Interview – Double Olympic Champion Ed Clancy

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Talking to Ed Clancy who admits the Olympic Games are massive and how after Rio, he’ll take two years off to dedicate to doing his best on the road

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Interview – Double Olympic Champion Ed Clancy

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2005, Los Angeles and Ed Clancy (Centre of pic) wears Chris Newton’s Gold medal after he never got his own after riding the first round only.

During my time as the photographer for the Great Britain Cycling team, there were athletes you had to walk on egg shells with and those who were just plain bloody nice guys. One of them was, and still is, Ed Clancy. A double Olympic champion no less.

At the last Revolution just after the New Year, I sat down with Ed in one of his rare periods in the UK. He’s returning from Majorca around now after a few weeks post Revolution and then returning to the Spanish island for another spell before heading to Paris for the World Track Cycling Championships at the end of February.

The goal however is the Olympic Games and everything admits Ed is about Rio 2016. Last year was not a happy one for him as he explained “I’m not the best cyclist to have touched the pedals but I ride a good Team Pursuit which is the one event I care about. Although I have had cracking training sessions and done well on the road, every time I have done a team pursuit, I haven’t had it so it’s been frustrating.”

When Ed says, ‘haven’t had it’, he’s not referring to losing touch with the event that means so much to him, but getting ill, which is all part of the game he admits but frustrating nonetheless. “I have always been lucky, not every World Champs but the ones where it has mattered, and Olympic years too, when I have always been healthy.”

“This year, at the Commonwealth Games I was ill. Then, I went to the Europeans and as soon as I came back from that to the World Cup, I was ill for a long time. I spent a week in the hotel in Mexico unable to do anything but just get on a plane and come home and drag the illness out a bit more”.

I could certainly sense the frustration that Ed was feeling. I’d seen it before with other Great Britain riders who suffered illness that came along at times when major events beckoned. Ed though at the time we spoke was healthy and during the night was setting the boards alight, just like we know he can, and will continue to do so.
Perhaps it isn’t just the illness though that is niggling him. As he explained, the training the team is doing at the moment is very radically different to anything he’s ever done under the many GB coaches he has had over the years.

“If you look at the teams he has worked with, they have always done well. That doesn’t mean it will work with us but I think we have a good coach so let’s see what we can do”.

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Wearing the stripes! Ed is a former Circuit Race Champion.

The coach for the Team Pursuit now is some one who is linked to success in the event, Heiko Salzwedel who has a long history with the GB team including Ed. “I was interviewed by Heiko for the Academy along with Cav and Matt Brammeier twelve or thirteen years ago” the Olympic champion explained.

“Then he went away and came back and was in a managerial role which I don’t think he was happy with so he went to work with the Russians. Now he’s come back for a third time and it will be the first time he is actively coaching us”.

Heiko follows a long line of coaches with the GB team that Ed has worked with. Simon Jones, Matt Parker, Dan Hunt and Paul Manning as well as Rod Ellingworth. “If you look at the teams he has worked with, they have always done well. That doesn’t mean it will work with us but I think we have a good coach so let’s see what we can do”.

The first big test will be the Track Worlds in February and after that it will be time to assess what has worked and what hasn’t before settling on the strategy for the Rio Olympics. Ed explained that he had just got back from a big altitude training camp in Tenerife on top of a volcano pretty much.

“That was different” he says. “It’s the first time I have done any altitude stuff and it was hard work where you put a lot of effort in and don’t put out much power!”

“It will take a while to reap the benefits of that, if we ever do. We’re just trying new stuff like in the gym as well that I have never done before. Heiko has come in and has taken his role as coach by the horns and is not scared to change things and try new things”.

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2010 and Ed doing what he does best, the Team Pursuit

“He’s keen to do that this year and work out what is good and what is bad and know what to do next year. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future”.

With the Olympic Games not until 2016 and the Commonwealth Games done and dusted, 2015 is pretty free of major track competitions. So when asked what the plan is for the season, Ed replied “mainly doing road stuff this season I think even though it’s all about the track now. It would be nice to win the (Pearl Izumi) Tour Series, road races or pack around stage races and pop a win in them, but for me, it’s all about the track”.

“The road racing is there to benefit the track. The team know that, I know that and so that’s how it is”.

“More than anything, I want to get Rio right. I am not as motivated for the World Cups and World Championships, I just want to get Rio right and that is what matters. There are a lot of teams stepping up now and the Aussies are as good as ever but it’s no different to four years ago.”

“I am not saying we’ll turn it around like four years ago but that is the plan. That is the goal and the motivation. The Aussies are looking good, but the younger guys like (Owain) Doull and (Jon) Dibben are turning a corner and they have surprised everyone, including management, at how well they have ridden the World Cups and so on at the start of this track season”.

“We still have big Wig (above in the 2014 Commonwealth Games) to come back into the team and there is a lot of exciting stuff there. Tennant is like a different rider at the moment for example”.

Speaking of ‘big Wig’ (Bradley Wiggins), the former Tour de France winner has heaped praise on Ed as being the fastest man 1 in the world. Ed made his GB debut at the World Track championships in 2005, riding the first round with the team going on to win the World title in the second ride.

Asked, after ten years at the top, and being ten years older, does he see himself keeping that man one position to himself, Ed replies, “I don’t care where I slot in, man 1, 2, 3 or 4. The main thing is for the team to win. Obviously it’s nice to make the team but the most important thing is the team wins. Physically though, man one does seem to suit my physical strengths more than any of the other boys. Come Rio, that is likely to be where I am if I make the team”.

