While a background in cyclocross seems the way to stardom nowadays, the Anglo-Saxon path via the track, and more specifically the team pursuit, still exists and produces very promising riders. Ethan Hayter walks that path and is one of those big talents.
Hayter is representing Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympic Games and has already showed his talent on the road with Ineos Grenadiers. With stage wins in the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, Volta ao Algarve, and Vuelta a Andalucía this year, Hayter is knocking on the door of a major breakthrough.
“I think I am on the verge of that breakthrough but I have been at that point for a while now,” the 22-year-old Londoner tells CyclingTips. “In this year’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad I crashed in the final. That would have been a big breakthrough win.”
Hayter has a relaxed philosophy towards road racing. It’s a bit of a contrast to the rigid rules and procedures within the Great Britain team pursuit squad where Hayter raced to gold at the 2018 Track Worlds and silver in 2019. His Great Britain team is one of the favorites to win Olympic gold in Tokyo as well.
“Tokyo will be massive,” he says. “The team pursuit is not an easy discipline. It’s fast and very explosive. On the road I am often the dedicated sprinter but on the track I am the least explosive rider. I am more of an endurance rider and the team pursuit is four minutes flat out. And four minutes is already a long effort on the track.
“I rode the Road World Championships in Imola last year and that was seven hours. The endurance does help me on the track.”
Track cycling is an important discipline for British Cycling. The team always brings home a big haul of medals and it’s that medal count that determines how National Lottery funds are distributed for the next four-year Olympic cycle. Tokyo is the first Olympic Games for Hayter but it will be much different than he anticipated.
“The team pursuit is the same – it’s four guys going around the track which doesn’t look too exciting,” he says with a smile. “I am happy the Games are on because I was worried they would be cancelled. Unfortunately, there is not going to be any public and my family can’t be there. There will also be daily testing, even though we got vaccinated as riders. It’s different but I know there will be millions of people watching us.
“The Games are the most important event for British Cycling, far more important than a world championship. There is going to be a lot of pressure but we will try our best.”
Hayter was signed by Team Ineos for the 2020 season after showing great potential in all sorts of races. As a junior he won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and was second in Gent-Wevelgem. In 2018, as a second-year U23 rider, he scored three top ten places in the Tour of Britain as a 19-year-old and was top eight in both the time trial and road race on the mountainous terrain of the Innsbruck Worlds. In 2019 he won stages in the U23 Giro d’Italia and the Tour de l’Avenir. His first win as a pro came in 2020 when he won the Giro dell’Appenino after a successful three weeks racing on Italian roads in September.
“Ethan is a guy with a very relaxed and easy-going manner,” says Ineos sports director Servais Knaven. “He is so very versatile. Ethan’s background on the track helps him with the sprints and the time trials and of course those short 4–5-minute efforts. He also digests climbs really well.
“He will do well in stage races of a week and the hillier Classics. He also could do well in the Flemish races but he needs more experience in that way of racing first.”
Being multi-talented means choices have to be made. It’s something Hayter will have to think about after the Olympic Games.
“I am not really sure yet,” he says about where he’ll focus his energies. “There are many races I could do well in. Nothing is set in stone. I don’t know what I will do for the next Olympic cycle. Maybe I will combine the track and road but I will have to sit down with the team. I now live in Manchester because of the proximity to the track which is a great place when it doesn’t rain but I don’t know if I’ll stay here.”
Hayter comes from a talented family – his younger brother Leo might be on his way to a WorldTour team in the near future. He already rides with the DSM development team.
“Usually, it’s one of the parents who ride and inspires the kids but Leo and I are the only ones in the family,” Hayter explains. Their first pedal strokes were on the neighbourhood outdoor track.
“We live close to the Herne Hill Velodrome in London,” Hayter says. “I started when I was 12 or 13 and it was just great fun. We made many friends there. It’s also the place where many pros started like Tao Geoghegan Hart, Joanna Rowsell, Alex Peters, and Laura Trott [now Laura Kenny – ed.]
“The social side of Herne Hill and cycling was so important. On the other side, our sister did some riding with us but saw us come home with the cuts and bruises and then quit, so it doesn’t always work that way,” he adds with a laugh.
The future is full of promise for Hayter. He does well on short climbs and sees similarities with riders like Michael Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli. His victory in Algarve on the 7.7 km-long Alto do Foía climb in May was unexpected but exemplified Hayter’s approach to racing at WorldTour level. He just takes it as it comes.
“I just came from a track meet in Gent and I had to quarantine,” he explains. “I only did some work on the turbo. The team was like ‘we’ll see’ but I felt good. The pace on the climb was pretty high but I just TT’d and hung on. Then it came to a sprint uphill and that suits me.”
Whether it’s cobbles at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, climbs in Portugal, or autumn Classics in Italy, Hayter is at home in many races. There isn’t a Grand Tour on the menu this year but he will focus on the Tour of Britain and the world championships in Belgium at the end of September. Next year that Grand Tour will most certainly happen. For Hayter the future is open and he approaches it like every new race: open-minded and relaxed.
“I am not sure about ambitions and dreams,” he says. “I enjoy new challenges that come with discovering new races and disciplines. The world road championships this year in Flanders are great because it comes with a jersey. The track championships might actually be in the UK [a venue for the relocated event has not officially been named yet – ed.] so that would be cool and the Tour of Britain is also a short-term goal.
“Next year will be my first full year of focus on the road. I will just keep trying and then see where I end up.”