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a cyclist’s tale

I was born in Cardiff and grew up there, was in school there until I left sixth form in 2004. I went to Birchgrove Primary – I just lived around the corner –then went to Whitchurch High and played football and rugby. I went swimming quite a bit as well, and that’s how I got into cycling.

I was going swimming down Maindy Leisure Centre and I saw an advert for a kids’ club starting up, called Maindy Flyers. I went along, enjoyed it, and went away racing on weekends. I just enjoyed the whole social side of it, really. I was still playing rugby and a bit of football but, then, as I got older, the knocks in the rugby started to hurt a bit more and I just went to swimming and cycling. I started to get pretty good at swimming and they wanted me to go in the mornings before school, so I soon said, “No, I’m alright. I don’t want to get up at half-five”. That’s how I dropped into cycling. I was winning local bike races and I knew I was pretty good, but just on a local scale. We did start going over to the rest of the UK and racing on weekends, and I started winning those races, but it wasn’t really until I was a junior, under-19, when I won the Worlds and won quite a big race in France. That’s when I really thought, “I can make a living out of this”. Up until that point, it was more just people saying to me, “You’ve got a talent”, but it’s one thing believing it and another thing actually doing it. Once I won the Worlds, I really started to believe, and I knew I could achieve bigger and better things.

Nicole Cooke and Bradley Wiggins were massive inspirations, even though they were only a few years older than me. Nicole lived just down the road from me at the time and she was part of the local Cardiff Ajax. I was in the JIF [Cardiff JIF Cycling Club], and there was always a bit of rivalry there. Those two, watching them race and seeing them perform well, they definitely gave you that belief that it’s not impossible. In the past, when you watched the Tour, it was always the foreigners - apart from Boardman - who gets the yellow jersey in the prologues. But this was actual British people doing well and they were only a couple of years older than me, and that’s what really got me geed up and inspired me to do the same.

you can go anywhere
Wales is definitely good for cycling. I’ve raced and ridden all over the world and Wales is still great to go home and train in. The roads are – it sounds probably strange – but the roads feel quite heavy. It’s always hard work. Obviously, there’s pretty good hills, too, and it’s quiet a lot of the time. You can go out into the lanes, fifteen minutes and you’re out of Cardiff, and you can go anywhere. I think that’s the great thing about the sport, just the fact that you’re free to go where you want, especially when you’re young. You get to explore. It’s good to just go out and find a few new lanes that you don’t know. It’s a sport that I just love to do.

Most people learn to ride a bike when they’re young. Just don’t leave it in the garage. You don’t have to be competitive and race. It’s just a nice way to keep fit. After the Olympics, we were out and a woman came up to me and was saying that she went out for a ride with her daughter and she wanted to do the team pursuit and she was like, “Come on, mum, you’ve got to ride closer, get behind me!”.

Whether it’s snowing or raining, we’ve still got to get out there and train. I like to keep a nice routine when I’m training properly and hard, and I tend to go out about 9-9.30am, get the training in, no matter what. I love riding my bike, and obviously some training, some of the intervals that you do, aren’t too enjoyable. They’re pretty tough going, but, yeah, I just love to get out there and ride my bike. There’s a lot tougher things we could be doing, so I’m pretty fortunate.

Diet is massively important on the road, because if you’re carrying an extra kilo or two on the track, it doesn’t really matter because it’s all about power and you’re going fast and you’re going around the velodrome, so your weight is not too important. But, once you’re riding things like the Tour de France, it’s massive. If you’re carrying an extra kilo or two around that whole race, then, you’re just expending so much extra energy. In the team, we have a nutritionist who we work with closely. It seems to be working out the last year or so.