“My endurance is better, my ability to soak up work has improved. My road racing too. My peak power has always been very good and is as good now as it was 10 years ago. Whether it’s as good as it was three years ago in London… I think it has gone backwards a bit. I was hitting ridiculous power marks and I haven’t been able to hit them since. I don’t know if that is down to the Olympic cycle or the aging thing”.

2014 – A disappointing season
As we start a new year, and for Ed, another stepping stone towards Rio 2016, when asked what 2014 was like for him, he replies, “I would not say I had a great 2014 and will remember it as a disappointment”.

“Like the Track Worlds at the start of the year was a massive failure. Huge. Despite what has been said, by management even, about some rider’s commitment, it is not true. We went there to do well and we were crushed after that, really gutted”.

“The (Pearl Izumi) Tour Series was brilliant though …. it was not a given we were going to win that and had some tough competition but in the end, it was not even close and they were probably the happiest six weeks of the year in 2014, by far”.

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Ed Clancy joins his teammates drowning manager John Herety in champagne after winning the Pearl Izumi Tour Series in 2014

“The (Pearl Izumi) Tour Series was brilliant though and I love this team. John (Herety) always looks after me, and they are a great group of lads. It’s an awesome atmosphere. It was not a given we were going to win that and had some tough competition but in the end, it was not even close and they were probably the happiest six weeks of the year in 2014, by far”.

“Then came the Commonwealth Games and again, I’d finished the Tour Series strong. I didn’t get any wins personally but did some good rides on difficult circuits and at the start of the Commonwealth Games training, all was going well”.

“Then me and Burkey (Steven Burke) got ill the week before and were useless, being towed around by Brad and Tennant. It was a good result, second to the Aussies, but I will always remember that as a major disappointment as well”.

Having ‘Wiggo’ in the team though did lift the riders Ed admits. “He’s like nobody else, especially around our team pursuit. He’s a massive character and it was noticeable at the Commonwealth Games that everyone wanted to do their best for him.”

“And it’s one of the reasons I feel so bad about the Commonwealth Games because no one wanted to let the big man down. It is exciting to have him in the team and no-one may admit it, but I think everyone will put more into it when Wiggo is about. It’s definitely a more exciting place to be when Wiggo is about!”

That is all in the future though. For now, Ed has lots of training to do and then the Track Worlds in a months time. After the interview, Ed and the GB team headed to warm weather training before they come back home around now and then back to Majorca for track training before heading to Paris.

Ed says he’s never ridden the track in Paris and the preparation for this years Worlds is very different to previous years. “There has been more road work and less track work. So there are a lot of unknowns and I hope I’m not talking to you at the end of Feb after another track worlds like 2014. We just don’t know because we’re trying new stuff and the coach isn’t afraid to experiment this year”.

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Ed along with current road pros Mark Cavendish, Matt Brammeier and Geraint Thomas are coached by Rod Ellingworth for the Team Pursuit.

“In some ways, we were doing a lot of what Matt Parker was doing in 2008 because that worked so well and Dan (Hunt) didn’t change a lot in 2012 so I’m seeing the biggest changes I have probably seen in my whole career”.

The changes in the type of training the riders are doing highlights the lengths coaches will go to in order to try and find ways of taking the athletes to new levels and if the Worlds doesn’t work out, so be it as it is the Olympics that is the be all and end all for team GB and for riders like Ed.

One thing is for sure, GB seem to able to peak for the Olympics like no other team and they will be looking to do that again in 2016.

“The Olympics, it’s the one thing that motivates me right now” Ed says. “It’s an Olympic programme and for everyone, staff and riders, the whole programme is based around that one event which makes it exciting. The fact is, the Olympics is the biggest thing we can do as track riders”.

“I’m not sure if it’s because I have been to the Olympics twice before but when I go to World Cups, I can sense the atmosphere and it’s about being there to do a job, to pick up points. I don’t get excited about it anymore. I want to get excited about the one big thing everyone gets excited about and work towards that goal which is why Rio is massive for me”.

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Giving the road a good go in 2017…
After Rio though, Ed would like to change things from previous years and take a break from the treadmill that is the track programme. “After Rio, 100 per cent I am going to have two years away from the track and I would love to carry on working for John (Herety)”.

“After Rio, 100 per cent I am going to have two years away from the track and I would love to carry on working for John (Herety)”.

“He is by far the best road manager I have ever worked with. In the road scene, sponsors come and go but yes, I would love to carry on riding for John. In hindsight, staying here for the two years after 2012, wasn’t so much a mistake but it has taken me this long to realise that it is totally and only about the Olympics for me”.

“It is exciting and there is nothing better than the Olympic year, it is so exciting. There are so many people behind it, you can feel the atmosphere and momentum as everyone works towards it. But you can’t feel that four years out so I’ll take two years off the track and get fully stuck into the road”.

“Not with an ambition to ride the Tour de France or whatever; just to see how far I can take it and be happy with that. Then I will make the decision whether I come back for the Tokyo Olympics or not. I’d like to think I will”.

“I’ll be 35 then as Wiggo is now (April 28, 2015) and I have never seen him go as well as he did in the Commonwealth Games so he still has it at that age so that’s the plan…”

Thanks to Ed for the chat, always a pleasure and certainly as interesting as ever!

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