Introducing Kevin McCambridge: Ireland's future pocket rocket
Kevin ripping it up at the Junior World TT Championships in Harrogate 2019. © Caroline Kerley
Back in 2019 Kevin McCambridge burst onto the junior scene and began to be noticed across the European racing scene with strong results in European and World Championships, as well as rounds of the nations cup and other prestigious junior races. Straight out of juniors he went professional and signed for the British team, Ribble Weldtite. However, the year we know 2020 as, it meant that there was a lack of races and opportunities for riders like Kevin. But he still managed to place 2nd in both the Irish under 23 National ITT and Road Championships in 2020. Which was a result that didn’t go unnoticed and caught the eyes of many.
From the quiet and tranquille County Antrim in Ireland, Kevin made a leap of faith to move out to France for the 2020 season. Alongside the help of Team Delko (ProConti) he moved to the DN1 team, AVC Aix En Provence. With plans of progressing in the French DN1 and amateur scene to perfect his trade before hopefully taking the step up to professionals, whether that be with Team Delko or not is unconfirmed. He is not the first Irishman to take this path as it has already been trodden by the likes of Dan Martin and Nicholas Roche.
In this interview I chatted to Kevin about the past two years, with his breakthrough year as a junior back in 2019 to the abysmal year that 2020 was for most riders who weren’t WorldTour. We also discussed how 2021 has gone for him so far, alongside the highs and lows that bike racing can bring, plus the transition into the French style of racing. And of course, we chatted about future plans and the aims for the next few years. Kevin is definitely a rider to watch and bookmark for the future. He very well could be Ireland’s next professional hotshot.
The French have recently labelled you “le grimpeur de poche”. Can you tell us about what sort of rider you think you are?
I am definitely on the climber side of things, as I am lightweight and my power profile tends to be better over longer periods of time.
The first part of the season there hasn’t been much opportunity for me to show myself in the hilly races as they have been suited to more punchy riders, but now as the summer comes so will the hilly and more mountainous races. I have also been riding a lot of flat races at the beginning of the season this year and it has been great learning experience, as it has taught me how to race smarter and more efficient for when my time comes.
Each cyclist has a different story as to how they were introduced to the sport and how they got to the point they’re at now. As for you, where did it all begin? And has it been years of dedication and progression or more similar to those who burst onto the scene?
It all began when I was about 12 yrs old. My uncle had a retro road bike and I loved the look of it with the funky handlebars and skinny tyres. I begged my parents to get me one for Christmas and they did! It was a little Viking bike and it might have been the same weight as an 8 pole gate, but I loved it. I would spend every minute I could riding it, I did more training then, than I do now!
A few years later I was introduced to the Ballymoney Cycling Club where I started to race the u14 open races at the weekend. It started to become a habit. I was never very good then, but it was so addictive. I saw myself getting better results week by week and then eventually juniors came along, then I started to win a few races and move up the ranks.
Kevin at a Nations cup in 2019 with fellow Irish pro Archie Ryan (Jumbo Visma Development).
Back in a coronavirus free 2019, we were both 2nd year juniors and racing each other regularly. In my opinion I saw this as a breakthrough year for yourself. Do you see it in a similar way, if not how would you describe your final year in juniors?
Yes, I would agree. The winter before my 2nd year of juniors, I trained really well and developed a lot as a rider. I would ride to college 4 days a week and it was 90mins each way. This was followed up by big rides on the weekend with my mates, no real structure just a lot of hours and most importantly enjoying riding my bike!
I was never really seen by the Irish team until the beginning of the season when I won my first 3 races, then they started to notice me and I was picked up by them. I got my first opportunity at the Saarland Nations cup, where I placed 4th on the Queen stage and a good result overall. I then came home and won the Irish TT Championships. From there I was given two amazing opportunities to ride for Ireland at the Junior World and European road/TT championships.
As a first year under-23 you signed for the British Continental team Ribble. How much racing did you manage to get in 2020?
I raced the Irish Championships and that's it, I wish I had more to say but it was a difficult year for everyone. I got 2nd in both TT and road race to Ben Healy who is on another level...
Kevin riding to 2nd at the Under 23 Irish TT Championships 2020. © Sean Rowe
As the 2020 calendar was bare for riders like yourself, other than the odd race, how did you feel going into the 2020 season? Plus, how do you think you would have found the step up to professional level straight from juniors?
I always knew it was going to be a big jump, but I was prepared to learn. And knew that with the right amount of training and progression, I would be able to step up to the level.
But I think the biggest challenge would be of course adapting to the longer races and longer stage races, plus racing with some of the bigger guys who have a lot more experience and strength. It was a very exciting year that didn’t go to plan.
For 2021 you signed with the French DN1 team AVC-Aix en Provence. A team with a prestigious history of producing pros including the likes of Simon Carr. How did this move come about and what made you decide to switch from a British team to a French team?
After the 2020 National Championships I got approached by a few teams, but I decided to go with Aix En Provence. This was helped by Team Delko as they wanted me to progress onto their team in years to come, but in doing that I needed to gain more experience on the 'amateur scene' in France.
