Luke Rowe: What’s 2021 Got in Store for the Rouleur?

By Stan Portus –  4 March 2021

Saddleback spoke to respected road captain, Classics specialist, and INEOS Grenadiers stalwart Luke Rowe about riding Strada Bianche for the first time, his tenth year with the squad, and expecting a new baby.

Luke Rowe is the first to admit that 2020 was a strange year, not just in the pro ranks but simply for everyone. Racing started as normal but was quickly called to a halt with no certainty about when it would return.

For a rider who starts his season the Tour Down Under, the general Australian block of racing, and quickly going into the Classics season, this changed probably hit Luke more than some other riders.   

“The biggest positive,” he says when Saddleback spoke to the Welshman, “was I got to spend time purely with my wife and son.”

He also found out he’s expecting another baby, another positive to take away from a difficult time.

When the racing did finally kick in during the summer, the season had a very different feel to Rowe’s previous 8 seasons with the INEOS Grenadiers.

“The second half of the year was quite intense. There was a lot of racing in a small space of time. Grand Tours overlapped and it was completely different to my other seasons.”

“In the end,” Rowe says, “I think it was a great season and we can count ourselves lucky.”

In a year when very few sporting events happened – especially ones outside the controlled space of a stadium – we were incredibly fortunate to see the cycling we did, with dramatic one day races, an unforgettable Tour, and Tao Geoghegan Hart’s outstanding Giro d’Italia victory.

Rowe’s first race back was Strade Bianche. Despite being a renowned Classics man, it was the first time he raced in the one-day race on Tuscany’ famous white gravel roads.

“It was filthy hot. It was 40 odd degrees with very few finishers – I wasn’t one of them. Me and Swifty [Ben Swift] had a hell of a day out.”

Despite not crossing the line after a day spent accompanying Swift who, shall we say, wasn’t having the best of luck with his bowels, Rowe says Strade Bianche was the highlight of his racing season.

“It’s such a unique race, to experience that was special.”

“It was filthy hot. It was 40 odd degrees with very few finishers – I wasn’t one of them. Me and Swifty had a hell of a day out.”

When Saddleback spoke to Rowe what his 2021 race calendar was still up in the air.

“For me early on, it’ll be a case of one or two things. Either going full Classics or backing off the Classics a bit and just trying to go even more down that domestique, support role.”

We’re yet to see whether Rowe will be taking on the Classics or focussing on the Grand Tours but we know he won’t be returning to Strade Bianche in 2021. INEOS Grenadiers is sending its next generation of riders instead with a roster that includes Egan Bernal, Pavel Sivakov and Tom Pidcock.

With more and more leaders in the squad sharing a Grand Tour bounty few other teams can come close to and Rowe’s track record of success as a road captain, not forgetting the experience he brings now entering into his tenth year with INEOS, Rowe has the Tour de France in his sights for the second part of the year.

“It’s been the focal point of my season for the last few years and I think I can be a great addition and support to the team there.”

“We have to pull up our sleeves, go back there, and take what’s ours.”

But it won’t be without challenges. The 2020 Tour proved difficult for the INEOS Grenadiers, with Bernal struggling and Team Jumbo–Visma dominating much of the race. But this seems less a deterrent for Rowe and more a reason to fight:

“We have to pull up our sleeves, go back there, and take what’s ours.”

As could be expected from a Classics man, one of Rowe’s favourite pieces of Castelli kit is the infamous Gabba, but he’s also a fan of the whole RoS Collection.

“There’s pretty much an option that caters for any weather – even if it’s not damp and miserable.”

The Alphas RoS?

“It’s just a beast.”

But Rowe’s favourite piece of kit by far is the Castelli Sanremo Speed Suit, saying it’s the best in the market. Whenever he races, he wears it, and now he only wears bibs and a jersey when he’s training.

“It just gives you that edge over your rivals, which is what you’re looking [for].

“When you’re on the start line and you look left, you look right, and you think ‘I’ve got better kit than them’, straight away – mentally – you’re on the front foot.”

Whether he tackles the Classics or continues to play his part as road captain and super domestique, we can’t wait to see what 2021 has in store for Luke Rowe.  

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