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Matt Talbot was born in Britain and grew up in New Zealand. He now works in London as a creative director for a prominent digital media agency. A tremendous natural talent, he rode for the Rapha Condor team in 2007 and has plans to compete at a high level again. He is 34 years old.
“My Dad was completely against me cycling. I remember him holding up a pair of my cycling shorts he’d found in the wash as if it was a pair of women’s underwear. I did lots of competitive sport at school and even rowed for New Zealand. Then, in 1991, I rode in the criterium race at the national secondary school championships. I had to borrow my Dad’s bike – and I had hairy legs – but I was first across the line. It was the last properly competitive race I rode for 13 years. What did I do after that? Cigarettes. A packet of Drum a day.
I took up cycling again at university, in Dunedin, as an alternative to smoking. I bought a bike with a student loan and it cost a lot of money. It turned out to be a dud; the owner had crashed it and it wouldn’t ride in a straight line. I couldn’t afford another one. There were a lot of good riders in New Zealand at the time, people like Greg Henderson, who of course now rides for T-Mobile. That was a bit of a regret, missing the opportunity to ride with guys like that when I was younger.
When my career outside riding began to take off, I knew I still had plenty of ability. I started training again seriously in the January of 2004, with no greater aspirations other than to ride at Eastway, like Dominique. Then I started to win races and found I could ride off the front of the pack easily. From that point racing became something of an obsession. I rode my first Premier Calendar event in 2005, the Rutland-Melton. It’s the UK version of Paris-Roubaix, ridden across rough roads and it’s bloody tough. I got fifth and it felt phenomenal.
In my opinion, you can reach the top in the UK, or at least come close, while holding down a full-time job. It takes dedication and planning but it is possible. Ideally, you’ve got to start young but my riding ambitions are something I think about a lot. I used to work 36 hours a week and train for 23 hours a week on top of that. I did some fitness testing with the doctors at Rabobank and I know my results were on a par with some of their riders. When I’m in a race with good riders I know I can hold my own; I can stay with the best of them for 200km. It definitely gives me some satisfaction. I don’t harbour any disappointment whatsoever about not having taken a pro career further than I have and I certainly think there’s more I could achieve.
I’m heading to Sydney for a few months next March, so for now all my focus is on work. When I get to Australia, there’s an early morning social riding scene I want to get into. I need to get better at riding for enjoyment and shelving my competitive instincts. In 2007, I was third in the Tour of Wellington, which I entered as a complete unknown. A series of races similar to Britain’s Premier Calendar has just been introduced so I’m hoping New Zealand will see a resurgence like that seen in the UK. If it happens, I’d like to be a part of it and I’d love a stab at the New Zealand national championships.