New chapter for cycling hero
Written by Sam Wilson, September 25, 2023
Although Alex Dowsett spent 12 years at the top of professional cycling and is the only known athlete with severe haemophilia to successfully break into elite, able-bodied sport, he seems surprised that anyone would want to read about his achievements.
Luckily his publishers persuaded him that his extraordinary life so far – he is only 34 – is well worth shouting about. The result is his autobiography, Bloody Minded, which comes out on 28 September.
Alex said: ‘I never thought my story was big enough for a book. It’s quite surreal being told that your story is a source of inspiration.’
Bloody Minded gives an insight into the commitment, dedication and support network needed to climb to the top of elite sport. Alex’s attitude is not ‘all or nothing’, it’s ‘all’.
This is a man who reached a top speed of 73 miles per hour hurtling down a mountain in Switzerland, whose fearless approach clocked up 15 career wins in professional cycling.
Alex retired at the end of 2022, in part to spend more time with his partner Chanel and their young daughter Juliette at their home in Essex, near where he grew up.
Bloody Minded is as much about Alex’s haemophilia as it is his cycling. He saw his haemophilia as just part of who he was and admits he was ‘blindsided’ when he realised the impact his story was making. He built on that interest by founding the Little Bleeders charity which encourages young people with a bleeding disorder to get into sport and is a powerful ambassador for our community.
He was diagnosed with severe haemophilia A, aged 18 months in 1990, a shock to his family who were unaware of any history of the condition. Treated at the Royal London Hospital, Alex was encouraged to be sporty, and he enjoyed swimming and dinghy sailing, although he and his sister were the only ones wearing safety helmets.
Alex’s role model was his dad, Phil, a successful motor racing driver, who told him that the key was to find his talent and make the most if it. Alex said: ‘I realised that I was probably good at something, I just needed to find out what that something was.’
When, aged 11, he tried mountain biking with his dad, Alex discovered a sport he really enjoyed. Three years later, he came a surprise second in the National Youth Time Trial Championships and a cycling star was born.
Although Alex recognised his haemophilia was ‘baggage’ that professional cycling teams might not find attractive, he decided his best approach was to assure them, ‘I’ve got this, it’s managed, it’s fine.’ It was a successful strategy. Apart from having to warn teammates that he had to inject his medication, he was treated the same as anyone else.
As a fledging cyclist, Alex would store his medication in the fridges of hotel kitchens, but as he progressed in his career, turning professional in 2011, life became easier with fridges on team buses and medical staff to support him.
At times, his haemophilia – or others’ reaction to it – was a good motivator. In 2010, Alex crashed and broke his collarbone eight weeks before the under 23s European Time Trial Championships. Returning to the Royal London for treatment a rather patronising paediatric nurse told him in no uncertain terms that he would not be competing in the competition. Of course, Alex won it.
Alex said: ‘As I stood on the podium, I remember thinking I should be happy because I’m the champion of Europe, but I’m happy because I’ve proven this paediatric nurse wrong.’
He’s won numerous titles, including six British National Time Trials and two stage wins at the Giro d’Italia and competed in some of the world’s toughest challenges, such as the Tour de France. In 2015 he broke the World Hour Record when he covered 52.937 kilometres in 60 minutes at Manchester Velodrome.
It was a record he tried to reclaim in 2021, using the attempt to raise money for the Haemophilia Society and Little Bleeders. Alex was massively disappointed to come up just short of the current record, despite covering more distance than in his first attempt, but he was astonished by the reaction of those watching. More than £20,000 was raised during the hour he was racing, and the final tally exceeded £50,000. He said: ‘It was huge. It felt like there was a stronger message in failing than there would have been in succeeding. The record attempt was something I felt I had to do, even though it would have been easier not to have tried. I’m very proud of it.’
Following his retirement, lots of opportunities are coming Alex’s way and he’s discovering what interests him and what works with family life. Top of the list so far is his collaboration with Nopinz, a company at the cutting edge of aerodynamic cycling clothing. Alex said: ‘I’m fascinated by the tech side of cycling. I spend an awful lot of time in wind tunnels, measuring fractions of percentages of what will help you go a little bit faster.’
He’s determined to stay fit, although he now trains for one hour a day, rather than five or six. He believes his extreme-level fitness is why he hasn’t got any haemophilia-related injuries. Alex continues to race and still ‘packs a good punch’.
Alex said: ‘Life is good. When I knew my career was ending, I was determined that I gave everything I had, that I would be the best version of Alex Dowsett, the pro cyclist, that you could have seen. I’m happy to move into something else with no regrets.’
Bloody Minded: My Life in Cycling by Alex Dowsett is published by Bloomsbury Sport on 28 September 2023.
If you’re a member of the Haemophilia Society, you can get 30% off Alex’s book by ordering through Bloomsbury using this link: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/bloody-minded-9781399406390/. Email us at [email protected] with your membership details and we’ll send you the discount code.