Sometimes, a defeat in battle is what ends up winning the war. Owain Doull and Jon Dibben were part of the British men’s team pursuit squad that lost the UCI Track World Champs final to perennial rivals the Australians last Thursday. But as the two talented Team WIGGINS riders told Rapha over coffee at the Cycle Club London, this defeat will spur them on to be faster come the Olympics in the summer.
Boys, congratulations on being part of one of the fastest team pursuit finals of all time. How was it?
Owain Doull: It was so painful. We all did a good ride but in the end it wasn’t good enough.
What was the feeling immediately afterwards?
Owain: Shock and disappointment, hearing the gun go off and looking up at the screens and seeing Australia in first place was like a punch in the gut. You never go in expecting to win it but that’s always in the back of your mind, and to miss the one thing we had been working so hard towards was heart-breaking.
And how do you see it now, a few days later?
Jon Dibben: That feeling of disappointment is still there, but it’s given us the drive to train even harder for Rio now. We’re actually looking forward to our next training camp now so we can get cracking.
The Brits and the Aussies have long been rivals in the team pursuit. It must be hard to not listen to the times they have been putting in, or what they are doing in training, and stay focused on your own work?
Owain: The team pursuit is a very calculated team effort, you have a schedule and you work together to hit extremely precise lap times time after time in training, so it doesn’t feel like a race against a team on the opposite side of the track but an effort to achieve the fastest time as a group.
Jon: That’s why we focus on our own development first, but you always know that Australia are going to be the team to beat come Rio. We just have to be ready.
Can you describe in layman’s terms what it’s like to ride the team pursuit?
Owain: It’s like a swan gliding over water – it looks really serene but under the water there’s a lot of action going on. The team pursuit looks controlled and calm but under the surface everyone is pushing themselves to the absolute limit.
How is it to ride as part of such a tight-knit team?
Owain: I get more nervous before riding the team pursuit than individual events because you really want to do well for the team.
Jon: You don’t want to let the others down. If you’re not feeling it then that can affect the whole result and that’s a lot of pressure to deal with.
You were riding on your home track. Did you feel more pressure to perform?
Owain: The pressure wasn’t too bad but the sound in the velodrome was just incredible. We nearly missed the start of the team pursuit – normally they hush the crowd before the start but they were cheering so loud we couldn’t hear the sound of the clock counting down. Ed Clancy said he didn’t realise the countdown had started and just happened to glance over with three seconds to go!
Jon: During the points race I had a bit more awareness of the crowd than in the team pursuit so I could hear the crowd cheering me every time I made an attack or moved around the track, and the last lap was deafening.
Owain, on Friday morning you went straight into the individual team pursuit, briefly setting the track record. Then you faced team mate Andy Tennant for the bronze. How was that?
Owain: I’ve never done a sub-4:20 before so it was good to pull something back after the disappointment of the team pursuit. And then Andy [Tennant] and his fresh legs beat me for the bronze! Although it would have been good to get a medal, when you’re racing against your friend it’s not so bad to lose because you’re still happy to see them do well.
What was your most vivid memory of the last week?
Owain: Jon winning the points race, I’m not ashamed to say that I cried, I was so happy for him.
Jon: Winning the points race, I just couldn’t believe it.
It was a fantastic ride. What was going through your mind in those last five laps?
Jon: I knew that I had to win the last sprint to win the race, and I’d taken it quite easy for the last 15 laps so I had the legs to go. I went full gas, looked around in the last half lap and realised I was going to win. It was such a shock – the same shock as in the team pursuit – but a good one this time.
Had you been training for the points race? Was it a goal for you to get the gold?
Jon: Not at all, we’d been 100% focused on the team pursuit – that was our everything. The points race was an afterthought and I wasn’t even sure I was racing in it until a couple of days before, but a lot of the training we’ve been doing on track and road works well towards the points race.
You’re a world champion. What do the rainbow bands mean to you?
Jon: It’s massive. I’ve won other championships and races in the past but this is the first gold medal that doesn’t have a pre-fix, it’s just ‘world champion’.
You’re both great friends. How did you meet one another?
Owain: I came into racing a bit late compared to Jon, so we first met when we were around 15, and I went to a race and everyone was talking about this guy who was super strong. Then we ended up in the same youth teams and then in Manchester, and we’ve lived together for quite a few years now.
Apart from Ed Clancy, it was all Team WIGGINS boys in the pursuit squad. How has being in the team been a positive experience for you both?
Owain: It’s an incredible team, so much fun. The great thing is that Brad has basically hired all his old friends so it’s an amazing atmosphere. Our two mechanics are the funniest people in the world, so you actually looking forward to going to races because you know it’s going to be a laugh.
What is it like being within the Team GB track programme? You must have to lead a remarkably monastic life.
Jon: It’s more serious, but we are slightly removed from the rest of the track squad as we go away and do high altitude training camps and training. We’re usually with a lot of the same people as Team WIGGINS anyway with the same mechanics and swannies.
What things do you miss the most about being pro athletes?
Jon: The food I miss most is pizza.
Owain: There are some things you feel you miss out on, like being able to go out with your mates, and you look forward to your weeks off and build them up so much and think they’re going to be so incredible, but when the time comes you just want to get back to training. We love riding our bikes and in the end that’s all we want to do.
Do you want to follow the careers of riders like Brad and Cav by moving on from the track to become successful roadmen?
Owain: Yes, I prefer road racing to track racing. Track racing is very results based, so if you win it’s great but if you don’t, it’s disheartening. With road racing you can have a great ride even if you don’t win, and you’re out racing every week. The track is quite underrated in how it can help in road racing – a lot of great British riders like Geraint Thomas and Pete Kennaugh have come from the track into road and that’s where we see our future too.
What are you looking forward to doing in Rio as soon as the racing is over?
Owain: Hopefully we’ll be celebrating, so we’ll be heading straight to the bar!
Jon: Then the beach.