The 36-year-old withdrew from the remainder of competition at the Tokyo Olympics and announced his retirement on Tuesday morning, with the news coming just two hours before Great Britain were due to take to the track once again in the first round.
But Clancy had known in his mind that the back issues which have bothered him for the past seven years had become too much as he struggled to keep up with his team-mates in qualifying – having taken the blame for a ragged end to their run when he lost Ethan Hayter’s wheel.
“You’ve got so much adrenaline and nerves and will for the first one, two, three kilometres but after that you have only got what you’ve got and I couldn’t go any harder,” said an emotional Clancy at the Izu velodrome.
“Once I saw Ethan’s wheel going away from me, I knew I wasn’t quite where I needed to be. You might have seen it in my eyes yesterday but I probably knew there was a better option out there.”
Clancy, Hayter, Ethan Vernon and Wakefield’s Ollie Wood had posted a British record of three minutes 47.507 seconds on Monday. The problem is, that remains well off the pace of 3:45.014 set by world champions Denmark.
“I’d have rather gone round there tomorrow in a 3.38 high-fiving the crowd with my fourth gold medal in hand on the podium but that aside, I’m glad I’ve got this far and I’m glad that I’ve gone down kicking and screaming and fighting,” added Clancy, who was replaced by Great Ayton’s Charlie Tanfield.
“I’m disappointed for it to have ended this way, I felt like I’d done all the hard work. We’d managed my back, the injury has been an issue for the last seven years really and I’ve had good weeks, I’ve had bad weeks...
“But there’s no way I’m going to pretend my back is OK and jeopardise the chances of the entire team and keep (Tanfield) on the sidelines. I want those boys to do well, I want what’s best for the team, for British Cycling and I don’t care if that comes at my expense.”
Clancy said the back problems do not hurt on the bike, overridden by adrenalin, but take their toll in other ways.
“It almost just affects your coordination and your ability to sit there and be supple and tolerate the cadence and the line at 120rpm,” he said. “It’s more of a drain off the bike, sleep and things like that.”
It brings the curtain down on a 20-year association with British Cycling during which time Clancy claimed six world titles to go with his three Olympics golds – won in Beijing, London and Rio. The Yorkshireman still intends to ride in the inaugural UCI Track Champions League, the new competition which launches in November and for which he is a founding rider, before focusing on his Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy.
“This is the end and it’s massively (emotional). When I think back to 2005 and my first world championships, it’s been an amazing journey,” he said.
“Twenty years I’ve been with British Cycling and they’ve stuck with me through good times and bad times, I’ve had some life-changing experiences. If I could go back in time, I’d do it all again.
“These are my end credits so thanks to everyone in British Cycling, a special shout-out to Hannah Crowley, the physio who has genuinely extended my career by seven years I think.
“Friends, family, team-mates, everyone has been ace and I couldn’t have done it without the greater team.
“I’ve made two hard decisions in the last 24 hours. (One was) calling it a day and retiring from the Olympics was another. They are two incredibly difficult decisions that I’ve made but it doesn’t mean they are wrong.”
There was more drama to come in Britain’s team pursuit semi-final with Denmark as the team missing Clancy were on the verge of being lapped and therefore beaten when back-marker Tanfield was clipped by the lead Denmark rider, thus rendering Britain unable to register a time and progress to the bronze-medal race.
Laura Kenny and Great Britain’s women’s team pursuit squad had to settle for silver in the Tokyo Olympics as Germany won gold in a new world record time. Kenny had won gold in every Olympic event she had entered prior to this race and began the Games with the potential to reach seven golds and perhaps become Britain’s most decorated Olympian.
But though the two teams had been closely matched in qualifying and in the first round, Germany utterly dominated the final, stopping the clock in four minutes 04.249 seconds, winning by more than six seconds.
Jason Kenny missed the first of his three chances to move clear of Sir Chris Hoy’s Olympic gold medal tally as Great Britain took silver in the men’s team sprint in Izu.Kenny, tied with Hoy on six, rode alongside Jack Carlin and Ryan Owens, but the trio were comfortably beaten by all-conquering Holland, who set a new Olympic record of 41.369 seconds.
With the British riders struggling to hold one another’s wheels they finished three seconds down on the Dutch, who have not been beaten in a team sprint event since 2017.