One Year On
Updated: Apr 30, 2019
One year on and the Commonwealth Games experience is still so fresh. The highest level sporting event for which I can wear the Isle of Man jersey. To race such a special race, for the Island makes me so proud.
I can’t quite believe it’s been a year since the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. A year since pulling on the Isle of Man jersey. A year since one of the most amazing, albeit frustrating experiences. To say the Games were incredible is an understatement but to say it went to plan would be a slight over exaggeration. I wanted to revisit this memory a year later to look back on the experience now that 12 months have passed.
Back to the Start
Well almost... Back in 2015, I’d set out on the forthcoming Commonwealth Games cycle with a hope; a desire - fuelled with added incentive and a rampant fire to show to myself that the Commonwealth Games standard was in reach. I knew it was, but would take some chasing, perseverance and sacrifice. Something, I was more than happy to dedicate to over the next two and a half years... But it wasn’t for cycling.
Fast forward six months and after graduating from University in July 2015, I came second at the British Triathlon Championships and I was faster than ever. The next two weeks, without knowing at the time, would pave way to where I am now. I attended the Team Novo Nordisk Talent Identification Camp in Georgia, USA. I was already competing for them through triathlon and didn’t really know or envisage switching to cycling but following the camp I was offered a place on their development cycling team. I traded in my graduate scheme job and set on my way in the world of cycling.
Fast forward another 18 months and only 14 months after my first ever road race, I was on the start line of my first pro-race as a stagiaire (trainee) for the Team Novo Nordisk professional team. A month earlier I raced three races as part of a small Eastern European tour with Team Novo Nordisk Development setup, gaining two Commonwealth Games standards and earning a spot as a trainee.
At the end of 2017 following a successful trial I was awarded a full professional contract alongside a place on the Isle of Man’s 2018 Commonwealth Games team. Goal complete.
Heading into the Games I’d had a great start to the year. Beyond my wildest dreams in fact. Debuting as a professional cyclist at the World Tour ranked Abu Dhabi tour including a breakaway on stage three and I’d come off the back of finishing a ‘monument’ at the famous Milan San Remo (World’s longest professional one day race at 300km).
After that it all got a bit hectic. I was heading out to Japan to race a stage race and on leaving the Island I was sharing a plane with the majority of the Commonwealth Games team heading to Australia for a pre-games camp (minus cyclists and a few others as we had almost four weeks until our event). I was unable to crossover my flights and had to return back to the Isle of Man before heading out to Australia with the rest of the team, but it was something I took completely in my stride.
"atmosphere was electric"
It was great to touch down on the Gold Coast and it was everything I’d imagined. The Games village had a buzz of a complex mix of excited and nervous athletes. Each day would bring a different edge depending on what sports were competing and when.
The Opening Ceremony so was special! The atmosphere was electric. Something I’d only witnessed from the comfort of my living room but I can tell you that feeling this occasion - in person, and as an athlete - it’s positively numbing.
Living in a Games village is something athletes with experience can tell you about but until you’ve witnessed it, it won’t be the same. There’s entertainment, food, training and recovery facilities pretty much 24/7. It’s a tough environment. Some are relaxing, some partying. Some are focussing whilst others are finished with their sports. It’s a complete mix; sport as well as schedule dependant. You have to do what works for you.
Cycling, and the road race in particular, was one of the last events and it was important to stay focused and try to replicate the usual day to day life leading into a race. It wasn’t easy at all, but I feel I managed the situation well. In the build up to the Commonwealth Games I had been introduced to Pro-Noctis; Phil Quirk and Phil Kelly, they'd helped me create a positive mental environment for this scenario, but more on that soon.
The day of my first event came and it was the Individual Time Trial (TT). Some of the roads, including the finish, were run on similar roads to that of the upcoming road race (the main event). That didn’t mean I wasn’t focussed 110% on the time trial - because I was.
