20:05 EST, 13 July 2012
20:05 EST, 13 July 2012
Team GB are going for gold right across the board, but in precious few sports is the confidence high as it is among the cyclists. Here Sportsmail speaks to four of the biggest hopes.
Who or what is your main inspiration when competing at the London Olympics?
My family, I do it for them really now, they’re my motivation.
Is 2012 the most important year of your career so far?
No, it’s not the most important, but it could be the most defined. (That’s a good answer that isn’t it?)
Wheely impressive: Team GB have high hopes for their riders, including Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, Victoria Pendleton and Geraint Thomas, at the London 2012 Olympics
Having competed at many games before, what advantage do you think home support will bring you?
I think it makes the whole occasion a bit more special. I think performance wise you train to perform wherever. But I don’t think you can underestimate, especially in the road events, just how much the crowd is going to roar us up Box Hill nine times and round that time trial course.
You’re so concentrated all the time on the process and everything you’re doing, day in and day out, you are never really looking at the end prize and you have almost been trained to do it the last few years.
So in everyone else’s minds the Olympics is coming, it’s only a few weeks away but in a sporting sense it is still a long way to go.
People say you’re in the form of your life…
Yes, there is certainly a consistency now in the performances, it’s becoming great for me and I’m very fortunate, I’ve got a fantastic coaching team behind me in Tim Kerrison and Shane Sutton.
Shane is like a father figure to me, I’ve known him for 15 years now, probably the only man close to me in cycling who can tell me how it is which I think is also important and we have got probably one of the strongest teams in world cycling.
Things have changed in Britain in terms of the perception of cyclists. Have you noticed that out on the road?
Certainly more so the last two years, with Team Sky coming along, you get cars in support, when they recognise you out on the road or even just walking around London today, people just nodding or giving you a thumbs up, a nod to what you’ve been doing.
It’s important as professional cyclists. I think that our achievements haven’t gone unnoticed in the mainstream press in this country and we have all benefited positively from that and certainly that wasn’t the case ten years ago when we had all just got back from the Olympics in Sydney. It’s moved on massively.
Mellow yellow: Bradley Wiggins is enjoying a faultless Tour de France ahead of the Olympic Games
Do you have any time for an external life?
Yes, I think we all do. I think part of, as you say, being grounded and the beauty of this sport is that we have all grown up as fans of it.
At one time or another we have all had our photos taken with our heroes when we were kids who were cyclists, so we all respect and recognise the position that we’re in and what we’ve achieving out there. I think that’s a good thing.
I think in doing that and in realising that, you realise what it means to that the eight or nine year old who comes up to you at the start of a stage of the Tour de France with his Sky cap or Sky jersey on. If you get them in the bus, you can actually appreciate what that means to them and how inspirational that must be, just how much you’ve changed their day.
It’s not just the kids, the parents are also our fans and we all have an appreciation of that because we’ve all been in that position and we’re all inspired ourselves by that so I think that’s a massive part of it.
And what about the influence of Sky. You talk about Team Sky and Sky signing up to British cycling for another four years, what does that mean in terms of elite performance?
It is fantastic obviously, it is a brilliant investment in cycling. It’s a continuation of the team and with the cycling but it is actually an investment across the board in terms of all cycling, not just the elite.
Elite is there to try and inspire people and try and get people more engaged with sport and create heroes and stories about cycling that people can tell in years to come. It is to get families out and about.
We’ve started a fantastic job, an amazing job of having what is a simple thought and saying how can we move the sport forward and how are we going to get greater participation from the bottom to the top of the pyramid and that’s what they’ve done. It is quite unique.
Much made of the slogan ‘Playground to Podium.’ It doesn’t have to be like that does it, you don’t have to have the ambition to be elite?
No, there are very, very few people who can ever achieve what the guys have achieved but that’s not what it’s about.
There are many people who just want to ride to the shops or just enjoy cycling for the freedom that it gives you, the sense of the wind in the face. It’s the whole sport, not just our level and that’s what we’re here to try and achieve in sport and create that contagious enthusiasm about a sport.
Can you still treat what is beyond your profession, which consumes your life, as a leisure activity and take the family out?
