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Adventurer, Inspirational Speaker, Paralympian, Gold Medal Winner, World Record Breaker and all round Top Bloke.
Paralympic cyclist Steve Bate MBE has Retinitis Pigmentation, an inherited eye condition which has left him with around 10 per cent of his vision and will eventually lead to blindness. You’d be mistaken to think that this has ever held him back. Steve has a long list of accomplishments to his name: new world record holder, three-time medal holder from the Rio Paralympics four years ago, two medals from the Para-cycling Road World Championships, one from the Track Championships and not to mention becoming the first visually impaired person to solo climb El Cap. We caught up with Steve to find out how he felt as news hit that the Paralympics in Tokyo, which were due to be his last Games, were postponed until August 2021 due to the pandemic, and what him and Mark Beaumont have been up to.
Have you always ridden?
“Yes, but mountain biking. Before I was an athlete, I was an outdoor instructor with young people. I wanted to show people that even if you’re rubbish in school, like I was, there are different options and skills you can learn. But when I started losing my sight and lost my driving licence I couldn’t do the work as a big part of the job was driving to wild places. I turned to mountain biking. I can’t do it as much now as I kept hitting trees! And trees don’t bend!
I still take out my fat bike now but on the moors and open spaces where my sight doesn’t matter. I have been told not to cycle on my own but I know that I will go blind at some point so I want to max what I do now. I’m just very careful about where I go and the impact it will have.”
What do you most love about cycling?
“The whole racing side of things – that’s my job, it’s not my passion. It’s something I do because I’ve been told I am good at it and it pays the mortgage! If I had a choice I would be bike packing around the world going to amazing places. If someone would pay for that! Joy riding through countries, cultures and landscapes. That’s what inspires me.
Obviously standing on a podium is incredibly special and gives you huge kudos. But Adam is the racer out and out and loves competing. Whereas for me, I am not going to enjoy racing for the rest of my life.”
Do you still manage to climb?
“I love climbing but I am very single minded. People say you must be so talented to do all of this – riding, climbing, surfing. But I’m not that talented, it’s my work rate that’s high. If I commit to do something then I work my ass off to achieve it. When people say how talented I am it’s almost an insult. But they’re not realising how much work has gone in. Therefore, I choose not to climb at the moment because it’s such a passion of mine that on sunny days I would sack off riding to go climbing and that would be counter-productive. If I want to be taken seriously and be the best in the world then I have to commit – and put climbing on hold.”
You’ve certainly been making the most of your time in lockdown Steve. Along with round-the-world record holder Mark Beaumont and a whole host of keen cyclists, rowers and runners, you helped to raise an incredible £231,000 for NHS Charities Together, in just four weeks, as part of the Around the World in One Day challenge. How did all that come about?
“The World in One Day challenge was really special. It all came about after seeing Mark on Instagram live, chatting with Hank, one of the GCN guys who was doing 24 hours on his turbo trainer. I messaged Mark and said I was considering doing one of his 16 hour days from his ‘Around the World in 80 days’ ride.
Just to recap on this for you, Mark Beaumont holds the world record for cycling around the world, riding for 16 hours a day, averaging 240 miles for 78 days back-to-back.
Mark liked the sound of that and launched it as a fundraiser for NHS Charities Together. He kindly asked if I would help him lead the first ride. Obviously I said yes! The concept itself was simple: 80 riders covered 240 miles a day, as a relay. Combined this totalled 18,000 miles and equated to the distance of riding around the world in a day. We repeated the event starting at 4am every Thursday for four weeks and had a blast.
We had a Zoom call, what we referred to it as the virtual peloton, running for 16 hours and it couldn’t have gone better. We’d have guest speakers come on and share their stories, it was great to be able to use the technology available for something so random. Our original plan was to try and raise £25,000, but it just went crazy. We had rowers on indoor machines rowing across the Atlantic in relay, while we were riding around the world. It was such a fantastic event and after the four weeks we’d raised £231,000! It will be the highlight of this whole pandemic experience for me, and I’ve built some great friendships out of it. I feel extremely proud to play a part in raising that much cash for such a great cause.”
What an incredible achievement and being part of this fundraising event must have helped you to re-focus and channel your energy following the news of the postponement of the Tokyo Games. How did you feel when the news hit, considering this year’s Games were to be your last?
