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Interview: Matt Rotherham

By | All articles, Interviews, Sport Psychology | No Comments

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.

Matt Rotherham by Robyn Stewart

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?
Squat: 215kg
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

Matt Rotherham by Drew Kaplan

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!

Matt Rotherham by Drew Kaplan

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…

Matt Rotherham by Drew Kaplan

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

 

Interview: Paralympic star Wiliam “Billy” Lister

By | All articles, Interviews, Sport Psychology | No Comments

While he was out in South Africa during the para-cycling world champs, we spent some time with William “Billy” Lister and heard insight into his inspirational story of how he dramatically turned is life around over the course of 12 years after a stroke in his teens, to a professional cyclist and Olympian.

We hear about hard work, overcoming, sacrifice, and the daily motivation of a singular goal of the top step in Tokyo. We find out about the differences and similarities between elite and para cycling, as well as what it takes to be on the top level.

We also find out about his use of sport psychology, what it’s like to be a full-time professional athlete, and his future aspirations inside and outside of para-cycling.

Tell us more about you background and how you got into Paralympic cycling?

My background starts out when I was 17 years old and suffered a slow and regressive stroke, as a complication from invasive Brain surgery I had to save my life from a fatal brain abnormality. My life was devoid of any activity or ambition for the better part of 12 years as I navigated through a state of self-preservation purgatory. It wasn’t until 2011 when I met the Challenged Athletes Foundation; in San Diego, CA that I got on a bike for the first momentous time since my 17th birthday. It spanned the next few years, but I taught myself how to ride all over again; and in 2014 I entered my first ever Paralympic Cycling bike race – an Individual Time Trial on the Road. I did pretty well, and ever since then have been racing bikes.

What have been some of the highlights of your career so far?

The greatest highlight in my career has to be Paralympic Trials last summer in Charlotte, NC – where I finished 1st overall among 2 wheel male cyclists and qualified for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In 2017, have had a crucial build-up year securing 2 World Championship podium positions (Both on the Track & the Road World Championships), as well adding a Road World Cup medal.

What are your goals leading up to the future?

The short term goal is currently all sights set on the Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020. I have personal aspirations to compete through Paris 2024; as well as on home soil in Los Angeles 2028 – becoming a 4X Paralympian.

What motivates you in your daily training?

The singular motivation I have is to achieve my ultimate goal of a Gold medal at the Paralympic Games. Every day is an effort and progression towards obtaining that objective.

Paralympic cyclist William “Billy” Lister

What frustrates you about Paralympic sport?

I do wish that the Paralympic movement gained the notoriety it deserves as Elite athleticism, on the same level as our Olympic counterparts. However, the exposure and acceptance in the United States lags behind the rest of the World. It’s a slow process acquiring awareness; but over the past few quadrennials, Paralympic sport has gained dramatic momentum across the globe.

I think in comparison to other Paralympic sports, Cycling gets a fair amount of recognition; being one of the top-tiered sports. Over the years the UCI (International Cycling Union) has increased its awareness into Para cycling; however the sport is dwarfed in contrast to the coverage, interest & recognition of Professional and Olympic Cycling.

What makes Paralympic sport so great?

To me, the greatness of Paralympic sport is its humbling unfettered athletic prowess. Paralympic sport is very much the lesser distinguished platform compared to its Olympic sport counterpart. However, what is little understood about Paralympic sport lies in the comprehension that Paralympic athletes are just as elite, strong, fast and powerful as their fellow Olympic competitors. Paralympic athletes dedicate themselves, and sacrifice as much – if not more – than any other elite & professional athlete on the planet; with a fraction of the recognition. That self-effacing quality is something that can only be found in athletes who compete for the love of sport – and the love of life!

Do you feel you get the support you require?

I am tremendously fortunate to receive support from the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) and the U.S. Paralympic Cycling Team; in terms of financial assistance and resource disposal. I have the opportunity to live and train at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO – which affords me the greatest athletic care available. The USOC does an extraordinary job in delivering the support and resources directly to its athletes, and their athletic benefit.

