Max on the recent Canyon dhb SunGod training camp. Photo credit: Hugh McManus
Maximilian (Max) Stedman has been a regular fixture of the Canyon team through all of its various incarnations over the years. He was first spotted by Tim Elverson, team owner and sports director of the current Canyon dhb SunGod team, when Max was flying up the road as a junior on youth gears.
Fast forward to now, and Max has stood on the top step of the podium at the Tour of Quanzhou Bay and then really made people take note with a first overall at the Tour of Antalya (2.1), back in February 2020 before the world descended into chaos.
In this extended interview on the GC, Max goes back to his 'disruptive' school days, the diagnosis of a learning disability whilst at University, how he combined a degree with his racing ambitions and his goals moving forward. Oh, and not forgetting a certain British Everesting record to add to the mix.
We caught up with Max the night before his latest team camp as he was battling to fit some Speedplay cleats to a new pair of Sidi shoes. Apparently leaving things to the last minute is not unusual for him...
TGC: Let’s wind the clock right back. Where did you go to school and what sort of student were you?
MS: I went to Hatch Ride Primary School and then went on to Edgbarrow Secondary School, Crowthorne, just south of Reading. Yes, I don't know what kind of student I was, probably a little bit disruptive, I reckon. I got booted out of PE in sixth form because apparently, I was too disruptive.
In University I was diagnosed with a learning disability, a little bit of dyslexia and basically my ability to explain something to someone and then write it down on paper.
TGC: What did they class as disruptive?
MS: I don't know. I guess, chatty maybe. Disrupting other people, things like that. I wouldn't say I struggled at all in school, like when I got my head down and did things and tried and things worked out pretty well but generally, yes. I'd be outgoing in a kind of way. In University I was diagnosed with a learning disability, a little bit of dyslexia and basically my ability to explain something to someone and then write it down on paper. The disparity was just massive and that only got picked up in my third year of uni.
TGC: Interesting, isn't it that it was picked up so late.
MS: Yes. It's hard to tell how much of an impact that did have on some of my learning at school, but more with essays and things like that. It's hard to tell but I really enjoyed maths from a younger age and that's what my sister did at uni. I really enjoyed it at A level and I think I like, well you know what’s right [with maths]. You do a Health and Sports Sciences essay and you don’t know if it’s going to be correct or not but you can do a maths equation or formula and you know whether it’s right or wrong.
TGC: Were you tempted to do a Maths degree?
MS: I looked at maths and my sister did maths but I looked towards what some of the stuff my sister was doing and I was like, "No, I know for a fact I can't do that." I got a B at A level which is pretty good but it's not enough to really have a go at uni particularly. Too much of a struggle.
I was always worried, "If you go to uni, you're chucking away your cycling career. You won't have time." You get to uni and it's like, "Wow, I've actually got loads of time to do this."
TGC: Were you always going to go to uni, was that the plan or was it a difficult choice?
MS: No, not really. It was like a case of see how the cycling went and then go from there. I got to the end of junior and I was where I wanted [to be] with cycling but not quite high enough to really, probably say "I want to pursue this full time", or I could afford to. My parents supported me so far to a point and then they were just like, "You can get a job now or you could go to uni." In my head, uni sounded pretty good. I wasn't sure. I was always worried like, "If you go to uni, you're chucking away your cycling career. You won't have time." You get to uni and it's like, "Wow, I've actually got loads of time to do this." More time than you could ever imagine, basically. Yes, it was always in the background but I wasn't really sure until I finished my A levels in junior racing and I decided to fully commit.
TGC: How did you get in to cycling? Is it something that runs in the family?
MS: Yes, my parents are really into it now. Probably bigger fans than I am, but no mum was a world-class runner. She went to the Commonwealth Games for England for 10K. Most of my family's always into that. My cousins went down that path, and I dabbled in cross-country and a little bit of track in schools competitions, things like that but nothing major. My dad did triathlons and then his knee started to give up a little bit so he turned to road racing. He was a third cat chipper essentially. That's how it went. I just watched him race at Hillingdon once and I decided to give it a go when I was seven.
TGC: What was it that captured your imagination at that young age?
MS: I don't know. I just thought I was quite good at it and then, it's hard to really put my finger on why. It just gained momentum. I just enjoyed it. I enjoyed football and tennis and other sports, running, but I felt like this was one where I could really rise in essentially and walk somewhere with it.
TGC: How did the relationship with Tim Elverson come about because you've been with him since the Pedal Heaven days?
MS: Yes, since I was a second-year junior. It started, there were these local circuit races down at Ilmor, it's like an army driver learning training centre, essentially. They don't do it anymore. It's basically like a big sausage loop, like two hairpin corners, 1K drag slightly uphill, and then a 1k false downhill. When I started racing, we won two races there when I was 16 on youth gears, and racing Tim and there's another DS there at the time and they were with Pedal Heaven and they were usually winning it but I was holding my own.
