For the likes of Filippo Ganna, Wout van Aert, and Remco Evenepoel, thoughts will turn to the next events on the UCI Road World Championships schedule following Sunday’s individual time trial. For Christopher Symonds, it’ll be the ‘club 10’ in Berkhamsted, and not before a four-day week at work on the doors of the UK Parliament's House of Commons.
“Your MP would know me, for sure,” he said with a grin after his ride in Bruges. “I’ve been a doorkeeper in the Commons for 20 years. They kindly let me have a few days off to come here and race.”
This is the special thing about the World Championships, that it brings together such a vastly diverse array of riders. The medals on this occasion were shared between racing’s traditional heartlands of Italy and Belgium, but to earn the rainbow jersey Ganna had to get past riders from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Panama, Qatar and Ghana, too.
Symonds, a 47-year-old life-long Londoner, is half-Ghanaian, and has been breaking boundaries for the west African country in recent years. A former track and field athlete, injuries pushed him towards triathlon, in which he became the first Ghanaian to compete internationally at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
There was no triathlon on the programme at the subsequent Commonwealth Games in Dehli in 2010, so Symonds put forward the idea of riding the cycling time trial, again becoming the first Ghanaian to do so. As the swimming and running took more and more of a back seat, he did the time trial again at Glasgow in 2014 and then made his World Championships debut in Yorkshire two years ago before returning for another shot on Sunday in Belgium.
He finished in 55th, or last place, but there wasn’t a single flicker of disappointment.
“It was absolutely fantastic. You’re racing so you can’t savour it too much, but the crowds were fantastic, really supportive. It was unbelievable.”
Besides, he’s aware that his mere presence could have a much more far-reaching impact.
“Shaaban [Mohammed] is the team manager and he’s been really supportive. He wanted me to compete and get Ghana on the map. Everything starts somewhere. 20-30 years down the line, someone will be going much faster than me, and looking at someone else as inspiration, and that’s what you want.”
“Ghana is a third-world country, and it’s difficult with sponsorship and funding. There are youngsters out there training, who could do with the opportunity to get over to Europe to race. That would be helpful for them, because the more races you do, the more experience you get.”
That desire to bring about progress was part of the reason Symonds was happy to dig deep into his own pockets just to be in Belgium, another glaring difference between himself and the WorldTour elite.
“It’s self-funded,” he said, explaining that Ghana had a spot for Worlds and deemed him worthy of it, but that the federation didn’t have the funds or the infrastructure to facilitate the trip entirely. “We’ve had to pay our own way, with hotels, the tunnel here and everything. We’ve spent about £700-800 out of our own funds. My wife has been very supportive. I’ve got to give a shout out to Endura. They’ve looked after me. They’ve given me kit, a helmet and so on, so big thanks to them.”
Time trialling is a very individual vocation but the sense that Symonds was also riding for a cause beyond himself was underlined further by the sticker on his seatpost. It was the logo of the Black Cyclists Network, a club run by fellow UK-based Ghanaian Mani Arthur, which aims to make the sport more accessible for people from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic backgrounds.
Cycling, both at amateur level in the UK and at elite level internationally, has had shortcomings exposed when it comes to diversity but Symonds hopes his and others' rides at Worlds can help redress the imbalance.
“Coming from an athletics background, it’s probably the hardest sport in the world because everyone in the world can put a pair of trainers on and do it, but with cycling, it’s only the big nations that do well. Imagine if you had 100 nations able to compete; the competition would be higher and it would make it more interesting," he said.
“Cycling Weekly and Cyclingnews are here, and if they put that out there, showing different types of people, [showing] that we do ride and race, that can inspire others to get on and do it. In athletics I trained with world-class athletes of all different shapes and colours, and everyone was inspired by that, so the press could do a bit more to put different riders out there and show that cycling is diverse.”
Having made his contribution to the World Championships, Symonds will be back in the UK on Monday and back at the day job on Tuesday. He’ll be on the turbo trainer and his commuting bike before and after his shifts, and back to the weird and wonderful world of UK time trialling by the weekend.
“I’ve got a race coming up next weekend at Berkhamsted. I’ve put myself down for a 10-miler,” he said. “It’s funny, isn’t it. You come to the World Championships then you’re back doing a 10-miler a week later.”
Longer-term, he’ll be building towards another appearance at the Commonwealth Games, which take place in Birmingham in the UK next summer, and he’s in the market for an ‘affordable’ coach to help him reach his potential there. He’ll be 48 by then, but doesn’t see age as any barrier at all.
“The older you get, the easier it is,” he insisted. “Running gets harder as you get older, but cycling seems to get easier. You have to enjoy being in pain, but if you can take the pain, you’re half-way there.”
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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