“To be honest I was pleased, as I expected it, and of course it was the right choice to make. My training regime two weeks prior to the news breaking that the Games would be postponed was pretty intense, as expected in preparation for the games. To do that level of training knowing it was for nothing was really hard. I was disappointed of course, but I was grateful I wasn’t training that hard for another month until the date was meant to be announced. I’m 42 and this was going to be my last Games so at first I thought that would be the end of my cycling career. But after taking some time and speaking to my wife and friends, it didn’t take long to think it’s just one more year. With the new date for the Games now announced, it turns out the opening ceremony is on my 44th birthday, and we will race the day after. I figured that was some kind of sign that I should go.”
That said your place in the games isn’t guaranteed. How do you feel about that?
“There are so many things still up in the air. Back in April we had one more qualifying event in Belgium, which was the Para-cycling Road World Championships and from that event British Cycling would have selected their strongest team for the Games. This was also cancelled. It’s tough in the team at this time as you have around 16-18 male riders going for eight spots. It’s brutal as you're up against your mates fighting for the spots. You all want to go, but that’s not possible. I recall when I got the phone call to say I was going to Rio, my three best mates on the team were told they weren’t going. It was a such a bitter-sweet moment. Sport can be savage at times, it’s not always the fairy tale ending most people think it is.”
The support from your wife Caroline and your close friends is obviously very important to you. How did Caroline feel about you having to commit to training for another year?
“Caroline has been amazing throughout my cycling career and has ridden the highs and lows with Adam and I, along with his family. We had plans after Tokyo which now of course aren’t possible. I think it was a hit for Caroline, we are so close to having our adventurous lifestyle back, but it’s gone on hold for another year. It’s a challenging time for everyone and I think we both feel fortunate to be in the position that we are, as a lot of people are a lot worse off. I think she has enjoyed having her husband back and not the normal training zombie walking around the house. I’ve been put to work on all those jobs I’ve put off for ages which is pretty funny.”
Now that you’ve got your head around the fact that the Games have been postponed until August 2021 what has lockdown training looked like for you?
“I spent the first eight weeks riding the turbo at home. It was really hard as the weather was amazing and the roads were empty with no traffic. As I was already breaking the rules by going out to walk my dog Murphy twice a day, I didn’t want to then go out riding as well. I live in a small town and most people know who I am. The last thing I wanted was to be made an example of while out on my bike for hours on end. It was just easier in some ways to take on some new challenges on the turbo. I changed my focus and found a new purpose. However, I’m back out on my gravel bike and fat bike now and I’m steering clear of the roads as much as possible. There is a perfect storm at the moment, with cyclists used to having the roads to themselves and drivers not having driven in a number of weeks. I feel it’s a bad combination and I’ve heard of loads of accidents and confrontations between road users. It’s always a touchy subject, which always has two sides to the story. It’s a shame we can’t all be more considerate whilst out and about.”
Have you had chance to train at all with your sighted pilot Adam Duggleby who you cycle tandem with?
“No not at all! Very early on British Cycling stopped us from riding the tandem as it went against the Government’s social distancing rules, which is fair enough. So, we are just training on our own at the moment. We catch up once a week I guess, sounds like he’s flying on the bike at the moment.”
In amongst all the training how do you relax?
“Relaxation time for me is when I’m walking Murphy and spending time with Caroline. We have been doing a bit of wild swimming in the last couple of weeks as the exercise measures have been slackened. I do a bit of slack lining and spend a bit of time in the garage pottering about on bikes and stuff. I’ve also started an Instagram live chat once I week, interviewing interesting people and seeing what makes them tick and sharing their stories which is fun.” We’ll be sure to check out your live chats @stevebatembe!
I believe you’re a keen bikepacker. Once restrictions are lifted where will be the first place you head to?
“I’m pretty keen to get over to the Isle of Man for a look around. Scotland is always high on my list for places to go. It’s still my favourite place in the world to go bike packing.”
You’re clearly a successful fundraiser, helping to raise £230k recently. Any more plans or challenges in the pipeline, apart from the Games.
“I’ve always got a plan up my sleeve. We will just have to wait and see what the guidelines are from the Government, and how it all plays out. That said, while there is no racing in the calendar I’d like to make the most of this down time, as we don’t get it that often.”