It takes a unique talent to win an Olympic gold medal, but to triumph at three consecutive Olympic Games requires an even rarer blend of passion, dedication, resilience and vision. British track cycling icon Ed Clancy has shown all of these qualities in abundance during his glittering career.

The Barnsley- born rider has won three gold medals in the team pursuit at Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016, a bronze medal in the Omnium at the London Olympics, and five World Championship titles.

But to stay ahead of the opposition Clancy has also drawn on his lifelong passion for the science of speed (he also loves racing motorbikes and go-karts in his spare time) and his gritty Yorkshire determination.

‘Before any Olympic Games my whole life changes,’ explains Clancy, 32, who lives in the scenic town of Holmfirth, West Yorkshire.

‘Ahead of Rio I knew my only chance of getting a medal was to do every single thing right. Every day for nine months I made sure I had nine hours’ sleep.

‘I did not go to one late-night barbecue or birthday party. I was in bed at 10pm on New Year’s Eve. Once every two weeks I might have a naughty Mars bar but otherwise it was clean food every day.

‘In training, irrelevant of my motivation, I did everything that was prescribed. I apply that marginal gains approach to everything.’

In the team pursuit, Clancy and his three teammates ride in unison for 4km around the track at speeds of over 60kmh. Achieving that level of performance involves relentless pain and dedication while training on the road.

‘In an endurance block we will be riding around the top of Mount Teide in Tenerife, living in a deserted hotel with no internet and no phone reception, and doing seven-hour training rides.

‘Then we come home and start endurance training, which is like water torture, just mild pain for hours on end. When we go back to the track it is like being hit with a sledgehammer, with standing kilos, flying laps and nasty intervals. But I just love it.’

Video of Ed Clancy #CantStop his pursuit of perfection | One Obsession – Oakley

The pain and the glory

From the outside, Clancy’s career may look like an unstoppable march towards those three consecutive Olympic golds, but every medal required him to overcome unique challenges.

‘Beijing 
was my first Olympics so I was only 23, and although myself and Geraint Thomas were the better team pursuit riders out of the academy nobody gave us much hope of reaching Beijing.

‘But after winning the World Championships in 2007 we knew we were in touching distance with 18 months to go so nothing was going to stop us. We were in our 20s, we had nothing to lose, no girlfriends or wives, so we just went flat out to grab a gold medal.’

Retaining that gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games required very different qualities, above all mental focus and resilience. ‘We lost often between Beijing and London,’ admits Clancy.

‘The team changed and Pete Kennaugh and Geraint came in at the last minute. It was a rocky path and we had some good scraps with the Australians in that final year. We had to stay really focused, so when we won in London it felt epic.’

‘We had some good scraps with the Australians in that final year. We had to stay really focused, so when we won in London it felt epic’

However, Clancy’s victory in Rio was the toughest of his career. It was a triumph of precise planning and bold vision.

‘Rio was on a different level to everything else I have achieved and I would have traded everything for that gold. We didn’t win a world title between London and Rio. We had coaches changing and senior management being restructured.

‘Then I had a horrible back injury, so painful I had to lie down in the back of a car just to get to the doctor’s. I hit rock bottom in December when I had surgery – but I enjoyed the fightback.

‘Once I could walk again, I thought: right, how far can I walk? Then I started some turbo training, just 20 minutes at 200 watts, and I made a progression every day. To come out the other side and win gold, I felt like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.’

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Ed Clancy wears: Oakley Radar EV glasses with Prizm™ Road lenses, Oakley Icon Short-Sleeve Top, Oakley Icon Full Zip Fleece Hoodie, all available on oakley.com

As a child Clancy was a fan of all two-wheeled adventures: ‘The first proper bike I had was a white BMX. It was the late ’80s so it had big white plastic wheels. It would probably look crap now but it felt like the best thing in the world.

‘I loved motorsports too and had a poster of Dougie Lampkin who won his first World Championship when I was about 12. Even back then I knew I wanted to be a professional cyclist or ride motorbikes for a living.’

Clancy has always enjoyed studying in detail the building blocks of speed, from innovative training protocols and sports science to aerodynamic gains and data analysis.

‘Even when I was a kid I used to look at my heart rate, long before the days of power cranks. Sometimes if I meet up with people mid-ride I find it difficult because I am more interested in hitting the numbers than having a social ride.

‘I love seeing how I am coping with a new workload, how my heart rate relates to my power output, and what the 10 numbers are telling me.’

This year Clancy has been competing in road races with his team, JLT-Condor, and will be looking to finish off a long season on the road, before he knuckles down to track training for Tokyo 2020.

‘Out here I can get out onto the roads and do five- or six- hour rides and not hit a single set of traffic lights. I have always loved the Holme Moss climb. When I was a kid I used to get back from school and ride up it for fun. I am still riding it 20 years later.’

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Proper preparation

The triple Olympic champion follows a fixed training regime and, like his kit, it has to be just right.

‘I have a fairly rigid routine. I always go out on my bike at 10am. I have the same porridge and coffee every morning, count out my energy bars, get my kit ready and get out. Everything has its place.

‘When it comes to glasses, I have worn Oakley ever since I can remember. It’s down to the clarity and sharpness of vision, even when the light is bad.

‘I always gravitate towards quality kit that I know will make a difference to my performance. I have different drawers for my socks, shorts, jerseys, long sleeved kit and GB kit. It’s not as if everything is ironed and folded but I like to know where it is.’

Even though 2017 is a low-key year in the context of the four-year Olympic cycle, Clancy is still focusing on improvement.

‘This year I’ve been working on threshold training, which has been a weakness until now. I have already made progress so if I can stick some top-end speed from the track on top of that, I’ll have a great set-up for Tokyo.

‘I’ve had some good conversations with British Cycling about what we can do differently. How about we change this? How about we try that? I like entertaining different ideas and wringing out every ounce of talent.’

Clancy already has his vision for success at Tokyo 2020 planned out: ‘My aim is to enjoy this year, do the Revolution Series, go to the World Championships in March 2018, do a full road series and then by August 2018 I will switch back to a track focus. But 100% I am going for Tokyo. I’m ready to give it everything.’

With three Olympic gold medals, Clancy could easily step away with his reputation secured, but he is hungry for more.

‘You can’t beat that feeling of being at a holding camp at the Newport velodrome before the Olympics when you are nudging world records in every single effort you’re doing,’ says Clancy. ‘It’s the best feeling in the world.’

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