Check out the list of Britain’s greatest Olympians, and among the knights, ladies and household names is a man who might go unnoticed even in his hometown of Holmfirth. Not that Ed Clancy would want it any other way.
The humble Yorkshireman is the most successful team pursuit rider in history, trying to win a record fourth gold at his fourth Games – something only four Team GB athletes have ever achieved.
So it’s reasonable to ask why the 36-year-old never got the recognition from British Cycling’s other superstars.
Ed Clancy wants to win his fourth gold medal at his fourth Olympics in Tokyo in
Clancy pictured after winning his third gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics
“There can only be so much love going around, I guess,” Clancy, who has joined, shrugs Sports post as a columnist at Tokyo 2020.
‘Not everyone can be a Sir Bradley Wiggins or a Sir Chris Hoy. Every once in a while someone will approach me in a supermarket and say, “You’re Ed Clancy, Olympic champion” and shake my hand and I like that.
“But I remember being with Geraint Thomas after his Tour de France win and he couldn’t move in front of people taking pictures with him.
CLANCY ON HIS GOLD MEDAL
We were too young and stupid to realize what we’d done, so it’s probably not my favorite for that reason.
The London experience was like nothing else. We were celebrities for a week, spouting champagne in (Mayfair club) Mahiki.
This is my favorite. They say it’s hard to get to the top, but it’s even harder to stay there and you don’t really realize what that means until you’ve tried. I was out for nine months after back surgery, but we got it back on track at the last minute.
“I saw Hoy after London 2012 and every time he was in an airport he would take out his baseball cap and put on some dodgy sunglasses. It was impossible for him to go anywhere in public without a crowd building up.
“I don’t know if I’d want to live with that. Don’t get me wrong, who wouldn’t want to live in a mansion with a fleet of Ferraris?
“But I’ve never been more interested in the pursuit of fame. You can go to game shows and Instagram stories every day if you want, but that has never been high on my agenda.
‘My life isn’t that bad. I don’t cry myself to sleep. I just dress in a lycra skinsuit and ride around a big wooden bowl for a living. I have been very successful in cycling, but cycling has been very successful and there are more successful guys than me.’
Still, of those successful guys, Wiggins is the only British cyclist to have won four out of four. The other legends of Team GB who delivered this rare feat are Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Matthew Pinsent and Sir Ben Ainslie.
It’s the chance to join that illustrious group that saw Clancy, who has a total of four Olympic medals, shift his retirement plans after the Games were postponed for a year. “That motivates me,” he reveals.
“The Steve Redgraves and Matthew Pinsents of the world – they are held in such high regard. To be called in the same sentence as those guys excites me.
The humble Yorkshireman is the most successful team pursuit rider in history
‘That’s what wakes me up in the morning. I’ve never gone to an Olympics and haven’t come back with at least a gold medal. The dream is still to win a gold medal.”
Should that happen, it will be the greatest achievement of Clancy’s career, as the Team GB quartet – Clancy and the talented trio of debutants Ethan Hayter, Ollie Wood and Ethan Vernon – will start as underdogs, unlike previous Games. At last year’s World Championships, Denmark won gold in a world record time of 3 minutes and 44.67 seconds – more than five seconds faster than the once-dominant Brits in Rio.
“This isn’t going to be like the last few Olympics,” Clancy says ahead of qualifying next Monday and the final next Wednesday.
“The Danes have moved up the game and are currently the kings of the team pursuit. But this is the Great Britain team and we’ve done everything in the past and raised the bar. We still want to win. This is the most dedicated team I’ve worked with. The youngsters are not interested in going on the whip. They just want to cycle fast around the track.
“I’m the old man of the team, but I’ve never been more committed. In one day I can perform as well as in London. I can’t make predictions, but we’re doing everything we can to get this right.”
The 36-year-old believes the Tokyo Olympics will be tougher than the last three Games
That’s where the now much-maligned ‘marginal gain’ will come into play – a phrase first coined by former British Cycling and Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford and happily echoed by Clancy.
As for their new Tokyo skinsuits, Clancy doesn’t want to reveal any secrets and jokes: ‘It’s like Fight Club. The first two lines are we don’t talk about it.’
But more is known about their ‘groundbreaking’ new bikes, a collaboration between British manufacturers Hope and Lotus, which received rave reviews from the riders during their Olympic camp in Newport.
“We hope the bike will bring in a marginal profit,” says Clancy.
“It’s those words again and people hate that we go on about it. But British Cycling holds everything back to the big one because that’s how we get funded. We will always give our best performance at an Olympics. But we still have to cycle.’
In recent months, ‘marginal gain’ has taken on a more sinister meaning after former British cycling senior doctor Richard Freeman was found guilty in 2011 of ordering banned testosterone, ‘knowing or believing’ it was to named rider to help baptize.
What would Clancy say to those wondering if they can trust what they see on the track? After a 15-second pause, Clancy’s response is unequivocal, “We’re doing it right.”
Some have also said that the Freeman verdict puts an asterisk against every rider who thrived in that era. “There are a lot of things that I have no control over in life and that’s one of them,” Clancy says.
Clancy says he and his teammates will do everything they can to bring back gold medals
He is not yet worried about his own future, although it would be special if he continues to Paris 2024.
“I’m not going to leave forever, but I’ve been so focused on getting the job done here that I haven’t thought beyond that point.”
Another unknown is how well Team GB will perform at the Izu Velodrome. Clancy is one of only two survivors from Beijing 2008, where they won 12 medals on the track. They also topped the medal list in London 2012 and Rio 2016, with nine and eleven medals.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to be a large amount of gold this time,” says Clancy. “We’ve been through the boom and I’m lucky to be a part of that. But we will do everything we can to bring back some good medals.”