Matt Rotherham is a GB track cycling sprinter, para-tandem word champion pilot, 6 day rider, and all round nice guy!
I remember when I first met Matt in T-town, PA back in 2015, one Saturday afternoon after a Saturday afternoon GP had finished he bought me a hot dog and chips, and we had a great chat.
He was one of the first riders to test BLS straps, and his initial feedback helped develop the products we have available today.
We asked him about his path to track cycling, his big gear antics, sport psychology and the rainbow stripes.
How did you get into cycling, and more specifically track cycling?
Matt: I never really got into sport until I was nine years old. I enjoyed bits of cross country running and (badly) attempted football, but when I was nine my dad took me to watch some track league racing at the Manchester Velodrome. He was hoping that I would ask if I could have a go so that he would have an excuse to have a go himself. I said I wanted a go so I started at my current club, Eastlands and Sportcity Velo on the Monday night beginner’s session, and it went from there.
Did you do any other sports before taking on the track?
Like I said before, I enjoyed cross country running, maybe got top 100 in the town but that was about it really!
You made the GB team fairly young, and then got booted before coming back, tell us about that journey?
It was a fairly easy journey to start off with to be honest. I got into the GB development system at 14 and progressed from there. I was lucky that there was only really myself and one other track sprinter my age at that time and we made it through the U/16 team up to the junior team pretty easily. Once on the junior team, I had some good success. In my first year I made the Junior World Championship Keirin final and the semi-finals of the Junior European Sprint Champs. I also won both Junior and Senior 1km TT national titles in the same year.
After junior, I made it on to the GB U/23 academy squad and went onto full-time training. During this period, there were various factors which affected my performances. Thus, my performances were never that great as a U/23.
It got to the point where I had hit a massive plateau and stopped progressing, so had to leave the U/23 squad.
I had a tough 6 months following this. However, my parents, thankfully, encouraged me to continue my cycling – so I did. I hit the gym and did a bit of track training, but not much else.
In the summer of 2015, I ventured out to T-town in the USA for some training and racing. I struggled in the UCI races as I was nowhere near my fastest, but afterwards I started picking up a few results and getting a little prize money; and really found the love for cycling again. I had such a great time out there and really came home with the best form I had ever really had!
I started to become a little more successful after that trip, picking up national medals in sprint, keirin and team sprint and had some success abroad.
In late 2016 I was speaking with my ex-coach, Jon Norfolk, who at the time was head coach for the GB Para-cycling Team. I suggested that I would make a great sprint tandem pilot and he agreed to give me a go at it. Luckily for me, a World Championships was announced in early 2017 and I got selected with James Ball to go to Los Angeles, USA to race. We came away with two World Championships and that meant I had gone full circle and was given a place back on the GB team, but now as a tandem pilot.
You’re famous for your big gear antics, like 64/12 (check out Matt’s website www.60×12.com), how did you get to putting on and being so successful with such big gears?
I’ve found in my recent career, that strength is one of my, well, strengths! When I tried using a 60+ chainrings I found I could hit more peak speed.
When I was towards the end of my time on the academy, I was using gears like 53×12, the biggest gear I could make at the time. I started to go pretty well on gears like that (although that was clearly too little too late!) but when I started racing again I thought I’d give the bigger gears a go. I’d seen the mighty Ed Dawkins from New Zealand using gears like 60×12 so I thought it could also be for me.
Besides going faster on those gears, I also think the combo with a big ring looks great!
Tell us some of your stats?
Trap bar deadlift: 260kg (working towards a new PB at the moment 😉 )
Peak power: 2200W
Flying 200m: 9.99
Tandem Flying 200m (with Neil Fachie): 9.85
1km TT: 1:01.9
Tandem 1km TT (with James Ball): 1:00.7
Do you think tandems need to race more on the track like the old days?
I love tandem racing! I’ve won the National Tandem Sprint Championship a couple of times and hold the track record for the flying lap at T-town. However, for these races, I have always been the stoker (the guy at the back) – and I love it!
It’s a whole new ball game being a pilot but I love doing it too.
I think tandem racing would be an awesome event to bring back, but there’s no denying how unsafe it became when it was raced at World Champ and Olympic level.