So far I am really impressed with the setup of the team, they have been nothing but supportive and helpful, plus an amazing race calendar. Delko has a lot of uncertainty for next season and if worse comes to worse I am more than happy to remain with Aix for 2022, as I know it’s a good opportunity to find my way into the professional scene.
It’s hot and hard work in France. © Nicolas Mabyle
How have you found your first six months with the team? How does the setup compare to other teams you have ridden for?
When racing in France, you see a lot of organization, all the teams will have a leader before the race starts. I find Aix has a bit more of a ‘laid back’ response to racing which is good for me. We make decisions as a team while we race and it’s all circumstantial, but before we always have a rough plan of what we want to happen in an ideal world. But most decisions are made on the road and we find this works best for us.
The team always has a clear plan for the calendar which is ace and we get told what races we will do 2 months prior to it. Which I think is great, as it gives us an idea of what to expect and more motivation to train for rather than getting told the week before. Plus, it also allows us to tailor our training to the races that we have been entered into.
There are not many negatives, but the 7hr journey home from races can be difficult. But for any team, especially in France, this can’t be avoided.
As we know, the racing in France is some of the hardest in the world. How have you adjusted to and found the style of racing that is on offer?
Before I came to France I thought that I had good numbers etc, but I never thought of the older and more experienced riders that know more than me and can race smarter. I found this year being race smart is crucial to doing well in France! You can be in peak condition physically, but if tactics fail you on the day your race is over.
But I love to learn and go into every race learning something new and knowing who are the strong riders to watch and follow.
But the harder racing makes me stronger, especially when you race with Charlie Paige (*wink*)!
When the young catch the old, Kevin with a rider who needs no introduction. © Toby Watson
Of course the language barrier is one of the hardest things to overcome as an English speaker in France. Have you learnt French and how much of your team are English speakers?
At the beginning I came to France only knowing how to say hello and goodbye, but now I have found going to races and being around French people I have progressed a lot, which also helps when you’re in a French team.
I find I learn the most when I speak to someone who speaks English and French, because I can learn the phrases and get an understanding of what they mean.
Now I can get through most conversations and understand race radios which is helping a lot.
Many British riders abroad get support from funds such as the Dave Rayner Foundation. Are there similar funds available to Irish riders such as yourself? If not, how have you managed to support yourself?
I am supported by my team Aix en Provence and also by Team Delko which are a great help!
You’ve had a bit of bad luck recently with a heavy crash in May leading to a broken clavicle. How have you found recovering from this and is this your biggest injury to date in your career?
Yes, I would say this is my biggest crash and first one in quite a while! I have never broken a bone in my body until now. I am healing up quite well and I was back on the bike 2 weeks after my crash. I decided not to go through with surgery as to be honest I didn't like the whole idea of a pin inside me and I was happy to let my body heal in its own time. The doctors said it would be six weeks, but it’s been three and I've already had my first full week back on the bike.
Now I am focusing on building strength in my arm again before we rush back to any heavy training as to not to over do it!
Cheeky smirk, perhaps hiding those pre-race nerves? ©Direct velo
When are we likely to see you with a number on your back and back on a start line?
Somewhere in the Pyrenees mountains I hope! I hope for Le Tour du Piémont Pyrénéen (02/07-04/07), but I am awaiting final confirmation from the doctor to make sure no arms fall off halfway through the race!
With collarbone and covid permitting. What are your plans for the rest of the season?
Now I have begun to learn my trade in France, plus my personal strengths, I can now put them into play! My big target for the year is Giro Aosta and Tour of L'Avenir and then we will see what comes in between.
The first part of the year I suffered quite mentally with a lot of sickness and then I caught Covid. I thought I was never going to get back into my best shape, but now after spending some time at home with my family and girlfriend I have come back very motivated, even with a broken clavicle!
Fast forward a couple of years, you’ve just finished your final season of under 23s (2023). Where do you hopefully see yourself? And what needs to happen between now and then for this to happen?
I want a top result at Tour de L'Avenir, that would be the top of my list. I need to stay injury/sickness free for a few months from now onwards, but I think everything happens for a reason and I will come into good form for the 2nd half of this year. But I will always have another two years of Tour de L’Avenir!
I have dreams of making it into a WorldTour and I hope someday I can make it happen! But for now we go FULL GAS!
Final push for Kevin before finishing 2nd at the Irish under 23 championships 2020. © Sean Rowe
We have seen the difference in style between different pros, so when on the podium would you rather wear a casquette or a baseball cap? And why?
Baseball cap, quite simply my head is too big for a casquette. I still have nightmares of the junior tour of Ireland podium and it wouldn’t fit on my head!
So, Baseball caps all day!
Finally some quick fire questions...
Liege-Bastogne-Liege or Giro di Lombardia?
Liege Bastogne Liege.
Gloves or no gloves?
I don't even own a pair of gloves. No gloves.
And of course, Disc or Rim Brake? Plus, Euro or non Euro?
Hmmm, on the disc side at the moment. But for sure Euro!
Living life to the fullest, taking risks...
If you weren’t a cyclist what career would you pursue?
A sports coach.
Back in 2020 on a pre-covid training camp with Ribble © James Huntly