To say that Charlie Quarterman is having a good summer is quite an understatement. In quick succession he has won the British U23 Time Trial Championship, impressed at the Baby Giro, signed a contract with Trek-Segafredo to race in the WorldTour, and become National 10-mile TT Champion. The World TT Championships await, on home soil no less, and a storming ride at the European TT Championships was only derailed by a slipped chain.
Yet, incredibly, Charlie only raced his first time trials last year. One of the five events he raced was the British U23 TT Championship – he placed second and a bright light was shone on a hitherto undiscovered natural talent.
Seeing the potential, his friend and D2Z team rider Mark Jones introduced him to Drag2Zero. In April 2019 Charlie came to Drag2Zero for a Studio Aero Fit, which yielded significant gains and led to even more impressive performances.
In early May, we increased our support of Charlie to prepare for the ‘Baby Giro’ and National Championships. He returned for a wind tunnel session, yielding improvements to both his drag and the power he can produce in the position, which was already high. We provided him with our an ENVE front wheel and D2Z disc, and partners Endura contributed an Encapsulator TT skinsuit and Aeroswitch helmet. Charlie was also one of the first to race with Drag2Zero’s soon-to-be-released Underarm Ski Poles which reduce directly drag and increase comfort and control.
We sat down for a long chat with Charlie about his exciting news, fantastic recent achievements, and his journey through cycling to get to this point. Here it is in full.
You’ve signed a two-year contract with Trek-Segafredo, one of the top WorldTour teams. Has it sunk in yet?
No, not at all. Maybe once it’s announced it will feel a bit more real, but it probably won’t be until the first training camp that I actually feel part of the team.
And then there are bound to be some pinch-yourself moments when you first put on the jersey and ride with the team…
Yes! Absolutely. What I’m most worried about is snoring on the first night of sharing a room with a teammate!
When did you first get an agent?
It was just after the National Champs. They’re connected with Zappi so they were aware of me. They’re quite hard to sign up with; they only have around 30 riders at a time and they’re nearly all WorldTour. When I signed up with them they got straight to work at the Tour and within a week they were asking me which of three WorldTour teams I would prefer to ride for. All I could think was, ‘I’d love to ride for any of them!’.
Did you have a clue that a move direct to WorldTour might be possible?
It was the goal from the start of the year – I didn’t want to keep hacking away at Continental level – but up until May I was quite far from achieving it. Then after the Giro and the National Champs, two weeks of hard work, all of a sudden everything was different.
Do you feel you needed those stand-out results to get noticed, over and above your W/kg and CDA numbers?
It’s a little bit of both, really. The power and drag numbers really cemented things. I only have three or four results to really catch their eyes, but they do need to see that you can do it on the road. When I took third on the road stage in the Giro they realised that yes I can ride a bike around other people and not just on my own in a TT! They just needed to know that I was a real bike racer and not a former triathlete or rower [with a big engine and no skills].
That’s ironic really, because time trialling is ridiculously new for you and you have a long history with top development teams. For the thousands of amateur time triallists who might read this, it could be somewhat grating that you jumped on a TT bike and can knock out 18-minute 10s for fun!
It’s a bit bizarre really because I have quite broad shoulders. I’d done five TTs before this year and they all went quite well. I thought it was just because I’m quite powerful, but on my first time in the wind tunnel the base line test said I’m pretty aero. With the margins being so small you have no idea.
It sounds like you started out already really fast and then got the best help in the world to get even faster.
Yes, it was incredible. Simon makes it look so easy, too. He can simply see what needs to change. We did a bike fit first to check the angles [through the pedal stroke on the TT bike], then we went to the wind tunnel and moved the saddle down and back by quite a long way. That made a good 7 or 8W difference for me, and at the same time I also became more powerful by about 20W, which no one expected.
What equipment have you been using in TTs this season?
I’m riding a Giant Trinity, with a helmet and skinsuit from Endura. My bike has an ENVE wheel in the front, and Simon has loaned me a D2Z disc for the back. I have also been using the new Drag2Zero cockpit which is amazingly comfortable, and tested really well in the wind tunnel. You feel like a superstar riding a set-up like that.
