“Gareth, I wish I was as skinny as you. ”
Being called ‘skinny’ is only considered a compliment in high fashion and road cycling. If you eavesdrop on a bunch of high-level cyclists sipping black coffee in a cafe, you could mistake them for fashion models. Otherwise, to call someone ‘skinny’ is a negative judgment, especially for a man.
Why do cyclists and models obsess about weight? Image and culture? I believe we are making progress in supporting healthy humans in this new world, but we’re not there, yet.
In cycling, we have an obsession with power to weight ratio. High power output + low mass = fast cyclist (up a hill). We’re led to believe that lighter is better, but there is a point where you become too light, from my personal experience.
All my cycling friends complimented my skinny frame. Non-cyclists told me to, “go and eat a burger” – but their opinion was irrelevant to me. ‘Normal people’ don’t understand what it takes to be a fast road cyclist (neither did I, frankly).
In 2013, I was quite bulky and muscular (90kg @ 178cm). I have always loved cycling and grew up in a family of old-school roadies, but work had overtaken my life – 12hr shifts, overeating, poor sleep. I chose to blow off steam by lifting weights because it was easier than cycling. My 10km commute to work was enough to label myself a cyclist.
Back then, I was at Sky News, where I covered the London 2012 Olympics and Britains first Tour de France Champion. Afterwards, I steered my career to work with our cycling sponsorship team. Being surrounded by world-class cyclists, such as Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Joanna Rowsell, Laura Trott, Geraint Thomas, etc. had a real effect on me. I was inspired to ride my bike further and faster.
By 2017 I was flying. I had carved away all of my body fat and retained lots of muscle. I was invited to cycling events worldwide. Brands wanted to photograph me in their products. I was the archetype cyclist, and people looked up to me.
I stepped on the scales every day, and the number kept going down. It felt great. The lighter I got, the more I was respected and complimented.
Eventually, I became too light. My quest to become lighter became unsustainable. My relationship with food began to become negative. I would ride on an empty stomach and count the calories burnt to measure success, rather than power, distance or speed.
My friends stopped inviting me on rides. Perhaps I was poor company? Maybe I was an arsehole on purpose, so they would stop asking me? This way, I could ride alone and hide from the fact I was becoming weaker and slower.
Brands stopped inviting me to events. I felt excluded, which fuelled my determination to become skinnier and prove that I had what it takes to be a professional – to have a BMI that would make Chris Froome look like the Michelin Man. I’ll show you all.
Then I had a wake-up call from Darren Lee (cycling coach and founder of CicloZone). Darren came to Sky in January 2020 to set up the spin class studio in our gym. Darren has an infectious enthusiasm and our love for cycling connected us, instantly.
Darren had us set-up and pedalling in no time. After a brief warm-up, he encouraged me to do an FTP Test.
The last time I performed a 20min FTP Test was in 2017: 320watts @63kg (5.07w/pk) – which could almost get you a contract at a pro-continental cycling team.
When I finished the test, I was in shock: 239watts 61.4kg (3.89w/pk).
“How on earth have I gone from 320watts to 239watts?”
During those torturous empty stomach rides, I had burned away all of my muscle, energy and power.
Darren gave me the wake-up call I needed. I had to make some changes and re-evaluate. Darren set me on a path to reignite my love for cycling and rebuild a strong body – using proven training methods.
Whether you are underweight, overweight, new to cycling or a seasoned pro – the methods used by CicloZone will make you stronger.
Now I am lean, not skinny. My numbers prove that I am stronger than ever and my love for cycling has reached a new level of maturity, like a happy marriage. I am sponsored by brands that support me as an athlete, person, and what I can contribute – not because of my image.
Thanks for reading. I will share more about my training journey in the next chapter.