Published: 1 August 2013
Report: Scott Hobro
Great Britain’s newly crowned BMX world champion Liam Phillips wants to add more rainbow jerseys to his collection as he deals with the reality of a maiden world title.
Phillips ended a 12 year wait for a British elite men’s winner, the last being Dale Holmes in 2001, with victory at the championships in Auckland, New Zealand on Sunday.
The 24-year-old, who started competing in BMX when he was five, is still coming to terms with his accomplishment after realising a lifelong dream of donning the illustrious rainbow bands.
“No way, I don’t think it will for some time,” Phillips said on Tuesday when asked if he had taken in his achievement.
“Today has been the most eye opening to be honest. I have actually had to hold the rainbow jersey and medal and that hit home but my feet haven’t really touched the ground since Sunday. I think it will take a little while, probably until I get back into training next week.”
Entering the competition among the favourites, Phillips finished sixth in the time trial and then watched as one by one his main rivals exited in Sunday’s racing.
Defending champion Sam Willoughby and time trial world champion Connor Fields collided in the quarter finals before two time Olympic gold medallist Maris Strombergs was eliminated at the same juncture.
In the intervening time, Phillips’ rapid start had kept him clear of trouble as he put together a run of wins that would see him go undefeated across the seven races to the podium.
But it was the Briton’s battle with his own temperament that was equally imperative as his opponents departed, having learnt a valuable lesson at the 2012 UCI BMX Supercross when he allowed a silver medal to slip from his grasp.
“It was one of the things that I worried about leading up to the race and also around the semi final time,” Phillips said of his Auckland experience. “I’ve been in that position before at a world cup in 2012 where I was in second and I can actually remember thinking to myself ‘I am in second’ and I didn’t finish on the podium.
“That was a really harsh lesson in Norway and [Great Britain Cycling Team Psychiatrist] Steve Peters was actually at that race and I spoke to him a lot about it afterwards. Since then I’ve been lucky enough not slip back into that but I think on Sunday it was a really strange position because I went from being just one of a group of favourites to being the last one standing.”
Now Phillips aspires for further accolades for his palmarès after a year which has undoubtedly been his most successful yet.
In April’s UCI BMX Supercross the two-time Olympian powered to triumphs in both the time trial and racing, his first ever wins in the series coming on his ‘backyard’, Manchester’s National BMX Centre where the Great Britain team train.
But in spite of the recent successes, he is adamant there are further gains to be made in his performance and more titles to contend.
“One of the first things [Olympic BMX coach] Grant White said, not even 10 minutes after the race had finished, was ‘it’s great but we’re only just getting started’,” Phillips revealed.
“It’s a scary though really because I expect more out of myself than anyone else and even when Grant says it’s good I’m the first to say it can be better, that’s the way I have been and always will be.
“I guess I’ve got that rainbow jersey on my back and you’re the target so you certainly can’t rest on that and I’ll continue to look for gains in all departments and keep working hard.”
Phillips also added that he doesn’t’ see his age as a barrier to that objective, with many BMX athletes tending to peak in their mid-twenties.
“Across the board there is a trend but I think that there are also a few exceptions and I think I would fall into that category,” said Phillips.
“I’ve been developing my whole physical capacity for quite some time but it’s been the technical side of things that has needed attention. Being able to ride that indoor track everyday for nearly 18 months, that’s been the difference between going to a world champs and being capable of winning it and going to the world champs and actually winning it.”
Phillips may have never ridden BMX again after switching to the track squad in 2011 to try for the man one position in the team sprint for the London Olympics. A series of injures and subsequent operations had left the former European BMX champion disillusioned with the discipline.
After six months on the boards and a bronze medal in the team sprint at the British track championships, he returned to BMX.
“A lot of that came from the injuries more than anything else, that was 99% of it,” Phillips explained on his sabbatical from the sport.
“I know how hard I work on a day to day basis and if there was the possibility of achieving that Olympic ambition in another discipline then that is what I was going to do.
“It was as simple as that but then I didn’t touch a BMX bike for eight months and after three to four months I knew it was going to be a lot harder than I thought not to ride my bike and not do the things I enjoy doing.”
With his decision to come back vindicated, September’s final round of the 2013 UCI BMX Supercross at Chula Vista in the USA is likely to be Phillips’ first chance to compete in his newly acquired jersey.
Beyond that, there is the attractive prospect of the 2014 opening round of the series in Manchester, where the rider from Burnham-on-Sea will be introduced to a home crowd as world champion.
“I haven’t even thought of that,” Phillips said. “Whenever I race here I expect to win it’s my backyard, it’s no different to a football team playing at home, you don’t expect to lose.
“I don’t think that’s going to change whether you’ve got a rainbow jersey or not. There might be a little more expectation from the crowd after the win this year.”