We had so many tracks back then like Warsop, Chesterfield, Nottingham and Derby that are still around now but some good ones that ended up closing down such as Dronfield, Shepshed, Grimsby & Cleethorpes and Newark. My local track at Warsop was just an amazing place to ride as it was a breeding ground for good riders as we had a good few of us that were on the National circuit and some that did the regionals and Brits. The funny thing is that there could have been at least another 10-15 riders who just rode their bikes at the track, that were good enough to make National finals but didn’t have the support or means to get to these races. We spent so much time down there when I was younger and having that so close to our house helped me and my brother reach the levels we did at the time.
Having Dale Holmes come down regularly in my mid teens really pushed my level and we had some really good gate sessions. We were also lucky that there were quite a few other good riders down there that could snap and make you realise if you were late on the first pedal or not out the gate. I spent some of the happiest times of my life down at that track in Warsop and still get that good feeling inside when I go down there even now. It might not be a multi-thousand pounds facility right now but its still a really good track to ride with something for everyone.
It was that winter that my Dad started to train me in the same way that a lot of top, younger riders train nowadays. We did track, gates, sprints, circuit training at the local boxing gym and really went into the following season a totally different rider. I won my first Brits and National title that year and that was the year that Liam really started to come through, riding in the 5 and unders which is when we got noticed by the top Superclass riders . All the pros, Dale, Winne, Rob Indri and Revell nicknamed us the Bullet Brothers with us racing without a peak on our helmets so this is when we really started to love BMX and have heroes to look up to that inspired us to push on and do even better.
Moving onto the Worlds in Norway, I was riding up to race my semi and the bottom bracket came loose. There was no time before the race to get it sorted so I ended up borrowing Stephen Murray’s bike and got through with a 4th. Stephen also got through his semi which was 2 races after mine.
Lining up for the final I was the most nervous I had ever been and had tears in my eyes going up to the gate after seeing Liam lead out his final and crash in the first turn. He was a sure bet to win that race too. I got a good start and was leading, but trying to hold off an American rider down the 3rd straight, I left the door open for Benoit Duployer from France to come up my inside going into the last turn, having to settle for another 2nd place. It was still a good result but I was disappointed to let the lead slip and be so close to winning. That was an insane event and a great experience that once again pushed us to the next level.
I’ll never forget the Elite final there, seeing Christophe Leveque win from gate 8 and Dale getting 5th in his bright pink MCS Europe kit. Dylan’s final also stood out to me there where his lap looked effortless, I think he must have been about 16 or 17 at the time.
In the UK I will always say my biggest rival was Stephen Murray. He was a year older than me but we came together in double age groups on cruiser for a few years and had some really good battles. I’ll never forget him riding me off the track at the Warsop regional in 1992, putting me straight into a tree in the middle of the track. I wanted to beat him so much every race but we had some good laughs about those cruiser seasons a few years down the line. Good times.
The 1999 GT team was, in my opinion, along with some of the great Sunn teams, the best there has ever been. The riders, race gear, sponsors and bikes we had were just amazing and it was a real honour to have been part of that. At the 99 worlds in Junior there were 5 of us from the GT World team in the final and then 4 of us in the final on 20″. I shared the podium with Dan Shanahan and Steve Larralde who got 1st and 2nd.
I raced cruiser and 20″ with cruiser being on day one. Being the youngest of a double age group (15-16s), I went into the race confident of doing well, but was really pleased to come away with 3rd behind Michael Deldycke and George Andrews. I took a huge crash in the quarter on the way through to the final where I took a big knock to the head so was feeling sick before the semi and final but managed to pull off a brilliant result in a tough class.
The cruiser put me in a confident mood for the 20″ and with it being on home turf and the amazing crowd behind all the British riders, I felt we were all riding with that extra 1% that could make a huge difference to the way we rode and the results we got. Pulling gate 3 for the final I was in the perfect lane to get down the first straight in a good position, but being a little to pumped while names were read out on the gate, I hit the gate and ended a disappointing 5th. It felt like a great chance of a title had got away but it just wasn’t meant to be that day.
I had 3 really consistent laps getting a 4,4,3, nearly ending up on the podium but finishing up with a 4th. It felt like I had gone back to the start of my career that day, being able to set new targets for the following season and trying to work out how I could close the gap on the riders that were in the finals all the time.
1998 was a tough year as after a good season in ‘97 I really wanted to build on that and set my sights on being one of the riders in the mains every time. I managed to do that for the first half of the year and make all the finals I raced but after going to the Worlds in Australia I came back with a broken collarbone after being cut off by Warwick Stevenson in the quarter. I needed an operation so that was my national season over so I got myself strong enough to race cruiser at the Slough Brits and manage to finish the season off with a good win there.
There were so many riders I was battling with through the 98 season like Tony Fleming, Matt Boyle, Scott Burston and Geth Shooter just to name a few but this was such a good season to help me in years to come. I had to go into each race with a plan of how I was going to race with so many different styles of riding within the class, with each rider having certain strengths or maybe even some weaknesses. Planning my races like this was something that I took into the rest of my career which really was a huge benefit, studying tracks and riders styles in the lead up to certain race weekends.
