Jack Clarkson

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Oi, Fat Jack, get a move on!
It’s the usual banter you can enjoy at any regional ’cross race, though this is different, this is a World Cup. This is Koksjide. The heroes of our sport are duking it out on Belgian sand and the ‘fat’ boy out there trying to take his riding to the next level is the irrepressible Jack Clarkson. He’s not a stranger to continental shores, nor to representing his country in what many describe as a muddy hell of a sport. He self-funds races to the continent to get the experience he knows he needs.
And after just seven short years in the sport, this year he lined up to represent UK at the World Championships for the fifth time. It didn’t always used to be like this.
His cycling career started primarily as a way to lose weight.
As he entered his teenage years, Jack’s love of fast food and video games saw his weight balloon up to a not so sporty 15 stone. Fortunately, he realised a career as a video gamer wasn’t for him and he managed to drag himself off the sofa and joined the Air Cadets.
“As a teenager I became more interested in my PlayStation and eating crap than anything else, and before I knew it my weight had ballooned up to 15 stone. I decided I needed to get fit, so I started by riding to Air Cadets. You’ll laugh, but Cadets were only four miles from home and Grandma’s was conveniently in the middle. Back then it was too much for me to ride to Cadets and back home. Doing six miles on an evening was the max I could do! Things have definitely changed!”
Over the course of 18 months, Clarkson shifted five stone, cycling everywhere. Work experience in his local bike store introduced him to a local cycle club, and with regular rides and support he was soon encouraged to give cyclocross racing a go. However his first ’cross race was a disaster. A literal schoolboy error earned him a broken wrist. Rather than let it deter him, Clarkson’s sheer determination and single-mindedness – something of a constant and usually overlooked in this lively outspoken and youngster – saw him return a few weeks later, his wrist in a brace to race again just to pick up a few points.
Fast forward seven years and Jack has come a long way since those first faltering six miles on a mountain bike. His cyclocross career has blossomed. Riding under the well-respected banner of Hope Factory Racing, his recent bronze in the UK National Cyclocross Championships as a first year senior, closely behind Ian Field and the winner, Liam Killeen, sits alongside the silver he gained in the Under 23s the previous year – it underlines his grit and determination to get results and achieve his goals.
“I enjoy what I do, but there’s also a reason why I do what I do. I don’t want everyone to look back in ten years’ time and say, ‘He was always second best’. I want to be in the position say in 30 years’ time when I’m pitting for others that people are still talking about me and the rides I won. I don’t want to be the Raymond Poulidor of cyclocross! Ultimately we all want a trophy room like Sven Nys!
“I’m proud of stuff I’ve won, but to be honest I’m prouder of the things I haven’t won. Take for example my ride at Milton Keynes World Cup. That was a real highlight for me.
I was 32nd in the Elite field. For me that day was special. My expectations were to just finish on the lead lap, but to finish as high as I did in such a competitive field was amazing, that and I got 50 euros in my back pocket for the privilege too! Prior to that I came 19th in the World Championships as a second year junior. So for me it’s not the winning I purely get my kicks from, it’s the bigger races I’ve done and have seen my results gradually improve on an international scale. Each result – whether I win or lose – makes me train harder, get fitter, push myself and my skills that bit further to enable me to reach higher goals in the sport.”
The athletic 22-year-old has grown up immensely since his humble beginnings. He’s still the same cheeky loudmouth kid to many, but with a serious ambition that he won’t give up easily – even though he now has a full-time job to hold down. He walks his own path with regards to coaching.
He knows what he wants, and he’s well on is way to achieving it.
“I’m not really coached as such, but I do have a lot of support. Chris Young helps me out, as does Ian Field. And at work I’m fortunate in that a few people there help me out along the way. In a sense I dip into six pots of honey around me and spread them all on my toast – in that respect I know I’m very lucky to be able to do that.
“I can come across as a bit cheeky, outspoken, pretty lively, not taking anything seriously, but that’s just me, and I love the banter, but actually I can actually be quite calculated. There’s always a way of getting what you want either via time management or money management, but if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything you want. I want to pull on the stripy jersey at some point, get my name on that trophy. Hit the top 20s in senior Elite World Champs and enjoy it! I’m in this for the long run, thick or thin so to speak!”