In a peloton of sprinters sporting short haircuts, Sam Welsford with his loose locks and manicured moustache stands out at the Tour de France.
“I shaved it off after the classics season, but I was, ‘you know what, the Tour, I’m going to bring it back’,” Welsford said of his tidy ‘stache.
“I was talking to Marco Haller [Bora-Hansgrohe] about it because he’s rocking a ‘mo’ as well. “It’s something different. Every cyclist looks the same.”
Styling, however, is not the Australian sprinter’s only point of difference at the Tour, where he is making his race debut with Team dsm-firmenich, having transitioned from the track to WorldTour last season.
Welsford is a decorated Olympian and represented Australia in Rio in 2016, at the Tokyo Games, and wants to add the Paris 2024 Olympic Games to his palmares next year, too.
After the Tour, the 27-year-old is set to compete at the UCI Track World Championships in Scotland in August and, if all goes to plan, the Paris Olympic Games where Australia hope to claim the gold medal in the men’s team pursuit.
“It’s the only one I don’t have,” Welsford told Cyclingnews at the Tour de France. “I’ve got a silver [Rio] and bronze [Tokyo], so I’m still chasing that gold. Maybe Paris will be the one.”
Welsford’s experience on the track has been beneficial at the Tour, making his debut somewhat less daunting.
“You learn to handle the pressure of the big events from the Olympics. It teaches you to treat it like any other race,” he said.
“Yeah, it can be the Tour de France, it’s the pinnacle of the sport on the road, but it’s the same guys you race all year; it’s just at the highest level, and you have to keep that in the back of your mind that, yeah, it might be a bit nervous because it’s more people, more stress, more media and stuff, but it’s the same guys you race, the same sprinters we sprint against, but it means a lot more when you cross that line I guess.”
And he believes the race, in which he has another shot at line honours on Wednesday’s stage 11 from Clermont-Ferrand to Moulins will also aid his track goals.
“I have the ambition to go to Worlds quite soon after the Tour finishes,” he said.
“Hopefully things going well, with how my fatigue is after the Tour, and how I’m feeling, but I definitely would like to go and do the team pursuit again because I still have ambitions to do the Olympics next year in Paris. The team pursuit is the main focus, and then if we can get a bunch race in there it would really nice, like the Omnium. I think the more you do on the road the better you’ll be on those bunch races on the track, with the endurance, it shows I have the speed and the power there the last few years, but I think it’s the endurance that you need in those races now.”
Welsford, who is rumoured to be transferring to Bora-Hansgrohe in 2024, is immediately focused, however, on the Tour, where dsm-firmenich is splitting its resources between the Australian and the French climber Romain Bardet.
The Commonwealth Games track gold medalist has finished 13th in two of three bunch sprints that Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) has so far dominated. His squad, which includes three other countrymen and former Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb, are working on refining their lead-out in a stacked field.
“The fatigue is getting up there now, so you feel it a bit more when you wake up every morning, but I think you’ve got to keep your eye on the days that are good for you and stage 11 is a good day. Hopefully, I can be up there for another sprint and get stuck in,” he said before the start of stage 10 on Tuesday.
“I think we’re moving in a good way as a team and really dialling in our lead-out and our teamwork as the stages go on.
“[If] you don’t have [a] dialled lead-out here, you’re not going to be up the front. I mean, it’s so difficult to stay at the front in the last 20km because it’s fully washing machine, and everyone wants to be in the same spot.
“The speed’s there, but it’s all about just learning that experience of sprinting at the WorldTour level.”
Welsford entered the Tour on the back of three wins, including two stages at the Vuelta a San Juan in January, where he bested the likes of Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal Quick-Step), and he was also second to Philipsen at Scheldeprijs in April.
He is accustomed to competing under a global spotlight, but the Tour has presented unique challenges, from the roadside spectators that form human tunnels riders must power through single file, to the deafening sounds in a bunch gallop where he needs to concentrate not just on a result but also his surrounds to avoid crashing. Welsford estimated he was nearly involved in 20 crashes within the final 10km of his first bunch sprint at the Tour.
“It’s super hard to hear also the fans are so loud,” said Welsford.
“You’re basically trying to yell at each other, you know, that ‘We’re here, take the right side,’ and even with the [race] radios you can’t really hear each other because it’s so loud and you’re obviously going so fast. Communication is also a vital point because you don’t have the time or opportunity to look around and see where your team is because you’re going so fast.”