Chris Hoy on Commonwealth Games memories, Richard Moore's legacy and why Edinburgh needs a velodrome

The new marker for ageing isn’t policemen looking younger. It’s realising Sir Chris Hoy has been retired for nearly ten years. How on earth did that happen?

It will be a decade next April since he called a press conference at Murrayfield stadium to draw a line under a glorious career after six Olympic gold medals, two Commonwealth Games golds, 11 track world titles while not forgetting the knighthood and multiple other awards. He’s since occupied himself in a variety of ways, including writing Flying Fergus children’s books and competing at Le Mans.

“I am just glad I am still busy ten years on and that people are still interested in hearing me prattle on about riding a bike 20 years ago,” he says. “It is lovely there is still a connection to the sport and I’m still involved. I can still feel part of the cycling community and I can see it thriving.”

Far from prattling on, as he self-deprecatingly describes it, he will be providing expertise during television coverage of the XXII Commonwealth Games, which begin in Birmingham on Thursday. Hoy has high hopes for the current generation of Scottish cyclists.

He is cheered to see so many talented riders “who are capable of winning medals” taking over the mantle from him and his peers. Hoy mentions Jack Carlin, Neah Evans, John Archibald and Neil Fachie, the para-cycling phenomenon from Aberdeen who is preparing to compete at his fourth Commonwealth Games.

“It is worth talking about him,” says Hoy. “Scotland’s greatest or certainly most successful Commonwealth Games athlete, he gets a passing mention in most places.

“He is with (pilot) Lewis Stewart on the tandem. Again he is one of these amazing athletes who gets on with his job and doesn’t make a big fuss out of it.”

Hoy’s first experience of the Commonwealth Games was in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur. He was still a student at the time and turned up with his own bike. It’s not true to say he didn’t have hopes of winning – in his ignorance, he just didn’t know what to expect. Cycling was a truly amateur endeavour in those days.

Sir Chris Hoy viewed the introduction of National Lottery funding for cycling as a game-changer. (Photo by Euan Cherry/Getty Images for The National Lottery)

He was given a rude awakening, finishing ninth in both the kilo and sprint. How did he feel on the return flight home? “Hungover!” he says.

He was also demoralised. He realised something would have to change if he was to become a contender. Somewhat serendipitously, National Lottery funding for sport came in months later.

This development proved a game changer. “In the space of four years, I was on the top step of the podium at the kilo breaking the Commonwealth record,” he says. “Money doesn’t buy you a gold medal, but it gives you an opportunity. It puts the building blocks in place. I felt like I was in a level playing field against the big boys.” As many as 1100 elite athletes have been supported on UK Sport’s National Lottery funded World Class programme.

Can it really have been as many as 16 years since Hoy himself pulled on a Scotland skin suit? It seems so. He skipped Delhi in 2010 because he feared taking part might compromise his Olympics training programme while Glasgow in 2014 came just too late.

Chris Hoy at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Homecoming Celebration Parade through Glasgow.

He won gold in the team sprint with Craig MacLean and Ross Edgar in Melbourne in 2006 but considers Manchester four years earlier, when he earned a bronze in the team sprint and, crucially, gold in the kilo, as his breakthrough competition.

“I had not won a medal for Scotland so this was a big deal,” he says. “And also doing so individually. I had only won medals internationally as part of a team sprint with Craig and Jason (Queally), so this was my chance to stand up and be counted on my own.”

It is one of the quirks of the Commonwealth Games that Queally went from teammate to rival, from British compatriot to English adversary. An interview on YouTube from Melbourne in 2006 displays the natural bonhomie existing between the very young-looking pair.

It was unaffected by the Scot's narrow triumph at the kilo in Manchester four years earlier. Indeed, Queally was first to congratulate him. "Jason was the reigning Olympic champion, he was the home favourite and he was also my teammate and mentor," Hoy recalls. "He was helping me.

Jason Queally of England (Silver) Chris Hoy of Scotland (Gold) and Jamie Staff of England (Bronze) after the Men's 1000m time trail final at the National Cycling centre during the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England on July 28, 2002. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

“He knew I was a rival, but he still helped me all the way up to the day and I beat him by a tenth of a second or whatever it was. He was the first person to come over and congratulate me – and sincerely as well.