After a great worlds with a 4th in cruiser and 3rd in 20” my confidence was really high and I came back to race my home national at Mansfield looking to win it. A few of us went down in the first final but I got up to get a 5th which left me a bit of a mountain to climb for the next two finals. I won the 2nd one which put me a point behind Dylan going into the last main. He holeshotted, so I tracked him all the way to the last corner, got a wider line to take more speed into the last straight and come past on the rhythm section. We finished level on points but I got the win on count back and it was such an amazing feeling. One of the best I’ve ever had in BMX to win my first pro race on my home track. I’ll never forget it.
It was the year Martin Murray took the National title at Farnham with the 3rd final win but I was content with 4th overall and 2nd behind Dale at the Brits.
I travelled over with Martin and Stephen Murray not knowing what to expect when we got there having never been to America before.
The first few weeks I started to find my feet, sharing the living room as a bedroom with Stephen with us being the youngest and basically at the bottom of the pecking order within the house. We had such a good time though, training with some of my Bmx heroes at the track, doing sprints at the beach and at the gym. Just being around those riders made me feel I belonged in that group and it really set me up to have a good year the following season.
I learned so much from everyone within the training group which would often be 10-15 top pros. Just thinking of some of the names like Neal Wood, Robbie Miranda, Brian Foster, Christophe Leveque and Cristian Becerine alongside Dale, these are riders that are BMX royalty.
I had a good start to the year but really came through strong at the end of the season after a really good result at the worlds. I feel as though the time I spent away at the World Cup and then through the Worlds gave me an enforced rest from training, which ultimately freshened me up and helped my performances at the other races I did that year. Looking back, I used to over train where I would do 3 or 4 sessions a day, taking no rest days and pushing myself constantly, so that time away showed me that letting yourself recover properly was the way to go.
In the 2000s you really started to bang-out some more National Titles and British Championships and moved onto Haro and got a few injuries before signing for One Bicycles in 2003. Thoughts on those injuries and results?
I won my first National title at Bournemouth in 2001 but crashed at an opening race of the new Harworth track a week later and and my season was over. I had an amazing season up to then with some podiums Euro Rounds while winning the domestic races I’d done on both bikes. I was devastated as I’d totally messed my wrist up with a break, dislocation and worst of all a break to the scaphoid which took such a long time to heal. I just had to get ready for the following season.
I’d just finished a two year deal with Haro so went into 2002 with no sponsor. After a 3rd place at Tours this was a real confidence boost with it being my first race back and a bunch of US pros over from America.
I got picked up by Revell Bikes not long after and Anthony asked if I’d do some 4x for him too. I wasn’t that keen but agreed to try it at the the NEC BIke Show having never ridden a 4x bike before. To be fair I had some good results in the races we did but in the last final mid day one I crashed over the first jump with Steve Peat. I went to get up off the floor but my leg was at a crazy angle and Steve was holding me down, telling me not to move. I’d broken my femur. I ended up having an operation and told I wouldn’t ride again for another 6 months.
Luckily I wasn’t put in a cast so managed to get on my rollers and get my leg moving 3 weeks later and got into the process of trying to show the doctors they were wrong about the recovery time. 3 months later I raced again at Coppull National but was off the pace and got 4th.
The last National of the year was at Peterborough in September so had that as a goal to be on better form so after a few more races I felt a bit better and got the win. It was one of the most satisfying wins over the years, just purely down to the circumstances and dragging myself back from not even being able to walk in May, so just like the previous winter it was all about getting myself ready for the next season and setting new goals. It was then I started riding for One which was a really great team to be part of.
It seemed like the UK scene was also in a good place for sponsors with events like the Fox No-Clips. Were you able to make a decent living racing and living in the UK at the time? The Fox NO Clips was an amazing addition to the UK race scene but at the time there were a few riders who missed out as they were against the whole flats racing.
The atmosphere was so good at those races as they were run on a Saturday evening with good music, giveaways, prize money and people watching drinking beer having a good time. Each win was £500 with an overall series top 3 of £1500, £1000, £500. Ian Gunner was a big part of the organisation for that series and along with the others really pulled off a great thing for the sport over two seasons.
We had a pro open on National days, for the time national Elite prize money was good and there were also holeshot awards. Winning everything over a weekend you could come away with over £1000 which was great to go with any bonus or retainer you got from sponsors. The current group of Elite riders aren’t getting the rewards they deserve and it’s been that way for years. It might need an event similar to the No Clips Series or an outside sponsor to see them be rewarded financially for the amount they put into the sport.
The New Era British National Team had kicked in during the mid 2000s with support and funding. What do you remember from those first few years on the squad especially with word that BMX was going to be in the 08 Olympics. Did you make this your priority?
Qualifying for Beijing became an obsession for me between 2005 and the actual year of the Olympics in 08.
Having looked at the qualification criteria, I knew that GB would be going for one of the 6 spots available for non qualified countries (via points), so it would all come down to one day of racing at the 2008 Worlds which I was confident about.
That helped me focus on results at the worlds and Euro rounds over a few years which seemed the right thing to do at the time. Looking back now though, I really wish I’d have kept things going in the National series in the UK as like I’ve mentioned already, these titles mean a lot, especially at the end of your career. That’s one regret from that period but I took top 8 finishes in the Euro Series’, a World silver and bronze in Elite Cruiser then riding good and coming close to making the Worlds final in Brazil. Things were going well.