At the time I must have been sub 50 kilos, at 16 so I was even smaller than I am now. A year after that again, I dabbled in those and Tim picked me up through that. After one race he congratulated me, and then he actually slid into my Twitter DMs one day and yes, it went from there.
All smiles on the recent Canyon dhb SunGod training camp. Photo credit: Hugh McManus
TGC: What was that balance like of trying to get a decent degree and doing your best to make it as a cyclist?
MS: Yes, it's an interesting one. When I actually went to uni I got a knee injury halfway through second-year junior, tendonitis. Basically, I went to uni and it provided a distraction from the injury to begin with. Freshers was going on, my injury wasn't getting much better. Rehab was taking a while. I think the university cycling club saw me about twice. Don't think I went on a club run in my first term. I might have gone on a few socials and meet ups with the uni cycling club so they knew there was this first cat junior joining, but no one had actually ridden with him yet.
TGC: Maybe he was too busy at the student union.
MS: Yes, there was freshers going on and I had a knee injury, I couldn't fully focus on cycling. It was like for three, four months, cycling took quite a backseat. I trained a bit, but not tons, and then as the new year started to turn, first term turned into second term, then my knee starts getting a lot better and things started to kick off a lot more and I pushed on from there. Then that year actually ended up getting pretty good, although I got hit with another knee injury again, ITB syndrome halfway through the year. After Durham Tour Series, I'd done top 20, 18th, or something. I think NFTO, One Pro were around, so a pretty stacked time for British cycling. That was quite a big result for me.
Literally, that night, I was like in tears again because my knee was up the wall, and I just felt like I was coming into form. A month and a half before that, I got dropped at Chorley Grand Prix, my first premiere calendar, about 60 miles in.
Then, yes, literally, that night, I was like in tears again because my knee was up the wall, and I just felt like I was coming into form. A month and a half before that, I got dropped at Chorley Grand Prix, my first premiere calendar, about 60 miles in. I felt like at that point I was just getting back to it and then hit with another one [injury], and then that whole year was just a scrap in and out of trying to get youths and national series. Then ended up going alright and got the elite license at the end of that year.
Balancing uni, once I got my head around it, it was fine. Just organizing your time a bit better and you've actually got quite a bit of time.
Balancing uni, once I got my head around it, it was fine. Just organizing your time a bit better and you've actually got quite a bit of time as I've said already.
Obviously, you've got your lectures, but between that, you can organize the work around yourself. You're a student and you have no responsibilities you can be sat down at a desk from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM or 11:00 just working away. I think from that point of view it's actually fairly, I wouldn't say easy, obviously, I couldn't train like a full-time pro, I was just strict on my time. If you manage the time well and then train well, and there's a really good atmosphere around there’s a lot of people with the same interests as you. Yes, it was really good.
TGC: You touched on something about Uni probably being a good distraction from the injury. Do you think there's something in that?
MS: Yes, I think, well, I guess in terms of starting uni then with that injury, that actually worked quite well. I was doing rehab pretty well, but I just didn't seem to be recovering that quickly. I was doing my rehab, but apart from that, I was just riding every now and then. Yes, most of the time uni is a whole new beginning and chapter in your life. It was quite a new, big distraction. At the time, I didn't feel “I'm really missing riding” and things like that. At that time, it was like, "Ah, uni, meeting new people," things like that act as a distraction. It wasn't until I settled down, it was like, "Ah right, I should probably start thinking about training again now that my knee is legitimately better."
TGC: Moving on a little bit, is it fair to say things really picked up for you when you won the Tour of Quanzhou Bay in 2017?
MS: Yes, it was. That year was the first year I went back to uni when they let me go part-time, so I split my last year into two years essentially. This helped massively, to be honest, which is why I think 2016 went well, but then 2017, went a bit better from thereon. It was the Tour of Yorkshire that year, it was an international field, it wasn’t stacked but it was still pretty good. I finished 23rd on GC, which wasn't bad to be fair for my first big European stage race at that level. I wasn't miles off, so that's when things started to look like they were going pretty well, to be honest.
Winning that queen stage on an 8km summit finish, I think gave me a big boost in confidence and made me think, "I'm actually pretty good".
Then, nothing stand out happened after that year. I was expecting a bit more after that and then not much happened. Rás had a big crash and got ill, so that was a write-off. Then, the end of the year, we went to China and, yes, it kicked off quite a lot. I think that it gave me quite a confidence boost because it's not the biggest race, but they still had Cam Meyer doing it and the Mitchelton Development squad and a few good riders were there. Winning that queen stage on an 8km summit finish, I think gave me a big boost in confidence and made me think, I'm actually pretty good at this.
TGC: Did it help with defining what sort of rider you were or did you know really what your strengths were at that point?
