Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Musical Chairs – Tomás Swift-Metcalfe Blog


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Tomás Swift-Metcalfe
The end of season means choices have to be made.

I haven’t raced since September 1st. I’ve been working hard though, on Swift Momentum Sports (SMS), and restoring an old building – and of course some training.

SMS is doing pretty well. I’m glad to have shown people some fantastic cycling and running, as well as to have trained some very good athletes. My professional cycling career, however is pretty much over: I wasn’t renewed for the 2014 season.

The past year, my colleagues and I signed up to pretty bad working conditions, but this sacrifice allowed the team to continue.

The oldest supposedly professional team in the world. Last season I had a couple of doors open to go else where, nothing brilliant, but new opportunities. Hanging on at Tavira felt good though, like the work had a higher purpose. I’m not averse to risk nor struggle and working on such a project was tantalising.

Mid-season a sponsor came along with the ‘old’ management and the new team was effectively killed off.

I continued to give everything in training and rocked up to the Volta a Portugal in the best condition I’d ever had.

I got in a break on the first day, reckoning that if I got given some margin as an early breakaway attempt I’d stand a chance at winning. That didn’t happen, but I won the combativity award.

Later that day, speaking on the ‘phone with my girlfriend she said she was filled with dread; she knew that kind of performance would not be well regarded – not from me anyway.

Tomás Swift-Metcalfe
On the Volta podium after Stage One.

I was worked over pretty good: With three climbers being protected, two new Angolan riders not being able to offer much help, another domestique being ill, the sprinter protected, it left me and another guy to do everything else… which is a lot over 11 days of racing.

This was both demoralising and what ultimately led to me getting sick on the last three days. I got the virus diagnosed myself after the Volta, and all of which – together with the huge saddle sore (which even left a scar) and the antibiotics – defined my performance.

Ironically, as I got weaker, I was shunned and ignored by ‘the group’. It was a weird and pointless reaction. Why would you react this way to someone who for six years has done nothing but their best for the team? This bad vibe however kind of made up my mind on two things: I didn’t want to race the Volta again and I didn’t want to continue racing under that management.

Anyway, after Volta, I started working hard at my business and turned away from cycling a little.

People have their faults and if I’m working for people I understand that we may not see eye to eye on many things; I presume people work for a mutual good, but that’s not the case.

People are emotional beasts and this means that logic is often set aside, good test results can be overlooked, potential ignored, whatever. It can extend even to the point where a certain person may be so unacceptable a winner that a team can be set against them. I am often dumbfounded at peoples’ choices.

If you’re young and want an adventure cycling offers a life experience better than any education you could possibly buy. Just not all of us can be Mark Cavendish… You’ve got to enjoy it for what it is.

Cyclist are vulnerable, impressionable young men. They want to go all-out, to win, to enjoy the ‘fight’ on the road. The doping problem, for example, does not reside with the cyclist, it resides with those that govern the sport. Even Armstrong was nothing more than an impressionable young man who played the field as he saw it.

When I came to cycling, yes I was that Anglo-Saxon with some higher education who would look elsewhere for performance gains. For about two years I was the only person wearing compression stockings and I was mocked.

I had done assessments of time trialling positions for about six years before a light went on in their heads and they thought ‘that’s a good idea’!

Triathlon, at least when I was doing it, was strongly disinclined from doping. And I had a very strong anti-doping mentality.

I see doping used as a tool of manipulation and of course profit, not for the cyclist but for teams, sponsors, anti-doping (lives very much in symbiosis with doping) and of course whoever provides it, but it’s not the only tool in the armoury of the corrupt.

I was earning something akin to pocket-money at my lowest ebb and it wasn’t much better for anyone in the peloton here. Yet the anti-doping authorities that control me and about 100 other people across athletics, cycling and rowing used 4.8 million euros to set up, three million a year to run a system, which won’t, for example, provide controlled conditions to collect sample.

Lance Armstrong was a direct influence on my decision to start cycling.

My mother died of cancer in 2004 and his achievements were hugely influential, both on me and on her. He was a fighter, a bully for sure, but a winner.

Someone who could achieve things despite so many people working against him. He gave us hope. The first bike race I ever watched was the Volta ao Algarve in 2004, because he was in it.

Five years later I was racing it myself. Ironically this force, this belief, that Lance Armstrong transmitted led me to the exact opposite reaction: To believe I could do it without doping. So we’ve learned he’s human after all and things aren’t so black and white.

