Cycling: Hoy too busy to go the whole Hogmanay

'Fastest man on two wheels' has no time to revel in his finest deeds as new world challenges and Beijing Games beckon
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The Independent Online

Chris Hoy is as rarely an observed phenomenon north of the border as the golden eagle has become in the Highlands; a character who regards Hogmanay as a hindrance. For the 28-year-old Olympian, this is one occasion when auld acquaintance will have to be forgot.

Though the track cyclist may see out 2004 - a year in which he became the first of Great Britain's nine gold medallists actually to step on to the podium in Athens - in traditional manner, he will barely have time to see the new year in at his parents' Edinburgh home before returning to his Manchester base to resume training on New Year's Day.

Any first-footing he does will be on pedals in the city's velodrome. "I think you can say there'll be only the briefest of celebrations," says Hoy. "I have to keep an eye on the fact that I've got a World Cup event starting in a few days' time [on 7 January in Manchester]."

At the culmination of a year in which Hoy earned the right to the title of "the fastest man on two wheels", the summer's Olympic gold in the one-kilometre time trial represented a continuation, rather than a culmination, of his ambitions. He has, as his principal target, the defence of his world championship in Los Angeles in March, and in the long term, his Olympic title in Beijing.

If Hoy does find time for reflection at the turn of the year, he will recall 2004 "with a sense of satisfaction that all these questions I've been asking myself all these years have been answered". He adds: "Any athlete who tells you that they're 100 per cent self-confident, and never doubt themselves at any point, is lying. When you have those niggling doubts, and for me that happened all the time, you're always going to be saying to yourself, 'Can I do this? Am I good enough?' no matter how positive you appear on the outside. When you finally achieve it, you sit back and think, 'Well, it doesn't matter what happens from now on. I've proven I can do it before, so I know I can do it again'."

Yet, his appetite having been sated, can there truly be the same desire to prevail in 2008? "I don't think I would continue if I didn't think that I had that hunger in me," he insists. "If anything, I'll be stronger mentally. You couldn't have scripted that kilo [one-kilometre] event better. There couldn't have been any higher pressure or any more intense atmosphere than at Athens."

He still recalls vividly the prelude to his final, a race he went into having been thrown from a bicycle in the Olympic village while avoiding a collision with a bus. "A slightly different way of falling, and that could have been my Olympics over and I would never have known how good I was," he says ruefully.

As world champion, Hoy rode last in the final, with the French world record- holder Arnaud Tournant's time of 1min 0.896sec as his target. "It's a full-on sprint from the gun," Hoy explains. "Normally, you have only got a very rough idea of how quickly you're going. It's pretty much guesswork. The difference in Athens is that I could actually hear the crowd. Their reaction to the split time on the scoreboard after each lap told me I was up, though it could have been by a second, or by a thousandth. After the third lap [of four], and there was still a roar, I thought, 'Bloody hell - there's 250 metres to go. This it it. Keep going. Keep going'."

He adds: "After I crossed the line, I couldn't believe it at first. I looked up at the board and I saw the number one next to my name. Then I saw OR [Olympic record] next to it. I thought it was a dream. It was only when I saw my dad [Dave], waving his flag and cheering, hanging over the barrier on the bend as I came past, that I realised what I'd done. It was pretty awesome. The feeling was a mixture of unbelievable elation and, strangely, a sense of anticlimax as well."

His time read 1min 0.711sec. The difference between gold and silver was 0.185sec. It was the beginning of some rich prospecting for Great Britain cyclists, with Bradley Wiggins boasting a gold, a silver and a bronze.Afterwards, the demand for public appearances back home was unrelenting. From the wackiest - "appearing in a charity It's a Knockout with Keith Chegwin" - to the conventional, open-topped bus rides in London and Edinburgh, attending dinners and obligatory appearances on A Question of Sport and (yet to be screened) Superstars.

"For someone from a minority sport, it has all been something of a culture shock," he says. "It's one of those things you can't really prepare for, but knowing Jason Queally very well, I saw the after-effects of Sydney and what he had to deal with."

Hoy adds: "It's quite nice to get back to normality after the madness which immediately followed the Games. I've been very busy. But I'm still able to live my own life, unlike, say, a professional footballer or member of a boy band. I certainly wouldn't want to be in Kelly Holmes's shoes. Her life will never be the same again. She may enjoy that; I don't know. But for me, I'm pleased that my life hasn't really changed."

Apart from the financial rewards, you suggest. "There's perception that you win a gold medal and people come knocking on your door with bucketloads of money," Hoy says. "I have got an agent who is working hard and who makes a lot of enquiries, but maybe from one phone call in every 50 something comes up. I can't complain, because I've done well. With a gold, at least you've got a bit of bargaining power. Previously, my silver medal from Sydney [in the team sprint] didn't really mean that much. Companies who want speakers or someone to open things are looking for an Olympic champion. It doesn't even really matter what sport it is."

Hoy, who grew up as a Hearts football fan, loved rugby - he attended the same public school as Gavin Hastings - and initially took up rowing before returning to cycling, a sport he had originally enjoyed as a BMX-crazed youngster, wants to be involved in some form of coaching when saddle-soreness ends his competitive days, "although not necessarily in cycling".

That time is some way off. "Although I've achieved everything I set out to do, I still feel I have more to give," he adds. "I know that psychologically I can deal with anything. In the past I asked myself if I can handle the pressure when the chips are down. In Athens I proved to myself that the answer is, 'Yes'. Now I can always draw on that experience."

Looking at a character whom the Great Britain team manager, the Australian Shane Sutton, describes as a guy who "trains so bloody hard it can almost be to his own detriment" you don't doubt that the wheels of fortune can keep on turning.