Paralympic cyclist William “Billy” Lister by Bill Whitehead

What do you enjoy most about being a full time athlete?

I no longer despise Mondays like I used to when I was a part of the corporate world! Every day has the freedom to get better, in any possible way – in every possibly way!

What do you think gives you a competitive advantage?

I like to think my athletic upbringing mixed chemically with sport being torn away from me at the age of 17; and for the better part of a decade living a sedentary life – my mindset is transformed into a willingness to sacrifice everything I have for the chance to win Gold.

Do you make use of sport psychology, and if so, what techniques?

Yes! I use Sport Psychology on a regular basis, and have been for the past 2 1/2 years. Leading into the Paralympic Games and currently, I’ve been doing a lot of Mindfulness technique work. I have found it clears my mind, and focuses on the process – which so far has been translating into an increase in results. I’m very excited for future progression in this aspect of sport performance.

Do you have any pre-race rituals or superstitions?

I am a very obsessive superstitious individual – so my pre-race rituals are all based on routine. Leading into any big race, I like to establish a routine leading into race day – And then rise & repeat each day and on race day!

What would you say are the essential mental characteristics required for elite level cycling?

I would say a twisted ability for self-suffering agony & determination; along with a mindset to outlast the rider next to you. I’ve found in elite level cycling where many within a field are on similar levels; the mental battle of attrition often will be the decider of success.

What makes, in your opinion, a champion?

That’s a tough question – Because I think champions are made from within. I think what’s necessary to become a champion is the belief that your mind is stronger than your heart; but that your heart is the strongest part of your body.

 

“I think what’s necessary to become a champion is the belief that your mind is stronger than your heart; but that your heart is the strongest part of your body” – William Lister.

 

What is your daily routine (on and off the bike) like?

My training regimen is 7 days a week – Not all of those are hard days of course. Day-to-day looks similar to on my bike – anywhere from 90 minutes active recovery to 4 hours hard – followed by some light stretching and rolling a lot of sore and fatigued muscles. Depending on the day, I’ll do Strength & Conditioning 3 days a week for roughly 2 – 3 hours. And the rest of my time is perfectly filled with Recovery – Sports Medicine, Cold Plunge, Normatecs, Massage – and juggling meetings with Sports Psych & Nutrition – it’s a full time gig!

Other than cycling, what hobbies/interests do you have?

I gotta admit at the current moment, I don’t explore many hobbies – simply for a lack of time and commitment. While I do take some time off each year, a lot of that time is spent relaxing with friends and family. Although I have started to get an itch to learn how to Scuba dive!

Paralympic cyclist William “Billy” Lister

What are your plans post your cycling career?

There’s no better feeling than riding and racing my bike – so I have a sense that after my career is over, I’ll still be out there pushing the limits – just maybe not every day. I’d like to start my own business one day, centralized in the Adaptive Sports world.

If you could give the readers one insight into what it takes to be an elite level cyclist, and especially a Paralympic one, what would it be?

Treat every day as an opportunity to better yourself – the little things add up at the end of each hour, day, year, and decade.

What motivation or advice would you give to young athletes, especially Paralympic athletes?

My biggest piece of advice to aspiring young Paralympic (And Olympic) athletes is develop a mindset that positively allows you to always say Yes. Put yourself in a position for opportunity, and when it comes, say YES and take the ride on the journey.

If you could have the readers remember only one thing about you after reading this, what would it be?

I would tell the readers to ignite their Never:

Never Believe

Never Learn

Never Known

Never Past

Never Now

Never Future

Never Give in

Never Stop

Always Never

Always always!

Be sure to follow his journey onto and beyond Tokyo 2020!

