Hoy: After every session I'm helped off the bike … the pain is unimaginable
21:48 GMT, 21 April 2012
Sir Chris Hoy does not mince his words.
'It's the worst pain imaginable,' he says. 'You feel as if you are dying. You're physically sick and you writhe around on a mat in a world of pain until you can form a foetal position, which you stay in for 15 minutes thinking you can't go on.'
But, of course, Hoy will go on. And before the Olympic Games begin in London this summer, he will endure the pain on a weekly basis, pushing himself to the limit – and beyond – as he trains at the English Institute of Sport just across the road from the Manchester velodrome that has become his second home.
Still got it: Chris Hoy (centre) with his World Championship gold medal
Hoy may have four Olympic gold medals, including an incredible hat-trick four years ago in Beijing, but at 36 the body and the demands of his sport care nothing for reputations and past achievements.
So as he prepares for his bid to add yet more medals to his collection, he must face eight more sessions of interval training, all undertaken on a stationary bike and all expected to cause him the discomfort that any athlete who wishes to become an Olympic champion must confront.'
The lactic acid builds up in your legs until, in the final minute or so, your muscles begin to shut down,' says Hoy. 'When the session is over, people have to unclip me from the bike, ease me out of the saddle and lay me down on a padded mat.
Good Hoy: Sir Chirs celebrates his victory in the World Championship Keirin
'If it is painful during the interval session, it is nothing compared with the pain that immediately follows when you end the training.
'Every time, you think it's worse than ever. Every time, you convince yourself that something's wrong, you must have a virus, or you're ill, or something. You have pretty much decided you're not going to do it again – ever. Then after 15 minutes, almost to the second, the pain subsides, you sit up, start talking and get on with it.'
This is how it will be until just a few weeks before the Games begin. This is how it has always been.
At 32, Hoy defied the traditions of sport by winning golds in the men's sprint, team sprint and keirin inside the Laoshan Velodrome in Beijing in 2008, picked up the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award that December, and followed that by being knighted.
Already considered old for his sport, and with four golds and a silver medal as well as 11 world titles, it seemed the ideal time to retire.
Maybe he would have done if the Olympics were being staged anywhere else, but London had been in his sights even before his triumph in Beijing.
'I was on the stage in Trafalgar Square in 2005 when the IOC announced that London had got the 2012 Games,' says Hoy. 'Now that was seven years ago, when I was 29 and already veering towards middle age in track cycling terms. Anything could have happened since then. But on that day, on that stage, there was no doubt in my mind I'd be in London.
Outrageous manouvre: Sir Chris Hoy beats Maximilian Levy in the Keirin final
'What then clinched it after Beijing was my reaction. Don't get me wrong, all the awards and the plaudits, the knighthood, it was all incredible and hugely exciting, but it was also a fantasy land, one far removed from my real life.
'I was commentating on TV at a World Cup event in 2009 and realised how much I hated watching my team-mates and rivals competing while I was on the outside. I realised that all I really wanted to do was get back on my bike.'
Hoy then provides a third reason for putting himself through the pain again, three times a day, six days a week.
'I've never said this before, but I see it as a matter of honour that I defend my titles and give people the chance to beat me,' he says. 'The alternative is to win and then simply run for the hills. I don't like to do things that way.'
And so Hoy climbed back on to his bike, and promptly fell off it again in a crash in Copenhagen that put paid to the rest of 2009, before picking up an assortment of medals at the 2010, 2011 and 2012 World Championships, the most recent in Melbourne two weeks ago when he and his team-mates were disqualified in the team sprint, and he took bronze in the individual sprint and gold in the keirin.
Crashing out: Chris Hoy's accident in 2009 put him out for the season
Throughout this time, Hoy's 'failure' to emulate his Beijing feats has prompted comments concerning his waning powers connected, naturally, to his advancing years.
'To the outsider, what we achieved in Beijing probably looked easy,' he says. 'We turned up and won. It was simple as that. Seven golds in 10 track events. Of course, it wasn't easy. It was the culmination of an incredible amount of work. I aim to win every race I compete in, but it's impossible to do so. You just can't keep up the level of performance witnessed in Beijing for four years.
