Sir Chris Hoy is on a tour bus parked outside Glasgow City Chambers, doing his best to promote both cycling and Glasgow ahead of next week’s European Championships, but his flow is interrupted by some nutter on two wheels, screaming obscenities at an unidentified target.
“Cyclists, eh?” laughs one of the most famous exponents of the art in Britain and a recognised ambassador for the sport around the globe. “Where’s his helmet?” He asks, immediately clocking a problem that extends beyond the colourful vocabulary. “Oh, and now he’s gone through a red light! Yeah, welcome to Glasgow, people!”
It is the kind of behaviour that considerate cycling aficionados despair of and far removed from the warm and friendly image portrayed by the city when it last hosted a multi-sport event, in 2014.
The legacy of those Commonwealth Games has been the return of major tournaments, of which the inaugural European Championships are simply the latest. And legacy is something Hoy is part of. The velodrome that bears his name will host the track cycling events and one of the main homegrown medal hopes, Jack Carlin, cites him as his inspiration.
“It would be lovely if that was the case. I have been so impressed by Jack,” said Hoy.
Ahead of the Commonwealth Games the Paisley youngster shunned chat that he could be Scotland’s successor to the knighted six-time Olympic gold medallist but his hero is not so coy about the 21-year-old rider’s prospects.
Following up his World Championship sprint silver with another medal of a similar hue at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, the quality of his displays impressed Hoy, who is now tipping him for even greater accomplishments.
“There are so many talented young riders coming through [the GB ranks] and for him to shine in that group, that’s not easy. There are six of them now, including Callum Skinner, Jason Kenny, Joe Truman, Ryan Owens, Phil Hindes, they have all won major championships and have all been successful but, this season, Jack seems to have just stepped up another level. He seems to have the ability and the mindset to just go out there and not take reputation into account. He goes out to race his race, no matter who he is racing, and control the race.
“The World Championships were so impressive and for him to make the final against Matt Glaetzer, who is on fire at the moment, but then to make the final of the keirin and do really well in the team sprint and maintain those levels at the Commonwealths…
There was a risk that he could be pigeonholed as the team sprint starter, and pushed into a very specialised role but I was really pleased to see him diversifying. He has risen to every challenge and he is very mature mentally in the way he deals with the racing. He is very focused, not overawed by anything and the more I talk about him the more I think it is adding to the expectation levels and building the pressure but I do feel he is definitely one to look for and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him having huge success in the future.”
But in another golden age for British cycling, Carlin is not the only one. Neah Evans, Mark Stewart and John Archibald all earned his respect at the Commonwealth Games, while Hoy refers to Katie Archibald as “a mainstay” and a gold medal “banker”.
As someone who worked hard to get to the top and succeeded in prolonging his stay in the highest echelons long enough to medal at four successive Olympics, Hoy says so much of the success comes down to mindset.
“Some athletes are overawed by the big stage and the closer they come to a big race the more nervous they become but with the likes of Jack, it seems that the bigger the race the more it draws the best out of him.”
Training with the likes of Jason and Laura Kenny, and being part of a GB programme which boasts strength in depth and consequently demands success, will have helped condition that attitude, though.
“When we first started out we felt like we were a Z-list nation in track cycling terms and we were maybe wondering if we had a chance but as time has gone by we have grown in stature as individuals and as a cycling nation and by London 2012 it was felt that anyone who threw on a GB jersey, the rest of the world looked at them as potential gold medallists. When you are part of a system where the expectation is that you are there to win medals then young riders don’t question that.”
The GB squad has undoubtedly been bolstered by the return of Jason and Laura Kenny, who Hoy describes as “incredible”. “They already have 10 Olympic gold medals between them but now they have wee baby Albie. That makes it even more challenging. But you wouldn’t bet against them in Tokyo. Laura is just a machine and she could win three gold medals there.”
But to get to those 2020 Olympics, every rider needs to start picking up qualifying points. Glasgow 2018 represents the first chance to do that. Although there will be no Australians or New Zealanders, who denied Carlin his individual gold at the Worlds and Commonwealths respectively, the big threat will come from the Dutch.
“But this is a really strong GB team,” warns Hoy. “It is a huge squad, with all our Olympic probables and they will want to lay down a marker and be the top nation.”
In front of an enthusiastic and fair home crowd, the cyclists will remind everyone of the sports’ best side.