 

Matthew de Freitas

Interview: Tomas Babek

By | All articles, Interviews, Sport Psychology | 2 Comments

Tomas Babek is a track sprinter from the Czech Republic, a BLS sponsored athlete, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and someone who is on the rise fast! In only a short time, he has stamped his authority on the international track circuit, winning the European keirin title, overall sixdays winner as well as being the overall 2016/2017 world cup keirin leader. Not only that, but he’s someone with an incredibly inspirational story of courage, perseverance and survival to tell the world!

With only 2 weeks to go to the world championships in Hong Kong, we thought an exclusive interview with the man that goes by the name of BABSON would be pretty cool!

Tomas Babek by Drew Kaplan

Tell us how you got into cycling, and specifically track sprinting?

I wanted to avoid the biology exam at primary school so I signed into the school bike race which was at same time (it’s funny because normally I always had A or B at every subject). There I met a guy who brought me to track cycling, the next day he took me to an old concrete velodrome and gave me a fixed bike and told me to ride on it. It was very strange but I liked that, and next month I claimed my first success at international event, so I continued!

Tell us more about your crash in 2011?

I was hit by a car, and nearly died, but doctors brought me back to life. It took me a very long time to get back. I couldn’t get back, and coaches wanted to kick me off the team but I’ve never given up and kept on fighting, and after years I got stronger then before… and claimed my biggest successes.

What would you say has been some of the biggest challenges in cycling for you?

Definitely to find the motivation after I was not selected for Rio 2016, which I proved very well after!

2016 was your breakthrough year, what do you think was the difference that made this year different?

I think the difference was that I went into the race like I want to win it very hard.

Tomas Babek in training

How does it feel to be world cup leader going into 2017 world championships?

It feels great and gives me some confidence but we will see J

How is life in the Czech Republic?

The cycling culture is not really the biggest one, especially in track cycling. We don’t have a 250m velodrome, so we train outdoor 400m long one and concrete. Support from national federation … better no comment.

What is a typical day in the life of Tomas Babek like?

Wake up 7:00 and have a nice healthy breakfast, then I’m off to training (track, gym, road), then back for lunch, do some work or study, then coffee and again out for training, after that I do some backlogs from morning, and then finally time with my fiancee J

Do you have any pre-race rituals? Or little things you like to do for good luck?

Yeah it is music, good warm up and deep breathing before every race.

Tomas Babek by Drew Kaplan

Would you share some of your numbers with us?

Top watts on track bike 2210W

In the gym 105kg for Clean, Deep Squat 170kg

Max candence on velodrome 204rpm, on rollers 247rpm

What is your life like outside of cycling?

I like skiing, study is my hobby too but I just finished my studies and graduated with the Master diploma. So I plan to start with Doctors degree next year.

What do you think of sport psychology?

I use my own, I don’t work much with psychologist, I just found my own way J

What would you say is your biggest mental strength?

Stamina and the “never give up” mode!

Where do you get your motivation from?

From inside of me, I am never satisfied with myself.

What does the future hold for Tomas Babek? I got a contract to Japan for JKA Keirin, but beside it I want to prepare, and get the medal in Tokyo 2020, after I want to finish my career and start as sports manager (this is what I graduated as).

What do you think of the BLS blog?

Well it is always nice to see someone who promotes track cycling!

Do you have any advice for young sprinters?

Just enjoy it, practise much, but always find a joy in it, otherwise you can never become good in it.

 

Tomas Babek by Drew Kaplan

Here’s a really cool short film about Tomas’ journey made by VideoDilna.cz, be sure to check it out:

 

I’m sure all of you will agree, Tomas is a true fighter and inspiration to all riders out there. He doesn’t take no for an answer and gets his motivation from deep within himself. I’m sure all will agree this is only the start of his successful career.

We wish to thank Tomas for giving us a little insight into the life of a champion, and wish him the best of luck for the rest of his journey, from world champs in 2 weeks, to racing keirin in Japan, to Tokyo 2020, to getting his Doctorate degree and of course – getting married!

Be sure to follow the rest of Tomas’ journey on:

www.facebook.com/tomasbabekcyclist/

www.instagram.com/tomasbabek

 

Matthew de Freitas

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