There were a number of heartwarming stories to emerge from the 2021 Tour of Britain - from young fans meeting their heroes to para-cyclist William Bjergfelt competing with the best of the WorldTour - but Alex Peters’ continued return to top-level cycling was just as pleasing and important.
Peters, now 27, was one of the hottest U23 prospects in the world back in 2015 and he emerged as a major talent at the same time as Tao Geoghegan Hart, with the pair often racing in Great Britain set-ups. They even moved to Team Sky at the same time but Peters’ trajectory stalled and in 2017 he dropped back to the U23 ranks before completely disappearing from the sport altogether.
His struggles with mental health have been documented and at the Tour of Britain, he spoke to a small number of journalists about what he had been through as a rider and a person.
"I had a mental breakdown and it took four years to recover from that and to get integrated back into society," Peters said.
"One way of doing that was through cycling and sport. That’s been quite a healthy thing for me, to enjoy the sport again."
During his time away from the sport, Peters’ only focus was on his mental well-being and professional cycling took a back seat. He barely rode his bike at all but, after a long period away, he gradually began to understand and appreciate that riding his bike could be used as a tool to improve his all-round health.
"I didn’t ride at all. I was completely in my house and in hospital. I didn’t ride for a good two years but then I realised that exercise is a good way of feeling good."
He returned to the professional scene in 2020 with Canyon dhb p/b Soreen, then moved to SwiftCarbon Pro Cycling and, with their support, he took small incremental steps back into racing. Softly spoken and, by his own admission, shy, Peters admitted that the pressures of high-end sport can create an unhealthy environment but that he - with the support of those around him – is managing expectations and stress.
"Yeah it is a tough environment and I’m quite a shy guy I would say but having a team that has the capacity to handle me, or someone like me, is really good," he said. "It’s what I need. The sport is super competitive and cutthroat and I do enjoy that."
Peters readily admits that he never thought that he would return to the sport a few years ago but his results this year have been encouraging.
He came through the tough Tour of Portugal earlier in the summer, won the Ryedale GP, then lined up at the Tour of Britain, where he picked up third place on stage 2. He eventually finished 21st overall behind Wout van Aert, and while results are an important element of the sport, Peters' return should be seen as a huge success in itself.
"I didn’t think about that at all. I didn’t think I would be back in the sport at all because I was in quite a bad place. I’m happy that I’m out of it. I think that I can go further if I enjoy it, if I’m having fun and if I’m having general support from the right people," he added.
At the end of the short interview with journalists, Peters was asked by Cyclingnews what he deemed as success these days.
"Happiness. That’s it. And probably results come from that because I do like to be at the sharp end of racing," he said.
"That makes me happy. Like seeing on stage 2 my teammate Will in the breakaway. He really deserved that. I get a lot of joy from that too.”
Editor in Chief - Cyclingnews.
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