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‘Not everyone suffers as much as I do’: Matthew Richardson pushing cycling limits | Martin Pegan
Cycling Sport

‘Not everyone suffers as much as I do’: Matthew Richardson pushing cycling limits | Martin Pegan

Pain and suffering are so synonymous with cycling they are as much a cliché as a badge of honour. But for Matthew Richardson, pushing his body beyond its limits is more than just show, as the Australian track cyclist chases an elusive Olympic medal in a sport he says is “unmatched” for physical effort and exhaustion.

Richardson will be part of a men’s team sprint squad in Paris that is acutely aware of a different sort of suffering, with Australia finishing fourth in the event at the past five Games. Matthew Glaetzer and Leigh Hoffman will join Richardson in aiming to snap that streak of near misses in a team that is again one of Australia’s major medal hopes on the track.

The trio have the pedigree for success as well experience in breaking a run of results, combining to beat the Netherlands in the 2022 world championships final when the Dutch were hunting their fifth title in a row. The Netherlands edged Australia the following year in Glasgow, winning the gold medal race by 0.035 seconds.

Richardson expects the reigning Olympic champions to be Australia’s main threat again in Paris, though is more focused on the “100 per cent unfinished business” his own team has.

“There’s no tactics, there’s no messing around, it’s just you against the clock,” Richardson says. “The team sprint is always the priority for us if we’re fielding a strong team, which has been the case for the last five years or so.

“Five Olympic cycles is 20 years, so it has been a very, very long time. It’s a lot of different generations, different athletes coming through. But we are definitely looking to make amends this time.”

Matthew Richardson has been selected in Australia’s track and road cycling squad for the 2024 Paris Olympic GamesView image in fullscreen

The sprint powerhouse led out the team that finished fourth in Tokyo, during Richardson’s Olympics debut, as veteran Glaetzer fell off the pace at the start of the bronze medal race against France. Richardson has since moved to riding in second position, a change in strategy that has brought the team greater success as well as adding to his own training and physical loads.

While the lead rider in the team sprint needs to build momentum from a standing start, they pull away after the first lap of 250 metres with the second rider then taking charge. After the second lap, the last rider will then, as Richardson puts it, “basically just hang on for dear life until the end”.

“I ride double the distance now, so my training efforts have to be longer,” Richardson says. “We do four to five full gas efforts in a big training session, all 500 metres long, which are pretty brutal. That’s 30-something seconds of effort, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but how we are able to recruit absolutely everything out of our body is unmatched to any other sport.

Matthew Richardson receives medical treatment after the men’s keirin final race during the UCI Cycling World Championships in Glasgow in 2023View image in fullscreen

“Not everyone suffers as much as I do. I think I can find something extra, beyond what my body should be physically capable of achieving, and that’s where I can kind of just put myself into a hole. I’ve had instances where I actually wasn’t sure if my body was going to make it out of it.

“It’s a massive mental battle. I have to push my body through it, but I accept that to try and do great things in my sport. I don’t train this hard every single day of my life to shy away from the pain, I know that I’d regret it one day if I didn’t push myself to the absolute limit every single time.”

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Richardson sees the changes to his team sprint role and training regime since the Tokyo Olympics as a key reason for his emergence as a medal hope in the individual sprint, while also improving his results in the keirin. The 25-year-old won gold in the individual sprint and team sprint at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and was fourth in the keirin, though that meet did not include 13-time world champion Harrie Lavreysen and his Netherlands team.

Lavreysen won gold in the individual sprint in Tokyo and has all but dominated the event for the past five years. The 27-year-old will also be part of the Netherlands team sprint squad that will be looking to defend their Olympic crown.

Matthew Richardson celebrates after winning the Sprint Final during a UCI Track Champions League meet in November 2023View image in fullscreen

But Richardson is one of few riders to defeat Lavreysen since he started his stretch of five individual sprint world titles in 2019. The Australian beat the Dutch ace in the final of a track meet at the Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines velodrome, the Paris Olympics venue, in November last year.

“If you beat Harrie, you can beat anyone, it’s as simple as that,” Richardson says. “He’s a phenomenal bike rider. He’s the main target but there will be a few people I have to get through before I can get to him.

“Beating him was just a big light-switch moment in my head that, ‘all right, that actually can be done’. Now it’s just figuring out different ways to do that so I’m not just limited to one style of ride.”

Source: theguardian.com