Joe Nally and five other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental this season. The 20-year-old Scot, a former Great Britain Cycling Team Senior Academy rider, races for Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK. This is Joe’s second journal entry…
I like to think that the young, naive me back then would be proud of how much I’ve grown
This story starts on a relaxed day in the middle of September 2017. I had recently finished my second season as a junior, which was arguably my best yet. Frustratingly though, I fell short of qualifying for the World Champs in Bergen, one of my main goals for the year.
Shortly after the selection was decided, however, I took the win in two stages at the Junior Tour of Wales, which was an extremely satisfying middle finger up to the selection panel. The positive side of this was that I was free to go and enjoy my off season and that’s where I am on said day in September. I chose to head to France for a while to explore a little, and on this day I was in Annecy, my final stop of the holiday. Wandering through the streets of the old town eating ice cream, my thoughts were drifting far from the world of cycling until my phone buzzed in my pocket.
Transferring the ice cream to my left hand, I pulled out my phone to see a text from my coach asking if I was receiving my emails. Suddenly the ice cream has been demoted as the most important part of my day. You see, for the past few weeks I had been waiting for an email from British Cycling telling me whether or not I had been accepted onto Senior Academy. I inhaled the ice cream and set off to find a seat by the lake.
It’s been a rough journey but I’m still alive and kicking
I suppose the title of this journal gives away the contents of that email, but what I can tell you is that this is one of my favourite memories and the feeling of receiving that news made all of the hard work I’d put in to get there totally worth it. Fast forward two and a bit years and I’ve been through the system, taken it all in and just about come out in one piece. I like to think that the young, naive me back then would be proud of how much I’ve grown and how I’ve tried to handle what life has thrown at me. From happiness to anger, success to disappointment. Love and heartbreak, along with the sorrow and grief. It’s been a rough journey but I’m still alive and kicking.
Now that I have moved on, one of the main questions I get asked is, “How did you find the Academy?” And my usual answer is something along the lines of, “Yeah, pretty good.” So here’s the long answer.
We were very well looked after on the programme and I think they struck a good balance between supporting us and helping us build independence, which is something that doesn’t always come naturally to everyone when they move away from home for the first time. British Cycling has a world class performance support team and towards the end of my time on the Academy I realised this and made sure to get as much help as I could. I didn’t realise when I first joined, but if I could just absorb a fraction of the knowledge of these people then I would be stood in good stead going into the rest of my career.
Since I moved away from home I have spent time living in Northern Italy (up by the lakes), Girona, and two parts of Belgium (one in Flanders, one in literally the middle of nowhere) and of course Manchester. Each of these have posed their own difficulties, but also brought many advantages and perks.
Italy is the easiest one to use as an example here. I truly believe it is one of the prettiest parts of the world that I have had the fortune to explore so far, and I have since been back there on holiday because of that. The roads were stunning and the training was an absolute pleasure. However, once we finished a ride and returned to the house, things were a little less enjoyable. We were quite stranded out in the sticks staying in a barn which had been converted into a house at some point in the 12th century (probably), unfortunately it felt as though this conversion had only reached 50% completion at best. As a result, it wasn’t the most comfortable place ever and boredom would kick in pretty rapidly so we had to come up with creative solutions. As I’m sure you have all guessed, we opted for buying a load of BB guns and shooting each other – which in hindsight probably shouldn’t have been our first, go-to solution. We were still winning races at the time so it clearly didn’t cause too much harm.
One of the main reasons I believe the Academy is so successful is that it gives you the opportunity to experience some top level races years before most riders, and as a result it accelerates that learning curve. This means you start rubbing shoulders with Olympic champions and World Tour riders in everyday life before you have a chance to stop and think. I would love to give some really cool anecdotes here like that I went out drinking at a fancy bar with some world champions, but some of my professional interactions have been slightly bizarre. From taking the piss out of a certain nationality with Chris Froome while trying to make the time cut in the Tour of Britain, to standing in the restaurant of a Holiday Inn before a night of Six Day racing talking to Roger Kluge about my extremely problematic bowel movements. Not particularly rock ‘n’ roll…
Being chucked into a house with seven other guys your age is arguably another reason the Academy works so well. Unlike other teams that go on the occasional training camp in the winter and then all meet up in a car park for their first race of the season, we had no choice but to learn each other inside out before we had even pinned any numbers on. There’s definitely two sides to this. It makes the racing a pleasure when things are running smoothly and the team is working like clockwork – there’s nothing better than feeling untouchable with a bunch of your best mates. It makes the training easy when you can all commit as a group on the harder days but still find time to muck around on the rest days and take games of Odds On too far until one of you ends up in a canal in the centre of Ghent…
The flip side is when everyone is put under pressure, the cracks inevitably begin to show and after months being stuck in the same house as someone, one small annoyance will have you planning the most brutal murder. In reality, most of our arguments were extremely petty and would result in something like emptying the (clean) dishwasher into someone’s bed because he’d avoided chores for a couple of days.
I got to live the dream while working with some legends of the sport
The Academy truly was an amazing time though. While a lot of the racing wasn’t particularly positive for me, I got to live the dream while working with some legends of the sport, learning invaluable lessons about training, performance and race craft and creating friendships that will last a lifetime. The honour of being able to pull on that GB jersey everyday was extremely special and I will always cherish those moments.
So, in conclusion: How did I find the Academy? Yeah, pretty good.
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