At the top of the game, it seems that no matter who you are, you’re in the crosshairs of the naysayer. Frankly, whether team Sky ‘do something’ or not is irrelevant. We don’t know. You either like them or you don’t.

I remember Chris Froome doing a phenomenal British Championships at Abergavenny, chasing for ages and ages on the finish circuit. I was sure then he was the choice for a British Tour de France winner ‘within five years’,  not Wiggins.

I thought Wiggins had topped out with his 4th in 2008. In fact in my first ‘big race’ (Tour of Britain) we spent quite a lot of time in the grupetto together!

Anyway, I had a word with Chris, congratulated him on the best ride of the Championship. I identified with him, both being born to expatriate parents.

I dropped out of that race as the person who agreed to hand up bidons (it was hot) didn’t hand up a single one. It was disappointing after having made the selection on the large climb on the course. Brailsford was around and I stopped him to have a word and he indulged me. I was so nervous, I kind of wanted to say ‘hey look at me, I’m a new pro, and I’d like to at least be tested for your team!’ But of course I didn’t, just stuttered some bullshit.

One regret I do have is not to have ridden for a British team. I’d have enjoyed another crack at the Tour of Britain.

In 2008 when I did it, I was very nervous and inexperienced and despite making the break that was eventually to go on and win the race (a fantastic stage over Exmoor) I was knocked off. I was knocked off because the team manager gave me an order not to pull through and this was not to the liking of a couple of my breakaway companions.

I will admit, having it told to me that I didn’t have a berth on the team, five months after having made the decision for myself was a bit of a reality check hearing it for real.

I did spend a badly slept night. It been like breaking up from a bad romantic relationship. I’ve been remembering all the scenes, mostly places I’ve been to and raced in… It’s weird it wasn’t people or events going through my head, but scenery and places. I love cycling in new places, I love riding on the limit, I love the camaraderie and a positive team environment. I love cycling.

It’s not money or the management that make a team, it’s the cyclists. A team of weekend warriors could easily be a team of champions…

When I started road racing it was a training method for triathlon.

I had gone to my first team (Loulé) purely with the aim of  getting better in tri. I didn’t in my wildest dreams think I’d ever be a pro. I was a bit old when I started anyway (I was 21), but I had good numbers: 94 min/mlO2/kg, November 2005 and 530w and 91.8 in March 2006.

I came second to Rui Costa in my first race ‘en ligne’ – I’d raced the Mallory park Tuesday night 3rd and 4th cat crits twice before this and won one.

Tomás Swift-Metcalfe
First road race – see the old Shimano triathlon shoes.

I did a very solid first season but it ended with an accident that left me in a coma.

Two weeks out of the coma I was doing a physiological test with Tavira who had spoken with me about becoming pro, however two weeks out of a coma my number weren’t great (390w) and amazingly my situation wasn’t accounted for. In the week I spent in a coma I lost 7kgs and I hadn’t pedaled at all since. I deserved a medal for not dropping it at that point.

The coach at Tavira didn’t like the cut of my gib for some reason, I wasn’t given training programs through the year and was relegated to domestique, completely and utterly. I did a solid job and even won a mountain top finish in the home race of Valongo (recent winners of the Volta a Portugal) yet I wasn’t offered a contract. Amazingly another cyclist was. Another cyclist whom, it’s no lie to say, didn’t have the engine. My uncle for years had opened the possibility of sponsorship (actually back in my days doing triathlon) and I called upon this. Would he sponsor the team a bit at least enough I could ride? And he did. That little nudge got my foot in the door. Working tirelessly on the front of the peloton for six years kept me there.

In fact working on the front earned me ‘Domestique of the Year’ in 2011 – something I am quite proud of: if I wasn’t recognised by the people running the sport, I was recognised by my colleagues. That was the year we won the Volta with Ricardo Mestre and I had a notion that that was the zenith.

It became clear to me that my business is a factor in all this when it was suggested I stay connected to the club doing tours to benefit the club. It’s so unfortunate that this business I struggled to cold-start during a recession and that now is working beautifully should even be a point of interest. I’m not against constructive partnerships. I would love to remain connected to cycling. So in this game of musical chairs that I’ve been playing each pre-season for the past eight years, I’ve finally lost out, There’s no seat left for me.

My sporting aims now are to do Ironman to a high standard and in some way stay connected to cycling, who knows, perhaps work in some other role within cycling but for the time being I’m happy rebuilding my father’s studio and slogging away at SMS – and running ever faster.