Chris Hoy is the Usain Bolt of this rarefied pack, fast-twitch muscles used in a frenzy. Chris Froome is the Mo Farah, playing the long game. So where does Ed Clancy fit into his own athletics analogy? As the 400-metre runner. “There’s not many of us around,” he says.
He slips down the cracks in terms of both distance and public profile, neither explosive firebrand nor lauded long-distance labourer. But Clancy is arguably Britain’s most complete track cyclist, rapid over one kilometre or four. Nobody in the world can get the team pursuit up to speed faster than him. He is the steadying anchor of the GB line-up, twice Olympic champion and virtual ever-present since 2006.
His start is so quick that he briefly tried his hand at being a Usain Bolt, working on the team sprint in the winter of 2012. “While the experiment didn’t work, I don’t regret doing it,” he says. “I haven’t completely given up on the team sprint in Rio. If there’s a space, I’ll give it a stab. It depends on a few [others] not being quite on form, but it’s happened before.”
He used his searing speed to break the Madison Kilo world record with Rapha Condor JLT partner Ollie Wood in Round 3 of the Revolution Series in January – without really targeting it. After stopping the clock at 54.537”, he got off the bike and asked Revolution technical director Phil West: “Are you sure the time is right?"
It had literally been the perfect storm. “There had been thundery weather that week, which normally lowers pressure in the velodrome and means faster times,” Clancy recalls.
So can they lower that standard? “For sure. Ollie said he didn’t even lunge for the line and we can improve our change. That’s without playing with aero helmets or different gears.” Maybe Clancy will be doing a rain dance before today’s racing…
His versatility makes him an obvious pick for the omnium, cycling’s hexathlon-style competition that rewards the best all-rounder over events as contrasting as the flying lap – over in 13 seconds – and the 30km points race.
So, from a former world champion in the discipline, what is the secret of omnium success? “Being fast in the timed events. They’ve always been my area: you can have a terrible ride in a few other events and still get on the podium. But the key to winning is being good at all of them.”
The physical demands are immense. At the 2012 Olympics, Clancy went from a winning team pursuit final against Australia to the omnium the very next day. “I’d gone to bed early and woke up to survey the carnage left in the flat by the other lads. I clambered over things, picked up my skinsuit and went to the velodrome. Of course I wanted to celebrate with them…
“It was hard to motivate myself. That said, I felt it was a win-win situation: even if I had a terrible omnium, I’d leave with gold.” In the event, he emerged with a bronze to add to his collection.
But then there was the comedown from Mount Olympus heights of ecstacy to normal life. “Everyone experiences something different. For me, the first six to eight weeks, the world could do no wrong. Someone could break into your car and it’s like ‘I’m Olympic champion, I don’t care’. But achievements feel like possessions: the same as saving up and working for a new house or car. After a few months, slowly, it’s not the same. You know you won’t be great at the world championships, anything after that is just a bit flat.”
“The Rio 2016 Olympics might be the last one,” Clancy adds. But he is unlikely to stop cycling there and then, aged 31. Road racing in Europe is an option: Clancy briefly had a shot at racing in Belgium as a youngster. Many of his pursuit team-mates, including Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas, enjoy successful careers with Team Sky.
They will likely roll right by his Holmfirth front door among the Tour de France peloton this summer, but all that’s a bit soon for Clancy. “I don’t have any burning desire to ride the Tour, just for the sake of the Tour. While I do want to do it, I’d only want to ride if it was as a key lead-out man or a sprinter. I don’t want to go round at the back. It doesn’t motivate me as much as going for Olympic gold or a world record."
So this July, he’ll be happy to watch his friends toil past as he sips a cold beer. Let the Farahs do their thing until it’s his time to shine again, because nobody can do it all like Ed Clancy.
This originally appeared in the Revolution Round 4 programme on February 1 2014. Revolution Round 5 starts tonight at Lee Valley VeloPark.
After attending every round for Rouleur, photographer Geoff Waugh selects his favourite images from the Revolution 2013-14 Series here.