Thursday, July 25, 2024

Matt Walls – “I just want to see what I can do on the road”

Concentrating on his sprinting on the road with World Tour team Groupama-FDJ, the Olympic Omnium Champion won't be defending his title in Paris this summer.

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HomeInterviewsMatt Walls - "I just want to see what I can do...

World Tour team Groupama-FDJ rider Matt Walls hasn’t had the best of luck for the last few seasons; he’s had more than his fair share of crashes, cutting-up hands, skinning arms and legs, breaking his hip in a training crash, and suffering serious concussion after his terrible tumble into the velodrome stand at the Commonwealth Games.

Despite all this misfortune the courageous 26-year old Englishman is carving out a good career on the road, undaunted, and recently showed a welcome return to form with a solid ninth place at the brutal British Road Race Championships at Saltburn, preceded by a superb bit of team riding in Darlington in the National Circuit Championships where team mate Lewis Askey won solo and Walls secured second place in the bunch gallop.

Walls has formally enjoyed a particularly impressive career on the track, winning National Team Pursuit, Omnium and Madison championships, as well as European Elimination, Madison and Omnium titles, culminating in his Olympic Omnium title, all whilst maturing through the British Cycling system.

During our recent interview with Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), Fred mentioned that we should speak to Matt Walls next; as a reigning Olympic Champion he was ‘due a good chat’, and so we duly obliged.

Matt Walls during the 2024 National Circuit Championships, where he finished second. Photo©British Cycling

⁠How did you get into cycling Matt? You did a bit of MTB as a youngster with your dad?

Yes, that’s right, I got into it by doing mountain bike with my dad when I was younger, all around Saddleworth.

“I think I was about eight or nine when I first went on the velodrome and I enjoyed it enough to join the local team and it kind of went from there.”

And you competed in triathlon too at that time? How was your swimming back then?

“I did some triathlons when I was school, basically towards the end of primary school and the beginning of secondary school.

“My swimming was actually all right because at that time I was doing quite a lot of sports, and I was swimming quite a bit as well.

“I was also running, cycling, playing football and rugby; I was doing quite a lot of things at that time!”

In 2016 you were a Junior, racing with Velocity Globalbike in decent events, then moving to our pal Flavio Zappi’s team? Zappi would get you into some good races?

“I rode for Velocity when I was a junior, it was a good team and we had some great sponsors, it was good fun.

“To be honest, I don’t particularly remember much about it, it was a while ago, now!

“I didn’t ride much for Zappi’s team; I think I did maybe one race with them [as a guest] but I never actually raced for that team.”

Matt Walls
A youthful Matt Walls at the track in 2018. Walls was fortunate to be selected for all the British Cycling squads from the age of 15. Photo©unknown

You also got some Team GB selections that year

“I was doing both the track and road racing although at that point (through the Junior category) I was probably doing better on the track than I was on the road.”

2017,18 and 19, racing with Team GB in some big races, gaining good experience?

“Yes, for sure, and I could feel myself going more towards the track endurance races and certainly being more of a sprinter on the road.”

Matt Walls
Matt Walls after the 2019 World U23 Road Race Championships in Harrogate. Photo©Martin Williamson

In 2019 you were offered a stagiaire place with EF. Did you think a contract would result or were you thinking it was just good exposure, an opportunity to experience top flight racing?

“Yes, I managed to get a stagiaire with EF and I was hoping for a contract after that, but it didn’t work out…”

Matt Walls
Despite performing well as a stagiaire with EF in 2019, there was no contract at the end of it for Matt Walls. Photo©supplied

You’re listed with the Trinity Racing in 2020 – what was the thinking behind signing with them – and did you actually get any racing done?

“It was into 2020 when Covid happened – I didn’t race with Trinity throughout that entire year!

“It was a good race program and that was the idea behind the move, but I didn’t even end up racing for them.”

That year you were selected for Team GB again, and you won double European Championships in the De’il (sorry, Elimination!) and the Omnium, and then a Bronze at the Worlds in the Omnium…

“When I got bronze in the Omnium at Worlds I could see myself being good at that event, I was getting some good results and going really well on the track at that point.”

You were picked up by Bora in 2021 and stayed with them for three seasons. You must have felt ‘this is the start of Big Things’? Can you share how that came about, was it through your agent, Andrew McQuad?

“Yeah, I joined Bora, signing for three years and it was thanks to Andrew that I was able to sort it all out.

“It was a really good way to start off my pro career.”

Matt Walls
Matt Walls was with Bora-hansgrohe for three seasons. Photo©supplied

Did you start with Bora as a ‘protégé sprinter’?

“Yep, they signed me as a sprinter, that was the idea.

“But for the first year I was obviously focusing on Olympics… it was really good preparation, with all the racing and experience, everything kind of stepped up, so that put me in really good shape for the Games.”

Riding in Bora with Peter Sagan must have been special, what was that like, did you gel with him, learn lots?

“I never actually spent much time with Peter!

“I was with him at the training camps but I never did a race with him, which was a shame, but that was just how things worked out.”

Matt Walls
Matt Walls, Olympic Champion! Photo©supplied

Your Olympic Gold in the Omnium was a dominant performance. Do you see it as a career defining moment?

“Yeah, getting Gold in the Olympic Omnium was, well, it was crazy, to be honest!

“It’s something you picture as a kid when you’re growing up, racing on the track and watching all the guys in the previous Olympics winning so much.

“It’s a cliché but it really is ‘a dream come true’.”

And a Silver with Ethan Hayter in the Madison as well, made it a great Olympics for you.

“Silver in the Madison was really great.

“Obviously we were hoping for Gold, but we were still very happy with the Silver.

“So yeah, it turned out to be a really good Olympics even with all the things that that wen