Manchester is perfect for training on the road, especially having the Peak District on your doorstep. Whenever I venture out it nearly always rains, but when the sun does put in an appearance it’s one of the most beautiful places to ride. You can quickly get out into the countryside from the city centre. Rolling Cheshire lanes to one side, with Lancashire hills and Peak District climbs to the north and east. Good roads to explore from the Rapha Clubhouse that are a pleasure to ride when the weather is kind, and challenging when it’s snowing in winter.
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The reason I moved here was cycling. A lot of us grew up with the British Cycling Academy – Geraint Thomas, Mark Cavendish – and it just feels like home. Especially as we spend so much time at the airport, travelling far and wide.
As the city centre is within easy commuting distance from the velodrome, I enjoy hanging out in the Northern Quarter. You can find good food and coffee with a few of the original cobbled streets, if that’s your thing. If you want something a little more challenging, a few miles south of the city centre there’s always Swiss Hill. Brutally steep and nearly impossible to climb if it’s wet.
Before I started cycling I was a little fat kid. I’d had a heart operation for supraventricular tachycardia around the time I began riding a bike. At first I wasn’t any good at it and I certainly didn’t expect it to become my career. But now it’s my job and I’m very grateful for the success that I’ve enjoyed. Part of this has been down to the people that have supported me but there’s also a lot of my own hard work and determination.
I started riding because of food really, I wanted to find a way to manage my weight. So I joined my local cycling club and every weekend we’d ride out to a cafe, me blowing up on the way home after doing 25 miles. It wasn’t apparent at the time but now, looking back on how my career has progressed, I fell in love with the sport as a teenager and my riding blossomed from there. But I still eat too many cakes.
There’s such a small margin of error in competitive cycling, especially in the team pursuit, which is the event I’ve specialised in. You’re talking fractions of a second between winning and losing. World Championships are decided by less than a tenth of a second. At the time it can be heartbreaking to come so close after working all year for that particular target. That’s what you’re aiming for, and to get a silver medal is always disappointing – of course it’s still an achievement, but we always set out to win gold.
On a personal level, not being picked to race in the Olympics was my biggest disappointment. I’d worked tirelessly to prepare, to so narrowly miss out on the Games and see the team be so successful wasn’t easy. As much as it made me happy to see them all do well, I would have loved to have been there with them. It’s disappointing, but it’s not something that defines me as a person. It drives me to challenge myself every day, pushing myself on the bike with a hopeful eye on 2020 and Tokyo.
Manchester is regarded as the home of British Cycling and I feel a lot of that is due to the success on the track. The cycling bubble has grown massively over the last ten years and I feel the people that live in the city are proud of this association. The crowd are so knowledgeable. I’ve been successful at the velodrome and it always feels special.
In a racing sense, Manchester is home. Success comes with a lot of pain and suffering and your fair share of dark times, but I’m proud to race here. The weather’s not always too good but it’s a fantastic place to ride your bike.