Q&A: Chris Opie (Saint Piran)

One of the country’s best domestic based riders, Chris Opie is back from retirement next season racing for his native Saint Piran team – we grill him on his comeback LoL!

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Q&A: Chris Opie (Saint Piran)

How long after retiring, did you miss the racing…
Chris: That is a difficult question to answer, for many reasons. I stopped because I felt like it was the only option for me at the time. I also felt I had achieved all that I could from my career and I would be finished with racing forever and would never want to turn a pedal in anger again.

I really enjoyed that feeling of no longer having to perform, having to train or eat correctly all the time. I felt freed from a set of circumstances that I had really started to struggle to stay on top of. I could enjoy weekends with my family, I could drink alcohol and I seriously embraced the latter as hard as I could.

Which was definitely not good. After about 6 weeks of ‘retirement’ I started to feel stressed and I mean seriously stressed, like my heart and lungs were trying to escape from my chest, it was really difficult to cope with. Alcohol helped, temporarily, but I quickly and somewhat accidentally realised that exercise helped too.

Chris in training for the sprints ahead with ‘coach’ James – Photo: Chris Opie’s Instagram 

30-60 minutes of flat out efforts every day helped suppress this feeling of stress and it was seriously addictive. I started setting Strava goals and wattage goals and I was hitting numbers that I could normally only have dreamt of as a ‘pro’, especially anything up to 60-90 seconds. Looking back now, that is probably the first indicator something was already missing from my life.

Fast forward another 12 months to June this year and I had definitely lost fitness and condition. I was given the opportunity to ride the Leadville 100 MTB XC race in Colorado. This was the start of a realisation for me. I had a defined goal event to train towards, and because of this I felt like myself for the first time in a long time.

But I still didn’t intend to return to racing. I got myself into really good shape, which considering I could only train around the 9-5.30 office job that no ones believes I do at GCN, I was proud of.

Off the back of that trip, I went for a ride with Yanto Barker(Le Col), my longest running team mate and someone who I have always looked up to as a role model and mentor. It was then I started to realise just how much I missed having that bond with another rider on the road, intuitively following each other, flowing through the lanes.

Photo: Chris Opie’s Instagram 

A slight feel of friendly competition, eyeing each other up trying to gauge the others fitness, subtly testing each other. And then the fact you have someone you know so well to confide in about life and everything that’s going on behind closed doors. Losing that when I stopped racing was the loss of something that I never even knew I needed.

I then had my summer holiday back at home in Cornwall and rode with Steve Lampier and his Saint Piran team mates. This was another piece of the puzzle, seeing the camaraderie between them really highlighted to me that I was missing something that I needed to have. I stayed fit throughout September, set a couple of world records on Penny Farthings and that was it, I realised I could still push myself as hard as ever.

I could still hurt and suffer. But crucially and paramount to being a good bike rider, the drive, passion and desire was back. That is what I had been missing the most, feeling like something mattered and was worth working for.

So, all in, it probably took the full 18 months that I’ve been away from racing to really appreciate and realise what I was missing.

What is it you missed about the racing – the challenge of winning, the mateship on the road in a team, the thrill of racing …

Chris: Ultimately, with that first answer I think I probably covered this, but it is the unique combination of everything that cycling has to offer that has drawn me back. Goals, fitness, team mates, freedom, the feeling of winning, though something I never experienced as often as I would have liked is also a huge draw!

Have you been able to keep up with the domestic racing scene whilst working?

Chris: Yes of course. I’m a huge cycling fan! And I think this next year will be incredibly exciting with a lot of open races ahead!

Are there any races from when you were racing, you are looking forward to returning to – sprinters races like Stockton perhaps?

Chris: The Tour Series has always had a huge appeal for me. I’ve always enjoyed racing it, the organisation have always been incredibly welcoming and made me feel very at home when racing it too. It has an atmosphere that I’ve really missed!

And who knows what else in the future, Stockton is obviously special having won there in 2016, but I still like to entertain the idea of racing abroad again. I’ve always had this quiet dream to help educate younger riders in the sort of races I ‘grew up’ racing in The Netherlands and Belgium.