How many times have you been in the wind tunnel?
Twice now. Happily, Drag2Zero is just half an hour up the road from where I live. The first time we found about 20W and the second time it was around 10W of drag and I could produce more power, too. It was amazing.
Your power was already huge, and presumably there is going to be a bit more to come as you develop.
I think so, yeah, and learning to push myself to the limit so that I finish with nothing, unable to walk. Every time I feel like I understand it a bit more.
That’s not always the case, it takes that mindset and focus to pay close attention to the details and find those incremental improvements.
I guess. I also think I’m lucky. You can’t expect to turn up to some new discipline and crack on like I have. I don’t think there’s anything special about me, but maybe my hips are a bit more flexible or something.
We guess that you enjoy riding the TT bike.
I love it! Every time I get on it, even in a local 10, it’s really satisfying because you go so fast. In a road race you can do the wrong thing at the wrong time [and have a bad result no matter how good your legs are], but in a TT if you make sure everything is perfect at the start then the rest is up to you.
How come you were so late getting on a TT bike given the level at which you’ve ridden through the junior ranks, with teams such as Zappi and Leopard?
I don’t know really. Last year I just spontaneously decided to give the National TT Champs a good go so I had a couple of months preparing in training for that, which was my first time really working on it. I didn’t focus on the aerodynamics so much as putting the power out in that position. Before that, I guess I never really got around to it. I was dreaming of winning road races solo and the big Classics, not TTs. While I did ok in the time trials in the big races, I never put much focus into it. We had access to TT bikes but there were only a couple of time trials in the season, so it didn’t seem that important.
Have you always been relatively powerful?
Yes. That’s always been my big strength over the years, and I’ve always been able to soak up quite a lot in a race. I didn’t used to do the punchy stuff so well, so some races suited me and in others I’d really suffer.
Is your power profile staying consistent as you move through your U23 years?
Yes, it’s stayed very consistent actually. The big thing that’s changed is my ability to do the efforts for longer and do them more frequently. For instance, my ride at the National Championships, that was a power that last year I’d have been happy with for 20 minutes but it kept going for over 30. I think that comes down to the work I’ve done over the years. That’s always been my favourite kind of interval. When I look at my training plan and see 3-4 hours with two efforts of 20 minutes, that’s my favourite sort of ride to do.
What sort of role does Trek-Segafredo have in mind for you?
It’s still too early (mid-Aug) to have had those discussions with the team yet, but I think they’ll want me to really work on time trials and hopefully take some results for them there. Another big advantage of the way I ride is that I could be a pretty good domestique on the right days, and I’d also really like to work on the Classics because I really love that kind of racing.
How much experience of Classics-style racing do you have?
A fair bit, actually. Leopard does lots of quite high-level races in Belgium. As horrible as it was to race against guys at their peak, it meant I was doing some tough races and learning from some pretty good guys. The Classics are more of a long-term project, I’d say. They’re so tough, mentally too, that unless you’re unbelievable it’s unlikely you can show up as a 20-year-old and show them how it’s done. Next year I want to take it race by race, learn as much as I can, try to find my role, and work out how I’m going to be valuable to the team.
What’s the step up in distance going to be like?
Not too bad actually, particularly because I’ve been doing lots of Elite races anyway, so they’re all 190, 200km. This year they’ve been shorter, more like 150km in U23 races, but then they tend to be full-on the whole time. In the pro ranks they tend to be more controlled. I know it will be tough to race for six hours, if I’m lucky enough to do any of the Monuments, but most of the time it’s all just turning the pedals. Long races tend to be better for me, too.
What is your first contact with the team likely to be?
I’ve just spoken to the head coach about what races I can do as a stagiaire to help. Before I signed I spoke to the doctor to provide blood results and a little bit of communication with the boss. I don’t know anything beyond that yet.
You’ve been very professional in your approach already, though.
It’s the only way to do it really. It’s something I’ve realised this year – you can’t expect things just to happen. You need to sort your life out. You can’t tolerate not sleeping as well as you could do or forgetting to have your protein shake or whatever. The margins are too small. If we see that my sleep score is declining for a few days in a row then we know that something has to change or I will start feeling it on the bike. You become very aware of all these things that could compromise your training.
