George Atkins Interview: Commonwealth Games silver medallist returns to the sport
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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

George Atkins Interview: Commonwealth Games silver medallist returns to the sport

by Ed Hood at 2:14 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Briton to give cycling another shot after getting motivation back

George AtkinsMark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard and Peter Kennaugh are just some of the names which Britain’s Olympic Academy system has produced. But as with any high pressure system to force riders up through the ranks, there will be casualties.

If one looks at the names of Australian junior world track champions – as their system was one of the inspirations for the GB methods - over the last decade, some, like Matt Goss are instantly recognisable, but many others have disappeared without trace.

Some can handle the strict discipline, the boredom and total reliance on numbers and times as a gauge of performance – but some cannot.

Of course some are underestimated by the talent scouts, don’t even make the bottom rung of the ladder and take their talents elsewhere…in the case of Birmingham’s Dan Martin, across the Irish Sea.

Some have broken away from the system altogether, ploughed their own furrow and done very well, thank you – Adam Blythe being perhaps the prime example.

George Atkins is the reigning British points champion and finished second to Cameron Meyer in the 2010 Commonwealth Games points race in Delhi. That should have been the start of the next phase of his career.

Instead, it was the end – but not quite - the slim 19 year-old from Leicester exiled himself to Scotland’s lovely capital city of Edinburgh, got a job as a barista with Starbucks and, thanks to a few friends in the sport has rediscovered his love for the bike, even to the extent of riding the Scottish 25 mile championships.

Now he’s looking ahead at what he wants to do next in the sport. VeloNation caught up with him on a sunny Edinburgh morning in order to hear his story.


VeloNation: Why are you in Edinburgh, George?

George Atkins: My friend, Aaron Murray lives and works here in Gregor Russell’s Velo Ecosse bike shop; he suggested I come up and share his flat. We go back a long way, to the GB Talent Team.

I had to get away from home; my dad didn’t take well to me stopping…on the weekends I was doing things which 19 years-olds do, like drinking and smoking!

After the Games I had no objectives, I didn’t see cycling going anywhere for me; I was fed up and needed a break.

VN: You got into cycling through your dad?

GA: He’s a club cyclist with the Welland Valley club, they have time trials on a local airfield. He took me along to one, I rode it and for some reason, I enjoyed it.

That was 2005, I trained through that winter and by 2006 I made the GB Talent Team. My coach was Jenny Gretton; and Dean Barnett was an influence on me too. I spoke to them regularly, I still do in fact.

My breakthrough came in 2007 when I won the European Youth Olympics criterium in Belgrade.

VN: Who were your role models?

GA: Maybe not good names to mention, these days but Vinokourov and Ullrich…both classy, strong men and gutsy riders.

VN: 2009 was a big year for you...

George AtkinsGA: The first part of the year didn’t go well – I was top 10 in the junior Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and won an elite race in England, but then I was ill and had knee problems.

The week before the British junior road race I rode the Tom Simpson race and just wasn’t ‘clicking’ – I remember my dad giving me a right talking too. But I knew I had the fitness, I just wasn’t using it properly. The next week in Wales I won the British junior road race championship.

At the Euro road champs I was 10th in the time trial and at the Euro track champs I took bronze in the pursuit and silver in the team pursuit.

And at the British track champs I won the pursuit and the madison (with Dan McLay) and was on the podium in the points, scratch and kilometre.

VN: And last year you won the British points championship and were second to Meyer in Delhi…

GA: The Commonwealth Games points race I saw as the last thing I wanted from the sport – I just felt it was a dead end.

I spent the month before the Games on the track, coached by Chris Newton (former world points and team pursuit champion, now working as a coach with British Cycling) – that was refreshing.

I liked the fact that the training with Chris was structured. I’d been in Italy on the Academy with Max Sciandri (ex-pro now with BMC as DS) but it was pretty unstructured out there. There it was all hours a day on the road.

I need to see that I’m going forward and with Chris everything we did made sense.

VN: But wasn’t being in Italy with the Academy, ‘living the dream?’

GA: It just didn’t suit me, for example, I’d only ever roomed with guys at training camps before and in Tuscany I was rooming with Tim Kennaugh – Peter’s brother – he’s a nice guy but I’m super tidy whilst he’s a ‘suitcase explosion’ king!

And the lifestyle was too slow for me, there wasn’t much to do. You end up spending a lot of time on the Xbox.

With the benefit of hindsight, I should have made more of an effort to learn the language. There were eight of us plus the pros who lived there, but I never seemed to get fully ‘in’ with the pros.

Because there was so little to do we’d end up debating about daft box sets of DVD’s of US TV shows which we’d watch endlessly.

It’s also a weight-obsessive environment. All the Italian races are hilly so you have to light; you’d try to live on salads but if you’re coming back from a virus, that’s not sensible…you need proper nutrition.

The Italian amateurs just seem to be able to climb at another level; that's why the races are so hard if you're not in good shape. Obviously there are other factors but I'm not trying to make excuses; I just wasn't good enough.

And there are a lot of East Europeans riding there, too – if you’re a Russian rider, the alternative to being a cyclist is to work in the mines.

At the Baby Giro the organisers said that they wanted to take blood from the Russian team to do tests. The Russians refused and they didn’t get to start.

VN: Did you ever consider Belgium – you have the skills to race there?

GA: I’ve raced in Belgium but at the end of my junior days the Academy was the option. But it might be something for next season.

VN: With all your track skills did you never consider the GB team pursuit route?

GA: I did the team pursuit at the 2009 track Euros but I enjoy the points much more…cycling was never something that I did for money or recognition, I do it because I enjoy it.

Four kilometres flat out is fine if you’re going well but the points is much more interesting; it’s ‘on’ and then ‘off.’

I’d like to think that I can ride the Worlds points championship, but there’s no way I could get to the Olympics. I enjoy madison racing though, I rode the U 23 Copenhagen six day and enjoyed it – we were third.

George AtkinsVN: So, you’re back on the bike?

GA: I started two months ago and rode the Davie Bell Memorial race here in Scotland a few weeks ago as my first race.

It was a good race; I rode the Scottish 25 champs too and did 54:25, I surprised myself with that.

VN: What next?

GA: Short term, I’m moving home in July; my dad’s happy that I’m getting back into it. It’s hard to make enough money to rent a place and live and race at the same time.

I’m going to target the British time trial and hill climb championships for the end of this season.

I’ll certainly ride the season out with Gregor Russell’s Velo Ecosse/Montpeliers team. If it hadn’t been him for him and Aaron, I don’t think I’d still be in the sport.

For next season I hope to put in a good winter then get a UK team where I can get a wage and the use of a car; but the programme would have to be good – or I may go to Belgium.
 

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