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Ed Clancy Q&A

Mark Bailey
20 Oct 2016

Ed Clancy on the pain of the team pursuit, flat-sharing with Mark Cavendish and why it’s time to hit the road.

Cyclist: Ed, you’re the first athlete to win three Olympic team pursuit titles. How do they compare?

Ed Clancy: I’d trade the lot for this one. On the start line in Rio I’d have given Beijing, London, all the World Champs and every penny I’ve earned to cross that line first. I can’t remember my last decent win before Rio. It was such a hard journey with my back injury and mixed form [Clancy suffered a horrific crash in the 2015 Tour of Britain]. I wasn’t sure I’d ever ride at this level again. 

Cyc: How did you celebrate your win?

EC: After we crossed the line we were straight into doping control because we got another world record. But as soon as we could we got to the Team GB house to celebrate. We went to a few different nations’ houses over the next few days. They’re like big party rooms. It was nice to spend a few days together before we all drifted apart. T he reality is that 85% of your job is solitary confinement, riding your bike for hours every day, so after all the attention and madness of Rio it might take a while to get back to reality. 

Cyc: How did the injury affect your build-up for Rio?

EC: Sometimes I couldn’t do anything other than lie flat on my back to avoid the pain. I had to lie on the back seat of a car to travel anywhere. When I went to see the doctor before my surgery I had to drive and I was in agony. It was only a 30-minute drive to Leeds but I was almost trying to lie down while driving to keep my back straight. It felt unusual to be in that much pain when I wasn’t on a bike. Once I got some motor function back after my surgery I thought, ‘Great, but is this as good as it will get?’ I could barely move. By the time of the Worlds I was in terrible form but my peak power and motor function were about there. I still had limited range in my right leg. Whenever I used to try to touch my toes I could always get my hands to the floor. Now I can just get some fingers down so I’ve lost three to four inches because the nerve has to go over the scar tissue in my back so everything has to take a longer way round. It will never be 100%. 

Cyc: Were you happy when Sir Brad came back to the team pursuit squad?

EC: He was a great addition to the team. He does impressions of everyone – he watches Fonejacker all the time. He didn’t come in with the ‘Big I Am’ attitude but he’s got the status, confidence and maturity, and he led us in terms of being the spokesman and the link between riders and staff. Let’s not forget he could be earning millions on pro tours and he sacrificed all that for a swansong on the track, so fair play to him.

Cyc: Describe the sensation of riding the team pursuit at world record pace.

EC: There’s nothing like it when a team pursuit comes together perfectly. It doesn’t happen very often. In fact, it only seems to happen once every four years for us. But in Rio all four guys brought their A-game and when you’re all on the latest bikes with the fastest wheels and in the newest aero helmets it feels almost abnormal to be shifting along so quickly. For the first 2km you’re thinking, ‘Are we really going to hold this for 4km?’ The last kilometre kills you but it’s a beautiful thing, really. It’s like a house of cards – everyone is holding everyone else in place and if one rider isn’t putting it in the whole lot comes crashing down.

Cyc: How do you handle the pain?

EC: A big part of the team pursuit is being able to handle pain. For guys like myself and Steven Burke, who aren’t the most aerobically capable athletes, it’s essential. We’re not Tour winners but we do have the ability to tolerate lactic acid. Our lactates go up more than Brad’s because we have more of a fast-twitch muscle make-up but it’s also something we work on with a lot of 5km efforts and faster standing starts, which help us cope with the high lactate levels.

Cyc: How do you develop the skill to ride within millimetres of each other?

EC: That is years in the making. Rod Ellingworth was my academy coach when I was 18 or 19 and he always said he didn’t want us to just replicate what the senior guys did at a slower pace but to train to win the Olympics in four or eight years’ time. He didn’t care if we went fast at the Junior Europeans. He wanted us to do huge 50km sessions to get things right. If we couldn’t hold the pace he’d get us to do half-laps until we got there. And he was obsessed with sticking to the line. If you went a couple of inches too high or too low on the straights or the banking he’d be asking questions. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but all that helped contribute to Beijing, London and Rio. 

Cyc: When you were at the British Cycling Under-23 Academy you lived with Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas. Are you surprised at how successful you have all been?

EC: I think we always dreamed we would win things. Cav always believed in himself. We used to laugh at him when he’d say, ‘I’m going to win Tour de France stages.’ But he still has that self-belief and he’s proved himself right. I love Geraint – I saw him after he slapped off in the road race in Rio and he wasn’t in the best of spirits. But both of them have been in touch about potentially riding in Tokyo so they haven’t finished on the track just yet. We’ll have to see. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment.

Cyc: Are you looking forward to riding the Revolution series in front of home crowds?

EC: I really am. You have a ruthless mentality going into the Olympics, in terms of what you’re eating, how you’re sleeping, and the way every pedal revolution is thought through. You don’t do cafe rides. Everything is structured, you’re thinking about your speed and your wattage and then you’re downloading all the data and coordinating details with your coaches. So it’s nice to be racing hard but without the pressure and expectation and stress of riding for queen and country. I can just smash it around the track and have some fun.

Cyc: Will we see you in road races too?

EC: Yes, for two years I will do more on the road to get a break and try to avoid the post-Olympics slump and then I will throw everything at the track for Tokyo 2020. It makes complete sense to have one final go at the team pursuit and maybe the omnium. Win, lose or draw, I’ve had a great career in cycling and I’ll look forward to it.

Ed Clancy will be competing at the Revolution series. For tickets visit cyclingrevolution.com

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