BC had no real idea about BMX at the beginning of the Olympic cycle but we had a good squad with Dale, Shanaze, Liam Phillips and myself. We had some really good trips but we also had some really tough trips as I’m sure Dale will remember! There were so many teething problems that we had no real consistency within the squad, especially with coaching, so I felt as though we were all still doing our own thing and just travelling to races together.
Paris 05 UCI World Champions you were 2nd in Elite Cruiser and for a moment it looked like you were going to take the win. Thoughts on Paris Worlds as a whole?
That was a tough couple of days at Paris. The Cruiser was scheduled to finish at 7pm on the Saturday and with 20“ due to start at 8am the following morning I thought there would easily be enough recovery time.
Making the Cruiser main, we lined up at 11pm, a final that Dale was in too, crashing in the first turn and fracturing his wrist. Keeping out of trouble and finding space, I was in 3rd into the last corner when Damien Godet, who was second went for the move on Paul Lange. I was lining a swoop-up on both of them on the exit of the turn but as I just started to come past, they both crashed and one of their bikes caught my back wheel. Stumpy came past all of us and took the win. Second was great but being so close to winning made the result bitter-sweet.
Straight after the race we had to wait for the presentation, do a press conference then be drug tested so I didn’t get back to our hotel until 2:30am. I had no sleep that night as I didn’t come down from the adrenalin rush of the nights’ racing which made me feel like I’d been on a night out getting on the gate for 20” practice. There wasn’t one rider from that Cruiser final that even made the semis that day so it showed how much that late finish effected us all, that was really bad organisation.
The race itself was ok but no where near the best Worlds I’ve ever been too. The track was too small and too short where today’s riders would feel they were on a pump track.
Brazil 06 now riding for Intense Worlds you really were riding good and looked like you were going to put yourself in the final until a crash in the semi. What do you remember from that race?
After the 2005 worlds I went to Brazil not wanting to ride cruiser as it was the run into the Olympics and I wanted to focus on 20”. The schedule had always had cruiser racing on before 20” so I didn’t want this to effect me like it had the year before. Having not registered for Cruiser, the organisers changed the schedule a few weeks before the race, putting 20” on before cruiser so I was a bit gutted I wouldn’t have the opportunity to race on both bikes.
In qualifying, I remember most of the riders saying they felt sick from the races being so close together which made me feel good having done loads of back to back laps in training leading up to that race. I was feeling good.
In the 1/8 I remember being in the gate with nobody next to me in lane 5 and the button to let the gate go had been pressed. We should have had a full gate so a rider was missing. It was Arturs Mattisons who was Latvia’s number 1 at the time and he’d been sick in staging just before going up to race. He put his wheel on the gate just as the cadence came on and the guy on the other side of me hit the gate. I got 2nd in that race but there was a lot of drama afterwards with people wanting a rerun. Having qualified there was no way I wanted to go and do an extra lap around that track! We didn’t end up rerunning anyway but it gave the riders who were through to the quarters a good break.
Getting through that round I was into the semis with either semi looking like it could have been a main. I got a good gate but there were 4 of us that got tangled going towards the first jump where we all went down. Myself, Robert de Wilde, Bubba Harris and Kamakazi. It gave the others a free ride to the final and the same happening in the other semi where 4 riders crashed in the 2nd turn.
I was happy with how I rode there but that’s one thing that eluded me in my career, making an Elite 20” final at the worlds.
Photo – Nico van Dartel
You rode Intense again in 07 before going to Free Agent in 08. What stood out for you in 07 result size?
My best result that year came at the Worlds in Canada, getting back on the Cruiser and taking 3rd in the final. It came off the back of a poor season in Europe after I broke both my wrists in October 06 at the Frejus Supercross, costing me 4 months of training. I nearly had to quit racing at that point as my right wrist had no movement or grip in it but it all started to improve through February and March 2007 when I got back on the bike.
08 was a big year with the Olympic Qualification. I guess lots to touch on, your qualification process, the politics with BC after the 08 Worlds in China with an Olympic Trials Race added and missing out on a shot to go to Beijing. Let’s start with the plan going into 08 and the relationship at the time with Coach Grant White & British Cycling?
Grant had been brought in to be the BMX coach on the back of a few coaches being hired and things not working out too good. It seemed as though there was a revolving door at BC, as the sooner they had been hiring people, it quickly didn’t work out and they were gone.
Grant brought a sense of stability to the team when he came in as I got a feeling that he would be there for a while, and, to be fair I could tell he was confident in his approach to coaching. I didn’t work with him too much in the lead up to the 08 season as there were no tracks over near BC and I had quite a few near me where I was living at the time in Sheffield. I was training well at my Institute of Sport hub where I’d made good progress in strength and conditioning over the previous 3 years so went into that year feeling good. Grant came over to Sheffield about 3 or 4 times in the lead up to the season but I didn’t spend much time with him to get a real coach/rider relationship.
My main point of contact at BC was Steve Peters and after him Chris Boardman. They were both really good to work with and I felt as though they were supportive in helping me achieve my goals for that year.
My plan was to go to the worlds in China which were in May, qualify an Olympic place and then get ready for Beijing. All the races in the lead up to the worlds would be preparation and training with only that day at the worlds counting for the Olympic qualification.
