Love what you do
It’s just gone 5pm on a December evening somewhere in the North of England and I’m shoulder-deep in a bin outside a service station Subway trying to retrieve my car keys. But you know what? I don’t care.
2009 and I find myself on top of a telephone box in Killarney – much to my mother’s concern – but I’ve secured the best vantage spot to witness Mark Cavendish take a first win at the tour of Ireland. I lead a frenzied ambush toward the yellow HTC-Columbia team bus where my hero will by now already be wrapped in the arms of team mates and managers. Meeting my Dad at the pre-arranged handover zone I collect my well-travelled copy of Boy Racer, the Manx Missile's first autobiography, and a fresh sharpie before thrusting them into the hands of Helge Riepenhof– HTC Team Doctor and currently marshal of the crowded bus door. “Please, can you get Cav to sign this?” I urge.
Waiting patiently for the return of my book I’m stunned as the man himself, Mark Cavendish, swaggers through the door and towards me with my copy of the book in his hand – “what’s your name, lad?”. Flustered in a way only comparable to the first time I asked out a girl, I spell it out for him to ensure my relic is free of errors: “NNN… IIII… A… double L” .. he butts in, “Niall, yeah?”. I must have appeared to have a troublesome speech impediment; not quick enough for the fastest man on two wheels. Book returned and many thanks given, I spin round to my parents, beaming ear-to-ear. Across the street, Lance Armstrong – making his anti-climatic return to racing - emerges outside his team bus and a crowd gathers: “Lance! Want to go and see him, Nially?!”, my Mum asks, “Nope” I reply, eyes still fixed on the message left for me inside my book.
For as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to work in cycling. After 10 years as Chief Saturday Lad in my local bike shop, I committed to my fascination for business and worked my way through university, into the glistening foyer of one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. Diving into this unrelentingly fast paced, brilliantly creative world, I felt as though I’d made it. And I had, in a way. The glamorous work, wild parties and shockingly talented people around me (seriously, I often felt like I worked with magicians) felt like winning the career lottery. But then one day, it hit me. I simply didn’t care about female epilators or phone networks enough to make selling them to people my job: I needed to work in cycling.
And so, after a short time surfing my way around the busy and turbulent industry, somehow lucky enough to ply my marketing trade at legendary cycling institutions like Rouleur Magazine, you can imagine my disbelief when David Millar asked me to come and work for CHPT3 during a fortuitous trip to Girona. David Millar. Me. Working for him. WTF.
Here it is I find myself, with a roar in my stomach for creating better work than any multi-blade razor brand could summon from within. In only 6 months I’ve already found myself in some mind-bending situations, ones which I could have only dreamt of (and did) back when working in Ad Land. This summer I chased Romain Bardet around France with a photographer as he rode our Factor bike during the TdF, I orchestrated a photoshoot on the side of a mountain which had previously been my choice holiday destination and last week, joined Mark Cavendish for a café ride in Yorkshire… all in the name of work.
Just meeting my childhood hero was special enough, but after a CHPT3 event at Harrogate’s boutique bike shop, Prologue Performance Cycles, my jaw dropped when Adam Blythe (our star guest for the night) casually invited me out for a ride with him and Mark the following day. Planning to just tag along for 20km so as not to get in the way, I ended up getting dragged along for 5 hours in the wake of two of Britain’s best cycling protégé.
Having joined up with some of Adam and Cav’s friends (yeah, I call him ‘Cav’ now) at the café, we departed in a larger group than the three which we set off as. I took to the back of the bunch as we began descending the wet, leafy lanes, petrified that one clumsy move could wipe out the seasons for a handful of pros before they even began. Spotting another rider behind I allowed myself to coast back further, thinking I might lend a helpful wheel back on. Much to my embarrassment, I promptly found out that the rider I was waiting to ‘help’ was a multiple national champion with 380 pro wins to his name: Sid Barras. “I was holding back so that none of you muppets took me out […] these are some of the greasiest f***king bends around this way and you strike me as a Southerner”. I continued alongside, marvelling at Sid’s stories, hearing how he was instrumental in kicking off David’s career as one of the first riders to benefit from the Dave Rayner fund which he still chairs. The man is like a history book, only with more expletives.
Standing in the freezing cold with one arm rummaging around in someone’s half-eaten meatball marinara trying to find the car keys I'd accidentally thrown in there, I still felt giddy. I’d just spent the day with some true legends of the sport. Not at some corporate sponsors event where CEOs scramble for selfies, but on a real ride on real roads with the most real of riders. All of this, in such a short space of time has come from chasing what I love. We should all love what we do. You never know, it might just leave you staring at the arse of your hero.