"a game plan"
I love time trialling. The race of truth; there is absolutely no where to hide. A measured effort over a set distance with the proverbial constant ‘red line’ always insight but never over. There was a game plan! I’d chatted at length with my coach in the build up to the games and based on feedback I’d given him on the course, terrain and weather conditions we’d built a plan to tackle the race. I was second to go in the second wave and with a marker to chase, I set about my work. The first half of the course was steady, the ‘easier’ part, this just meant the effort had to be right. With an out and back section it made it perfect for working out gaps and better to gauge my effort.
I was up on my marker (the man) ahead and caught him before the return of the out and back section. Heading in to the second part and the race really began. The athletes behind me had closed time on me, which I expected. I was judging my effort and hoping the occasion would make them go off too hard.
And then suddenly, the short steep climbs began. There were two ‘walls’ to climb on the second half and I felt I’d judged them perfectly. Heading in back along the coast I’d done as well as I could. I left everything on the road. Picking up time as I went.
The Main Event
I'd be lying if I said that the race day didn't creep up out of no where. Usually it's the day that seems forever away, usually followed by a bout of nerves and chatter but with so much going on it seemed to come in a flash. Waiting seemed to become nothing, and before I knew it my numbers were in my hand and I was pinning up and preparing for the 'battle' ahead.
Race day was here and I'd done all I could to prepare. I'd spoken to my parents on the start line and I was happy with my form, my build up and my performance earlier in the week; I was more than ready to race.
The race started fast and following a flutter of attacks; including mine, disaster struck. I was caught in a crash after almost 10km, just as the toughest section of the course loomed. Adrenaline took over and my fight or flight kicked in. Waiting for the team car to come forward I was assessing the damage. My body was ok, but my bike needed assistance.
I set about chasing. After another lap, and having made inroads in my pursuit to rejoin the field, damage that I'd sustained earlier that hadn't been apparent caused my rear derailleur to break off through my wheel. At this moment, I was unable to accept that this was the end of my race - in fact it didn't even cross my mind. I'd come so far, and was unwilling to throw the towel in. As on the previous lap, and having witnessed the start of my chase, a large group of cheering fans (mostly Aussie's) were willing me up the climb. I climbed off my bike and shouted to see if any spectator would let me use there bike to at least finish the lap. I mean my folks were at the finish line. Michael, a very kind local man, at that point and without hesitation, stepped up to the plate. Unknown to each other he gave me his pride and joy. This is a moment I will forever remember and be truly grateful for.
I finished the lap, and fully expected to be pulled out by the race referee (commissaire) but no, they let me continue to race. I've been brought up in life to never give up and within my short time in the cycling world, I had been told to only stop when instructed to. I made it back to the hill, and I felt goosebumps as I heard cheers and voices of the Aussie crowd say "he's back", "Sam's back". WHAT AN EXPERIENCE.
After finishing that lap, the commissaire had decided to pull riders with the circuit being relatively small. My spirited attempt to re-enter the race had been taken away with the mechanical and knew at that point - my race was done. I am so grateful that I was able to jump back into the follow cars and return Michael's bike back to him and gather mine. This, to me, would be something I'd gain huge experience from and feel so humbled to be a part of. Michael, if you see this, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you.
Over the two weeks I gained more experience in such a short period of time than ever. Across all sports and all moments. It will stay with me for my lifetime. Above all, I got to share it with my parents (in person), my family and friends (at home and across the world) and my fellow Isle of Man teammates and compatriots.
Thank you all for being a huge part of it.
My custom shoes done for the games. These were made to represent the global diabetes community whilst competing for the Isle of Man at the Commonwealth Games. The blue circle is the universal symbol for Diabetes. I ran a competition and 50 names were picked randomly to represent the whole community. I loved this opportunity and thank you to everyone who entered to help me show 'what's possible' with diabetes.
As always, a huge thank you to you all for reading my latest piece. It's an experience I really wanted to revisit and share. A dream come true. I hope that you found it entertaining and got as much enjoyment out of reading it as I did writing it.
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