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Ed Clancy: “Nothing matters but the Olympics”

"...and then I'm ditching the track for the road"

Ed Clancy has achieved a lot. He’s been World Champion in team pursuit and the multi-discipline omnium*, an Olympic gold medallist, world record holder, British criterium champ, and he’s got an MBE shining away on the mantelpiece… and he’s still only 25. 

We caught up with Ed at Manchester Velodrome last Saturday between the National Madison Championships and the final round of the Revolution track meet where he was representing his new team, Rapha Condor Sharp.

After a few laps on the track, we sat down for a chat about life as one of the world’s best track cyclists, Britain’s prospects for next year’s Olympics, and what he’ll be doing on the other side of London 2012…

You’re just back from Majorca; do you spend a lot of time on training camps at this time of year?
Yeah! On 2 January, still with a hangover, we were on the plane to Majorca. We got back 10 or 11 days later. We've had three or four days back here and it's only another couple of days till we're back in Majorca. That'll take us to the end of January.

I don't mind because it's a good setup out there but I am one for moaning about being away unnecessarily. You don't get a lot of time at home, especially when you're doing the track season and a road season, and bits and bobs in between. It's almost like a second home out there; I've been out there so many times. It's like a little family.

What training are you up to out there at this time of year?
Short blocks of team time trialling, threshold efforts uphill… everything to make us fitter or faster. There's not a lot of junk miles. The road guys need that depth and fat-burning ability – the ability to be strong after five or six hours. That's no use to us when we're riding a four-minute event.

Everthing's aimed at making your peak power higher or your aerobic capacity greater. It's all very specific.

Mat rides the boards with Ed between the Madison champs and Revolution

How much time do you get at home?
When the Tour of Britain (11-18 September) finished I had the best part of a week just chilling out, and then that's it – the track season starts in October. We were in Majorca the first week of October getting ready for the Europeans, back here training on the track for a week, then it was out to the Europeans [5-7 November, Poland].

In November we were pretty much at home, then it was Majorca again in December, and of course we had the World Cup in Melbourne [2-4 December] so we were straight out there. I had to stay out there the whole of December actually. I did some crits in Sydney after the World Cup then went straight to California [World Cup, 16-18 December]. I got home just before Christmas.

It's pretty much full on. Hopefully, John [Herety, Rapha Condor Sharp directeur sportif] will give me a couple of weeks at home after the Track Worlds [23-27 March, Netherlands].

That's part of the reason I'm at Rapha Condor Sharp. I'm not the greatest road rider – I'm not going to be riding for Team Sky – but I did have the option of riding for a small Pro Continental team in Europe. I'd rather stay home and do the local crits and stuff though.

Is it a very distinct line between Team GB and Rapha Condor Sharp duties?
Yeah. Rapha Condor Sharp pretty much own us for the road programme between the end of March and the start of November. Obviously, they like you to ride races like Revolution during the track season, but Rapha accept that we've got a job to do and there's plenty of publicity for them off the back of it anyway. They lend us out to the track team, if you like.

Team GB are pretty flexible in the summer. They know that we need to go road racing. The two complement each other pretty well.

Are there ever times when they don’t mesh together?
There have been times in the past where there have been conflicts – when there are two people that want you. You can only be in one place at a time.

It normally happens early in the season when they want you at a certain road race and you really need to rest or be on the track training. Sometimes it's not the best thing to be doing a seven-day stage race in the middle of February.

So far, though, we've had no complaints from Rapha. John's just said, "We'll get to the start of April and then we'll take over." He quite likes the fact that with the Olympics coming up we're high profile. He's super keen for us to do well on the track.

Speaking of which, is everything you do on the track ultimately geared to the Olympics?
Yes, it is. You look at Bradley [Wiggins] and Geraint [Thomas]: they don't care about the World Championships or the Commonwealth Games. All they're going to come back [to the track] for is the Olympics. The only reason they're going to do the Manchester World Cup, and the World Championships the following year, is to make sure they're not too far away from the track before the Olympics.

The whole programme is funded on Olympic medals: the riders, the coaches, the staff... we’ve got to do the World Cups and World Championships to get our qualifying places and gain experience but, ultimately, nothing else matters. We will be judged solely on what happens in London.

It's good for your morale to win the Omnium Worlds and team pursuit World titles but our objective and our job is to win at the Olympics. Anything on the way is a bonus.