MS: Yes, it's interesting. The only stage races I've won, Quanzhou twice and Antalya both had summit finishes in, but it seems to be, at the moment, the heat that lets me down a little bit, which I've been working on the last year or so. It was after Ventoux really, I probably should have picked up on it earlier. There's been a couple of times where things have been going well and then I've blown up in the heat a little bit. It happened at Mirabelle, but then, places like the Olympic test event, in humid conditions it seems slightly different.
China in 2018 was pretty humid and the heat wasn't too bad. It's one of those where it went well and didn't go well in the heat. I was trying to put my finger on it and then wanted to confirm that I need to do a bit of work.
I do a heat session, just try and get the core body temperature up, 38.5 degrees to 39 degrees, and just hold it there and make sure the air temperature is pretty stifled, well, not stifling, but as hot as you can get it.
TGC: How do you tackle that? What sort of training do you have to do?
MS: I'm just trying to do, once a week, I do a heat session, just try and get the core body temperature up, 38.5 degrees to 39 degrees, and just hold it there and make sure the air temperature is pretty stifled, well, not stifling, but as hot as you can get it. It's just uncomfortable really and just trying to get a chronic adaptation to it. I think it's doing good until you're in a 30-degree race, it's pretty hard to tell, but it's going in the right direction. Hopefully, that'll do me well in the coming year because the thing is these long hills do suit me, but they are usually in the summer in the heat.
TGC: Pretty unforgiving.
MS: Yes, exactly, yes. I think that's why it's been a hit or miss. I think I miss climbing when I go to a hot race, then it doesn't go my way and then I'll do well in something that is a punchier course, which I think I've got in my bank as well, that ability to punch quite hard. My sprint's not bad after a hard race, things like that, which I think racing in the UK has probably helped bring that on a little bit. Yes, I'm a ‘climbery puncher’ type rider I think.
TGC: Talking about the heat, I think it was Matt Stephens, I think it's on a video he did, talks about how he used to train in his utility room with a tumble dryer on.
MS: Yes, that's the one, yes. That is a good one, yes. I think I'll be doing some of that, we’re just having a sort out at the moment, but come closer to the races, that’ll definitely be in there. It doesn't take much to adapt to it, and really stressful things like Matt Stephens was doing, it does work.
Max on the top step of the podium. Winning GC at the Tour of Antalya. Photographer unknown.
TGC: Fast forward into 2020. When you won the Tour of Antalya. Was that your goal to go for GC?
MS: Yes, basically, my big target was just be going well at the start of the year. I knew we had some races, that suited me like Majorca Challenge. I was just looking at Majorca Challenge and thought “go there and make sure I'm going well and try and race with some of the best”. Guys like Valverde rock up to test their form as well.
TGC: So, it's a good sign if you're going well there.
MS: Yes, exactly. That was the target for the start of 2020, just to get the ball rolling early because 2019 was ebbs and flows. There wasn’t anything stand-out, some good moments.
I didn’t get selected for the Tour of Britain, so I had a bit of fire in the belly, I guess, over the winter and wanted to prove myself quite early.
I didn’t get selected for the Tour of Britain, so I had a bit of fire in the belly, I guess, over the winter and wanted to prove myself quite early. Majorca went and I knew I was on good form, I got top 20 on one day there, came in the same group as Rafal Majka, on a 3K pretty steep finish. The day before, I had battery di2 issues, and it was a “what could have been” day.
Yes, I knew the legs were there, and then my dad was like "Oh, have you looked at Antalya tour?" I was like "No, not really." I'd looked at the GC from a few years ago, but I didn't really look at the profile, I thought it was kind of like sprinter-y type? Then I looked at the profile and I was like, summit finish, so I messaged Tim [Elverson] and I was like, "Oh, clearly going well, and Antalya looks good for me, I'd like to give it a go." In my head I thought, a top three or a top-five would be good. We were going there with me and Dan Pearson for the GC, essentially, so I was like, top five, top three would be mega. Winning was like obviously, pretty unbelievable.
TGC: Yeah, I bet. It sounds like a hell of a team effort as well. You lunged on the line on the Queen's stage, you got four seconds, and then Andy Tennant outsprinted Van Rooy in the intermediate sprint, which meant you won it by a second.
MS: Yes, I won it by a second, which is like literally a bike throw. We saw at the weekend [Pidcock being pipped at the Amstel Gold Race], how important a bike throw is and how close things can actually come down to.
That bike throw, and Andy Tennant together, obviously with a lot of other things, meant that we won it. And when it's that close, it's just quite intense.
Yes, that bike throw, and Andy Tennant together, obviously with a lot of other things, meant that we won it. And when it's that close, it's just quite intense, like things weren't in my control on that last day four.
TGC: Well, I bet that team meeting, the night before, must have been fascinating going through all the different scenarios.
