Metheven Bond is quick to forgive anyone who doesn't recognise his name on the Gravel World Championships start list. He laughs when I say I’ve never heard of him before. “Oh no, you wouldn’t have,” he says.
Thirteen months ago, Bond had never raced a bike. Now he’s getting ready to line up against a star-studded field, headlined by Mathieu van der Poel and three-time road World Champion Peter Sagan, in Veneto, Italy, this Sunday.
When asked about the prospect, Bond can’t help but chuckle. “It’s funny when you say things like that,” he says. “I don’t really know how to feel about it, because it’s daunting, but at the same time it’s amazing."
Like many people, Bond cycles to work. It’s a five-mile round trip from his home in Clitheroe, Lancashire, to Ribble’s flagship bike showroom, where he spends his days as a sales assistant. “I used to work on cruise ships as a photo manager,” the 30-year-old says, “but when Covid hit, the cruise industry pretty much ground to a stop overnight."
“I spent the first lockdown riding and training a lot as there wasn’t really much else to do. Then I decided that as I loved cycling, why not try a job related to it?
“Now, when [customers] come in wanting to buy a bike, I help them choose the right one, size them up and get them all kitted out and ready to ride.”
A 13-month journey
In between shifts, Bond goes on long rides in the countryside, searching for new places to explore and growing stronger with every pedal stroke.
“I’ve always enjoyed taking bikes where they shouldn’t go,” the shop assistant says, “and then gravel kind of became a thing. It made sense to give some of the racing a go, and it turned out I was alright.”
Bond chose the 2021 British Gravel Championships as his first competition, placing 19th in a field of almost 300 riders. From that moment, he was hooked. Bond signed up to as many gravel events as he could manage the following year, chatting to the riders he competed alongside to find out about new races.
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In June, Bond got his big break. He travelled to the southern French town of Millau to line up in the Wish One Gravel Race, part of the UCI Gravel World Series. He ended up finishing 20th, over half an hour behind the winner, pro cyclist Niki Terpstra. Little did that matter, though. Since the race was on the World Series and he was in the top 25%, Bond automatically qualified for the World Championships.
On his return to the UK, he sent an email to British Cycling asking if he could take part.
“I got a response back initially saying no, I couldn’t,” he says. “I didn’t have any race experience in their eyes, because I didn’t have any UCI points because I’m not a roadie.
“So then I had to send them a whole load of my race results with Strava stats and who I had beaten at races. Then they said yes, entered me and that’s literally all I heard. The rest of it I had to kind of figure out for myself.
“Basically, British Cycling has entered me as a wildcard.”
Bond will be one of five riders representing Great Britain in the men's elite event, and the only one to have never competed either professionally or semi-professionally on the road.
Ever since his first race, the 30-year-old has funded everything out of his own pocket. The Gravel World Championships, it turns out, are no different. Bond has arranged his own travel, booked his own accommodation, and even paid for his own national team kit, which arrived in the post on Wednesday, the day before his flight.
The only thing Bond hasn’t had to buy is his bike, a copper-coloured Ribble Gravel SL, which was given to him by his employer.
Few, if any, riders will have had a journey like his to the start line in Veneto. “To be completely honest, I’m very excited, but also petrified because I do feel out of my depth.” he says.
“It’s my first time up against kind of WorldTour riders, which for somebody who’s literally started racing recently, it’s an exciting thought, but it’s also one where all those race fears go through your head.
“No matter how I do in the race on Sunday, so long as everything goes okay and they let me sign on, that will be amazing.
"And then anything on top of that will be incredible.”
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