EXCLUSIVE: Cyclist out to make capital gains at London showpiece

MATT Walls swaps one golden circuit for another medal-making track when stepping on to the international stage for final UCI Track World Cup meeting of the year.

The 20-year-old Shaw-born endurance rider is part of a 23-strong GB Cycling squad selected for the event at the Lea Valley Velodrome in London on December 14-16.

The venue yielded eight medals for Team GB riders at the 2012 London Olympics including gold medals for Sir Chris Hoy, Jason Kenny, Victoria Pendleton and Laura Kenny.

But endurance specialist Walls, a former Crompton House School pupil, is part of the new wave of GB cyclists trained at the National Cycling Centre in Manchester – the sport’s original medal factory.

In the second year as a senior Academy rider, Matt is excited by the prospect of mixing it against the world’s best at the three-day meeting.

“I am really looking forward to it,” he said speaking to the Correspondent during a training break in Portugal.

“It’s a great event and I can’t wait to race at such a high standard. I’ve raced on the track before but not recently.

“I’ll do the best I can and see what I come out with at the end of it,” said Walls, whose introduction to cycling began during his time as a pupil at St Joseph’s School in Shaw.

He made his World Cup debut in Manchester during 2017 when he became European Under 23 team pursuit gold medallist and double National title holder.

This year, Walls won gold in the elimination race at the European Championships in Glasgow, three more Euro U23 titles and two additional national prizes.

Additionally, the Oldham lad showed his ability with two stage wins in the prestigious Fleche du Sud road race.

“I’m definitely ahead of where I thought I would be,” he added. “I wasn’t expecting to get that many good results.”

The ultimate goal is call-up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“It’s something I really want to do,” he said.

“But I have to take it step by step throughout my development.

“The Olympics is still a few years away but fingers crossed and hopefully I can keep developing.”

Walls has certainly come a long way since he began mountain biking with his dad at the age of five.

“I did a lot of sports at St Joes’s where I took part in a triathlon,” he explained.

“I did well in the cycling part and someone suggested I go down to the Manchester Velodrome.

“I went there and just loved it. I joined Eastlands Velo (the club that produced Bury-born stars Adam and Simon Yates) and got into racing on the track, the road plus cyclo cross.

“I have always wanted to be an athlete full time in some sort of sport.

“I had Plan B options but my ultimate goal was to become full-time cyclist,” added Walls who has progressed through the GB talent team and junior academy.

Jason (another ex Eastlands Velo prospect) and Laura Kenny are spearheading the next generation of potential Olympic champions.

“At first, you don’t expect Olympic gold medallists to be roaming about and training on the sessions with you,” said Walls.

“But you see what they are like, what they are getting up to. It’s great to aspire to be them.”

With a mass of family watching him in London, Walls will not lack support at the fourth of the six World Cup events.

The GB squad has enjoyed a strong start to the season and won 15 medals in the first two rounds of the series which took place in Paris and Milton, taking the overall team victory in both.

World champion Ethan Hayter will ride the team pursuit along with Walls and his fellow senior academy riders Will Tidball, Ethan Vernon and Fred Wright.

Stephen Park OBE, performance director for the Great Britain Cycling Team, said: “The home World Cup is something our track cyclists look forward to year-on-year.

“To have it at the iconic Lee Valley Velo Park where so many historic memories have been made makes it an extra special experience for our riders.”

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