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a cyclist’s tale

I cycle with the British team. I do track and I do the road. I was just an electrician, a bit of motorbikes, some music, and that’s all. I found cycling after I had a motorbike accident. To recuperate I started cycling, and I started to enjoy it.
It was in 2001. I got hit by a car that was going 60mph. I broke my back in two places, shattered my right leg. After five years of operations, medication, they got it all sorted, but it’s left me with nerve damage down the left-hand side of my body, lack of power, lack of coordination.

I went down to the Port Talbot Wheelers for an open session, first time ever I had been on the track. I enjoyed it. I went back and a few people just pushed me on and on. I was talking to somebody about disabled cycling, which I didn’t even know existed, and they just pointed me in the right direction. I did one year by myself and did a couple of local races, started enjoying it, and then I had a phone call, about April 2007, asking if I wanted to go to Bilbao with the British Team. So, somebody had been watching me, but who exactly, I’m not sure.

I’ve never been competitive. I never liked sport at all through school. I found cycling when I was thirty-two, very late. If I’d found it while in school I don’t know where I would have ended up. I could have been good at it. It’s the only sport that I’ve found that I’ve actually loved. I think it’s more to do with the freedom, the scenery and sometimes just being by yourself.

formula one

All the track bikes are designed by Formula One guys. They’re all wind tunnel tested. I think Chris Hoy spent about four hours one day in a wind tunnel, just to try and get the bikes prepared. The able-bodies do a lot of preparation with bikes, then they take us in, and they design bikes for us, as well. We all mix and match. We share equipment, we share whatever experience we’ve got with the able-bodied.

All I’ve got on my bike is just a short crank. I ride a normal 165 crank on one side and a 6cm crank on the other. This takes away the chances of me lying about my disability, because you’re racing against people with only one leg and there’s nothing stopping somebody going along, pretending to have nerve damage and being given a bike with normal length cranks that then has that advantage. So, by using a short crank, it takes away any chance of cheating. That’s the only adaption I have on my bike. Nothing else at all.

My first real success was probably getting back on a bike after the accident! But success within a team was probably the Grand Prix of Wales 2006, which was my first real event. Then, it just went 2007, winning the Disabled Time Trial Series of the UK, which I won again this year. We had to ride in club kit. So, even though we were classed as the Welsh team, we had to ride within our own local teams’ colours, because there’s no such thing as a Welsh Commonwealth team. There’s not enough of us.

I was out for one gold and I also knew I was domestique in the road race, with my team mate. Those were my two goals, one gold and one domestique. I was away for three months, give or take. I went to Ghent in Belgium. I went back then to Newport for a week, then I was off to Switzerland. Then I was up in Manchester, the holding camp. We did a lot of heat-chamber training in Manchester. We did a lot of the mountains in Switzerland, a bit of altitude training. It wasn’t so much a change in the quantity of training we were doing, it was in where we were doing it and what sort of training.

We had a ten-hour flight going out, and we travelled up in business class because they wanted to make sure we weren’t jet-lagged, because we were, basically, the first competitors off. We were there a week before, but they still had to make sure we weren’t jet-lagged, so everybody slept on the way out. On the way back, there was 299 athletes with a lot of champagne going around. I thought that was great. British Airways had an advert after that. Did you see it? It was fantastic, “British Airways are very happy to give extra luggage space for our Olympians”, and I thought, “What’s that?”. I thought they were bringing out souvenirs and then I realised what they meant … all the extra weight of the gold medals.
Coming back, it was strange. We weren’t allowed off first of all. We had to stay on the plane for roughly forty-five minutes, because they had to get the non-British team through first. We came through to applause off all the ground staff. Everybody was there. We had the Prime Minister there, we had Tessa Jowell there, people from newspapers. They had camera crews there. You walked down the corridor and you got everyone stopping, all the customs people standing and giving you a round of applause. And you came through into the outside part and you just got people everywhere applauding you.

It was a shock because nobody really knew in Beijing how much what we had done had affected the people in this country. When you’re over there, you have twelve dedicated channels for the events, one especially for cycling, one especially for track and field, one for swimming, and that’s all. So, when we came through and saw it all, it was a real shock to the system.

Normally, we get maybe the one or two athletes doing really well, but, because we’ve got such a good cycling team – the swimming team did well, sailors doing okay, the athletics were doing okay, you had the equestrian one again – I think, because of the quantity of these people doing well, it got taken on board more by the British, rather than just Tanni, who was more by herself more than anything. It’s hard then to bring public opinion, the public idea of what disabled people can actually do, when there’s only one person. It gave a lot of people more hope, something to cheer for.

My first impression of Beijing was the village. It was absolutely massive. They dropped us off by bus and you go through the security area, bikes are scanned, and you get given your cards so you can get in and out. To get to our apartment, they have to take us by bus from the entrance because it was too far away. It was about three quarters of a mile walk. You got the food halls, twenty-four hour food. It’s just a shock to the system, that many people in one place, jam-packed with athletes everywhere, staff and all the Chinese people there, who were sometimes over-helpful.

