In the pioneering days of British road racing, the most successful riders in European racing came from the county of Yorkshire in northern England. Britain’s first Tour de France stage winner Brian Robinson is from Mirfield, Yorkshire; the country’s first classics winner and Tour yellow jersey Tom Simpson was born in County Durham but he grew up in a Nottinghamshire mining village, a stone’s throw from the Yorkshire border; and multi-time Tour stage winner and classics specialist Barry Hoban was raised in Wakefield, Yorkshire. The tradition continues, because two of today’s top British racers, Lizzie Deignan (née Armitstead) and Scott Thwaites, grew up in villages only a few miles apart, just west of Leeds, Yorkshire. You’ve probably heard a lot about the 2015 world women’s road champion—but who is Scott Thwaites?

Words: John Wilcockson | Images: Yuzuru Sunada

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Thwaites is far less known than other leading professionals who live in northern England (or the nearby Isle of Man)—including Mark Cavendish, Steve Cummings, Pete Kennaugh, Ian Stannard, Ben Swift, and Adam and Simon Yates—but the Yorkshireman looks to be on his way to joining them as a star of the sport. This is only his first season with a UCI WorldTour team, riding alongside Cavendish and Cummings at Dimension Data, but Thwaites, 27, has already raced prominently at the spring classics.

Last month, in a very tough edition of Strade Bianche, Thwaites bridged up to the winning move with his team leader Edvald Boasson Hagen before going on to finish 10th (Boasson Hagen end up in 19th). And this past Sunday, in Ghent–Wevelgem, the Englishman again joined the key breakaway with his Norwegian teammate after Greg Van Avermaet’s decisive attack on the Kemmelberg. Thwaites later said he was disappointed that he and Boasson Hagen didn’t play their tactics better in the flat, 30-kilometer run-in to Wevelgem; but he was still in the 40-strong group that sprinted for fifth place, six seconds behind winner Van Avermaet, while Boasson Hagen came in another few seconds back.

Thwaites leads the key breakaway at last Sunday's Ghent–Wevelgem ahead of Greg Van Avermaet, John Degenkolb and Niki Terpstra
Thwaites leads the key breakaway at last Sunday’s Ghent–Wevelgem ahead of Greg Van Avermaet, John Degenkolb and Niki Terpstra

This week, Thwaites is back home in Leeds, doubtless training in his beloved Yorkshire Dales, before returning to Belgium with high hopes for the Tour of Flanders—a race he has finished three times: 78th in 2014, 54th in 2015 and 20th last year. He was with Pro Continental teams NetApp-Endura in 2014 and Bora-Argon 18 the last two seasons. Now, as Boasson Hagen’s lieutenant at Dimension Data, Thwaites has a chance of another improvement, perhaps to a top 10 this coming Sunday.

At 1-meter-78 (5-foot-10) and 69 kilos (152 pounds), Thwaites’ build is perfect for the cobbled classics, where the racing is not unlike some of the events he grew up with in Yorkshire. Comparing the two, he recently told his local newspaper, the Yorkshire Post: “[Racing on the cobbles] is not a very British trait in cycling, but the roads are very similar to the roads over here…. You look at the 2017 edition of the Tour de Yorkshire where there’s lots of cobbles, that’s similar to the classics. It’s that grippy terrain and bad weather that you get over in this country. So the skills should be transferable.”

Before Thwaites signed his first pro contract with Endura Racing, a UCI Continental team, at age 20 in 2010, he did well at several other specialist disciplines, He took a national age-group title in triathlon (“My dad did a few”), represented his country as a junior cyclocross racer (“I loved watching Sven Nuys and Bart Wellens”), and became national under-23 champion in mountain biking. “Signing with Endura Racing was a massive point in my career,” he said, “as previously I’d been racing for my local bike shop, Crosstrax, and doing races on and off road….”

With Endura Racing in 2011, Thwaites won the Lincoln Grand Prix, an English classic that features multiple climbs of a cobbled hill, before he took the British under-23 road title and raced at the road worlds in Denmark; and in 2012 he won his national criterium championship along with overall victory in the season-long Premier Calendar series.

Stepping up to the next level with German team NetApp in 2013, Thwaites gained progressed tremendously by competing not only in Britain’s top pro races but also in 10 other countries: Argentina, Belgium, China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States! That diverse race experience helped him take three podiums in 2014: a third place in a stage of the Three Days of West Flanders in Belgium, a second place (behind Lotto-Belisol’s Kenny Dehaes) at Dutch semi-classic the Ronde van Drenthe, and another third at the Commonwealth Games road race in Glasgow, Scotland.

That 2014 Commonwealth result was the most significant of the three podiums. Representing England, Thwaites excelled on the hilly Glasgow circuit before a huge crowd on a day of torrential rain showers. He got into the winning breakaway with Welshman Geraint Thomas and New Zealander Jack Bauer—who’d both just finished the Tour de France. Not surprisingly, Thomas won gold, Bauer silver and Thwaites bronze in the grueling 168-kilometer race that saw only 12 of the 139 starters reach the finish.

Thwaites has continued to make great strides in the cobbled classics through the past two seasons. After taking third in the 2015 Nokere Koerse in a bunch sprint. He stepped up at Le Samyn classic in 2016 with a second place to former Paris–Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra, only being dropped by the Dutchman in the finale after their winning move in a 202-kilometer race that saw just 28 finishers and 160 abandons! Other significant results last year included a third place in a three-man break with Jens Keukeleire and Diego Ulissi on a stage of the Tour of Slovenia and finishing his first grand tour, the Vuelta a España.

This year, besides his excellent Strade Bianche and Ghent–Wevelgem rides, Thwaites placed seventh in a 10-rdier split on stage 6 of Tirreno–Adriatico behind a host of classics winners, including Fernando Gaviria, Peter Sagan and Jasper Stuyven. And at last Friday’s E3 Harelbeke, he flatted twice but still managed to be the top Dimension Data finisher in 30th.

A half-century before Thwaites developed his racing skills in his native Yorkshire, Robinson, Simpson and Hoban also grew up with that grippy terrain and bad weather; so it would be no surprise if Thwaites also excels in his continental career. When asked about his ambitions, Thwaites told the Yorkshire Post: “The big classics…Flanders, Roubaix, they’re massive races with such history. To win one of those… well, your name is remembered forever. I’m working my way towards it. I’ve got a few years left and, hopefully, that’s something I can go for.”