were the highlights and was there a particular milestone result?
Coming out of the Youth category I was left a bit disappointed. I struggled to finish off the race, I was always there but rarely able to take the win. There was only one occasion I placed outside of the top 10 in a National race, but I was never able to pull off the win. My win in GP Zandvoorde, Belgium, was definitely an eye opener for me that proved I wasn't just a sprinter and then later in the year, my 8th place at the UCI Time Trial Chrono des Nations kind of consolidated that fact.
Benj enjoyed the sweet taste of victory whilst still a Youth rider. © Brother Results
As we know, 2020 was a difficult year for all riders, how much racing did you manage to do and if so, how did they go?
I definitely got more racing in than most Brits, although it was still not what I had expected for 2020. I had a few early season openers in the UK, but as I was in the middle of a tough training block my results were rather mediocre. From March all the way up until the end of August, I wasn't able to start a race.
I restarted my season on the 23rd August in Clermont Ferrand. It was a hilly course and the Junior gears were no help on the descent, but to finish 10th in my first race back was a confidence boost. Then I went to my first Toutes category race (French equivalent to a Nat B), 150km and some of the best French and Spanish amateur teams present, most notable being Caja Rural under 23 squad. I ended up 2nd in the bunch kick and 16th overall, which was a pretty good result as a first year Junior, so I was happy with that. So yeah, unfortunately not much racing for me but given the global pandemic, I was grateful to even be able to do those two races in France.
One of the first and final races Benj did before the first lockdown in 2020. © Ellen Isherwood
How does this lack of racing make you feel going into the 2021 season?
Obviously there are some nerves as always for the first race of the season, but if anything, its made me more hungry to win and has helped me iron out some of my weaknesses, so I am excited to prove myself this year!
How has your season started?
Not the best! I haven't had my first race yet as I have already had three weeks off the bike with injury since January. I was taken out by a car at the end of January and left with a knee injury, which resulted in two weeks off the bike. I then had a training camp in Spain with the team in February. On the first day we went out for testing on a local climb, to where we were staying, and when descending I was taken out and ended up snapping my collarbone in two places and having surgery which meant another week off the bike to let the pain settle. It's not been easy coming back from both incidents, but I am happy with where I am at in terms of fitness now.
AG2R Citroën U19 on their winter training camp. © Gussev Photos
Do you see yourself staying in France for the foreseeable future? And what are your hopes for the future in the U23 ranks?
For the moment that's definitely my plan, but you never know what's around the corner and what opportunities may arise, so for the moment I'm keeping my options open. For me to be swayed away from France it would take a good offer from a team in the continental ranks, as I have a solid foundation in France which will make a transfer in France less stressful and more convenient. I have nothing set in stone for the U23 ranks yet, so honestly I don't know. I am currently just taking it one step at a time and seeing how my final year as a Junior pans out.
As we’ve already discussed, you’re a bit of a Classics man, which Junior races have you bookmarked this year as targets?
100% Junior Paris-Roubaix is my main focus for the moment. It’s a race like no other, a race I've dreamt of doing since I first saw it on TV. For the moment, I am set to be on the start line on the 11th April, although everything is a bit up in the air about whether the race will be postponed or cancelled, due to the current Covid-19 situation in the area.
I would also like to pick up a result at the Trophee Centre Morbihan Nations Cup. Those are my two main focuses for the start of my season. Once those are completed I will take a closer look into the races in the latter half of the season. It's difficult to create goals at the moment due to the lack of racing last year!
It’s the 31st December 2021, what needs to happen this season for you to look back and think 'wow, what a great year'?
It's hard to say really, I haven't got much to go off after last season. Some will think I'm a bit too ambitious, but going into the U23 ranks and not having a contract on a Continental or DN1 French team would leave me pretty disappointed. Results wise, I would definitely like to win a UCI Junior one-day race. I know that I am capable of it, it's just a case of everything falling into place on the day (something that's not happened in a while).
Another race I’m really looking to pick up a result in is the British National Championships. It's something that has always eluded me, so should the circuit suit me and the race go ahead, I will be looking for a big result there.
We have seen the difference in style between Roglič and Pogačar recently, so when on the podium, would you rather wear a casquette or a baseball cap? And why!
Baseball cap all the way. I am into my fashion off the bike and baseball cap would be my preference. The fashion industry is something I like to keep up to date with in my downtime. It's one of the very few things that gets me away from cycling and helps me switch off.
Benj giving it some beans during tests on the team training camp. © Gussev Photos
The favourite race I've ridden so far would have to be the European Tour Of Assen; it was a cool experience and I have some good memories from the race.
My favourite race to watch and my dream race to ride is 100% Paris-Roubaix.
Hm, I have a feeling I know the answer to this one... Roubaix or Flanders?
Crosswinds or cobbles?
Cobbles- the technical aspect really appeals to me and it's a nice change from the smooth tarmac.
Euro brakes or UK brakes?
It's hard to say as I am still new to Euro brakes. I feel that Euro brakes are definitely more convenient when racing with a foreign team, but other than that, I guess it's just personal preference. Now that I am used to them I'm not sure the hassle of changing all my bikes back is worth it, so I'll go with Euro for now.
If you weren’t a cyclist, what career would you pursue?
At this moment in time I couldn't tell you, still being young. However, I'm really interested in business and fashion, it's how I spend my spare time when I'm not riding my bike. So I don't know, maybe I will join the two together and start my own business in the fashion industry or perhaps even in the bike industry.