Three-time Olympic champion Ed Clancy knew midway through Monday’s team pursuit qualifying session that his career was effectively over.
The 36-year-old withdrew from the remainder of competition at the Tokyo Olympics and announced his retirement on Tuesday morning, with the news coming just two hours before Great Britain were due to take to the track once again in the first round.
But Clancy had known in his mind that the back issues which have bothered him for the past seven years had become too much as he struggled to keep up with his team-mates in qualifying – having taken the blame for a ragged end to their run when he lost Ethan Hayter’s wheel.
“You’ve got so much adrenaline and nerves and will for the first one, two, three kilometres but after that you have only got what you’ve got and I couldn’t go any harder,” an emotional Clancy said at the Izu velodrome.
“Once I saw Ethan’s wheel going away from me, I knew I wasn’t quite where I needed to be. You might have seen it in my eyes yesterday but I probably knew there was a better option out there.”
Clancy, Hayter, Ethan Vernon and Ollie Wood had posted a British record of three minutes 47.507 seconds on Monday. The problem is, that was well off the pace of 3:45.014 set by world champions Denmark in Monday’s qualifying – and even further off the world record of 3:42.307 posted by Italy on Tuesday.
“I’d have rather gone round there tomorrow in a 3.38 high-fiving the crowd with my fourth gold medal in hand on the podium but that aside, I’m glad I’ve got this far and I’m glad that I’ve gone down kicking and screaming and fighting,” added Clancy, who was replaced in the line-up by Charlie Tanfield.
“I’m disappointed for it to have ended this way, I felt like I’d done all the hard work. We’d managed my back, the injury has been an issue for the last seven years really and I’ve had good weeks, I’ve had bad weeks…
“But there’s no way I’m going to pretend my back is OK and jeopardise the chances of the entire team and keep (Tanfield) on the sidelines. I want those boys to do well, I want what’s best for the team, for British cycling and I don’t care if that comes at my expense.”
Britain fared poorly without Clancy as Tanfield struggled to keep pace before being struck in a bizarre crash involving Denmark’s Frederik Madsen, and seventh is now the best they can do in a competition they have dominated for so long.
Clancy’s decision brings the curtain down on a 20-year association with British Cycling during which time he claimed seven world titles to go with his three Olympics golds – won in Beijing, London and Rio.
He still intends to ride in the inaugural UCI Track Champions League the new competition which launches in November and for which he is a founding rider, before focusing on his Clancy Briggs Cycling Academy.
“This is the end and it’s massively (emotional). When I think back to 2005 and my first world championships, it’s been an amazing journey,” he said.
“Twenty years I’ve been with British Cycling and they’ve stuck with me through good times and bad times, I’ve had some life-changing experiences. If I could go back in time, I’d do it all again.
“These are my end credits so thanks to everyone in British Cycling, a special shout-out to Hannah Crowley, the physio who has genuinely extended my career by seven years I think. Friends, family, team-mates, everyone has been ace and I couldn’t have done it without the greater team.
“I’ve made two hard decisions in the last 24 hours. (One was) calling it a day and retiring from the Olympics was another. They are two incredibly difficult decisions that I’ve made but it doesn’t mean they are wrong.”