Expectation follows recognition.
The achievements of young Welshman Scott Davies have been enough to place him on a pathway to success trodden by countrymen Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe, but he is the first to admit that measuring up against such illustrious forebears can be daunting.
After an impressive career as a junior, and a similarly eye-catching first campaign last season as an under-23, Davies has joined British Cycling’s Olympic Academy, arguably professional cycling’s ultimate finishing school.
Davies is part of a rich generation of Welsh cycling talent that includes track world champions and ProTeam riders. While others view an Academy place as a golden ticket to success, Davies does not. Such are the achievements of his predecessors that he finds it difficult to regard his cohorts as exceptional.
“It’s hard to consider it like that when I look at the previous generation: Dowsett, Rowe, Thomas, Cavendish, the Yates brothers. That entire group put together and their results are superb. It can be a little bit daunting. Number one, you think. ‘Can I do better?’ There is a little bit of pressure from within myself, maybe a little bit of self-doubt at some point, which I think isn’t a necessarily a bad thing.”
Davies won medals of his own last year and assisted others in doing so. In winning the British under-23 time-trial title in Abergavenny, he continued a journey that started with victory in the same event as a junior. But his win on home soil, with five years in the age category ahead of him, is all the sweeter.
And by delivering an impressive ride to finish tenth behind Thomas in the Commonwealth Games road race, Davies was able to assuage his own disappointment at pulling his wheel on the start line of the men’s time-trial.
“Before the TT, we all drove down from the hotel to the centre of Glasgow. I’ll never forget walking through security with Geraint Thomas to my left and Luke Rowe to my right. It was definitely surreal.
“The one thing that spoiled it for me a little was pulling my wheel. Looking back, it may have been a blessing in disguise. I went into the road race thinking, ‘I’ve got to salvage something.’”
The salvage was a determined ride in support of eventual winner Thomas, and unexpected recognition by the public back home in Carmarthen; people whom Davies had never met, but who had read of his exploits in the local newspaper.
More immediate feedback came from those who lined the route into Glasgow, who stood for several hours in constant rain. Davies knew that his family was among the thousands assembled at the roadside, but was able to gauge from the forest of Welsh flags that support extended beyond his immediate circle.
“The crowds were superb. I take my hat off to the people who stood in the rain for five hours. At least I was warm riding around.”
He pays tribute also to the Welsh federation whom, he says, allowed him to race without the pressure of expectation. Davies is aware however that this won’t be the case at the Academy, and admits to an ‘internal pressure’ in Glasgow – the pride of the athlete determined to do himself justice on the big stage.
The national championships offered Davies another platform to display his prodigious talent. Held almost on home roads in Abergavenny (Davies is a proud West Wales boy), the championships were a solo mission in every sense for the then 18-year-old, who drove there, stayed locally and rode to victory.
No cyclist will admit to the perfect ride, but Davies admits to leaving everything on the road that day to beat an impressive field, finishing nine seconds ahead of friend and compatriot Owain Doull, who will race this season with Team Wiggins, and third-placed Dan McLay, who has joined the professional ranks with Bretagne-Séché Environnement.
“I think deep down I knew I could do it if I wanted to,” Davies remembers. “Confidence is king. Not to sound arrogant, but if you really want something, it will happen. I was going really well and thought if I really want, it I can have it. I left it all on the road. I definitely gave it my all on the last climb, where my parents had positioned themselves on the left, halfway up.
“It wasn’t the perfect ride, by any means. Posture and pedal stroke is somewhere I can gain in future. In terms of effort, and getting it all out there, I was really pleased with that. A little part of me felt sorry for Owain. I know he’d really trained for it, but we were both out there to win it.”
British Cycling’s vaunted Academy is frequently characterised as a conveyor belt, with little more required of the riders, once they have arrived, than to remain on it. Davies does not see it that way; neither does his boss.
“I listened to a podcast that Shane Sutton did this week. He mentions something about complacency. With so much success coming through the Academy, the trend for the last few years has been, ‘I’m on the Academy, I will make it’ but I’ve been reluctant to adopt that. I’m a big believer that you get out what you put in. It was evident to me last year in my prep for the nationals and the Commonwealth Games, that if you put a bit of work in, results will follow.”
The expectation, he believes, is that he and his fellow incumbents will follow the trail blazed by Cavendish, Thomas, Dowsett et al. It is a journey begun, however, in the decidedly down-to-earth surroundings of a shared house in Manchester. Davies is already there, sharing with Gabriel Cullaigh, a fellow graduate of the Olympic Development Programme.
Aside from the competitive opportunities, the Academy set-up gives Davies mechanical and medical support (a knee niggle has been resolved by prompt intervention and a small change in position) and regular training partners. He has mixed views on group training: so many solo miles last year turned him into a ‘diesel’, he admits. “At times I felt I was training myself to go slower, but I also miss going out by myself. There’s a lot to be said for pushing the wind.”
There is a lot to be said too for hard graft, determination, and remaining grounded. Davies is a determined individual, wise beyond his years and unlikely to squander the golden opportunity of a place on the Academy. Whether he emulates the achievements of its most successful graduates remains to be seen. Don’t bet against it.