How did the Winter preparation go moving into the season?
I felt things were going well, making finals at the indoor Euro rounds we had gone to, despite always liking the bigger, more open outdoor tracks I was more used to. Things had gone well in the gym and on the bike after a good run of no injuries.
Who else was part of the National Team in 08?
There was Marcus Bloomfield, Liam Phillips and myself on the men’s side with Shanaze Reade and Joey Gough in the women’s. Marcus had just had a couple of seasons with back issues and it was Liam’s first year of Elite, so the previous year there was only really myself from GB racing in Elite after you had eaten your last BC sandwich the year before.
During the first part of the season, how was the relationship going with Grant and BC?
Things seemed fine, we all knew what the main goal was and once the qualification for Beijing had been secured, it would then be time to focus on goals for Beijing. It’s something I spoke a lot about with Steve Peters and he was always saying to me to take it one step at a time. I wouldn’t say I had a strong relationship with anyone at BC but I always got on with my training, attended any sessions that were in Manchester for meetings, psychology etc and always made sure I was professional to my approach to training or racing.
The problems with BC really started to be apparent even before the China Worlds. What happened in the lead up to that race?
The cracks started to appear after the European Rounds in Germany. I’d gone there making a final on day one and went out in the semi on day 2. I rode good all weekend and stayed consistent through the rounds. Liam and Marcus has tough weekends but they were both finding their feet in the class after Bloomy’s injury problems and Liam being first year Elite. The road back from a long injury lay off is a hard one and the majority of riders, bar the exceptions of Niek Kimmann, Joris Daudet, Sam Willoughby and Connor Fields will always say your first year in Elite is tough.
Soon after that race the GB team going to the Worlds was announced at the beginning of May and my name wasn’t on the list. There were 3 riders on there; Shanaze, Joey and Liam. I thought there was a mistake so I called Keith, the BMX Team Manager to see what was going on. I could tell he was being quite coy at the beginning of the conversation when he went onto tell me I hadn’t been selected for the Worlds as I hadn’t made a top 5 finish at the Euro rounds in Germany. He made it really clear that he didn’t agree with the decision without actually saying those words, but said there was nothing he could do as the decision was made by people higher up. He said that I had the best shot of securing GB an Olympic place and found it hard to believe this decision had been made. I was devastated as all my training had been geared towards being fast for the end of May and it was all coming together nicely. I didn’t know what to do with myself.
The BMX community seemed to really get behind you in the weeks leading up to the China Worlds after finding out about BC’s decision not to send you. Can you talk abit more about that?
A few days after I spoke to Keith at BC there was a regional at my home track at Warsop. I went down there but just couldn’t bring myself to even ride my bike that day with feeling so low. I was talking to a couple of people about what had been happening and just couldn’t hold back my emotion with it all. I’m someone who wears my heart on my sleeve and at the time, going to the Olympics meant more to me than anything so I my feelings all came out while I was at the Regional.
When word got around what had happened I was pulled out to the middle of the track with a few of my friends explaining the situation on the mic. It was really nice on one hand but also awkward on the other as I didn’t want anyone’s pity but was really grateful for the support I was getting. People were angry and even upset with the decision.
A fund was set up by a few people within BMX straight after that to send me to the China Worlds as part of the GB team but BC had to even agree to let me compete there. The contributions and support when word got around the whole UK and World BMX was amazing. Even Andrew White from the Kaiser Chiefs made a significant donation! It was really over whelming, humbling, stressful and emotional all rolled into one but after speaking to Steve Peters, he fought my corner and BC agreed to let me go to China.
The terms were… I could travel to China with the team but have no part of team meetings, no coaching, find my own way to and from the track and not sit at team meals. It was a strange one but I was just relieved that I was getting my shot at qualifying for Beijing. Steve also agreed that if I qualified a place for the Oympics at the event then BC would reimburse all the expenses incurred for my trip to China, which I said at the time, would go to the Stephen Murray fund with it being the BMX community’s money and Stephen having his accident the year before.
The UCI World Championships looks like the race you put all of your eggs in the basket for to qualify for Beijing. How was the weekend from your perspective and reaction from Grant White and BC after the race?
I went to the Worlds with the one intention of qualifying for Beijing. That had been my obsession in life the day I found out BMX would be in the Olympics and after a lot of drama and stress in the lead up to it, I would be getting my shot.
The whole terms of me traveling with the team were so weird that after a few days of being out there, Keith told me to eat with the rest of the team and to travel to the track with them which did take some stress off my shoulders. He was going against orders from BC to do this but he was doing what he thought was right and for the benefit of the team. It was awkward for the other team riders as I think they found the whole situation weird too so things became more relaxed in the lead up to the race. Even the other GB Challenge families who were staying at our hotel found it a weird situation, seeing me eating alone in the hotel and trying to organise transport to the track on the first few days of being there.
On the other hand, Grant stuck to his orders from the hierarchy and kept his distance from me the whole race week, even when we were sat in the country team tent! To be fair to him, he was doing what he was told but had it been myself in his situation, as with Keith, I’d have been a lot more flexible.
