As he enjoys the benefits of his extended break from cycling, it is impossible to say for certain whether Callum Skinner will still be racing competitively aged 30 come 2023. In fact, given his coy teasing about a personal announcement at some point in the next few weeks, you begin to wonder just what might be next for the Olympic gold and silver medallist.
Still, whether he will be personally competing or not, there was no doubting Skinner’s enthusiasm yesterday as Glasgow was announced as the first host of a combined cycling world championships in four years’ time.
Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) president David Lappartient had made a manifesto commitment to bring the existing 13 world events – currently all held in different cities at different times – together to create one “mega event” in the same country, and was inside the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome to make good on that promise. Scotland may not be the world’s best when it comes to winning major sporting events but we are getting rather good at hosting them.
“I knew it was in David’s manifesto to bring the events together but things tend to move slowly in sports governance,” said Skinner. “The fact this is coming up in four years’ time, then, is a really good endorsement of the UCI and its ability to adapt to the times to hopefully pull in a new younger audience.
“The world championships is a fantastic event – with that iconic rainbow jersey for all the different winners – so to have it all in the one city, in the one country, makes a lot of sense.”
Skinner is enjoying the freedom of spending time away from his training base in Manchester, even mixing with Gregor Townsend and the Scotland rugby team earlier this week to try to learn something from their methods and preparation.
“Part of the break was just a chance to go out and get some fresh ideas,” he revealed. “It’s something both Jason Kenny and Victoria Pendleton did before as well. I was fortunate to spend time at the beginning of the week with the Scottish rugby team. That’s what I’ve been doing, seeing if I can refresh that Manchester environment a little bit. If you’re going to a second or third Olympic Games, you need something new to keep having that edge as the young ones are coming up fast.”
Skinner has found his voice in recent times, speaking eloquently and passionately on a number of subjects including athlete welfare and representation, WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and its softly-softly treatment of Russia, and even Brexit. Hours before he arrived in Glasgow to support the cycling launch, news broke that the International Paralympic Committee was lifting its 2016-imposed suspension of the Russian Paralympic team. With WADA still poring over data and samples finally gained from Moscow laboratories, Skinner is determined to make sure athletes are part of the conversation.
“WADA and Russia – it’s a bit like Brexit isn’t it?” he mused. “Everyone needs to compromise and nobody is really happy. But I’m going to keep pushing the mantra of trying to boost athlete representation. What’s been really disappointing throughout the whole WADA saga is that athlete voices have been treated with disdain. And that’s very damaging. We need to have an open forum for all.”
Skinner has grown increasingly frustrated by WADA president Sir Craig Reedie’s attempts to deal effectively with Russia, and had thrown his weight behind vice-president Linda Helleland’scampaign to succeed theveteran Scot.
“Linda came to the White House with us for the emergency summit. She cherishes the athlete’s voice in a way that is unique. Thomas Bach (International Olympic Committee president), Craig Reedie, left, and Olivier Niggli (WADA director general) don’t want to hear it. In anti-doping matters, we’re the biggest and most vulnerable stakeholders and our voices should be heard.
“Craig and I have had professional differences. But our mantra on the whole Russia scandal has been that it’s such a clear-cut prolific case that if we can’t get our act together on this one how can we go after the more marginal cases? We need a strong WADA that takes these issues seriously.”