You played rugby as a kid – why the switch to cycling?
Yeah, I played several different sports growing up but rugby was the main one. I’d always enjoyed cycling, and was fortunate in living only a few miles from Maindy cycle track in Cardiff. I remember going there for a midweek evening session after school, using a road bike on the outdoor track, and catching the bug.
Maindy has produced a string of world-class stars – were you inspired by those around you?
Yes, big time. I was starting out at around the time G [Geraint Thomas] was away at the Beijing Games winning gold in the team pursuit, which was a massive inspiration. On the local scene at that time, Luke Rowe was a junior, and I was coached by his dad Courtney. There was a really good group at Maindy at that time.
Being Welsh seems to lend a competitive edge?
Yeah, for sure! As well as Maindy, having the velodrome built in Newport [in 2003] was a massive thing, and it gave Welsh Cycling something to build and grow from. What they do is really impressive.
You’ve been called a ‘model example’ of British Cycling nurturing – but there have been ups and downs for you too, right?
Yes, there have been a lot of ups and downs. In my first year on the Academy, I really struggled with moving away from home and that transition to being a full-time athlete. In my first year, I didn’t even make the Academy’s team pursuit squad. In my first major race as a senior, at the Cali [Colombia, 2014] Worlds, we came eighth and the fallout was that we got put under review. It’s never plain sailing for anybody.
What carries you through those tough times?
It’s just about learning and evolving every year and making tweaks. People can always give you advice, but if you make mistakes and learn the lessons yourself, you don’t do it again. After every key part of the season, I’ll sit down and write a big list of pros and cons, then highlight the ones that I think are going to make the biggest difference.
You’ve been riding at world level for a decade now – what do you find keeps you motivated?
It’s just about seeing that gradual progression, getting better every year. The challenge for me is different from someone like G, who, having won the Tour, has to find the motivation to go through that process again; it’s constantly evolving for me. I love doing the Classics and trying to get into the Grand Tour teams. Every year it’s nice to see improvements.
Who in cycling inspires you the most?
It’s impossible to narrow it down to just one, but all the domestiques on our team – guys who turn up in condition year in, year out regardless of how big the race is – they’re unsung heroes, working just as hard as the top guys for a lot less limelight.
The Classic-specific day. This is where we try to get as close as possible to replicating a full spring Classic. Through the six-hour ride, we simulate the demands of each section. It’s always a really big day on the bike, and they’re pretty grim at the time, but afterwards you feel good knowing it’s made a difference.
Flat white, every time. When I was on the track programme in Manchester, a few of us – me, Andy Tennant, Philip Hindes and Callum Skinner – were really into coffee. We’ve since set up Five Rings Coffee. Each blend will be named after a story we’ve been through together – the first one is ‘Blind Faith’, based around a night out post-Olympics in Rio.
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