Racing went well with a 1, 1, 2 in the motos, 2nd in the 1/8 then a bad gate in the 1/4 put me out of the event but I’d qualified a place place for Beijing as the 2nd highest ranked rider of Nations that hadn’t qualified through Nation points. Manuel De Vecchi (Italy) got 7th in his semi taking the first place, with Scott Erwood (Canada), Vilmos Radasics (Hungary), Emilio Falla (Ecuador) and Sebastian Kartford (Norway) taking the other places. I had no reaction from any of the GB staff, we all packed our stuff after Shanaze won her final and went back to the hotel.
After the race I sat down with Steve Peters who had travelled out for racing and he said that despite me qualifying the place there was still some uncertainty as to what BC would do with it, as by the rules it was their place, not mine. I couldn’t believe as I thought my performance had shown I was in the mix with a lot of the top guys who would be going to Beijing themselves.
Give a run-down on what happened once you returned to the UK?
You seriously couldn’t write this if you were trying to make it up as it’s so far fetched it doesn’t even seem as though it was real.
We got back home and I had so many messages saying congratulations on qualifying and that people were looking forward to seeing me racing in the Olympics but I was told not to say anything about what was happening by BC. They said if I did it could jeopardise any chance I had of going to Beijing. I was being controlled and treated like a puppet.
I was constantly trying to get information from Steve or Keith and one day they would say things sounded good then another they would say it wasn’t. It was really like mental torture. I remember feeling that stressed about it all that I woke up a few times with big nose bleeds which I found out can be down to high blood pressure.
This went on for the whole of June with it being a really tough period to try and stay focussed on training too. In the middle of the month I actually went up to BC for a meeting with Steve Peters as he wanted to do a psychology session with me knowing I was struggling with the constant positive then negative messages. While waiting to meet him, I went down to the velodrome to watch some of the track riders training which looked so professional and slick, miles away from anything we had done as a BMX squad. I saw Shane Sutton walking over to me with a real purpose and thought he would be saying something about the Olympics. He didn’t. He simply said if I thought I was going to get those “f@cking” expenses back for China for what he called “that charity”, then I could think again and walked off. I felt like punching him in the face but had no choice but to stand there and take him trying to bully me as he was one of the people making the decisions about Beijing. I have no idea to this day why he said that but I was fuming. I had my meeting with Steve Peters straight after and he said he would see if it could be straightened out but it seemed as though what Shane said was how it was at BC as what he said to me about the expenses was how it happened. I was also told by Steve Peters that of the 4 people making the decisions at BC – him, Shane, Dave B and Chris Boardman, Shane was the one digging his heals in about sending me to the the Olympics, the other 3 wanted to send me.
Finally, towards the end of June I had a call from Keith telling me to get a ticket booked to the UCI training centre in Aigle. There was going to be a Trial held in 4-5 days time with Liam, Bloomy and another rider who won the National that weekend, which turned out to be Laurence Mapp. Keith said to be quick and get my ticket booked as Liam was already there or on the way there which I found strange having just found out.
Finally, I could see some light at the end of what had been a hard road. I felt confident to go out to Switzerland and finally put an end to all this as I had been the best rider in the UK for a good few years.
There was a lot of talk on the BMX forums about what was happening at Aigle while you were there. What actually happened?
When I arrived in Aigle I wanted to get straight out on the track as it had all been about off the track decisions and meetings for the previous 4 weeks.
Liam was there and I went over to chat with him, but felt as though the conversation was a little strained which was no surprise given the circumstances and him only being 19 at the time. I’m pretty sure he will have had mixed messages over the previous weeks in the same way I had. There was also a lot of things being written on the internet, in support of myself but unfair towards Liam as it was BC who had created the situation, not him. We had always got on so well over the years and he was good room mate after Dale left the GB squad so we were just 2 riders at the centre of what was a complete mess.
A new step up, step down into the first turn had been built not long before we had got there, and having spoke to some of the BMX residents at the UCI centre including Sifiso Nhlapo and Emilio Falla we all thought the fastest way through it would be to triple the first part. Nobody had tried it up to that point. Being pumped up and feeling a release of stress from the whole situation, I just went for the triple, hit a soft spot on the take off and my weight was all in the wrong place mid air. I went straight over the bars, dislocating two fingers and cutting myself out pretty bad. It meant a trip to hospital and a day off riding but the trial was due in a few days so I needed to get back on the bike.
As the trial day approached, Joey Bradford’s dad turned up from America to coach Liam so two of my good friends, Benn Thombs and Rich Moore came out to give me some support. Tony Fleming, who had also been very vocal over in support of me the over previous few months came out to help me through the trial. I was also lucky enough to ride with Roger Rinderknecht who I had raced with through the age groups, and Henrik Baltzersen who I had trained with while staying in Denmark a few years before. Both had qualified for Beijing and were training for the event. My grip was terrible the first couple of days after the initial crash but started to get better as the trial day approached.
With the trial due for the first few days of July, everyone was focussing in on that, but the weather started turning a little which was common with us being surrounded by mountains in Aigle. I think it was the Thursday we were due to ride and we were given the format of how things would be run. We were told it would be one time trial run with 3 races to follow, with all 4 riders going against each other in those races. Points were going to be awarded for each lap depending on finishing positions, so the person with the most points would be going to Beijing.
