Isn’t it frightening when a face you don’t instantly recognise say’s “hi Steve, do you remember me?” I’m sitting on the ground, in the baking sunshine of Essex at the para-cycling National Championships trying to act all cool, when this figure asks that very question. I meet a lot of people doing what I do, and don’t always remember everyone I meet, but thankfully David wasn’t offended and reminded me where it was we met. During Ride across Britain last year, I rode up next to David and started chatting. He is a lower leg amputee and I was keen to hear his story and find out his reasons for riding the 960 odd miles across Britain. After a while I asked David if he had ever thought about racing as a para-cyclist - I figured if he could get through the last four, and was still looking forward to the next five hundred-mile days, then I reckoned he’d be pretty good.
David had an excuse for every reason I gave him to try, the last I remember him saying was “I’m too old for that.” So I asked him how old he was: turns out a good few years younger than me! So to be fair to the man, he said he would give it a go, hence here he is standing in front of me re-introducing himself as a para-cyclist. He had bought a new road bike, done a couple of races and was learning a lot about himself and bike racing. After the racing, I was standing at the time trial prize giving, and was stoked when David won a bronze medal in his category, C2. A pretty good effort as he was on a road bike, not a specific time trial machine. A great start to the weekend of racing.
The other boost for me this weekend came from another young rider named Mathew Robertson. Matt has been knocking around the para-cycling scene for a couple of years. I use to see him at these nationals weekends, in awe of us who do this for a job, wide-eyed and slightly awkward, lacking in confidence. His name had been mentioned in track centre a few times, whilst we were training, his race results going in the right direction. The younger generation keen and eager to fill our shoes. I had never really giving Matt much thought until earlier this year, when he arrived in Belgium to race the World Cup. Now eighteen years old, he was no longer that skinny awkward young boy, but a full time cyclist on a gap year, with a hunger in his eye, keen to impress the British Cycling selection staff and claim his place on the program.
Unfortunately his nerves got the better of him come race day and he didn’t perform his best. His mind full of doubt and frustration troubled his race day plan which went to shit. I spoke to him that evening for the first time properly, and really liked the kid. I offered him some advice which he was happy to accept, and he put this in place for the road race which went really well for him. After speaking to his coach Andy, I offered to mentor him, to try and help get his mind in order so he could perform his best come race day. I’m no life coach, but I can see simple things to help people achieve what they are trying to do. I guess I’ve been through a lot of what others are trying to do and can see where they are going wrong. Not through choice but through lack of experience. For the last 2 months I’ve been keeping Matt busy off the bike, and we have really worked hard on getting his head in the right place so he can perform to the best of his ability when it counts, and this weekend’s nationals was the perfect opportunity to put that work into practice.
Matt won the Time Trial on Saturday, beating program riders which was a bit of a shock to not only himself, but a few others. He then performed outstandingly in the road race to lap the field and win his second title of the weekend. A really proud moment and one that has been a long time coming, his mind clear and focused, nothing but the task at hand clear in the front of his mind. I was really pleased for the lad, and as they say, hard work pays off. Matt thanked me after the race for helping him win, I told him I wasn’t the one peddling the bike.
Normally Nationals weekend is a bit of a formality for Adam and me. We turn up, the professionals, the best kit, and wipe the floor against young hopefuls, often young kids who are just starting out racing. It’s harsh for them and I always feel embarrassed when we ride circles around them. However this year has been a really positive experience for me. Meeting David again, watching Matt cruse to victory, and seeing some of the young tandem riders showing some promise. Gone of the days when we would lap the field serval times, and hopefully in the next few years we will have to really turn up if we want to retain our national titles. I came away with not only 2 national titles, but a renewed mind set of what doing good deeds can achieve.