MS: Tim’s one who can go from scenario A to Z, so we just sort of had to do what we could do. I think we were buzzing from being in the leader's jersey of like a 2.1 against all those teams, but then things started to quiet down and settle once you realize that the time gap actually wasn't that big.
It was carnage. It was just attacking for the first hour and a half of that day.
The guys handled it really well, like, it was carnage. It was just attacking for the first hour and a half of that day, we tried to make sure that the right guys were there and obviously Alpecin didn't want the break to go, so it was a lot of stress, but yes, in the end, it all worked out really well.
On his way up towards the British Everesting record. Photo credit: Hugh McManus.
TGC: How has that changed your currency as a rider, and your perception, maybe as a rider in the sport?
MS: I don't know. I guess it's hard to tell. Probably hasn't changed much, I think it's given me quite a lot of confidence again. It's another level-up race. If I can do that, then I can go to a higher-level race and hopefully compete there. It's probably put my name in the view a bit more in that sense. Bar that, I don't think it's changed tons, it's just probably good for my head.
I just want to do the world's biggest races. I think that's my dream target to be in the Tour, things like that, senior World Championships, and be competitive.
TGC: What are your ambitions in the sport? How would you like your career to develop?
MS: I mean, I just want to do the world's biggest races. I think that's my dream target to be in the Tour, things like that, senior World Championships, and be competitive I think, that would be, for me, a really good outcome. I think seeing my mum compete at the world stage, I mean, to be able to do that as well would be pretty cool. Just do that, it's fairly simple. Every step, you just don't know how far you're going to go so you're carrying on with the next step. Obviously, you're trying to make it Pro-Conti and World Tour, which obviously as you get older is a bit harder. But then when you get to there, things change again, and you don't know how you're going to compete in that field or compare or where you're going to sit. Things could go even better from there. Yes, pretty open to it, that's the main goal is to be in those big races.
Continental level cycling is, what's the word, volatile. Like, everyone's just fighting for year contracts.
TGC: How does it work with Canyon? At that level, do you sign yearly deals or is it longer term than that?
MS: Continental level cycling is, what's the word, volatile. Like, everyone's just fighting for year contracts and obviously, way less money than the World Tour and Pro-Conti guys are on. It's a really kind of-- you've got to be in it, not for the love, but it is like a sacrifice at some point. In Canyon, we're easily one of the strongest teams in the UK and well-budgeted, but it's still not like it was in the "heyday" like three, four years ago, with NFTO and One Pro, and Madison and Rapha and teams like that. It's a pretty harsh climate at the moment, that's to be expected.
It literally is just year by year at our level. Even at Pro-Conti World Tour, it’s still only two years and we all know how fickle sport can be in that sense, how disposable riders are, really. Get rid of one person, there'll be another. Good climate, waiting in the wings to come up. Just take it as it is, but that's sport, isn't it?
I'm doing coaching with Duchy Coaching as well at the moment, as something to do on the side, obviously you've still got a lot of time as a full-time bike rider.
TGC: Do you ever think about your career after cycling?
MS: Yes. I mean, I haven't had a proper think to be honest. I'm quite open to many things. I'm doing coaching with Duchy Coaching as well at the moment, as something to do on the side, obviously you've still got a lot of time as a full-time bike rider. I'm helping quite a few younger riders as well, which is interesting, giving my feedback on what mistakes I did when I was a junior under 23, and trying to help them through the experiences I've been through. I don't know if I'll go into that field or something completely different. I'd say it's fairly—really hard to know what's going to happen, but I'm quite happy trying to do this for as long as I can. Financially, I think that's the big one, isn’t it, for everyone.
It is quite hard at this level, especially at this age. You've got to commit to not having the usual mid-20s life.
TGC: It sounds like a lot of young riders live at home for as long as they can until they just make enough money to be able to move out.
MS: Yes, I'm quite in a lucky position that I've got a house with ex-Madison Genesis rider, George Pym. We share a house with quite a few others, but I mean, it is quite hard at this level, especially at this age. You've got to commit to not having the usual mid-20s life.
TGC: Last one, any thoughts about having a crack at that Everesting record again?
MS: Yes, that's ongoing. There will be another crack at it, definitely this year.
TGC: The gradient of the climb you were doing just looked horrendous.
MS: Yes, it is horrendous! I've sorted out my gears now, so it's just the case of testing and then choosing the right moment. I've got a bit more volume to do in terms of 6.5, 7-hour rides going into it which is just helping in racing as well. Yes, I'm really excited to give that another crack, to be honest. It probably gave me more traction and kudos and things like that, whatever you want to call it, than anything I've done. Yes, it'd definitely be good to try and break the world record, although it is outrageous!
The GC would like to thank Max for taking the time to talk about his life and racing ambitions.
We wish him and his team, Canyon dhb SunGod, every success for the season.
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