Interview with Tom Gloag: Lockdown started my career… now I’m going to find out how good I can be
Fred, Ethan, Leo and Tom lived within a mile radius of south London. All different characters, all with their different strengths, they’ve been battling it out in fours, day after day, lap after lap, around the Herne Hill Velodrome for as long as they can remember.
Just three years separate the four, all of whom are part of the professional cycling peloton, making this part of the capital an unlikely conveyor belt for cycling talent.
The Hayter brothers – Ethan and Leo – are signed by the Ineos Grenadiers, while Fred Wright has been with Team Bahrain Victorious since 2020.
Tom Gloag is the latest to make a name for himself at Jumbo-Visma and is impressive enough to warrant a late call-up for the current Giro d’Italia after his teammate Jan Tratnik was hit by a car on the final practice ride before that race.
He was doing the laps over and over again at Herne Hill, was fast but was always being targeted by the rest of his quartet. What’s more, cycling, which began essentially as cheap childcare – £5 for five hours – during the summer holidays, was more for fun than pure competition.
An avid math and physics student with three stars and an A at A level, he was fascinated by the movie Moneyball and had ambitions to use math in a similar way.
Until things went uphill for him as a 17-year-old in a training camp in Spain and he left his roommates behind.
It is fitting that he has recovered from a Covid bout this season as the virus unknowingly acted as a stepping stone to success for him. Covid meant no A-levels – his grades were handed to him – so he packed his bags to test his hopes in the saddle in Europe.
“In some ways, 2020 has been a blessing,” he said. “I was made an unconditional offer to study maths and physics at Durham and cycling was always a second priority – that was on the line and I got pretty battered. But high school was cancelled, so I actually rode a bike for the first time.”
He lived in a village of 100 in a house with two Mexicans, with no WiFi and water that was either freezing cold or boiling hot, and he was fine.
The results were good straight away – he won his first four races – and then the realization came: “I’m not that bad at it.”
The teams started sniffing around, although he still wasn’t sure he wanted to take the professional bike route. He spoke to Ineos Grenadiers, among others, before signing with men’s cycling’s new dominant force, Jumbo-Visma, which has joined Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard, three-time Vuelta a Espana winner Primoz Roglic and the nine-time Tour -de France stage winners include winner Wout van Aert, who won the green jersey last year.
For him, Jumbo was a perfect fit and he’s quick to acquire the minds of his teammates, particularly Vingegaard, with whom he shares the same coach.
“I ask questions at every opportunity,” says Gloag. “And I learn best by hearing their stories. Often times the best way to learn is from the mistakes of others, and it’s better to hear it from the best in the world. They look so dominant in races, but then you realize they are human.”
The applause goes to the 21-year-old, who refreshingly has no idea how good he is or could be. The Giro was an eye opener. He started today’s stage in 104th place and has already vomited from the rigors of an earlier stage.
That he is at this point and doing his first major tour in Italy is surreal. He tells of his father growing up as a “mamil” triathlete (middle-aged man in lycra) who saw the Herne Hill Velodrome as both affordable childcare and a way to get his son off the PlayStation.
It turned out to be a masterpiece. Where it will lead Gloag is unclear. He has no idea if he will be a Grand Tour leader, a stage winner or a Super Domestique.
“What I do know is I’m not going to beat Cav [Mark Cavendish] in the sprint,” he says. “It all depends on my abilities and who I ultimately am. The beauty of this sport is seeing how far you can go. Right now I could be the best of what I am or I could be whatever. That’s the fun of finding out.”
And he, the Hayters and Wright still ride together whenever they can and occasionally enjoy, how surreal that four south London lads have made it to the top of cycling.
https://www.standard.co.uk/sport/cycling/tom-gloag-interview-cycling-giro-italy-b1081763.html Interview with Tom Gloag: Lockdown started my career… now I’m going to find out how good I can be