Recently, Rob Britton, winner of the 2017 Tour of Utah, announced that after 12 years as a professional cyclist he was ending his road career. The Victoria-based rider, who been on Rally Cycling since 2016, has overall wins at Utah and the Tour of the Gila (in 2015 and 2018) as well as a stage at Tour de Beauce. Britton was also the reigning national time trial champion until a month ago. His last race was in the beginning of September in France. On Friday, he discussed the changes he’s scene in cycling throughout his career, bikepacking and what’s ahead in retirement.
How long have you been thinking about retiring from pro cycling?
I’ve been thinking about it since last year. The team made some firm standards for me to reach; I had to sign a contract to live in Europe all year. It was a big commitment, but I felt like I hadn’t reached my full potential. Plus, I was the national champion. Those two things made me want to keep going.
When I had the opportunity to keep racing, I did. I thought about the gravel scene a lot, but I always knew I had the greatest potential on the road. It just seemed too risky to jump into the gravel scene at that time.
How has it been for you during the pandemic?
For millions of people, COVID-19 was massively disruptive. For me, it was strangely positive. Many teams furloughed their riders, but we were paid fully the entire time. Other teams felt a financial squeeze from their sponsors, and riders had reduced salaries.
You recently got married. How long had that been in the works?
I got married on Sept. 29. We were supposed to do it last year, but it would have meant having to miss a huge block of racing. So we decided to push it for a year. Being married hasn’t really changed things for us; we’ve been together for 12 years. COVID-19 for us was sort of good. It was the longest time I’d been able to spend time with friends and family out west, that was really cool.
What did it feel like in your last races knowing that your career was coming to a close?
I wasn’t super-emotional for the most part. The last race I did was the Tour de Doubs in France. I didn’t tell anyone on the team until the morning of the race. The directors knew, but I didn’t want everyone to make a big deal of it or think I was going to mail it in. I still wanted to give ‘er.
I didn’t feel weird in the morning, but I definitely went all in. I dug pretty deep and actually cramped with 10 km to go. There was a 3-km popper right at the end, and I was riding by myself. Up that final hill, I felt a little emotional, riding all alone, knowing I wasn’t going to do this anymore.
What are some of your best memories from cycling?
I had so many good memories. I’ll miss it. At the worlds in 2018 when Michael Woods got third, that was a highlight. I was in the break all day, and when we got caught, for a second I thought maybe I could help Mike get to the bottom of the climb. Of course, that was impossible. Even in the break, I was secretly hoping we’d get caught sooner. There was this brutal 20-minute climb. Hugo Houle, Antoine Duchesne and Zach Bell were in the feed zone with a pizza, and I figured I’d pack it in. What I didn’t know was that Kevin Field had called Zach from the car and told them that I couldn’t quit and had to finish. So they made me keep going. I had one full lap and that super-steep climb that was 20 to 25 per cent. It was a wall. Some guys were running up it. Even climbers.
I finished dead last. I always say if you ain’t third you are last, but it was the best last place I’ve ever got. When I came up the final climb, I saw a guy walking and he told me Woodsy got third and I was so happy.
You’re a big fan of bikepacking. Do you think that would ever catch on as some unorthodox training method to mix it up?
It will never catch on for training. Europeans are pretty set in their ways. Plus the sport is so hard now. For me, it’s a mental release. It resets me. You’re still doing the work—riding 40 hours in a week, but when you’re done, you’re good to go mentally.
What has changed in cycling since you started?
Everything has changed. Tech has changed across the board. Tubeless, or now even tubes again, are the norm. Disc brakes. Electronic. Diet is massive. Every team has chefs. Aerodynamics are huge. Everyone lives at altitude. I came into cycling in the darkest of days, right at the end of Lance’s career. I think the sport is significantly cleaner, because people are doing everything they can with training and nutrition. You used to hear about guys out having beers then somehow having good races. You can’t fool anyone anymore. The world is a small place. That’s what made it even harder: a few years back I dedicated myself and worked harder than others with more talent than me. Now, everyone is doing the hard work.
What are your fondest memories?
Wearing the maple leaf. Being in the break at the worlds, and seeing Mike get the bronze medal. Mike Woods is one of the nicest guys I know. I think it’s great we have such a good guy representing our country at the WorldTour.
What are your favourite three races you did in your career?
Tour of California, Tour of Utah. And a race I love to hate was Tour de Beauce. It grew on me. I got to the point where I almost won, but got second. I did win the Saint-Georges stage. It’s a wild race and I have great memories from there.
What have you been doing since you stopped?
Seeing family, full gas to be honest. I went bikepacking with Svein Tuft and Ryan Anderson. Then I had to put my head down full gas and get ready for our wedding.
I will give a gravel scene a go. I’m still torn on having the pro racers doing gravel races. I have my own event in Victoria, The Last Ride. It’s not a race; it’s a ride. I remove all placings and your time. It’s an adventure. You don’t know the route until the morning of the race. A big part of it is learning new areas by paying attention. You’re only racing yourself. Then afterwards, we all meet up for beers and burgers.
What are some things that no one knows about Rob Britton?
When I ride in Victoria, I never do the same ride twice. I always do something new on every ride. I use an app called Wanderers. It’s sort of an inverse heat map of Strava. It shows you roads you’ve never ridden before and you get points for taking new routes.
The other thing is I never really crashed as a pro, knock on wood. So the last few races in France, I was worried my luck would run out. You know, narrow roads, full gas. But it didn’t happen. I didn’t crash.