Ed Clancy

Bri­tish track cy­cling star Ed Clancy has al­ready won three Olympic team pur­suit gold medals, but his hunger for speed and self-im­prove­ment is driv­ing him back for more at Tokyo 2020

Cyclist - - One Obsession -

It takes a unique tal­ent to win an Olympic gold medal, but to tri­umph at three con­sec­u­tive Olympic Games re­quires an even rarer blend of pas­sion, ded­i­ca­tion, re­silience and vi­sion. Bri­tish track cy­cling icon Ed Clancy has shown all of these qual­i­ties in abun­dance dur­ing his glit­ter­ing ca­reer. The Barns­ley­born rider has won three gold medals in the team pur­suit at Bei­jing 2008, Lon­don 2012 and Rio 2016, a bronze medal in the Om­nium at the Lon­don Olympics, and five World Cham­pi­onship ti­tles. But to stay ahead of the op­po­si­tion Clancy has also drawn on his life­long pas­sion for the science of speed (he also loves rac­ing mo­tor­bikes and go-karts in his spare time) and his gritty York­shire de­ter­mi­na­tion.

‘Be­fore any Olympic Games my whole life changes,’ ex­plains Clancy, 32, who lives in the scenic town of Holm­firth, West York­shire. ‘Ahead of Rio I knew my only chance of get­ting a medal was to do every sin­gle thing right. Every day for nine months I made sure I had nine hours’ sleep. I did not go to one late-night bar­be­cue or birth­day party. I was in bed at 10pm on New Year’s Eve. Once every two weeks I might have a naughty Mars bar but oth­er­wise it was clean food every day. In train­ing, ir­rel­e­vant of my mo­ti­va­tion, I did ev­ery­thing that was pre­scribed. I ap­ply that mar­ginal gains ap­proach to ev­ery­thing.’

In the team pur­suit, Clancy and his three team­mates ride in uni­son for 4km around the track at speeds of over 60kmh. Achiev­ing that level of per­for­mance in­volves re­lent­less pain and ded­i­ca­tion while train­ing on the road. ‘In an en­durance block we will be rid­ing around the top of Mount Teide in Tener­ife, liv­ing in a de­serted ho­tel with no in­ter­net and no phone re­cep­tion, and do­ing seven-hour train­ing rides. Then we come home and start en­durance train­ing, which is like wa­ter tor­ture, just mild pain

for hours on end. When we go back to the track it is like be­ing hit with a sledge­ham­mer, with stand­ing ki­los, fly­ing laps and nasty in­ter­vals. But I just love it.’

The pain and the glory

From the out­side, Clancy’s ca­reer may look like an unstoppable march to­wards those three con­sec­u­tive Olympic golds, but every medal re­quired him to over­come unique chal­lenges. ‘Bei­jing was my first Olympics so I was only 23, and although my­self and Geraint Thomas were the bet­ter team pur­suit rid­ers out of the acad­emy no­body gave us much hope of reach­ing Bei­jing. But af­ter win­ning the World Cham­pi­onships in 2007 we knew we were in touch­ing dis­tance with 18 months to go so noth­ing was go­ing to stop us. We were in our 20s, we had noth­ing to lose, no girl­friends or wives, so we just went flat out to grab a gold medal.’

Re­tain­ing that gold medal at the Lon­don 2012 Olympic Games re­quired very dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties, above all men­tal fo­cus and re­silience. ‘We lost of­ten be­tween Bei­jing and Lon­don,’ ad­mits Clancy. ‘The team changed and Pete Ken­naugh and Geraint came in at the last minute. It was a rocky path and we had some good scraps with the Aus­tralians in that fi­nal year. We had to stay re­ally fo­cused, so when we won in Lon­don it felt epic.’

How­ever, Clancy’s vic­tory in Rio was the tough­est of his ca­reer. It was a tri­umph of pre­cise plan­ning and bold vi­sion.

‘Rio was on a dif­fer­ent level to ev­ery­thing else I have achieved and I would have traded ev­ery­thing for that gold. We didn’t win

a world ti­tle be­tween Lon­don and Rio. We had coaches chang­ing and se­nior man­age­ment be­ing re­struc­tured. Then I had a hor­ri­ble back in­jury, so painful I had to lie down in the back of a car just to get to the doc­tor’s. I hit rock bot­tom in De­cem­ber when I had surgery – but I en­joyed the fight­back. Once I could walk again, I thought: right, how far can I walk? Then I started some turbo train­ing, just 20 min­utes at 200 watts, and I made a pro­gres­sion every day. To come out the other side and win gold, I felt like Tom Cruise in Mis­sion Im­pos­si­ble.’

