We are delighted to introduce to you Joe Truman, a Great British track cyclist who burst onto the scene in 2016, winning gold at the Track Cycling World Cup and silver 2 years on at the Commonwealth games.
Joe has spent the last few years living in Japan plying his trade at the same Keirin school as Sir Chris Hoy. He will be one to keep an eye on during the 2021 Olympics.
Welcome Joe! You’re a lad from Petersfield who has ended up in Izu, Japan. It’s quite incredible! Were there big parts of your childhood in riding around the Southsea seafront or through the streets surrounding Fratton Park that really began your love for cycling?
Yeah I have a lot of memories around those areas. I especially remember when the Tour Series came to Southsea and put on a race for the youth riders before the main event, it felt pretty crazy to be racing around streets I knew in a televised race. As a Pompey fan I spent a lot of time at Fratton Park too, however my love for cycling really started at the 540m velodrome at the Mountbatten Centre.
You then started track cycling at 15. What made you realise that cycling would be your career path?
I was always playing football as a kid, I played at a decent level and had trials at a few premier league teams and I originally started cycling in the summer for fitness. After a couple of years riding around the South Downs for fun I decided to visit the Mountbatten Centre in Portsmouth and have a crack at riding a track bike. I loved the fact there were no brakes or gears, so every bit of effort you put into the bike turned into speed. When I was 16, I joined the British team and also won my first Junior British Title, from there on I was hooked!
You emphatically broke into the competitive scene with 2 golds in 2 weeks during the Track Cycling World Cup. How ready did you feel gearing up to that moment, considering your age?
It was a great period of my career as it was the first race season after Rio, and getting selected over Olympic champions was a great confidence boost. I saw that whole season as a bonus as I had only trained full time for a year and wasn’t sure how competitive we would be. By the end of the season we had been the fastest British Team ever outside of an Olympic games so it was a great start.
The medals didn’t stop there for you, and in some fantastic locations like Portugal, Poland and Australia to name a few. Do you have a favourite memory from the Track Championships, World Cups or Commonwealth Games?
Every major race has great memories but for me the Commonwealth games was my favourite. It was my first multi-sport event and the location was unreal. Taking a Silver medal in the team sprint was great and I think was a good stepping stone for hopefully racing the Olympics one day! Hopefully soon I’ll have a race in South America so that i can tick off my final continent to compete in.
You got the incredible opportunity to race and learn at Japan’s Keirin school, following in the footsteps of some real legends of the sport such as Sir Chris Hoy. How was that transition from training in Manchester to moving 6,000 miles away?
It was a real culture shock arriving at the Keirin School, I flew straight from the Commonwealth games village in Gold Coast with performance support and a team environment, out to a small rural town in Japan on my own. The Japanese people are really friendly though so it wasn’t long before I felt settled in. I knew how great an opportunity it was though, and had been a dream of mine for a number of years to race in Japan so I really enjoyed all the new experiences.
The rules and traditions surrounding Keirin are a little different out in Japan, but the sport is far more popular than people could imagine! What were the main differences that you noticed during your time over there?
I could go on for ages about the differences but the main one would be the tactics; in that you must declare them on TV the evening before the race. This allows the betters to make a more informed decision about how the race may play out, and once they are declared you have to stick to them! Racing out there is just more extreme and dangerous, races are never cancelled for the weather so I have often raced in hail and typhoons, also ‘blocking’ is allowed, which basically means riders will headbutt and shoulder barge so crashes are really common.
Also, during the 4-day races, riders are essentially in lockdown, with no phones, laptops or Bluetooth devices, so it was just books and a portable DVD player for entertainment. That was good though as it meant we could socialise with other riders at the race.
It’s very impressive that you managed to work and live in Izu independently. How quickly did you pick up the language and diet changes?
Japanese came surprisingly fast, luckily, we are provided with translators at races so we could communicate our tactics to the fans. I also tried to learn as many phrases as possible to make myself more popular with the fans, they seemed to appreciate the effort! I’m enrolled in a course now so hopefully next time I’m out there I’ll be able to have proper conversations. Diet wise it was really easy actually, lots of fish and vegetables so it was easy to stay healthy. The food at races was great, depending on if it was north or south Japan you got quite different meals so it never got boring.
2 years is a very healthy amount of time to hone your craft and discipline, particularly as you had no coaches or team around you. What were the 3 most valuable things you picked up during your time in the Keirin school?
Number one would be looking after my own body, in Manchester I used to rely on the team physios to correct any problems but now I’m proactive and try to prevent injuries with stretching and core, prehab not rehab!
Secondly, I found more effective ways to motivate myself. When it’s just you and an empty track for training it can be easy for motivation to drop but I managed to find ways to keep up the intensity and make sure every effort has a purpose.
Thirdly I got much better at switching off after races, often in the past if I had a bad result, I would be down but out there I learnt from other riders it’s important to switch off and only think about things you can control. I think this is really important for the mental health of all athletes!
You are of course back in the UK now and preparing for Tokyo 2021 (fingers crossed!). How good does it feel to have a team around you again, and other Brits to compete against during training?
It’s great to have the team around me again, I think my time away made me realise how effective the support we are given is. I’ve used those around my much more effectively since being back and try to be proactive in getting what I need rather than waiting for it to come to me.
Just how much has the postponement of the Tokyo during 2020 affected your training since your return?
The postponement has actually been a blessing in disguise for me, I had a bit of a back injury from the gym at the start of the year and I wasn’t going to take time off to get it fully fixed as the games were soon, now its been postponed I’ve been able to fully recover it and now I feel much more healthy and ready to commit to some good training blocks.
And finally, have you unearthed any TV shows, movies or books that are simply unmissable? Of course, The Secret World of Japanese Bicycle Racing featuring yourself has to be in there…
Haha yes, for an insight into the Japan Keirin scene check that out, it was great to have that made while I was out there and document my final race of the season!! While on the theme of Japan ‘Giri Haji’ is a really good BBC series, it’s about a Tokyo detective who comes to London.
Also, I’m finally watching Game of Thrones, my housemate last year managed to watch all the series in 5 days but I think I’m going to take it a bit slower than that…