ANGER drove Alex Dowsett to a gold medal in the men’s time trial yesterday. The Englishman spent the past month “fairly angry” at his omission from the Tour de France, but the same emotion didn’t work quite as well for Scotland’s David Millar, the defending champion, who was also furious at missing the Tour but could only manage eighth here.
There were no underlying problems, said Millar: “Just age.” In his final couple of seasons as a professional – he will retire at the end of the year – the 37-year-old has found that his time trialling ability has deteriorated. “It’s a young man’s game,” he said.
Dowsett, who won silver behind Millar in Delhi, is 25, and the winner of a time trial stage at last year’s Giro d’Italia. He built his season around making his Tour de France debut for his Spanish team, Movistar, and was left just as disappointed as Millar when he learned he would be staying at home in Essex – especially as stage three passed close to his house.
“It was a bitter disappointment not being selected for the Tour de France,” said Dowsett after beating Australia’s Rohan Dennis and Wales’s Geraint Thomas. “I spent the whole month fairly angry, not at anyone in particular, just angry at the situation… I was an arse to live with. I took it out on everyone, especially my family – they bore the brunt of it.
“The Commonwealth Games was a big target for me anyway but it suddenly became a huge target. It was my next focus and I really wanted to do something big after the disappointment of the Tour de France. I’ve always been the same, since I was a kid, I usually pull something fairly big out the bag when I’m really angry.
“That wasn’t easy, though,” he added of the 38.4km race against the clock. “I was getting time checks all the way round – I was two or three seconds up at the first, seven seconds at the second then down at the third checkpoint. I thought it was all over to be honest. I was struggling in the last 10k, but everyone was struggling. I can’t describe just how happy I am with that today. It goes a lot deeper than simply winning the gold medal of the Commonwealth Games.”
Dowsett described his success in Glasgow as bigger than his Giro stage win. “I think a lot of nations that aren’t in the Commonwealth don’t understand just how big the Commonwealths are. I didn’t give it the credit that was deserved before Delhi and that silver medal there proved to me just how massive the Commies are. This will be a career highlight for me, regardless of what I do from here on in.”
There are many reasons for Dowsett to celebrate his success, and as many for others to celebrate it, too. He is a haemophiliac, believed to be the only world class sportsman who has been diagnosed with this condition, as Dowsett was when he was 18 months old. He has injected himself with his medication since he was nine, doing so every day when he is racing because of the risk of crashing.
Injections are now banned in professional cycling, though Dowsett, of course, is exempt. But it can lead to some awkward moments, such as when a team-mate entered the hotel room they were sharing to discover Dowsett with a needle in his arm. “I explained,” Dowsett recalled later. “But it’s a tricky one. Is it something you cover up to avoid having to explain yourself, or put it out in the open?” He puts it out in the open as much as possible, founding a charity, Little Bleeders, that offers advice, guidance and support. He also tries to encourage other sufferers to follow his example and not be scared to do sport. One irony is that when he was a child he was discouraged from playing contact sports, which, indirectly, led him to take up cycling – potentially one of the most dangerous for someone whose blood doesn’t clot.
As Dowsett has explained: “When we told the doctors I’d taken up cycling they said, ‘Well, we’d rather you’d take up chess or a musical instrument, but if that’s what you want to do…’ I was 13. I’ve never been skiing, because of the risk of twisting an ankle or something and suffering internal bleeding. They said if I broke a bone I’d be a month in hospital. But I broke my shoulder blade in 2010 and I was back on the bike in a week.”
So Dowsett has had to cope with far worse than being snubbed for the Tour. But it still hurt. And also motivated him: “Those training sessions where you don’t feel like you’re quite on the money, normally I might bale and try again tomorrow, but I was really digging deep and trying to find that extra little bit. Everything’s just come together and I’ve really been able to channel the disappointment in the right way. I could’ve been sitting in my room utterly depressed for a whole month. I fought like I’ve never fought before. No-one wanted that more than me today. I had a point to prove.
“I know I was worthy of that Tour place. I was unlucky in when I got ill [the weekend before the Tour]. I don’t hold anything against my team for not taking me. If I was my team manager I would’ve probably not taken me as well.”
Millar, meanwhile, had not been confident of winning a medal, and he was satisfied with eighth. “It was incredible,” he said, “it was like a Tour de France stage out there with the number of people. There were moments out there where it was deep with people. I was very proud. It was just blurs and Saltires; it was quite strange seeing so many Scottish flags out there. But you can’t really enjoy anything in a time trial, it’s a horrible place.”
He expects Sunday to be the same in terms of the crowd, but the road race to be a different experience. “You have time to soak it up. Having the home crowd on Sunday is going to make a big difference.”