Sport and business are quite similar in the way that you’re going to get cheats, you’re going to get people who want to cheat the system. If someone is fraudulent in a business, wouldn’t they be facing a prison term? I don’t see how riders taking drugs to win races and lying to their teams is any different. Bang them up and throw away the key! I think cycling is good in that it’s willing to catch them, you know. There’s a lot of sports that shy away from it. In cycling, they are willing to catch the big names. They want to catch them. Compared to five or six years ago, there’s a massive difference, I think, and especially with the new teams like Sky and Garmin, and Columbia as well. They’re all heading in the right direction. There’s still the old mentality out there, which I think it’s going to be hard to break, but I think, with the new testings, it’s just going to keep improving, and hopefully, eventually, get rid of them all. There’s been times when you’re watching the telly and you just think, “Well, come on, that’s just a bit ridiculous”, and then a couple of months later, they get caught. That’s good but, at the same time, they’re out there, they’re winning, they’re going across the line with their hands in the air, and there’s people coming in second or third who should be feeling that feeling, you know, going through that massive rush of adrenaline. All that sacrifice is worthwhile, then. It’s not like you can just pick something off the counter and accidentally take something. People are going out there and planning it, blood doping and things like that. But, like I said, the testing seems to be working, so we’re heading in the right direction.
it’s all bike riding at the end of the day
The track is where I grew up and where I started and I ride the team pursuit on the track. That’s where I won my Olympic gold medal. It’s like a four-man relay, except we all have to finish. It’s not like you pass a baton on and one pulls off and that’s it. It’s just a sixteen lap race really, a time trial. Then, on the track, there’s a lot of other races, like the points race and the madison and individual pursuit, which is also one of my events which, unfortunately, is out of the Olympics, now. That’s another time trial event, the same distance as the team pursuit. The track is just generally a lot faster and punchier, and shorter as well.
Then, when you move on to the road, you have things like the Tour de France and the long stage races, where you’re on the bike up to seven and a half hours and you’re going up hill for hours at a time, massive alpine climbs that go on for 20 kilometres. So, it’s completely different but, at the same time, it’s all bike riding at the end of the day.
I think they both help each other out. Obviously, the track, it’s fast and furious and it’s close, and, in the bunch race and the sprints, you need good bike handling to just manoeuvre around the track. That helps a lot when it comes to bunch sprints in the Tour de France. And, obviously, the road gives you the strength and the endurance for the track, so they both complement each other nicely.
The training on the track is so scientific and precise. You come off and you analyse your effort, an eight lap effort. You analyse each lap, and that was two-tenths slower than this lap, and it’s, like, so minute, but it makes such a big difference. The track is pretty intense, but, on the road, it’s a lot more free, really – anything can happen – and it’s a lot more impulse and reaction to things.

tour de pro
I turned pro in 2007. When you’re an amateur, there’s different categories within the professional ranks, so you could only get to ride one of the lower categories once or twice a year. But, obviously, when you turn pro, you’re racing big hard races week in, week out. It did me the world of good, really. I just moved on in leaps and bounds.

I actually rode the Tour de France in my first year pro, which was crazy. I’d never suffered like that ever in my whole life, and I haven’t since either! Each day I’d finish and I was like, “There’s no way that I can start tomorrow. There’s absolutely no way I can get on the bike”. And then, you go to bed, you wake up in the morning and you’re like, “I’ve got to start. I’ll give it one more go”, and then you get on the bike and, as soon as you get going, you just don’t want to give up again, and, eventually, I finished, somehow, and it gave me so much, mentally as well as physically, I think. There were so many people who said it would finish me. I was the youngest in the race at the time as well, so that was just a massive boost to my morale and my confidence, really. There’s nothing bigger than a Tour and to get around that was really great, a really great feeling.
And then, obviously, this year, 2010, when I was fifth in the prologue and came second on stage three, and took the white jersey, was wearing the white jersey for about four days. It was unbelievable. I never even dreamt of that. To be twenty seconds off the lead in the Tour de France after a week was just crazy, you know. Going to bed thinking, “I’m lying second in the Tour”, you know, a race that I have grown up watching since I was twelve. It was a great feeling and is something I’ll remember for a long time … and hopefully build on.

I don’t know about winning it. In the cycling world, it would be bigger than winning the Olympics, just because in cycling the Tour de France is everything. But, for me, personally, I wouldn’t want to trade one for the other.
I think I’ll just have to see how I develop as a rider. But, I definitely want to go back and try, and at least get the yellow jersey at some point in the race, whether it be at the start in the prologue or a breakaway mid-way, or whatever. I think winning it, that would be amazing, that would just be every rider’s dream, but, yeah, I’ll see how it goes and keep progressing the way I am, hopefully, and keep learning and keep racing well, working for the team, and learning off the leaders in the team and how they race and, yeah, hopefully, one day ...

I think the first race I felt really good about winning was probably the Worlds as a junior, in Los Angeles, because it was a massive surprise, really. That was the first time when I really I could do something in the sport and make a living out of it. Obviously, after that, the next step at the senior Worlds, the proper Worlds, so to speak, was when we won the team pursuit, in 2007 in Mallorca. That was massive as well, because it’s your first World Championships and when you finally get there and realize your dream, it was really special.

