Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) entered the WorldTour on the eve of the coronavirus pandemic. Sheepishly, he dutifully followed Mark Cavendish around the hotel on his first professional race in Saudi Arabia. The then 20-year-old spoke enthusiastically about the big races he would take part in in the future. The Grand Tours, the Monuments, how he was ready to learn them and experience them first hand.

Fast forward two years and he just crossed the line after a racing storm to finish seventh at the Tour of Flanders. “I’m fucking happy about that!” he breathes, curled up on his handlebars.

The riders crawl into the mixed zone after 270 merciless km where Mathieu van der Poel and Tadej Pogačar put the peloton to the wire. Wright is empty, his eyes glassy, ​​his face covered in salt and dirt.

It was a great day for Bahrain Victorious. Milan-San Remo winner Matej Mohorič was relatively anonymous as he handed over the reins to Wright’s unassuming trio of Jan Tratnik – who blasted the Paterberg en route to 12th – and the crafty Dylan Teuns – who eventually joined Wright at the end of the race. to finish sixth.

This momentous day for Wright began when he trailed the movement of Dylan van Baarle in front of a shrinking group with around 50km to go. It was a speculative effort, which was necessary when players like Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel lurked ominously, just waiting for the right moment.

“I knew being up front for the Koppenberg and Taaienberg was going to help because obviously Mathieu and Tadej are better than me on the climbs,” Wright said. When this pair came through it was a blessing and a curse, propelling Wright further down the road and away from the competition, but knowing that their fearsome form would make him surplus to requirements at some point or another.

“I tried my best to keep up, but I could feel what my limits were.”

Fred Wright (far right) clings to a career-changing moment.

Van der Poel and Pogačar built up a half-minute lead, giving them time and space for a cat-and-mouse end to a scintillating race. The victorious Dutchman cut it well and Pogačar was overwhelmed in the sprint as two more joined the contest. By this point Wright had been uncoupled, with teammate Teuns taking over, the Briton’s legs done but his goal more than achieved.

“I’m not going to lie, not at all,” he said to find out if he thought he would come back in the last hundred meters to sprint to victory. “I told Dylan [Teuns] that he had to go. I counted the miles. I swear it was the longest 10km I have ever done, especially with the headwind.

Wright is too exhausted to hide any emotion. As the scale of what he has achieved sinks in and what it will mean for his fledgling career, his eyes mist up. A mixture of exhaustion, exaltation, love for the pure cycle race.

At the same time, he receives the most exhausting question that sports journalists ask athletes: “What does this result mean to you?

” Many ! ” he says.

Wright is a refreshing, unfiltered addition to the pack. He speaks well for a rider from his younger years in the peloton. He has the brains and the heart to match a terrific pair of legs.

Another reporter tries to shift the conversation to a more analytical rendition of Wright’s performance, but he’s done. Today, it was mostly his legs that announced themselves to the wider cycling world, like a true contender in the classics, those toughest bike races.

“I can’t really speak,” Wright admits, trying to be polite. “I’m so tired. I think I need food.

Today will be the first party of many now that Wright has had a taste of what he is capable of.