'I also noticed a change in my opponents' approach to me in races post-Beijing. Suddenly, they were trying new tactics that veered away from tradition. They knew they didn't have the horsepower to beat me in normal racing circumstances, so they tried different strategies.
'Of course, I didn't want to be beaten at all over the past few years, although I have consistently been picking up global medals. In track cycling, though, you're ultimately judged on your Olympic performances. That's all that matters.'
Still, it was good to finish the recent World Championships on a high with a keirin gold achieved with an outrageous, last-gasp manoeuvre after the disappointment of losing out to team-mate Jason Kenny in the individual sprint semi-finals, a defeat that has presented British cycling with a nasty selection dilemma concerning the one spot available for the event at the Olympics.
On a high: Chris Hoy celebrates with his family after his World Championship win
'With 50 metres to go, you wouldn't have put a penny on me winning that keirin,' says Hoy. 'I went for a gap that wasn't there but I hoped would open up for me. It did. It doesn't have too much relevance concerning what happens in London. It's another race. But at least it reminded people that when I'm in a corner I come out fighting.'
Will it be enough to be selected in all three events again His places in the team sprint and the keirin are all but assured, but in the individual sprint, Kenny, the man Hoy beat in the 2008 Olympic final, has a big claim, too.
'I don't know for a fact that I've been selected for anything yet,' says Hoy. 'I'd be a little surprised if I didn't make the team sprint and the keirin, though. As for the individual sprint, it's a tough one. My hunch is they'll leave the decision until much closer to the Games.
Golden Hoy: Sir Chris with his Beijing Olympic medals
'After all, on the form of Jason in the 2008 worlds he may not have been picked for Beijing in the team sprint, but by the time the Games came round he was in good enough form to help us win team sprint gold and lose in the individual sprint final to me.
'It might make sense to see how we're performing in a few weeks' time. But whoever they pick, don't be surprised to see him standing at the top of the medals podium.'
Whether he competes in two or three
events, Hoy has the chance to overhaul Sir Steve Redgrave's medal tally
of five golds and a bronze, a collection that makes the rower Britain's
most successful Olympian.
Hoy, who rowed for Scotland as a junior, admits that Redgrave was one of his heroes.
'For a time I took my rowing as seriously as my cycling and that meant Steve was the man,' he says. 'Even if I won three golds in London, to take my tally up to seven, would that really diminish what he achieved No, it would not. Steve still is a total hero of mine.'
Good memories: And Chris Hoy will be hoping history repeats itself in London
Like Redgrave, Hoy remains ultra-confident, despite recent results suggesting he is far from unbeatable. His reasons are threefold, beginning with his stunning performance inside the new London Velodrome at the World Cup event staged there in February.
'I was back to my old self,' he
says. 'The crowd was the nosiest I'd ever heard inside a velodrome, and
it wasn't even the Olympics. In the sprints and keirin you hear the
volume of support go up whenever you make a move. It definitely helps.
'I know if I'm in good shape and in the right frame of mind I'll still
beat anybody. Does this mean I believe I can win three gold medals
'Yes, it does. I
achieved my lifetime ambition of becoming an Olympic champion in 2004.
My next dream was to become a triple Olympic champion and I achieved
that in 2008. Now I have another dream – to become a champion in front
of a home crowd.'
And what happens then
'Well, I won't do a Redgrave,' he says. 'I won't ask to be shot if I get back on a bike. I'll see how I feel after a few weeks away.'
Astonishingly, Hoy may be prepared to put himself through further pain to compete in Glasgow's Commonwealth Games in 2014, when the cycling will be staged at the velodrome which bears his name.
'I'll be 38 and it will mean two years more of training,' he admits. 'But then I've never competed in an international event in Scotland.'
The rationale says everything about Hoy's obsession with his sport – and his willingness to punish himself in the pursuit of glory.
Sir Chris Hoy supports Sky Ride, a national campaign from British Cycling and Sky to get more people cycling regularly. Everyone's invited to get on their bikes this summer with their friends and family. www.goskyride.com