As a child Clancy was a fan of all two-wheeled ad­ven­tures: ‘The first proper bike I had was a white BMX. It was the late ’80s so it had big white plas­tic wheels. It would prob­a­bly look crap now but it felt like the best thing in the world. I loved mo­tor­sports too and had a poster of Dougie Lamp­kin who won his first World Cham­pi­onship when I was about 12. Even back then I knew I wanted to be a pro­fes­sional cy­clist or ride mo­tor­bikes for a liv­ing.’ Clancy has al­ways en­joyed study­ing in de­tail the build­ing blocks of speed, from in­no­va­tive train­ing pro­to­cols and sports science to aero­dy­namic gains and data anal­y­sis.

‘Even when I was a kid I used to look at my heart rate, long be­fore the days of power cranks. Some­times if I meet up with peo­ple mid-ride I find it dif­fi­cult be­cause I am more in­ter­ested in hit­ting the num­bers than hav­ing a so­cial ride. I love see­ing how I am cop­ing with a new work­load, how my heart rate re­lates to my power out­put, and what the num­bers are telling me.’

This year Clancy has been com­pet­ing in road races with his team, Jlt-con­dor, and will be look­ing to fin­ish off a long sea­son on the road, be­fore he knuck­les down to track train­ing for Tokyo 2020. ‘Out here I can get out onto the roads and do five- or six­hour rides and not hit a sin­gle set of traf­fic lights. I have al­ways loved the Holme Moss climb. When I was a kid I used to get back from school and ride up it for fun. I am still rid­ing it 20 years later.’

Proper prepa­ra­tion

The triple Olympic cham­pion fol­lows a fixed train­ing regime and, like his kit, it has to be just right. ‘I have a fairly rigid rou­tine. I al­ways go out on my bike at 10am. I have the same por­ridge and cof­fee every morn­ing, count out my en­ergy bars, get my kit ready and get out. Ev­ery­thing has its place. When it comes to glasses, I have worn Oak­ley ever since I can re­mem­ber. It’s down to the clar­ity and sharp­ness of vi­sion, even when the light is bad. I al­ways grav­i­tate to­wards qual­ity kit that I know will make a dif­fer­ence to my per­for­mance. I have dif­fer­ent draw­ers for my socks, shorts, jerseys, long sleeved kit and GB kit. It’s not as if ev­ery­thing is ironed and folded but I like to know where it is.’

Even though 2017 is a low-key year in the con­text of the fouryear Olympic cy­cle, Clancy is still fo­cus­ing on im­prove­ment. ‘This

year I’ve been work­ing on thresh­old train­ing, which has been a weak­ness un­til now. I have al­ready made progress so if I can stick some top-end speed from the track on top of that, I’ll have a great set-up for Tokyo. I’ve had some good con­ver­sa­tions with Bri­tish Cy­cling about what we can do dif­fer­ently. How about we change this? How about we try that? I like en­ter­tain­ing dif­fer­ent ideas and wring­ing out every ounce of tal­ent.’

Clancy al­ready has his vi­sion for suc­cess at Tokyo 2020 planned out: ‘My aim is to en­joy this year, do the Revo­lu­tion Se­ries, go to the World Cham­pi­onships in March 2018, do a full road se­ries and then by Au­gust 2018 I will switch back to a track fo­cus. But 100% I am go­ing for Tokyo. I’m ready to give it ev­ery­thing.’

With three Olympic gold medals, Clancy could eas­ily step away with his rep­u­ta­tion se­cured, but he is hun­gry for more. ‘You can’t beat that feel­ing of be­ing at a hold­ing camp at the New­port velo­drome be­fore the Olympics when you are nudg­ing world records in every sin­gle ef­fort you’re do­ing,’ says Clancy. ‘It’s the best feel­ing in the world.’

Fight­ing back from a ca­reer-threat­en­ing in­jury made Olympic suc­cess in Rio all the sweeter for Clancy

The roads around Clancy’s home in West York­shire are an ex­cel­lent train­ing ground for long hours in the sad­dle

Clancy com­pares en­durance train­ing to ‘wa­ter tor­ture', but says the suc­cess is worth the pain

Clancy is metic­u­lous about his kit, and has al­ways worn Oak­ley. His Prizm ™ Road lenses help de­fine the tex­ture of the road, mak­ing pot­holes and ob­sta­cles clearer

Gold medals at three suc­ces­sive Olympics make Clancy one of Bri­tain’s most dec­o­rated ath­letes

Come rain, wind or sun, Clancy is out on the road train­ing every day at 10am

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