Following on from that was the Worlds, a year later, which was a just as good if not a better feeling, really, because they were in Manchester, and the crowd was just amazing, electric, and we broke the world record at the same time. I hadn’t felt too good in the qualifying in the morning either, so I was under a bit of pressure. But, to come out of that the way we did, and win, and break the world record – because we qualified second fastest as well, so we had quite a bit of pressure on us, and being at home – that was an amazing feeling.
And, then, to top it all off, the Olympics. That was, well, it’s the Olympics, isn’t it? We won a gold medal. It was just crazy. We were overwhelming favourites as well, which we didn’t really think about at the time, and I think that worked out really well for us because all we could think about was the race and how we were going to do it. To come back and see all the support and what it meant to people, there were builders cheering us when we had our little lap around on the bus in Cardiff, and that was crazy. Builders, they whistle at women and stuff, don’t they? They don’t cheer a cyclist on for winning a medal!

as easy as falling off a …
I’ve had tumbles, all the time. In 2005, we were training in Sydney. We were riding to the track and there was a bit of metal debris on the road that the guy in front of me clipped and it flew up, went into my front wheel and just stopped me dead. I fell and hit the top of my handlebars which ruptured my spleen. At the time, we didn’t really know what was wrong. I went to the hospital and had all these scans, and they said, “You’ve ruptured your spleen, and if it keeps bleeding we’re going to have to take it out or you’re going to die”. I was like, “What are you waiting for, then? Take it out!”. They said, “Well, it’s stopped now, but we’re monitoring you and if it starts again, then we’ll take it out.”. Eventually, two o’clock in the morning, I got woken up and they took it out. I’ve got a big scar now all the way down my chest. It was pretty scary at the time and especially being so far away from my family and my friends.

British Cycling flew my mum and dad out and my brother, so they were with me when I came out of hospital for the first week or so. I think my brother was hoping I would be in hospital a bit longer because he was loving being in Oz and going to the beach when they weren’t at the hospital. I came back from that quite quickly to win the Commonwealth medal.

2009 was probably my second worst crash when I was coming down a mountain in Italy, just descending on my time trial bike, and just overshot a corner, went a bit too fast and went over the side and dropped down about twenty foot on to the road below. I ended up fracturing my pelvis, breaking my scaphoid in my hand. The pelvis didn’t take too long, really, because it was only a fracture; it wasn’t completely broken, and I could still hobble around on crutches. My hand took a bit longer to heal because, at first, they missed it. So, it was about two months later, and it was still really swollen and giving me a bit of grief, so I had that operated on. I had a bone graft and a pin, and, by the end of 2009, I was fully recovered and racing again and did the Manchester World Cup where we won the team pursuit and the individuals.

What made me go on? I don’t know. I just don’t know anything else. I just love riding my bike and when they tell you you’ve got to have this amount of time off the bike, you’re gutted because you just want to be riding all the time. It’s never a case of, “I won’t be able to ride again”, it’s just, “When can I ride again?”. I couldn’t imagine not being able to ride.

I didn’t go to Delhi in 2010 because of the whole hype around the dengue flu and the situation in the village. Obviously, not having a spleen, I just felt the risk was too great. I could have gone there and been fine and maybe won a medal or two, but, on the other hand, I could have come back with something and it would have just taken me a lot more time to get over it, because the spleen, it produces white blood cells which help fight off infections. So, I think the risk for me was just a bit too great. I was going to be riding the track and the road as well, so it would have been a good two and a half weeks out there. I still think it was the right decision.

welsh ?
I’m a strong Welshman, especially as soon as I go over the border into England. You’re just an outsider, aren’t you? You go into the pub and you’re Welsh and it’s, like, they say something about rugby, or sheep, you know. I think just moving out of Wales, it just reinforces that passion for Wales. You’re always there representing Wales, like when I go to the Olympics. I’m there for Great Britain but I’m also there for Wales, because there’s not many Welsh athletes that go.
It’s the same with Sky. In the Tour de France, I was the only Welsh guy there. It doesn’t really matter what jersey I’ve got on, I’m still there representing the country. Obviously, it was a massive shame not to go to the Commonwealth Games because, obviously, the Welsh jersey is the Welsh jersey. It’s unique. In cycling, you only get one chance every four years to do that and, unfortunately, I missed it this time, but hopefully in Glasgow, I’ll still be around and be able to make up for it.

At the Beijing Olympics, because of the rules, we’re not allowed to have any other flags. When I found out, I was a bit disappointed because it would have been great do a lap of honour draped in the Welsh flag, to show people that’s where I come from. It’s Wales, it’s where I grew up, and what I’m all about.

I think there’s always pressure in sport, and I’d rather be at the top feeling the pressure from underneath than striving to get there. I think I’m just quite laid back generally, and just enjoy what I’m doing and just get on with life.

We all get het up about winning Olympic medals but, when you sit back and look at it, there’s so much more to life than an Olympic medal. It’s really good to keep that in perspective. We’re so lucky to do what we do, all sportsmen, all professional sportsmen. I think we can get so wrapped up in this whole, “What if I don’t win?”, or “I’ve just come second. I got a silver”. It’s not really that big when it comes to it, really, is it?

Three words to describe myself? Laid back, happy most of the time. I like my food. I don’t know if there’s a word for that! Food lover! Yeah a bit more than three, but there we go.

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