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I caught up with Callum McQueen, the new Performance and Aerodynamics coach at Soudal Quickstep, and at the age of 23, one of youngest in the world of Professional Cycling, to discuss how he is settling in to his new role.

Having joined the team in August 2023, Callum has been working hard to support the riders which include two-time World Road Champion Julian Alaphilippe, and Grand Tour winner Remco Evenepoel in the ongoing search for the slightest competitive gains, to keep the team winning.

Callum is significantly aware of how fortunate he is to be on such a prestigious team, working for Patrick Lefevere, the most successful cycling manager in history and consequently his time is fully dedicated to supporting the riders and the team, as he looks to repay the faith that has been placed in him, to help deliver success.

A difficult journey

Callum’s journey to position of Performance coach has not been preordained and when we first met, Callum’s cycling career had been severely hampered by the recent pandemic, where his entry into the sport that he had dedicated his life to had been hindered when the Pro-Continental team he signed for withdrew funding, leading him to be without a ride for the 2021 season, until at the last minute, managed to get a place on the Canyon Development Team.  The following season, he secured a ride with the Canadian UCI Continental Team Yoeleo Test Team p/b 4 Mind.  However, as Callum explained “I was out of my depth, I was the wrong type of rider for the events I was entered for and as a climber the races didn’t suit me.” Callum noted that upon returning home “I thought am I going to make it? The gap between the average rider and the Continental team is big, but then going to the World Tour is another level and I realised it was not feasible.” At this point it is important to quantify Callum’s stats so you can understand the level he is referring to.  At 63kg, Callum can output 5.8 w/kg, or 366 watts for a sustained period and this was still not to the standard required, giving you a clear indication of the superhuman efforts we see when we watch the riders race the Tour de France.

Callum explained “I realised my dream of being a professional cyclist was not possible and as I had not been to University, I wasn’t sure what to do, but I had a strong interest in all aspects of sports performance, so I pursed that.” 

A new direction

Not wanting to fully give up on his cycling dream, Callum was tenacious in his research, covering every aspect of performance coaching.  He used innovative ways to engage with people who might be able to point him in the right direction, simultaneously helping him understand how a career in that field might look.  

With ideas on how cycling could develop, based on his experience as a rider and education focused on the finer details in aerodynamics, performance coaching and analysis, he expanded his knowledge and spent time testing methods independently, researching online and connecting with individuals who had carried out a study in those particular fields, such as Bert Blocken, a renowned Professor who specialises in aerodynamics.

Callum was innovative in his approach to learning and noted “I joined a performance group, and now maintain contact with performance strategists in Formula 1, and England Lionesses (Women’s National football team) and England Men’s Football Team. I value their input and share ideas about how our different sports function. Keeping in contact provides unique insights into performance in different sporting aspects.”

When his path crossed with Soudal Quickstep, Callum took the opportunity to discuss with Klaas Lodewyck, Sports Director, and then Koen Pelgrim, Head of Performance, his research and how that could work with the team.  He was then invited to speak with Patrick Lefevere, CEO, who appointed him.

Work started with a trip to California in November, with Remco Evenepoel and Kasper Asgreen to carry out wind tunnel testing with leading bike brand and team sponsor, Specialized. Callum stated “It’s then been all go from there with Tour de France recons, Paris-Nice and classics preparations!”

Constant evolution

Soudal Quickstep are a formidable team, winning 55 races in 2023, including stages at each Grand Tour and one aspect of Callum’s multifaceted role, involves reviewing the team’s current approaches and identifying areas where additional performance gains can be achieved. This is detail-orientated work and one example of it includes examining different Time Trial strategies, with the team being receptive to suggestions.

Current work is focussed on creating a winning tactic for the team time trial in Paris-Nice, a prestigious early season, week-long stage race in France, ran by the A.S.O, the organisers of the Tour de France.

The “Wolfpack”

I wanted to know how riders were responding to Callum who shared an anecdote that reflects the winning mentality within the team “It was at our California training camp and I was sat with Remco, who asked how old I was, I replied that I was a few months younger than him and after speaking about the technical aspects of cycling was met with a warm response. Age wasn’t a barrier, or my lack of degree, it was what I could practically bring to the team that the riders have responded to.”

Talking about the team, whose nickname is the “Wolfpack,” Callum explains that “everyone is very supportive. It’s like a family and everyone wants to get things right, I am finding enjoyment in the success of others, more than when I was riding for myself.” Consequently, the nickname of the team is well deserved and Callum has found a receptive environment for his talents, which the team are utilising.

Multifaceted role

The team are sized appropriately in terms of staff, which has meant that Callum, in addition to his core role, is working with the development team, which consists of riders looking to progress to the World Tour as well as coaching Junior riders. 

Within the team, in particular the Performance department that Callum works, there are three key pillars; nutrition, coaching and equipment and Callum is actively involved in two of the three.  Callum commented “I am always busy and currently I am undertaking work to support the upcoming training camp in Spain.”

One position that he is confidently learning is supporting the Director Sportif, and has already admitted that he is excited about helping provide real time feedback and support to the riders, in race. 

Summing up

Callum has confessed that he is excited by the upcoming season but is equally apprehensive and he is keen to ensure that the team and riders reach their potential.  It is evident that his innovative approach to problem solving, coupled with high attention to detail, enables him to identify opportunities for gains, which others may have not considered.  This unique way of looking at things is not reserved for technology but also himself, as he has a high self-awareness which combined with an analytical approach and a strong and tenacious work ethic, have taken him new heights and that will without doubt, deliver success for him and the team.