Ed in Rapha Condor Sharp strip before Revolution 32

How much pressure do you feel as a result of Team GB being so strong over the last few years? Has it created a massive weight of expectation?
Things have changed from when I was a young boy entering the programme. Should you medal in a World Cup – and this goes for the senior squad, not just the academy – it was like, "Good. A medal's great..." Go to the World Championships or the Commonwealth Games and get a medal there – that was good. We got beat by the Aussies again, but hey...

These days it's not alright to finish anywhere other than first. The reality is that it's stupid to expect from yourself that you'll win all the time: it's just not doable. But people see the Olympics in Beijing – it's a high profile event and they just remember that. They think that Team GB wins all the time.

Obviously, when they turn on the TV and see us finishing second in the World Championships to the Aussies, albeit by a tiny margin and with only five or six of our nine-man pursuit squad there, they're quick to jump on the fact that we haven't won. But we'd rather be in that position than not having won in Beijing, so I'm not complaining. For sure, our success has brought expectation and it's inevitable that we're not always going to fulfill that expectation.

Can Team GB achieve as much at London 2012 as at Beijing 2008?
The fact that there's only one spot per country per event is going to make it harder to get an equal medal haul. It's almost as if the rules have been changed deliberately to make it harder to get a clean sweep.

It is going to be hard to replicate the success of Beijing but we'll give it a go. It's not impossible. I'm not even going to say it's less likely than it was in Beijing. Why not? I don't get that involved in the sprint events but Chris Hoy doesn't look like he's slowing down and Jason Kenny and Matt Crampton are doing a good job.

Vicky [Pendleton] is looking good across the board. I think for the team pursuit we've got a lot of competition from the Aussies but they haven't done anything we haven't done in the past with a good squad. It's up to us to do what we know we can do and take the fight to them. I still think we've got the edge.

In terms of the omnium, alright it's a bit of a lottery at times but so far we’ve only fielded one guy and that's been me. Who's to say Brad, Geraint or Pete Kennaugh – or Luke Rowe in two years’ time – won't step up and be better at that. Not being a timed event, it's hard to say that we've probably got a winner, but we've got as good a chance as anyone.

Has the GB track success changed the approach of the other teams?
Yeah, the sprinters were laughing in Melbourne because they tried a different sort of staggered start for the team sprint and three weeks later the majority of teams were copying them.

Everyone looks to GB and people copy our ideas, but we'd do exactly the same. If the Aussie team pursuiters pulled something new out – say they're all doing two-lap turns or whatever – we'd look at it and think, "Maybe they're onto something." All the track teams watch each other.

Any sport – motorsport, road cycling – you see what the others are doing and you nick ideas where feasible.

What are your aims for the rest of the track season?
I'm not doing Beijing World Cup [21-23 January] and Manchester World Cup is all about the team pursuit for us. Geraint is back, Bradley is back… we've got loads of riders putting their name down for the team pursuit.

I'm leaving the omnium alone because you can't really do both; not well, anyway. We want to do something respectable in the team pursuit so we're flat out for that. It's a shame I'm going to have to relinquish the lead of the omnium because I think I rode well in the first two World Cups. It would have been good to hold onto the World Cup leader's jersey but I'm going to have to let go of that.

Hopefully, I'll get selected for the Worlds in omnium and team pursuit. I'm going there to win both of them. Like I said, omnium is a bit of a lottery but the results so far have suggested that I should be there or thereabouts. And if we can ride like we did last year in the team pursuit – even if we don't have Brad or Geraint – we can push the Aussies hard. We'll take it to them.

Looking beyond the track season, what about the road?
I really want to make a bit of ground this year. I've made it public that after London I want to leave the track alone, at least for a couple of years.

I do love riding the track and riding for Team GB but there's always a part of you that... You know when you're a kid, you grow up watching the Tour de France. You ride the road bike nine times out of 10. I'd like to have a bit of success on the road before I sack it all in.

I'll be 28 the year after London so it seems like a good time to give it a go. Should things go well in London – even if they don't go well – I'll probably feel that it's time to try something else. It's unlikely that I'll have the same success on the road that I've had on the track but I'd regret it, looking back on my career, if I never gave the road a shot...


* The men’s omnium comprises six events:
• Flying lap (250m time trial)
• 30km points race
• 4km Individual pursuit
• 15km scratch race
• 1km time trial
• Elimination race
It is being introduced into the Olympics in 2012


Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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