'There are no words for it' - Charlie Paige bags dream ticket to pro ranks with TDT-Unibet

22-year-old British climber speaks to GCN about his journey after signing two-year deal with Bas Tietema's soon-to-be ProConti team

Clock13:59, Wednesday 11th October 2023
Tour de Tietema-Unibet will be Charlie Paige's home for the next two seasons

© Charlie Paige

Tour de Tietema-Unibet will be Charlie Paige's home for the next two seasons

Ahead of their move up to the UCI ProConti division in 2024, GCN can exclusively reveal that TDT-Unibet have added young British climber Charlie Paige to their roster on a two-year deal. The 22-year-old, supported by the Rayner Foundation, has raced for amateur sides in France for four years and has put pen to paper on his first professional contract.

"It sounds cliché, but I think it is honestly a dream come true," Paige told GCN. "When I first began cycling, it was always my dream to become professional, to be able to say that in 2024 and 2025 I will be a professional cyclist, there are no real words for it.

"I am super excited and even though it hasn’t sunk in yet, I feel like I am ready when I look back at how far I’ve come over the past ten years."

The long journey from youth racing in the United Kingdom for his dad's bike shop to spending four years with French amateur sides has paid off for the Lancastrian, who becomes the fifth new addition to TDT-Unibet's squad for 2024.

The Dutch team are currently a UCI Conti outfit, but are pencilled in to become a ProConti side in 2024 and their project is one that excites the current Bourg-en-Bresse Ain Cyclisme rider.

"I had a good chat with Julia [Soek, assistant directeur sportif] and I like their project a lot," Paige noted. "The thing that leapt out to me was that the riders and staff had such confidence in the project. There is a mutual understanding that if the team takes a chance on its riders, then the riders can take a chance on the team.

"They were the first team who took a real interest and I very much like the idea of the team. It is different, cool and quirky, rather than a usual bike racing team."

Rayner Foundation support proves invaluable as Paige takes the traditional route

In an era that is ever-more dominated by young hotshots, many of whom have progressed through development squads and similar fast-track programmes, Paige's journey has been somewhat more traditional.

Following the path trodden by riders dating back to the days of Brian Robinson and Tom Simpson, the man from Clitheroe has plied his trade with French amateur teams having jetted out to the continent in the search of his dream.

Moving to France in 2020 with Team U Cube 17, Paige turned down the opportunity to go to university and instead earned his spurs in France supported by the Rayner Foundation. Their fund was founded in 1995 following the death of Dave Rayner, and their aim is to support the development of young British cyclists who dream of turning pro.

"I remember attending their Foundation Dinner as a junior and being very inspired," Paige reflected. "There are plenty of others who have come through now like Adam Yates [UAE Team Emirates], Sam Watson [Groupama-FDJ], Owain Doull, James Shaw [both EF Education-EasyPost] et cetera, so to add my name to the list of professionals who have come through the Rayner Foundation is a real honour.

"They have supported me financially over the past four years, but the other side of the Rayner Foundation is that it creates a real network of British cyclists out on the continent. If you ever had a problem, be it bureaucratic, medical or financial, the Foundation would always be there."

With his move to TDT-Unibet revealed, Paige joins fellow Rayner Foundation athlete Oliver Knight (Cofidis) in penning professional terms for 2024. However, his first couple of years on the continent proved a shock to the system for the 22-year-old, forcing him into long-term planning which has now proved beneficial.

"My first year in France was rather humbling," Paige admits.

"I saw the level in France and I was shocked by how high it was. It was almost like a wall had completely blocked my path. It took two weeks of racing for it to click, before I said to myself, ‘I’m going to need an awfully long time to get this,’ just to chip away little by little, and then I said ‘okay, it’s not going to be my first year U23, I’ve got four years now, it is not what I do in 2020, it is what I do in 2023 that’s going to matter.’"

Paige battles Darren Rafferty and Isaac del Toro to impress TDT-Unibet

Whilst his long-term vision was admirable, Paige had not accounted for a disastrous end to the 2022 season that threatened to curtail his professional dreams altogether.

"I had a heavy crash at the back end of last year and fractured two parts of my pelvis, my pubic bone and two vertebrae," Paige revealed. "When I got back onto my bike in December and January, I overtrained and was overmotivated because I had it in my head that 2023 was the year I was going professional, I was going to put everything on the line."

Training too hard led Paige to develop serious iron deficiency anaemia, which left him crippled throughout the spring and reaching his lowest point at the Annemasse-Bellegarde.

"I got dropped on the first 4km climb, there was a peloton of 200 guys and I was getting dropped with much larger guys. My DS was not particularly happy with me after the race and I got quite a grilling; ‘you’re a climber who can’t climb,’ he said to me."

Subsequent blood tests led to his iron deficiency diagnosis and a prescribed period of low-intensity training, coupled with iron supplements. Back on track, the second half of Paige's season has seen him mixing it with the best U23 riders in the world and capturing the attention of the likes of Bas Tietema, owner and general manager of TDT-Unibet.

"The real breakthrough was at the Valle d’Aosta," Paige reflected, "getting fourth at what my directeur sportif describes as the ‘World Champs for U23 climbers.' From there, Bas reached out to me and gave me their ideas for 2024, that they wanted to go ProConti."

Indeed, at the Valle d'Aosta, Paige finished fourth behind race winner Darren Rafferty, who subsequently signed for EF Education-EasyPost, Alexy Faure-Prost, who is on the fast track to Intermarché-Circus-Wanty, and Isaac del Toro, Tour de l'Avenir winner and UAE Team Emirates' latest recruit.

Read more:

"To be able to climb with the likes of [them] was special," he admits. "I was climbing with Del Toro at Valle d’Aosta, he was a strong climber for sure, but I was matching him, and to be able to look at the Tour de l’Avenir and think ‘that is the level I am at now,’ I still don’t think it has sunk in."

Now his attention will soon turn to 2024 and his first of two seasons with TDT-Unibet who, whilst only in their first year of competition, have already stated their ambition to aim for a wildcard entry at the Tour de France.

For Paige, the road has been longer, paving his way from the Green Jersey Cycling Club in England, to the amateur scene in France and finally, onto his first professional team. For the Rayner Foundation, it is another proud moment as one of their own makes the step up to the ProConti level.

"We have seen Adam Yates, James Shaw and riders who were on the fund, to whom the younger riders can look up to," recognised Paige. He can add his own name to those ranks now. Who will be the next young Brit to follow in his footsteps?

The tickets for the annual Rayner Foundation Charity Dinner are on sale now, with the likes of Charlie Paige promised to be in attendance in Leeds. Click here for more information.

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