Ribble Weltite Pro Cycling Rider Damien Clayton decided to leave his London job for his homeland of Yorkshire with the hopes of becoming a pro racer. Here he tells us how he did it.
Damien Clayton has done the thing most cyclists dream of – leaving his well-paid job to become a full-time pro racer. But it was a difficult decision to make.
Damien, you have done what most can only dream of, so start off by telling us how you got into racing, and how you went from graduating as an architect to turning pro. I have always had a competitive mindset and always admired anything with wheels and that can generate speed, my younger self competed in Motocross and BMX. However I gave these up to go to university and study Architecture. I finished my masters degree in Architecture in London and went straight into the profession.
Essentially I got into road cycling as a means of commuting to work and then it took off when I did a work ride from London to Brighton. On this ride was a gentleman called Paul Blackmore, we instantly got along, fellow northerners do, and started to talk more and more about road cycling.
He was my father figure and opened the door into road cycling, he also took me to watch my first race at Lee Valley Velodrome. He gave me some race wheels and after a few months of riding he said do the first round of the winter series and he would come to support me. I did the race and won and that’s the start of the racing journey.
One of the first rides you did was London to Brighton, what was that like? As an office we completed a building project in Brighton and our office was London based.
Therefore as an extra-curricular activity the office organised, for those who wanted to, a ride from A to B. At the time I only had a single-speed commuter bike unsuitable for the distance. I was told explicitly that I was not to do the ride (by people who knew more than me at the time) on that bike and that I had to get a bike with gears. I ignored them turned up on the commuter, running shoes, backpack, no food, no water, and a lock on my frame too.
I really enjoyed it, I was first up every hill and first down them too. It was Paul that really got me excited and I could tell he really knew his stuff (he also wasn’t part of the office and came along because he was the principals assistant’s partner) and couldn’t get enough, I just listened and admired what he did almost obsessed straight away to learn this new sport.
It’s one thing enjoying a ride like that, to then deciding you wanted to change your whole career. As I got more and more into the sport my love for it grew and my original passion for architecture started to diminish.
Moreover, it was the beginning of 2019 when I moved back to London, after spending the festive period with my family in Yorkshire, that I realised how depressed and down I was and that something had to change. Originally I just wanted to be happier and move home, but I then became better on the bike and it started to snowball from there.
What was it like making that decision? It was very scary, with the hardest part telling my parents that I want to leave a well paid job of an architect in London to come home and originally help my father with his business. Essentially turn my back on all my education and five years of university. The actual decision to go full time came after the hardest decision of leaving my life in London.
What did all your family and friends think? I don’t have many friends but most London people said I’d never make it full-time pro and the others are really supportive and now I have become really close to Yorkshire based riders. They all think it’s really impressive what I’ve achieved and trying to do.
We are all in the same boat so we support each other. My family didn’t really understand the sport and decision at first, but the more they got involved the more passionate they became.
As a result they are so supportive and couldn’t do it without them. My father was so integral to my riding last year as he let me have time off work to train.
How long was the journey from buying your first road bike to winning Grand Prix de Marbriers last year? I bought my first road bike, Scott F1, in October 2016 and won Grand Prix de Marbriers in August 2019. So 1053 days which is 2 years 10 months and 19 days, roughly.
You enjoy the long endurance riding too – tell us about the London to Edinburgh ride in 24 hours. When was that and how did it go? And why did you decide to do it? Talking about the London to Edinburgh would take me way too long to explain, the video is a better projection of what happened, this can be seen on Vimeo ‘Heading North’ or on the Albion Clothing website.
It was in my first full year of riding in the summer and it went on reflection as well as can be expected with us just making it up as we went along.
The weather was practically awful but the support team was unreal and were the unsung heroes of the 24 hours. One of the founders of Albion, Charlie Stewart, asked me to do something stupid so I naturally agreed and went along with whatever they suggested.
What is about cycling and racing that you love so much? I love the freedom and the social leveling effect it has on society. When it comes to racing I enjoy seeing my hard work of training paying off, and most importantly I love the team spirit at the end of the race when someone has done well or we have executed our plan to perfection. For me, I find it hard to overcome a race scenario if I feel like I’ve let the team down.
Tell us about your current bikes. I ride Ribble Endurance SLR / Ribble Endurance SLR Disc and the Ribble TT Bike.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to change careers and become pro like you have? Do whatever makes you happy, once you’ve found that then whatever you are doing you will achieve your best.
Being a pro is what a lot of cyclists dream of, what it’s really like? One of the main benefits has to be the level of support and professionalism, you really feel part of a big picture and an effort to achieve something.
Cons would probably be turning up to a smaller race and being expected to really animate a race, but if you have many cards to play then you can capitalise on this. Another personal one for me would be the added stress I put on myself to deliver the best I can to succeed in the teams objective.
Which riders inspire you the most? To be honest not that many. I admire and respect all professional athletes, but if I was really honest I’d have to say Rory Townsend. Someone like Rory is more relatable than a World Tour pro as I can always see his determination and amazing work ethic.
I’m also close to him so I am inspired every day to make him impressed too, he’s also my coach. At a World Tour level I admire the strong Classic rides as that’s what I wish to be like, for example Oliver Nassen and Peter Sagan.
What are your favourite kind of races? Anything in Belgium. Just long, hard, grippy full gas races that last hours, nothing too lumpy but rolling. The Bourne CiCle classic I enjoyed as well as any Pro Kermesses in Belgium.
Have there been any surreal moments on the bike? (like lining up against some of your heroes perhaps? The most surreal moment for me was winning my first UCI race in France, crossing the line I held my head in my heads similar to when Remco Evenepoel won San Sebastian. However I did enjoy winning the Bourne CiCle Classic and adopted a similar celebration to when Rory won some of his races in 2019 with one hand in the air and the ‘v’ sign.
What is the plan for 2020, and how is lockdown going training wise? 2020 is time to really step it up and step up my commitment to the sport in order to deliver. Lockdown is going well, I really enjoy riding my bike for what it is and don’t depend on racing to be in form or have motivation.
My support network around me is so good too. I’m just treating it like a warmer winter block of training and I want to come back stronger than ever when racing eventually starts again.