I only went to the Bird’s Nest stadium on the Closing Ceremony. It was jam-packed when I went there, but I know it was full nearly every day. The Velodrome had 6,000 people a day in it. I’ve never raced with so many people actually, cheering. The Chinese, if there were no Chinese competitors on, they would adopt whichever nationality they were sitting next to; the Chinese would become Australians or they would become British and cheer whoever they were closest to, which again is strange. And you get your Mexican waves following you round as you’re cycling, you know. You don’t know this when you’re doing it, but you find out afterwards when you watch the video footage back. It was a totally unique experience.

First event, the kilometre. I went in there thinking I could probably do a 1 minute 16, which we knew had a possibility of winning, but Fajita the Japanese rider had already done a sure 16 that year, but it wasn’t official. So, we knew there was a possibility of a medal. I had to compete against people in a harder category than myself, so they could do a 1 minute 21 which would equate down to a 1.17 or 1.16. That way then, it was harder to beat them. But I went in there. I basically just buried myself. I came out with a 01:14:09. I had six competitors to go after me and I was just going round in the warm-down area with my manager and a piece of paper, ticking the people off as I went, waiting for Fajita who was last but one and the great Ball, the Australian LC4 who was last off, the ex-Paralympic title holder. And we just waited and waited, and Fajita came with a 1.17. He just panicked. He was warming up nicely. Then he saw me do the 1.14 and his heart rate just went through the roof. According to his coach, he just went out too hard to try and beat me, and he had nothing left.

Then, the three kilometre. There’s two parts to that. You had to qualify in the morning and make the finals. Then, you race, five hours later. In the morning, in the qualifiers, Fajita went off in the heat before me and actually broke the world record and took that down to 3.52. Then, five minutes after him, I went and took it down to 3.48, so he actually held the world record for five minutes. It got us both into the final. He was in the lead for the first six laps, which we expected, but I just keep on plodding away at the same time, 17 second laps, 18 second laps, and he just started to die, and with three laps to go I could actually see him. I was on the same straight as him and I knew I had gold.

After that, I switched to the road. It’s a time trial, about twelve miles, give or take, and temperatures went up to forty-odd degrees that day, so absolutely cooking. I actually got silver in that, I was leading up to the last rider to cross the line and I eventually lost by twenty three seconds.

The day after that was the road race and I was domestique for my team-mate, Darren Kenny. We started off with just over thirty riders. The first lap, I had to do all that on the front, myself, to try and break the pack up. We dropped ten riders. Then, I was covering every break for Darren. With one lap to go, we had to chase down two riders off the front, got Darren within ten seconds. He went away on the hill and he actually got a gold medal. I’d done my job.

medals or records?

Medal ceremonies, I don’t remember much about. It was a bit of a rush because for the one kilometre and the three kilometre, we all had drug tests and interviews, so I only remember it when I see the videos afterwards. The three kilometre one, I had about quarter of an hour from getting off the bike, actually being lifted off the bike, to be put on a stationary bike to warm down, to getting up there for the medal ceremony. I was almost passing out during the three kilometre one. Because I raced on the 7th and the 9th, then I had a couple of days off, then I raced again, and again, you haven’t got time to think about it.
You can’t afford to think about medals and ceremonies because it will affect your next race. So, you just get up there, get your medal, do your interview and get on with it. Start training again.

The medals don’t mean a lot to me. The power of breaking world records is what I think is more important. But the best part of Beijing was the road race, which I enjoyed more than anything, working with Darren and actually getting him a gold medal rather than my own.

god save the queen?

I would have preferred another anthem! Yes, it may have affected me a bit more if we’d had another anthem. I’m Welsh before I’m British.

It’s difficult to be the only full Welsh person in the team. (We’ve got a pilot for the females who is also classed as Welsh, but ‘borderline-Welsh’, as she puts it.) I wanted a Welsh dragon on my British jersey but they wouldn’t let me, because you get fined for having anything else, so I had a Welsh dragon tattooed on my leg instead. They kind of covered it up, which was publicised a lot while I was over there. It’s difficult, but you’ve got to do it. There’s not a disabled Welsh Commonwealth team, so I cannot wear a Welsh jersey anywhere at all.

Wales outted everybody, from what I remember. By head of population, we actually lead the table for medal haul and it’s just phenomenal what we all did. I don’t know where it came from, why Wales is actually performing so well. I know that a lot of people in the pro teams are actually buying houses in Wales so they can train on the mountains over here.

london 2012

I’d like to say yes for London. If they find a younger athlete who’s quicker than me, then I’ll step down. I intend to train for the World Championships first, for the next three years and then hopefully end up in 2012. We shall see.

In August 2011, Simon Richardson was knocked off his bike by a drunk-driver while out training for London 2012.)

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