That was the biggest eye opener for me, going along in Manchester and being able to take my own children and ride round and see Dave there with his daughter.
Regardless of level there, whether you had a mountain bike or were racing at elite level, or if you were four years of age, it was mass participation and everyone could do it.
We were so unaware of actually what we
were doing and that the Tour de France was the reason why so many had
come along and had been inspired by it.
It just so happened there was a closed
road ride on their doorstep in Manchester and so people came along to
participate. That was really eye opening for me to see that in person.
Everyone’s invited: Wiggins is delighted to have inspired so many people
What advantage do you feel you hold over the other riders you’ll be competing against at the Olympics?
I think home advantage is the support, the ability to be at home, having all the home comforts, being able to be in Newport five days before the race. The stuff you eat, the surroundings and its home really. So I think that’s our main advantage.
What moment are you most looking forward to at the London Olympics?
Hopefully standing on top of that podium and watching the flag go up. I just can’t wait for the races as well, just getting out there, it’s been such a massive build-up now, just to get out there and race and get it on.
Would you rate the London Olympics above any other competition you’ve competed in before?
Definitely, I’ve said it for a few years, it’s a once in a life time opportunity. Home Olympics, I mean it comes round hardly ever, so that’s why I’ve geared everything towards it this year. I’ve sacrificed a lot, missing the tour and things.
What would it mean to you, to be only the fourth Welshman to be a multiple Olympic gold medallist?
Really the fourth? Yes I’d be proud of that! Yes it would be massive; I mean Wales doesn’t have a lot of gold medal hopes so to be one of them is a massive honour, and to win one would be incredible.
How are you feeling, how are the preparations going?
Team dream: Geraint Thomas expects to flourish with his crew
Well preparations are going pretty good. With the world championships we went to Australia and we won with a world record. That’s the last race until the Games and that’s pretty much on track I guess.
But that is vastly different to the road. The track has just moved on so much now, it is so fast, it is so clinical and precise whereas the road is a lot more, you know, freestyle. The track’s really scientific and you know what you’ve got to do and that’s that.
The training then is completely different. For the track you maybe ride your bike 10, 15 hours a week maybe. Things like the Tour de France, training for that you can do up to 35 hours, going up hills and all sorts of things.
So yes, it’s massively different but I think that’s where I benefit with Sky and everything, with that one goal, with Dave at the head of both GB and Sky, so I get the best programme in the run up to the Games.
What was your thinking behind not doing the Tour and focusing on the Olympics?
Coming into this year I looked at it and the London Olympics is just massive, it’s everything this year is about for me and my best chance of winning a gold medal is in the team pursuit so I decided to just go with that.
Unfortunately that meant missing the Tour this year but there are plenty more years to come, hopefully. So yes, that’s the decision I made.
A lot of the public won’t be aware of the changes that have been made to the events for cycling. How do you feel about that? Don’t people want to see the best cyclists cycling against each other whatever nation they come from?
Yes, definitely, it’s a bit strange really. They’ve gone from two riders per sprint event to one. I mean can you imagine doing that in a hundred metre final? It would just be crazy.
In the world championships this year I think the top ten came from just four or five nations so that means that the 11th guy in the world could maybe come fifth in the Games which is crazy when you think about it.
But we’re just the bike riders really, we can only race what is put in front of us and that’s how it goes.
What about you after the Olympics? Will you turn back to the road, do you have Tour de France ambitions yourself eventually or do you think you can continue sprinting?
No, I’ll definitely go 100 per cent to the road. Rio in four years’ time is a lifetime away really in sport so I’ll never say I’ll definitely not ride the track again, but without a doubt the next two years will be fully on the road.
The classics are something that really excite me – I want to go there and perform, Paris, Flanders and yes, keep riding the Tour alongside Cav and Brad, and keep trying to improve in that respect.
Maybe down the line if people think and I think I could perform there then for sure I’d love to go for it.
Slightly off topic, are you Welsh?
I speak Welsh but I was born in Derby. My parents moved to Wales when I was two so I have got no recollection of anything but growing up in Wales and going to school and getting taught in Welsh until I was 16.
