From Oxford to Annecy: Meeting Charlie Quarterman
In recent years the WorldTour has undergone a tsunami of change. Huge numbers of young talented riders have broken through to cycling’s top level, winning on the biggest stages and disrupting the norm in the process. Charlie Quarterman joined Trek-Segafredo last winter as a pro, but his debut season was interrupted in just his third race, as the pandemic struck and the world went into lockdown. Nevertheless, by the end of the revamped season, the 22-year-old was making his presence felt at the front end of the peloton, at races like the Binckback Tour working for Mads Pedersen. Charlie and I met up over Zoom to talk cycling and getting used to life as a pro on the World Tour.
All smiles as the young Brit begins his 2021 campaign. © Trek-Segafredo
Quarterman revealed that at the moment he’s taking it one race at a time. He explained that key to his development so far has been retaining that same level of enjoyment that’s stayed with him from the early days on Zappi club rides, through to training with Trek-Segafredo. This all resulted in getting selected for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad earlier in the current season.
“Starting out inspired by the success of guys like Bradley Wiggins in 2012, it was always just for fun for me at the start, getting out on club rides with Zappi and racing to the coffee stop at the end”, explained Quarterman. “The fact that it’s always been like that for me has been cool. If you don’t enjoy it then it’s not possible to keep progressing to where you want to be”, he added.
During the race at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Quarterman was involved in a crash which left him with subsequent concussion, but he saw the recovery process as a chance to reconnect with that same enthusiasm that’s still with him now. “That’s been key for me with the concussion I had. Taking time to reset, then finding ways to make it feel new again and just enjoy my time taking part in the sport. That same enthusiasm still plays a part in everything I do”, he told me. Being based in the French town of Annecy during the season has been an added bonus to his new role at Trek-Segafredo. Quarterman added that having a European base and new roads to train on has aided the recovery process.
Quarterman in action on the cobbles at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. © Luc Claessen/Getty Images
It’s not always been plain-sailing for the time-trial specialist. In sport, those that make it to the top often need to take a step back to then move further forward in their development. Quarterman spent 2 years with the Leopard Pro Cycling development team before returning to Holdsworth-Zappi, where he enjoyed great success. It wasn’t long before the bright lights of the WorldTour came calling. Quarterman reflected, “They were a good two years with Leopard, but I was racing against guys at their peak. Not quite professional, but top level racing. I had a good time but felt I needed a new opportunity to really show what I could do. At that point a good race for me was just finishing in the peloton”.
A return to his old haunts brought the added pressure of being a team-leader, but Quarterman was to take that in his stride. On his return to Italian Flavio Zappi’s team he commented, “I needed to put myself in a place where I had the opportunity to look carefully at what I needed to do to move forward, and going back to Zappi enabled me to put gentle pressure on myself, which was beneficial”. The move back proved fruitful for Quarterman. In 2019 he was to become the British Under-23 Time Trial champion, and this came hot on the heels of racing the Under 23 Giro d’Italia. Coming back from Italy he knew he was in good form, but the only concern before the race was fatigue. Nevertheless, Quarterman was to meet his goal with turning pro following swiftly. The grounded 22-year-old admitted there wasn’t time to come to terms with his success, as within two weeks of winning the time trial he got the call to say a new chapter was beginning. Quarterman was set to join Trek-Segafredo, although his first season with his new team didn’t start as he had expected.
“The whole Covid thing at the start of last year was madness. We were speaking about it in the group at the start of last year. I was at the UAE Tour and then suddenly we were locked in the hotel which was hard to believe. There was definitely a lot of asking ourselves whether it was really happening. It was quite a moment”.
In the ever changing world that is professional cycling, Quarterman explained that diversity on the bike was key to getting noticed. Drawing the attention of the WorldTour also involved refining certain elements of his ability. The new environment in Annecy has meant mountains and varied terrain to test himself on. “It all works well for me out here as I’m forced to do the stuff I find harder, which in the end pays off. I do work hard to focus in on time trials, but keeping a good balance all round is especially important at my age I think”.
Despite later crashing out, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad provided a great taste of the cobbles for Quarterman. © Luc Claessen/Getty Images
Turning his attention away from the Alps and towards the cycling heartland of Belgium, Quarterman admitted that being able to emulate the success of the likes of Fabian Cancellara and Bradley Wiggins was an exciting prospect. Although Quarterman added that whilst seeking inspiration from others is part of it, he sees forming his own unique identity as a rider as the most important long term objective. He explained, “Going down a similar path to Cancellara is what I dream of. Being able to hit good numbers on the TT bike, but also riding well in some of the Belgian races which are relentless. However, there’s so much going on around me with focussing on my own performance that I don’t really have the time to focus on much else”.
As Quarterman noted, Cancellara’s status is legendary, “With a rider like him, you look at his results and to be honest, it would be a little bit scary to go around saying I’m going to do what he’s done”.
In this new chapter as a professional, Charlie explained that it’s been one long adaptation which he is thriving on. A strict daily routine, getting the right balance in both personal and sporting environments and getting into good habits, including working with a sport psychologist, all aided him when the pandemic struck and the 2020 season was put on hold. “I was back in the UK for quite a lot of it, and it was crucial to keep up my motivation even though I had no idea when I’d be racing again. I was training hard so I was ready when dates were added back into the calendar, but otherwise I was the same as everyone else. There was a lot of afternoon walks and talking to friends and family online to keep myself occupied and happy”, Quarterman says.
Charlie has begun life as a diarist for Procycling this season, providing an interesting look at his life in the peloton. The illustration was completed by the brilliant David Despau.
The season restart provided a much needed adrenalin rush and a chance to look forward to what 2021 might bring. Late February saw Quarterman on the start line in Belgium for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but a collision with another team car led to an overnight stay in hospital; “my race was the first 120 kilometres of the race really, keeping our guys safe through the first cobbled sectors. I felt I’d done a good job up to then, but I was back amongst the cars when one braked in front of me and I ended up smacking onto the road”, Quarterman said. “I woke up in the ambulance on the way to hospital where the doctors told me I had concussion. I was pretty rough for a few days afterwards”.
Now that he’s on the road to recovery, Quarterman was reluctant to look too far ahead to the rest of the season. A wise head on young shoulders, he told me that a realistic return has been pencilled in for the Tour de Romandie, but a full recovery is his main priority.
Charlie was working for Mads Pedersen at last year's BinckBank Tour, where his Trek-Segafredo took victory on stage 3. © Bettini Photo
Whilst he’s been recovering, Quarterman’s team mate, Jasper Stuyven, took a huge win at Milan-Sanremo. With the dominance of superstars like Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, Stuyven’s huge win upset the odds. Quarterman believes that Trek-Segafredo can replicate their win in the iconic Monument at upcoming races in the months and seasons ahead, “I must admit, I haven’t yet been at the end of a race with Van Aert, Julian Alaphilippe and Van der Poel. I think the strength in depth we have in the team, almost being underdogs, works in our favour on occasions like that”, he explained. “I think we race in an unpredictable but exciting way and when you have guys like Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen in your team, anything can happen. Those three guys, Alaphilippe, Van Aert and van der Poel, are up there for a reason, but I think, at the end of the day, margins are small and for sure it’s possible to beat them, as we were able to show with Jasper’s win”.