While genetics obviously play a role in his precocious talent, there's an awful lot of hard graft that has taken him from possessing promise to the top of numerous podiums.
Here’s a look at the process this work takes, highlighting the specifics of training, as well as a look at the nutritional regime that fuels his training and racing.
As a rider competing in three disciplines, where do you start with your training plan?
It’s more up to my coach to make the plan. I’m happy to hand it over because I think I communicate well if there’s something specific that I want to do, but in general, I just hand it over. Obviously, before each season we plan the races that I will do, then you know the points when you’ll have little rest or where the races are. That’s important – you need endpoints and checkpoints, and I like training set for the next two weeks so I know what I’m doing.
Do you transition training from one discipline to the next or break, reset and start from scratch?
It depends on what’s been happening. I think every year I have maybe four-to-six weeks off in total but I split that up. Previously, I’ve had a big break in June but then only a week after the cross season. Then maybe only two weeks at the end of the year. It really depends on the schedule, but I think it’s important to have a big break and reset now and then.
My core team around me help, but it’s only me that can figure out my own head
Are you a rider that does a lot of training off the bike, like conditioning and mental preparation?
With gym work, I am now. Before, no, because I found it boring and I couldn't be bothered! But when you have someone telling you what to do then it’s better and you’ve got to do it, haven’t you? I do think it helps – I’ve done it a bit before at home with some generic exercises – but as a cyclist, you have to find the motivation because it’s kind of a different sport and it appeals to different people.
For mental training, I had a psychologist at one point but I don’t think it works at all for me. I think I know myself very well and I figure out my head myself. My core team around me obviously help in a motivational and reassuring way, but in the deeper way it’s only me that can figure out my own head. I’m very in control, I think.
In terms of hours spent on the bike, is there a difference between cyclocross, mountain bike and road? Does skills training influence this?
I would say there is more volume in road but I don’t think it varies that much. On the MTB I don’t do specific skills training; you just go out and you’re doing it anyway. In 'cross, yes it does account for some training time. I skills train in the sand for the feeling of riding off-road and doing efforts off-road because it’s a different sort of effort – you’re not always pedalling but cornering and going over stumps and things. But I don't really do specific skills sessions, they are more just part of general training.
What’s your favourite training day and your worst kind of training day?
My favourite is just going out for a long ride in the sun. The worst is the same but when it’s cold and wet and I’m on my own. That’s just grim!
Is there one aspect of training that is the most critical for you?
The one thing is that when you do everything really well, you can really tell the difference. If you can back up 30-hour weeks and you do everything right, that’s when I get in shape – in proper shape!
What makes up your meals and snacks on a typical training day?
My breakfast is basically the same every training day: I have 105-120g of oats for porridge and then an omelette with half an avocado and smoked salmon. Lunch is pasta or rice with some protein and vegetables. Dinner is the same. Carbs, protein and loads of veg – keep it simple!
For snacks, I’ve eaten a lot of rice cakes in the last couple of years. They’re great because they haven’t got a lot of calories but you can eat loads of them if you have to. On the bike, I mainly use bars, bananas and sometimes I’ll make some Oreo rice cakes or something like that. I try to eat somewhere between every 20 minutes to an hour depending on the session. I rarely use gels when I train – I save them for races.
What are the major considerations for your diet?
It’s about balance. I fuel very well when I train, then I don’t fuel a lot on rest days and try not to snack too much. I don’t work with a nutritionist now but I did, and the main thing was high carb for training and low carb for rest.
Everyone makes the mistake of under-fuelling when they’re trying to lose a bit of weight but I try to fuel really well for training and then hold back on rest days. I do have to watch what I eat more now I’m getting a little older. When I was young, I could eat anything. Now I have to be more careful.
Try to find a group of friends and do it together; do the whole journey together
Talk us through your race nutrition, from your pre-race routine to what you eat and drink on the bike depending on the discipline.
For a 'cross race, I have breakfast and then three hours before I have pancakes with berries and maple syrup. That’s morale food actually – it’s nice and gives you good energy. I open a can of Red Bull before I get on the rollers and sip it when I’m getting ready and warming up – I don’t drink a full one at once, I just sip to get a gradual drip of caffeine.
For MTB, I also have a meal three hours before the start and Red Bull whilst I’m getting ready. Then I have a gel and finish the Red Bull on the start line. Then I take a bottle every lap, but with not much in. The bottle has an energy mix in and I’ll have a gel as well in the middle of the race.
During a road race, I try to drink a bottle an hour, so 500ml, but it will probably be more than that if it’s hot and less if it’s raining. I also try and eat something every 20 minutes. At the start of the race, I have solids and then towards the end I have more gels.
What’s your key recovery fuel and timeframe?
I have a protein shake straight after training or racing and then I try to eat a meal as soon as possible as well.
In a stage race, you’re fuelling for the days ahead when you’re on the bike. For example, this year in the Baby Giro we had a flat day where it was super easy for the first two hours so I ate every 30-40 minutes. If you eat well on the bike, have a recovery shake straight after and a good meal, that’s usually as much as you can take in.
If you had to give just one piece of advice to young cyclists about training, what would it be?
I would say that you need to try and find a group of friends and do it together; do the whole journey together. That’s what I had at home.