The wonder of Wales: Thomas plans a total focus on his road racing career post-London 2012
With specific reference to Wales, you’ve got the Etape Cymru coming up, is that the first closed road for a while in Wales?
Closed road sport in North Wales, yes. Obviously being Welsh as well, it’s good to support things around that area. There are great roads, great scenery up there and yes, I thought I’d help promote it. It’s great to get out there in the Welsh hills and do some great riding.
But people are just so keen to get out on their bikes and test themselves a bit, it’s not just about tootling around.
Yes, like you said before, the whole media is a lot more aware of cycling, everyone is just a lot more aware of it now in the UK and wants to give it a go and like we’ve already said, whether you’re four or whether you’re sixty, it is something that everyone can do and everyone can enjoy and that’s the beauty of riding a bike really.
We have heard about how quietly confident you are in terms of your personal progress and the preparations. Do you feel you are going to achieve what you want to achieve this summer?
I think I am definitely on target anyway so yes, we’ve definitely had a lot of hard work to get through and are still going through in the build-up to the Games but yes, I think we’re on course and hopefully we can go there and do what we want.
Manx missile: Mark Cavendish is balancing Tour and Olympic expectations for Britain
What would it mean to you to win team GB’s first medal of the Olympics?
It would be an honour, it’s irrelevant whether it’s the first, the last or the middle medal. I’d love to be part of a successful Great Britain team.
What difference do you feel the home support will give your performance?
It will be incredible, nine times up Box Hill is a lot of hard work, to have lots of cheering, lots of support and having the nation behind you is a very special thing.
What would be going through your mind when you’re climbing Box Hill on the last circuit of the race?
Don’t know, just completing the race I guess.
Do you think London 2012 will be the most important race you’ll have ever take part in?
I don’t know whether it will be the most important one, but will definitely be the most defining.
Sports Personality of the Year, that says it all doesn’t it?
It’s just nice to know that people are appreciating cycling, know what cycling is. Beforehand it was just this thing that a few people did, this niche kind of thing. Now there’s all sorts.
One, the fact that people are buying more bikes, two, the likes of Sky Ride aiming on getting a million people on a bike by 2013 and three, the fact that we’re doing well at something and when you do well at something the whole country are behind you.
We have a professional team now, it’s not just like a few individuals going off riding a bit, we have a national team to support now, Team Sky, so people can buy into it.
Obviously more people are riding bikes so they’ll just head out. It doesn’t matter if they just cycle to the shops or whether they go out and do 50 kilometres on a weekend as a family, they can kind of understand what it is to ride a bike now.
How do you keep grounded? I guess family helps doesn’t it and you have just had a little girl, haven’t you? How is Delilah?
She’s good, good as gold. I don’t see her as much as I’d like, I’ve been away but it’s great.
Gold and green?
I hope so. We have definitely got everything in place to give us the best opportunity for it.
You’ve got to look at it like, imagine all the teams in the Premier League all on the same pitch at the same time and all working as a team but one guy has to score. That’s kind of how we are and that’s what we’ve got to try and achieve but we have definitely got the best opportunity to do it and I think we can do it.
All about me: Victoria Pendleton insists she pays little attention to the form of her rivals
How are you feeling now about the Games?
I know I’ve done the best job possible to be in the peak shape for this summer, so fingers crossed it all works out.
We know that the support we will receive is going to be incredible, and that can only be a bonus.
I remember back to earlier this year when we were at the Velodrome and the noise from the crowd was unbelievable. I think this will help all the Team GB riders and hopefully we can use it to our advantage.
Obviously the Olympics brings together the crème de la crème of riders. How do you feel about the competition you will face?
I don’t really spend much time thinking about my rivals because it’s something you can’t control. Focusing on your own training, believing in what you’re doing and doing the best job you possibly can is the most important thing and staying focused on your goal
How will it feel to be competing at the Olympics as part of Team GB?
Being part of a successful team is an amazing experience and drives us all to, hopefully, get the results we have all put so much effort, dedication and passion into.
Sky and British Cycling, who together aim to get one million more Brits on their bikes, bring together riders Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Victoria Pendleton and Geraint Thomas ahead of an important summer of competition. Support them and get involved in cycling at goskyride.com.