The trial day came and there was quite a lot of tension at the training centre between everyone as there was a lot at stake. As we were warming up the rain clouds started to move in, with it actually raining just a few minutes before we were going to do the time trials. It didn’t just rain, it poured down, soaking the track way too much for the trial to go ahead once the rain had passed so it was pushed back to the next day.
Again, we turned up to the track, going through the same process and were ready to go with the trial but Liam crashed, I think it was in the last corner, needing a couple of stitches in his leg. He was given a couple of days to recover and the trial was put back to Sunday.
With the weather forecast not looking too good for Sunday afternoon we all agreed a 9am start for the warm up with everyone turning up prompt and ready to go. One thing was missing though… we had no gate. The UCI centre was all locked up as it was a Sunday, with Grant and Keith looking at each other not knowing what to do. They were running round trying to find keys, call people to open up and get the trial going, but by the time the chains had been unlocked and Pro Gate came out the rain had moved in and for the 3rd time we couldn’t do the trial. It was turning into a joke as this time wasn’t down to outside factors like a crash or weather, it was down to poor organisation and unprofessionalism. The thing that really wound me up that particular day was when speaking to Keith about my frustration of the situation, he said that he was frustrated too as he wanted to get home with carpet fitters booked in to lay new carpets that week! Really!? All these postponements to the trial were just increasing the tension and turning it into a joke as other riders and coaches who were there training for Beijing, kept saying the whole thing was ruining the chances of the rider that would end up qualifying.
So finally the trial day came. We lined up in practice and all 4 riders were good to go, the rain was holding off with the track being a bit soft in places after the heavy rain that had been coming through over the previous days. This was it though. The trial was going ahead and finally we could all see an end to the whole saga. I imagine Liam, Bloomy and Laurence were all feeling the same as me as it had just been a stressful period for everyone.
The time trail finished and after an ok lap, I won with Liam 2nd, Bloomy 3rd and Laurence 4th. I don’t know how the others felt their laps went but I’d made a couple of mistakes through mine so was happy to kick things off with maximum points. I felt as though a win in the first race would really start to tie things up for me so wanted to get into the first turn first with the track being quite narrow to make any passes on.
Out of the gate my back wheel span slightly which gave Liam half a wheel down the hill, but taking the first jump slightly better I pulled back level going into the second jump. Just before the take off my front wheel hit a soft patch right on the inside, sending my wheel to 90 degreees and my head ploughed straight into the take off, sending me up into the air and doing some kind of mid air roll. I was knocked out clean. Watching the video you see the other riders finish the lap while I just lay unconscious on the track, nobody coming to my aid apart from the Danish team manager and Roger Rinderknecht telling the GB people to go to me. There was no first aid present, which there really should have been with the type of “event” we were doing, but that just added to the whole fiasco of what had happened over the previous week.
I remember waking up on a stretcher when the ambulance had arrived, telling the medics to let me off as I wanted to get back to doing the trial but I was strapped down and my head in some kind of brace. Benn, Rich and Flem were all telling me to stay calm but I didn’t want to be taken away from the trial. I had no real choice though. The trial was cancelled there and then as I was taken off to hospital. I had all these different tests, stitches in my eye and shoulder, x rays and a few other things before I discharged myself as all I wanted to do was find out what was going on with the trial. I was told I’d had 3 cracked ribs and a contusion to my lungs which basically is bruising to them which effects oxygen levels in the body. We flew home the following day, no clearer on what was going to happen.
Photo – Nico van Dartel
Being in the situation you were in, did anyone give you any explanation as to how the Olympic place was going to be resolved once back in the UK?
A few days after getting home I was called up to a meeting at BC but before I even went there I had been booked in for a brain scan by the team at one of the private hospitals they used in Manchester. They wanted to make sure that everything was ok on that side of things before making any final decision on where to go from there. I came away with the all clear and headed over to the centre where a meeting had been arranged with Dave Brailsford and Keith. Things were getting serious with Dave getting involved. The plan was to send us back over to Aigle in a couple of days time for us to resume the trial from the point we had left it at. Laurence had declined the invitation to go back over as he was just sick of it all, I’m pretty sure Liam and Bloomy felt the same but it was just going to be the three of us. The points from the time trial and first race where I crashed would still stand which meant I was going into the next two laps behind the others, needing to win them both to get to Beijing. The laps wouldn’t now be races either, for safety reasons they would be two time trials. Dave Brailsford also said he would be coming out to oversee the whole thing after the problems from the previous week.
I went home and got my things packed, knowing what I had to do but just felt so run down both physically and mentally. I felt like I had nothing left but knew it was the only shot I had.
How was the atmosphere when you got back to Aigle? How did you feel getting back on the bike?
It was a terrible atmosphere going back to Aigle, Liam and Bloomy must have been as worn out mentally from the first trip as me as it was like being on an emotional rollercoaster for us all.
It was my first time back on the bike after the crash so I took things a little slowly on my first session of practice. My breathing was terrible and I just didn’t feel right but kept trying to tell myself I was fine with still believing I was going to pull off the results I needed. I coughed up some blood after that session, just some really dark stuff that must have been there from the crash a few days earlier but didn’t want to say anything in case they withdrew me from the time trials.
Can you give us a run down of what happened on the day of the trial.