I presume you’re very disciplined with your diet, too.
Yes, especially with Flavio Zappi. I don’t know if you’ve heard stories about him but he’s very hot on that, in the old school Italian way. We’ll have a massive bowl of salad for lunch with sardines and tuna and all these different beans. When I’m at home I don’t go to quite such extremes – I might have an omelette with it, maybe even some bread. Although I had a gap when I was with Leopard, I’ve really been brought up in cycling by Zappi, so I always eat pretty healthily and consistently.
How did you first get to know Zappi?
One of my first rides was with his old club. He used to have a cycling club in Oxford and I’d ride with them every week. My first ride with them was actually the club hill climb and I remember this mad Italian man running after me up the hill shouting, and that was him.
I started cycling in 2012, just after the London Olympics and Wiggins winning the Tour. I watched both and thought it looked really cool. I didn’t start off with the idea of being a professional. I’d ride to see friends 20 miles away or go out with the club just to have a good time and sit in a café for hours afterwards. Cycling wasn’t serious for me from the start, but with Zappi’s inspiration and motivation it really snowballed.
Talk us through your first couple of years and the transition from club cyclist to racer.
I started riding with the club in 2012, did my first race in 2013, at Hillingdon, and came 10th. I remember that I raced with my saddlebag still fitted! I started racing more seriously in 2014, doing a few kermesses in Belgium and learning how the cycling world works. This was the start of the Zappi youth team. It was when I got into Juniors that I started to make a mark. I won the Isle of Man Tour as a first-year junior. I did about 30km solo and won the second stage by two minutes. That’s when I first made my mark and then it’s been steady progress from there.
Were you ratcheting up your goals through this time with each new achievement?
It was very relaxed actually. At that point I was dreaming of becoming a pro and starting to convince myself I could do it, but I never explicitly said my big goal is to join this team or win this race. The goal was always to get as fast as I could in training and try to use that to have fun in the races. I didn’t go about it in a really systematic way, it was more the classic Italian way that if you train hard enough then at some point you will be fast enough to win. And that’s what happened. It kept it relaxed and fun, and when you’re having fun then you can go faster.
Can you remember a point at which a career became a realistic and reachable goal as opposed to a dream?
When you’re a youth you’re convinced you can do it anyway and I thought it would be much easier than it was. Things turned real when I was a second-year junior and I realised that to carry things on in the best way possible I’d need to find a good contract for my first year in U23. That was the first time that I really felt a lot of pressure in races. I also had a good year abroad in big races. That was the year I learned how cut-throat the cycling world can be. I was lucky that we got through it and got to a really good team on the other side of it.
What will the rest of 2019 involve?
The contract takes a lot of pressure off me. Trek-Segafredo want me to focus on the World Championships. To do that, I [had to] ride the European Championships; that was essentially a big qualification race for me to get in the British team. You might have thought that winning the National Champs would do it, but apparently I still need to prove my point.
Will you keep working with D2Z in the future?
I would love to. Hopefully I will be able to connect them to Trek-Segafredo and create a relationship there. I don’t know if the team has a regular wind tunnel that they use but there is no question about how effective Simon is.
There will be a job to do positioning you on your new bike presumably.
Yes, absolutely. It won’t simply be a case of taking the measurements from this bike. I know every bike has a different way of working, so there will be quite a lot to do I think. If I’m not able to work with Simon next year I will be a bit worried.
Will you end your season after the World Champs?
I’ve been speaking to Magnus and planning a bit. In order to make the preparation for next year as effective as possible, the plan is to keep racing for as long as I can, unless I’m completely cooked. If I’m racing in to the middle of October, I won’t be so out of shape if I need to start the season early in January.
Zappi must be extremely happy to pass you on to a team such as Trek.
Absolutely. James Knox went from Zappi to Quick-Step but via the Wiggins team. It really means a lot to Zappi that I’m moving directly from him to the WorldTour. It really establishes him as a serious development team, so he’s over the moon. Every time I speak to him on the phone he’s almost crying!