On the para-cycling side, we mostly compete in time trials and we have a bit of unwritten law to keep the sprint racing safe, because we can’t go back to how it used to be!
Do you think para sport gets the recognition it deserves?
I think in the UK it does. As a rider on the para-cycling team, I feel equal to any other rider on the squad, and sports in the UK have worked hard to make sure that culture is developed. If you win a Paralympic gold medal, you definitely get good recognition!
How does it feel to have every cyclists dream, the coveted world champion stripes?
It was special to pull on the stripes! Albeit in a different field, it felt just as special and I will treasure those moments forever.
You also race 6 days quite often, how do you find that?
I love the side of cycling that the 6 days showcases. It’s different to world cup or world championship type cycling and people can clearly see that us sprinters try to put on a bit of a show and entertain people, and I hope I do that well! I sometimes don’t go my fastest at the 6 days but for sure I have fun!
Are you racing CWG, and how big of an event is that to you?
I am hoping to be selected to ride as a pilot for Neil Fachie (since this article, Matt’s selection has been confirmed) at the Commonwealth Games, so therefore I would end up representing Scotland. As an Englishman it will be an interesting event in that respect, but I really cannot wait to go there. We probably would fly straight from the Para-cycling World Champs in Rio, Brazil to Brisbane, Australia for the games. We expect to go to to the Worlds in our best form and would hope to carry that form to the games so we would expect some solid performances!
What would you like to see change or happen in track cycling?
I would love to see a resurgence in 6 day racing. Recently, some of the six days have had to end because people stopped supporting them. The pro men’s racing is amazing and the six day riders are some of the best athletes in the world. I think it’s an exciting form of cycling that, if advertised well, could be also exciting to the masses. I would love to see a six day back at Madison Square Gardens in the USA – that would be the dream!
Do you use any sport psychology techniques?
I sometimes use a “thought stopping” technique in high pressure situations.
If I start thinking about the outcome of the event too much or overthinking the tactics for a race I have a set routine which stops me thinking too much about it, and gets me back on track with the race.
What makes you “tick”? What motivates you to be the best; and keep you going in tough times?
I love racing! I always try and make sure that there is a race on the horizon. Then I’ve always got something to look forward to which helps to keep me motivated when the going gets a little tough.
How do you handle race day pressure?
I feel like I have a “need-to-achieve” mentality. So when I get to a race, I don’t tend to get fearful of losing. Instead, I look forward to potentially winning!
What would you say is your best mental strength/characteristic?
I love my sport and I love competing in it!
I’ve learnt to try and enjoy every aspect of training and racing. I even enjoy the 1km TT and the pain that comes with it as well as the process of building up to the race.
As long as I keep that mentality then I feel pretty mentally strong on race day!
What are your goals for the future?
My focus at the moment is directed towards the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games where I would love to take gold there in the tandem 1km TT. I would love to see where my career takes me after that. I would hope to be in the form of my life and who knows, I could start picking up results on my own again…
What are your interests outside of cycling?
I love coffee, maybe too much! Manchester has a great speciality coffee scene so I can often be found in a coffee shop, but I also love making it at home. I enjoy the process and methodology of producing a cup of coffee. I would like to get in to roasting coffee a bit as well.
What advice do you have to young riders?
Everybody says it. Just enjoy cycling. I know how my performances suffered when I stopped enjoying the sport and I can see throughout my career that when I performed the best was when I was enjoying it the most.
Even if that means entering small races that no one else is turning up to, having that chance to put your hands in the air is special. Enjoy every victory, whether that be in the first round of a sprint tournament or after winning the Olympics, I think it’s important to celebrate.
If you could leave us with one though, what would it be?
I was speaking to my dad about this the other day; we were talking about how I celebrate my results quite often and quite outwardly. I think that it’s a really important thing to me. I don’t win every sprint tournament I enter, so that’s why I think at whatever stage of a tournament I’m in, or if I’m in a small race somewhere, I show that I’m happy to win. I dread going through a tournament and not celebrating only to be knocked out, or loose in the final, and have never celebrated. I might look silly at times, but I’m just showing that I’m loving what I’m doing!
By: Matthew de Freitas