On trial day, things ran so smoothly. Dave B. was there and there was no messing about. He made sure everything was in order the way it should be. It’s funny how people can get things so right when the boss is there to oversee things! I found it strange that before the resuming of the trial he got the three of us to sign a disclaimer. I can’t say what was on it, as to be honest, I didn’t even read it with us having 10 minutes to go before we did our laps. I’d love to know what we actually signed but at the time my only care in the world was to get on the gate. I have a feeling it was something to do with health and safety as they knew I wasn’t really fully fit to ride and were covering themselves in case something happened.
I did my first lap and had to wait for the others to do theirs, I’d given my all on that lap and just had to wait. Bloomy came over the line and he was behind my time so Liam was up next. I watched his lap and it looked good. He’d beaten my time so basically he had sewn up the Olympic place. It was over and there was no need for him to even ride the next lap. I was devastated but held it together to go up the hill and do my last lap to try and get the reserve place. Whoever got the best time between myself and Bloomy would get that which I managed to just beat him to.
I just wanted to go home, shut the door and try to recover from the previous 2 1/2 months. Some people might only think it’s sport, but at that time it was my whole life and the Impact it had was a lot more than just the physical injuries I was taking away from the experience.
What was your feeling knowing you were not going to Beijing and your thoughts on watching the race on TV at home during the games.
I didn’t do anything for the next month apart from try to heal up and get my head together. I was finding it hard to even look at my bike at that time and didn’t really know what to do with myself. Just the thought of the Olympics gave me a knot in my stomach so I didn’t even watch any of it for the first time in my life. Our family had always loved watching the Games but the effect it had from the BC episode just had me wishing it would come and go as quickly as possible. The word to best describe my feelings was lost.
The Brits at Peterborough were a few days after the Olympics and after a good “Pull yourself together” chat with my family I decided to pull the bike out and race. I’d not touched my bike since the trial but got back on with about 10 days to go. I wasn’t enjoying it any way at all but felt as though it was something I needed to do to move on a bit.
The support I was getting over that weekend was unbelievable. I was overwhelmed with the amount of people that came over to see how I was and wishing me all the best. I pulled off a good lap in the final and won what is possibly my most meaningful lap I’ve ever had. I know it sounds quite deep but people who were there will remember the emotion at the finish line and I think this was the first step to putting the whole Olympic stuff behind me.
Seemed like there was a lot of tension for many years after 08 looking back now, what are your thoughts on it all? What was your relationship like with Grant and British Cycling like?
There was always a bit more meaning to when myself, Liam and Bloomy raced for the next couple of years. The first time after the trial was the opening rounds of the National Series at Derby in 2009. I wanted to win that race so bad as I’d left the BMX squad after all the drama, was working full time and wanted to prove something to myself as well as other people.
It was tight between all three of us in the first turn but I came underneath Liam as he tried to squeeze me on the inside, he crashed but I finished the lap in first. I got disqualified but didn’t really care, that was the one lap I really wanted to win but there was all sorts of drama afterwards, when built up feelings from the previous 12 months all came out on both sides.
After that, Bloomy seemed to push on a lot and he was the fastest rider of the 3 of us that year. He was riding good and had really stepped things up. The following year things were still a bit niggly. I had a decent Worlds and won the Brits but I’d say that despite the better results of the 3 of us that year, Liam was the fastest and that was really the last year of any serious rivalry, with him going onto achieve some amazing results of the 3 or 4 years he had at the top. I was proud though that I could still mix it with no support and working full time against riders with full support and only needed to focus on riding.
There was no relationship with BC or Grant after the whole Olympic saga. No calls, emails, nothing. I felt like they’d not really done much for my progression in the sport over 4 years, used me to get an Olympic place, while making it as difficult as possible to achieve it, messed with me emotionally and then never even got in touch to finalise anything. I said I’d never wear a GB jersey after that but had a plan in place to carry on racing Internationally.
Grant came over to me at the Bournemouth National in 2010 asking why I didn’t carry on racing for GB after 08. I’d been relatively polite to him up to that point but after what was a stupid question I told him my true feelings and that was that. I had no time for him in the way he had no time for me at the 08 Worlds.
Thoughts now looking back now?
The whole episode was managed poorly by BC. All the riders involved were put through a really tough time in one form or other and I just wish the people running the squad back then would have had things in order months before the Worlds took place that year.
It took me a long time to get over it all but it is what it is. I have been told there were other people and factors involved in the whole saga but would never say something unless I knew they were facts.
Photo – Nico van Dartel
Post 2008, you decided to change your Nationality to Ireland and give London 2012 a shot and almost made it coming down to a lap at the Birmingham UCI Worlds in 2012. So close. What are your thoughts on changing Nationally and just missing out again on the Games?
My mum was adopted at birth so when my Grandma died in 2006 my mum wanted to try and find her natural parents. She ended up finding them quite quickly after a couple of months of research, and ended up going over to Limerick. She met them both but this didn’t go too well with them not wanting anything to do with her. They weren’t married when my mum’s natural mum fell pregnant with her and my uncle (twins) and it was seen as a really bad thing in Ireland.
The Irish ancestry was the only way I’d ever be able to race Internationally again but it also came at a time when a few people were trying to restart the sport over there. I felt part of something again and was really proud to represent the country as well as help to try and rebuild BMX there. I will always say I’m Irish now as have never renewed the last GB passport I had.