Crits – will that be part of your calendar?

Chris: Absolutely. They make a huge part of the UK season and so are incredibly important to me and Saint Piran as a team. You can’t call yourself a good cyclist unless you can master racing a crit. If someone tells you they’re not a crit rider it just means they aren’t trying hard enough. It’s positioning, confidence, experience and fitness all rolled into one. Exactly the same qualities a good road rider needs.

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You set world records LoL when retired – form still really good then?

Chris: Haha, yes… I was genuinely nearly as fit this summer as I have ever been, though I’m not saying it will apply after four hours of racing. But certainly after returning from the altitude in Colorado, I was flying. And I took that into both World Records on the Penny Farthing. I rode my 40 km commute flat out once or twice a week in the summer and in the end my record was 1hr 01 min with 600 meters of climbing. Faster than I could do it in the car sometimes, that!

I think it was in Devon when you were on the ToB one year with the Cornish flag (see below) … how special will it be for that area to get the ToB depart?

Chris: It will be incredible, one of the worlds most impressive sporting events, on the roads I started riding in 1997. I hope it brings inspiration and proof of opportunity to a generation of young people in Cornwall. There are so many diverse roles available within the world of cycling and I hope and believe it will spark a few imaginations next September.

Was it tempting to go for a UCI team to be in the ToB in Cornwall?

Chris: Yes, of course. But I’m sure there will be more opportunities in the future for such moments. I will be able to enjoy the event along with everyone else in Cornwall next year and that alone will be a very special experience. For me, next year is about finding my feet, passing on a lot of my knowledge and rediscovering the version of myself I want to be.

Joining the Saint Piran team, what does it mean to you to be part of a team from that area?

Chris: It will be a proud feeling to wear a jersey with such heavy links to the area I am from. Cornish people are on the whole very proud of their heritage. The team has proven already that they are here for the long term and joining them only makes me feel more proud to be from Cornwall and to have that association.

I am guessing this is the first time you have been part of a team from that area.

Chris: It is. Although in 2009-2011 I rode for Pendragon-Le Col, another southwest team. But never one from Cornwall.

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How hard is it to get back into the training to race again?

Chris: It is going to be a very serious challenge. I am going to have to work very hard for a long period of time. Corrective exercises to my posture from sitting at a desk from 9-5.30 for a start. Mentally it’s not that tough at the moment. But there are going to be some really hard days ahead as fatigue sets in, along with the other commitments I have in my life. There is no doubt in my mi d of the level I can achieve, but it won’t be easy.

What’s your favourite part of the Cotswolds to train in …

Chris: I love heading east from Cirencester. Smooth flowing roads, I trained a lot there with ex-teammate Dexter Gardias in 2015 &’16 so its nice to be back around that area!

Will it be difficult to get the form from the glory days back after the time out?

Chris: Yes it really will. Whilst my short term fitness is still very good, I am going to have to work hard to regain my endurance and resilience. I also think it will be very hard because I really gave it my all in the past. But that isn’t going to deter me from trying. I know how to work hard, how to suffer and I am coming with a fresh motivation. There are no guarantees, but I believe I can still improve on certain aspects of my former self in 2019.

Proud to be a Cornish rider – of course!

Having had time out – what are the memories from the career that stand out for you?

Chris: It will always be 2016 Ronde van midden Nederland. It’s as close to a home race as I will ever get. It is the area of The Netherlands my wife is from and all of my memories from 1999 onwards are in that area. There’s a video somewhere from behind the barriers of my wife and her family celebrating and that always makes me feel emotional. It’s just a shame the team didn’t appreciate it at the time and it was the last race I ever rode for ONE Pro Cycling, despite being in really good shape at the end of that season. And, of course, one of my all time highlights was winning Canary Wharf Tour Series in 2013. Both races were won in a sprint, and both with a big scream of jubilation.

Finally, what are the goals for the 2020 season with Saint Piran.

Chris: To continue the progression and development of the team and riders. To win National A events in the UK and create a foundation from which to push forwards into 2021 and beyond. That is the key. Sustainable progression.

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