It’s been three seasons since the fledgling Beeston Road Club ‘Dev Squad’ first pinned on dossards. For project founders Adrian Pugh & Richard Anderson, the Dev Squad project was a labour of love with a simple premise: Provide keen young riders with clear talent -but without the means or cycling grounding & know-how – a pathway into racing. The goal was and still remains the same: A home grown rider in the professional ranks or atop an Olympic podium, thus furthering the rich history of Nottingham’s Beeston Road Club.
Corey Ashley, graduate of the BRC Dev Squad class of ’13, can perhaps be seen as the visionary twosome’s most shining alumnus to date. From inner city Hoody on a kicked in MTB with a rusted drivetrain, turning up ad hoc to a winter evening hills session and cheerfully making a mockery of some pretty strong local club rider’s attempts to tackle the 20% plus inclines of the local widow-maker climb, to 1st Cat in three cannibalistic campaigns. The downs of lengthy injury and the highs of being crowned Mallory League series victor form part of a rich tapestry of wins, podiums and canny racing that has led to a place on Team GB track legend Bryan Steel’s new team, Godfrey Bikewear Road Team, for 2016. Godfrey Bikewear Road Team is the preserve of those local riders whom Bryan believes possess the raw materials to go all the way and also embodies Beeston RC’s Dev Squad ethos with an even keener polarisation;”If they’re still with us in three years time, we’ve failed..” is the bottom line for Bryan. Fate and determination has led Corey to this juncture in his racing career to date. The second chapter is his to write.
Ciclissimo! Ok- Let’s start right at the beginning- that hill session night on the rusty old mountain bike with jammed gears; how did you end up on that ride? There were a lot of strava hunters feeling a little deflated after the kid on the knackered old bike was repping Freda Avenue for fun! Were you into other sports in any sort of serious way?
Corey Ashley I’d played football at a goodish level when I was younger but in the end it didn’t work out for me -I’d got into bad ways and then realised I wanted to get fit again. My mate, Ishmael, had started cycling with the VC Bread & Bitter, in fact he had a road bike and I really envied that, and so I thought I’d join him. That ride went up a local ‘wall’ called Freda and I guess i did ok on it. There were all these roadies out on Lycra, but sociable, and I was on a mountain bike and god knows what I was wearing! Tracksuit bottoms and a t shirt probably. Anyway I flew up Freda and without knowing smashed everyone up there in some massive gear on a rusty heap. It was way too big for me as well.
C! Did you know anything about cycling at that point?
CA No, I did’t even know road racing existed to be honest. Funny now, really, because my biggest concern in life is sock etiquette!
C! So what was the next step- the first BRC Dev Squad winter? It was a bit of a motley crew but Adrian Pugh seemed to get you all inline! Talk us through that and the training camp
CA Some of the Bread & Bitter had heard a local club, Beeston RC, were starting a Development Squad and I just contacted and turned up at the presentation evening where Bryan Steel was speaking. The first winter was hard and I had some mileage goals set for me. After the winter I went to Wales for a training camp with the Dev Squad boys and managed to keep up with the Seniors for the long ride of the weekend- it was so hard to stay with it I was literally seeing double! I think I was bonking but not sure if to say or not. It was my first long ride and it was brutal, brutal. I was struggling but I got round, stuck with the senior lads till the end.
C! Maybe that tenacity says something? From that original group you are the only one who made it into the Senior team. What’s the difference between you and others?
CA I don’t know… we didn’t have a lot in my family really. I had an old cross bike to start off on and it fell apart one night so the club supported me with a new bike thanks to the support of the sponsors. I felt I owed the club something. I had new kit, it had my name on it and felt incredible! The support available was great and it made me want to push my limits. But life can take over though – if you are at university or whatever. Racing to an ok level is really demanding and I have no social life outside it really. In the summer it is literally work, train, race, repeat really.
C! That first season; your first race at Leamington, you were racing Mallory and then in the Birmingham Crit. What was the learning curve? How did you learn to race rather than just ride?
CA I think it was in the first races. I came 4th in Leamington, brand new – no idea how I did that! Just a 4th Cat’ cruising round a cricket field. I kind of adapted to it, watching how races were panning out. My first win was Mallory and then Birmingham, both in the same week. I learned I had a half decent bunch gallop so I learned to just sit tight and think about positioning towards the end and know where the line was at the end -and to know when to go..
Adrian Pugh Do you think it comes naturally to you? I remember you talking about that win after the race explaining how you’d moved up, moved up and waited. You’d never raced before and it was as if you just knew what to do?
CA I don’t know I just adapted to following wheels. I think it’s adrenaline and staying attentive, you know- alert. I try to watch what’s going on in a race, watching who’s strong and who to follow. There was a guy who was oiled up, embrocation and with fake tan, all orange at the back but he had good legs and looked like he could sprint so his was the wheel I followed going into the finish. I remember the video you [Adrian Pugh] made at the end with Brad LeGrand slating me for talking too much!
AP Well you do!
C! How quickly did Cat’ 2 come? Too quickly? I remember some kickings and lessons learned..
CA 2 months into racing. That was a whole new level of racing. A jump. 2nd Cat’ is all about attacks whereas 3rd Cat’ you could sit in. It was a big leap and much harder and I’d get dropped. It was hard on the confidence getting hammered after doing so well.
C! How did you cope with that?
CA The team mates, looking after me. Team spirit, motivation and advice. They’d give me bits of food and stuff. Also the club support, you know the race reports supporting me.
C! What’s been your favourite win?
CA Probably my series wins at Mallory. There was a stage race though on the [Nottinghamshire] Harby circuit, Paul Hamilton’s ‘Fin Del Verano’ 3 stage event, where I got in a break were we attacked over the hill and I was last man standing in the break. Our team got nowhere in the subsequent TTT though and that sealed the overall- but the road stage was great. I felt like I’d become a proper road racer, you know? Hitting it at the hardest point of the race and drilling it to stay away in the break. It was the week after really it hit home, looking at the pictures, it was pretty awesome although I only did it by a bike length in the end. Also when got 1st Cat’- that was at the Out of the Saddle road race in Yorkshire. Came 3rd on the day and planted my 1st Cat’ too. I was pretty pleased!!
C! So it was the manner of the victory at Fin Del Verano rather than the actual victory?
CA Yeah, but to be fair I didn’t do a lot of work in the break, you know that’s racing, I got away with it though, just rolling through. Racing is like that, cat and mouse. Some days I’m daft though- I work too hard because I like the thrill of trying to stay away.
C! So outside of cycling what makes you smile?
CA Women! I wish- I don’t get time! Music really, yeah music. loads of stuff, old music. I’ve just been listening to Booker T and the MGs, you know Green Onions. In the car, loving life!
Big thanks to Adrian Pugh for his help with this article.
Photo credits: Shawn Ryan for all portrait work and Godfrey Bikewear RT for the footer team shot. Oli Smee took the superb bidon-chuck shot. Other race shots from various anonymous race watching locals- please do get in touch for full credits and a pint, my round.