“I remember thinking, if I am ever in the position as the older rider, I have to be gracious and as decent a human being as Jason was to me.”

Retirement has not dimmed their friendship. They were together as recently as last weekend in Dumfries and Galloway at an exclusive cycling weekend event on which celebrity chef Tom Kitchin provided the high-class nourishment, which was required when trying to keep up with Queally and Hoy, even so long after their pomp. “We had a fireside chat together, which was lovely,” says Hoy.

Now 46, he relishes these opportunities to catch up with old pals. The cycling community is a close one. Although the sport is now firmly in the limelight, thanks largely to the efforts of those such as Hoy et al, there was a time when its existence on the margins meant an even tighter bond existed between riders.

The news therefore that sportswriter Richard Moore, Hoy’s great friend and teammate in Kuala Lumpur in 1998, had passed away suddenly in March when just 48-years-old left him and many others completely shattered.

It’s a difficult subject to broach via a Zoom call that’s intended to focus on the buzz of the forthcoming sporting festival taking place in Birmingham. But it’s also impossible to leave it unaddressed, particularly given Moore's role as Hoy’s ghostwriter for his well-received autobiography, first published in 2009.

Scotland's Chris Hoy, left, celebrates after winning the cycling track men's team sprint final at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, March 19, 2006. At background is his teammate Craig Maclean. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

It takes special trust to place one’s story in someone else’s hands and Moore did an expert job. Now Hoy is seeking to repay his – our – friend by relaying his qualities and underlining the legacy left.

There remains an ongoing sense of disbelief. Moore's absence will be as profoundly felt in the media areas in Birmingham as it has been over the last three weeks at the Tour de France.

“I think about Richard a lot,” he says. “Then I catch myself. You keep forgetting he is not here. That’s the hard part.

“And you say, ‘oh shit, yeah’. It was such a shock. I called a few people when I got the news. They were the same: ‘No that can’t be right, he is just so full of life. I only saw him last week’.

“What a legacy he left behind,” he continues. “And we have all these amazing books that he has written that you can relive and feel you are still close to him. And you can hear his voice.”

Moore pursued a career in journalism after Kuala Lumpur while Hoy, now supported by National Lottery funding, pushed on to the Olympics in Athens, winning silver alongside Queally and fellow Scot MacLean in the team sprint.

“He (Moore) was the first person to interview me and Craig together for Cycling Weekly round at his mum and dad’s house," he continues. "He was there with me as a teammate and as a journalist my whole career. He would be the first person that you’d speak to after a race. You can’t imagine that he won’t ever not be around. It makes you appreciate what you have right now.”

Both Hoy and Moore are from the same area of Edinburgh. Meadowbank featured in their childhoods both as a venue for the 1986 Commonwealth Games as well as location for the much-missed velodrome, which was built for the 1970 Games but demolished four years ago. While the sports centre officially reopened last week there is no cycling facility, much to Hoy’s regret.

“It still makes me sad thinking about the velodrome there,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong, it is wonderful and surreal to have this multi-million pound all-singing, all dancing facility in Glasgow with my name on the side of it. It makes me so proud.

"But we fought so hard and so long to try and get a roof over the velodrome in Edinburgh at Meadowbank, it was hard to see it getting demolished. As intensely proud as I am to have my name on the building in Glasgow, it would still be amazing to have a facility in Edinburgh too.

“I would not expect them to spend tens of millions of pounds or something but just a track in a shed on the east coast would allow the great tradition of clubs like the City of Edinburgh Racing Club and Dunedin Cycle Club, all these teams that have produced such great athletes over the years, to continue.”

He is not hopeful about the situation changing anytime soon. “They would just go: ‘ah well, there’s a velodrome in Glasgow...’ That’s fine if you are into the sport already you will jump into a car or train and get across to Glasgow in an hour. But if you are 12 years of age like I was and want to go somewhere nearby, just on a whim, it’s not so easy.

“If you are serious you will travel, but in terms of grassroots involvement, it’s a shame. Equally, it's wonderful that we now have an indoor facility in Scotland and we're able to host proper international competitions like the World Championships next year."

Hoy seems concerned he could be perceived as being greedy. But as a winner, isn't it only natural to want more?

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Cyclists Chris Hoy (left) and Craig MacLean fly the flag for Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.
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