I planned to try and qualify for London in the same way I’d secured the spot in 2008. I needed to finish in the top 6 non qualified countries through points at the worlds in Birmingham.
It came down to my 3rd Moto for me to get into the quarters. If I got 5th I was through you the next round which would have got me to London after two solid first motos. I was in 4th in what was a tough moto. Joris was in 3rd going into the 2nd turn but I was just stuck on the outside of his back wheel in 4th. This left a gap for Twan van Gendt to come under me where we collided and went down. I got up to get 7th but was out. I ended up 5th overall in my Moto with the last country to get one of those 6 Olympic spots getting 5th in their Moto but with a 5th place in their last Moto. I just missed out again on last Moto countback.
It was hard to take with being so close but that’s racing. Everything that happened in 2008 made it a lot easier to deal with that time around, but I felt that was the nearest I ever came to quitting racing through my career.
You ran the Route 55 team for a good few years between 09-2013. How was that?
This was one of the best things that I did through my career and I’ll always look back on that team, the riders and the atmosphere we created as amazing memories. The parents and riders were so tight and we all supported each other on the track while regularly getting together off the track.
The team brought back my love for BMX as there were some riders that even went from relatively unknowns to National Champions in a short space of time. It gave me a new focus in the sport and it was one of the proudest achievements I have taken from my BMX career.
Photo – Nico van Dartel
You switched gears after 2013 and it seemed like you needed to change things up and get back to enjoying your racing again. Tell us about turning Vet/Masters, winning some World titles and the run into 2016.
After missing out on the Olympics again I was close to calling it a day as I felt there were no further goals to work towards in the sport.
I was watching some videos of the worlds in Birmingham and seen Javier Colombo come over the line 1st in the Masters class and thought how happy he looked to win another UCI medal. I even thought he looked as happy as when he won the Elite Worlds in 06. That was the moment something clicked in my head and I made 4 year plan. I’d never won a World Championship through my career but had a bunch of 2nds and 3rds in amateur and Championship classes. I decided my target would be to win 3 masters titles then go for one last shot at qualifying for an Olympic Games in 2016 when I would be 35.
Racing became fun again and I was still mixing it well with the guys who had formed the nucleus of what was the new GB squad while taking a gold, silver, gold for the 3 years in Masters and 2 cruiser World titles. These 3-4 years really helped me get over things that had happened in the past and move on with things a lot more.
After winning Masters and cruiser in 2015 I set my sights on finishing the season UK Elite National Champion to make me the oldest to do it and take Dale’s record. I just needed two final finishes at the last rounds in Birmingham at a push. Day 1 I was 3rd in the main when Quillan messed up through the pro set and I tried to avoid him mid air, crashing straight on to my knee and blowing my PCL. That was my weekend and season over with a long road back to full fitness.
I never really recovered from that and lost a lot of strength that winter. I got back onto the SX tracks but had the knee injury in the back of my head all the time. I think my head had gone for top level racing so looking back I should have pulled it over. Instead I pushed things to the end, trying to qualify for Rio but in all honesty, I just wasn’t good enough at the Worlds in Colombia. I actually wasn’t far from qualifying with a 4-4-5 but the lack of strength, confidence and too long off the SX meant I would have gone to Rio to make up the numbers.
Post 2016 it seemed like you slowed things down on the race front but were still busy coaching, working, and getting married and now a dad how’s life these days over in Derby?
I finished my career off at the Brits, my one and only race of 2017 where I crashed with Kye Whyte in the main. The send off I got was unreal though and one of the best moments of my career was when I got up from the crash and finished the lap off with people giving me an amazing reception. It was the one and only time I also got to race in front of Evie which, even though she was too young to understand, makes it even more special.
Life is good though and we have a good family unit while I really enjoy the work I do with young people in schools, colleges and universities. I’m also still heavily involved with riders in BMX through coaching sessions I run and it’s just a nice way to still feel part of it.
We also have another little girl on the way at the end of September/ start of October so that is something to really focus on and look forward to.
Any future plans to race again?
I would have raced the Worlds last year in Zolder, but our wedding had already been booked when the dates for the race came out. I was tempted to race then fly straight home for the wedding but I would have been cutting things a bit too fine. Sometimes you need to know when to call things a day and I think there was something telling me that my days of racing were over.
I’m not going to lie, I miss competing to the extent I did over the years but Evie being born and getting married had put a new spin on my life where it has helped me retire and be able to get on with things feeling content and happy.
Photo – Nico van Dartel
Thoughts moving forward any plans and new goals?
I’m constantly setting goals to work towards for lots of things in my life as it has been all I’ve know since starting BMX back in 1988. I just want to be a good Dad, husband and Son to my family as well as enjoy my life in the way I am. I’m lucky that I have a job I love and am passionate about so that’s something I want to maintain.
Sports wise, I still lift in the gym and am always working towards targets with that. I also trained for the Derby 10k run due to be held in March, which will now take place in October due to corona virus, so my aim is to mix it with the semi pros in that and post a good time.
Just make the most of every race you race and every lap you do as when you finish racing one day, you can always look back with no regrets and feel happy you achieved the things you did.
I’d probably say there are more lows than highs in the sport but the extent of the highs make the quantity of the lows worth it, as they have been some of the best times of my life.