Ed Clancy is happy to be the greatest British cyclist most people haven’t heard of.
While Sir Bradley Wiggins took the praise after joining him to win team pursuit gold in Rio, an eighth medal making him Britain’s most decorated Olympian, Clancy just soaked it all in.
In the far corner of the velodrome, another cycling knight, Sir Chris Hoy, posed for selfies with British fans, while Wiggins – at his spiky yet endearing best – held court with the media until they turned out the lights.
Clancy – Barnsley born and Huddersfield raised – just got on his bike and cycled back to the Olympic Village, mission accomplished.
The headlines will talk about ‘Wiggins and co’ but the truth is that Clancy is the beating heart of Britain’s all-conquering team pursuit squad, using his power and ability to get the team up to record breaking speed.
And he’s the only ever present in the team that won gold in Beijing, London and now Rio.
However, he didn’t mind one bit, podiums come before profile and he knew Wiggins would take plaudits ahead of himself and team-mates Owain Doull and Steven Burke.
“What can I say about Bradley Wiggins, he’s just the greatest ever in my opinion,” said Clancy.
“He’s just one of the boys, he’s got no ego, he’s fun and focused and really a nice guy.
“It’s not so much what he brought to the team with his performance but also his personality, we needed him to turn this program around.
“Two years ago, we were struggling, this moment was pretty unlikely if we’re honest.
“Everyone has been inspired by him, he’s got that special aura and you want to win for him.”
Wiggins wanted to exit the stage in style and had planned this moment from four years back, writing about it in his autobiography.
Win the Tour de France, win the Olympic time-trial in London, return to the track, win gold in Rio and retire. Simple.
Only best laid plans often go awry and at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow two years ago, the team had a shocker as they were totally outclassed by arch-rivals Australia.
They didn’t even make the podium at last year’s world championships and were again beaten by their rivals from Down Under this year, on their home track in London too. Meanwhile, Clancy was suffering from his own problems, after slipping a disc in his back after a training session in mid-October.
It wasn’t even a proper training accident, he was simply picking his bag up in the changing room.
Surgery followed, forcing him to miss the European Championships, and a race to fitness commenced. It’s only in recent weeks that things have started to turn around, with reports from the team’s training base in Wales that they were going well after smashing the world record in a practice session.
But Australia were also in peak form and had a lead of over half a second at one point in their final. Clancy listened to the crowd – packed with British flags – and trusted in the plan, though they didn’t take the lead until the last 400m of the 4,000m race.
“This is the happiest moment of my life, it feels better than the others strangely because of all the build-up and everything we’ve been through as a team and I’ve been through as an athlete,” he added. “We’ve been in that position so many times in the last four years against the Australians but we’ve turned them over when it mattered.
“I sensed we were behind but that was a British crowd there and with three laps to go we heard them get loud and we knew we were closing in. They came out fighting and pushed us really close and long may that battle continue. It was December 3rd that I woke from surgery and a couple of days later the Aussies had a massive ride at the World Cup. I didn’t give up hope but this started to seem like a dream.”
In a mutual love-in, Wiggins paid fulsome tribute to Clancy as the consummate track cyclist, acknowledging that the big stars of the road will always get the attention and big salaries.
He plotted his farewell to perfection, insisting it was never his plan to ride a last race ‘in the p***ing rain, somewhere in France’. Clancy now has the opportunity to do the same. Burke is just 28 – and has already been to three Games – while Doull looks the real deal too and British Cycling’s academy is packed with fresh faces ready to seize their chance.
“I’m so happy with my three but I’ll give it a go in Tokyo I think,” added Clancy.
“Brad’s getting out at 36 and I’ll be 35 then. If I could get four gold medals in my career, that seems a good time to call it a day and have a bit of a rest.”
Aldi is the first Official Supermarket partner of Team GB and has been championing our nation’s extraordinary athletes on their Road to Rio