Published: 11 May 2012
Words: Simon Powers
Last week: Logistics Man Keith Reynolds
We are all familiar with many of the riders and coaches responsible for the great performances of the Great Britain Cycling Team. But in the lead up to this summer’s Games, we’re taking the opportunity to have a look at some of the staff from the Great Britain Cycling team who tend to go unnoticed but without whom, the team could not function.
Phil Burt offers his invaluable expertise during one of Jess Varnish's gym sessions
As British Cycling’s Lead Physiotherapist, the wellbeing of some of the most successful cyclists of all time is in Phil Burt’s hands. Responsible for the prevention and rehabilitation of injury across cycling’s Olympic disciplines, Burt sees himself as a detective looking for clues behind injuries and solutions to bad bike position and poor gym etiquette.
With riders pushing themselves harder than ever before to show selectors that they have what it takes, their bodies close to breaking point leaves Burt with plenty to keep himself occupied as London 2012 moves into view.
However, Burt’s role in keeping a healthy team started long before 2012 with the aim of preventing the most common cause of injury in cycling – overuse.
Burt estimates about half of all injuries within the squad come from overuse, with many of the endurance riders’ problems related to bike position and fit as well as shoe and cleat set up; in order to eliminate such problems all riders are assessed when they join the team as Burt explains.
"If Chris or Vicky were to break down a few weeks before the Olympics and we could get them through it, using the best of sports medicine and with their consent, we will try and do it. This is exactly what they want from the team in these circumstances.”
“It is obviously advantageous to prevent the likelihood of injury occurring in the first instance and allows me to determine where the riders’ injuries emanate from.
“Increasingly injuries are specific to different types of rider. With endurance riders, for example, this can be totally out of anyone’s control such as trauma from crashing hard on tarmac during a road race, while in the case of the track sprinters it is their associated heavy gym programmes which present the highest risk.
“Sprint riders are lifting some of the biggest weights you’ll see anyone lift, which makes the gym one of the highest risk areas in the building. You get massive gains from doing it but along with with our Strength and Conditioning coach, we try and manage that and prevent injuries as much as we can”.
As a result, Burt’s job has become one of constant evaluation and re-evaluation on an individual rider basis as that athlete’s injury-free future within the sport often rests with him.
“My job is constant risk analysis. I have to ask myself, if that rider squats with his individual medical history, with the way they are put together, are they likely to get injured and break down before they get the strength gains needed. However if he does, for example some trunk control work form me along with a modified exercise in the gym, he will probably get the strength gains and won’t break down. That is a constantly fluid situation however.”
With the Olympics just eleven weeks away, Burt is focussed on delivering athletes in peak condition to a one off event, something unique to the sport. When asked what the response would be should the unthinkable happen in the lead up to this summer’s games Burt calmly asserts:
“If a rider such as Pendleton or Hoy were to get injured a few weeks before the Olympics, that is potentially four years of hard work down the drain. With the academy guys it’s very different; we are not going to risk their long term abilities with short fixes or solutions. However If Chris or Vicky were to break down a few weeks before the Olympics and we could get them through it, using the best of sports medicine and with their consent, we will try and do it. This is exactly what they want from the team in these circumstances.”
Managing such highs and lows are part of the day to day role of a physiotherapist and during his time on the team Burt has experienced a few – including the moment Chris Hoy crashed during the 2009 World Cup in Copenhagen, forcing him to miss out on six months of training as well as the World Championships in Poland that year, which was tempered by the successful formation of the Sky Pro Cycling professional road team – who Burt is a consultant for - as well as the Track team’s meteoric rise to success.
In particular though, Burt states that the progress younger riders such as Annie Last has made during his time with the squad as a highlight. Last, then 16 years old when Burt started with the Great Britain Cycling Team has now gone on to win gold in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup Cross Country Eliminator in Houffalize, Belgium last month.
For the Olympics, Burt will be the main Physiotherapist for all disciplines but will likely have support of the Sky Pro Cycling physiotherapist for the Olympic road race to make sure the team has optimum cover. There is also a group of physiotherapists from the British Olympic Association one of whom is attached to the Cycling team should Burt fall ill. This is unique amongst most sports as he will be there from day one until the end of the competition. Although the event doesn’t start for another 11 weeks, the work of Burt is already in full swing:
“As this is a home games, what you have is a lot of people going for very few places in London. Even though that has been narrowed down massively over the past few years and the world championships gives you an indicator. The next few months are the last chance for people to get into the team so they are pushing themselves harder and harder.”
“Strangely enough, the Olympics is not as stressful in terms of the shorter days compared to those we experience at the world championships or world cups. Believe me, however, the next eleven weeks are going to be anything but restful”.
In case you missed last week's interview with Logistics Manager, Keith Reynolds, click here