As deafening roars fill the Olympic velodrome on a dreary February day, Chris Hoy politely asks a huddle of reporters gathered around him to speak up a little bit.
The clamor only increases when fellow Briton Victoria Pendleton whizzes around the wooden oval and Hoy, perched on a warm-down bike to avoid getting cramps, apologetically excuses himself of his media duties for a moment.
“Come on, Vicky,” the four-time Olympic gold medalist screams with all his might at this year’s London Games test event and World Cup series.
Hoy was in outstanding form himself, not only on the track with two golds including a lung-bursting keirin victory in which he recorded his fastest ever speed of 78.1kph, but also off it.
“The answers are: ‘Yes, no, no, yes.’ And it was great,” the Scot, pretending to be disinterested, joked to reporters after claiming bronze in the team sprint.
If Hoy was disappointed at that result, he did not show it, affording generous amounts of his time to talk through the race.
No wonder Hong Kong youngster Lee Wai-sze, who claimed a silver and a bronze at the same meeting, described her hero as “very gentleman” in halting English.
“I love Chris Hoy very much. No matter how far behind he gets, he always catches the riders,” said Lee, whose detached demeanor changed suddenly when Hoy’s name was mentioned.
Lee could not be more accurate in her assessment.
The barrel-chested 36-year-old took his London form, which he labeled his “best since Beijing,” to the world championships in Melbourne, Australia, in April where he won an 11th world title with a “last-chance saloon” keirin burst.
Hoy went up the inside for the first time in his life to leave spectators and his coaches open-mouthed in amazement.
“One hundred metres out, he was gone. But he was still standing and he took his chance,” head coach Shane Sutton said after Hoy’s audacious move.
Hoy is one of the most modest top athletes in world sport and would prefer not to be addressed as “Sir,” as he is entitled to be after being knighted in 2009 for becoming the first Briton in 100 years to win three golds at a single Olympics the previous year.
A gentleman off the track, there are few more fierce competitors on it.
Hoy, who started out on a second-hand girl’s bike given to him by his neighbor, but promptly broke it, is the figurehead of British cycling’s golden generation.
Started when Chris Boardman won the first gold medal by a Briton for 70 years at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the baton passed to Hoy in the new millennium.
Sydney in 2000 was where Hoy first made his mark on the Olympics by winning team sprint silver before world championship success two years later and a first Olympic gold in 2004.
British cycling’s performance director Dave Brailsford said after the Beijing Olympics that Hoy, who trains between 25 and 35 hours a week, has been the ideal leader.
“When there’s a wobble in the team people stop and you can see all the people look at Chris. Then they look at what he does and they follow suit. It’s a bit like a wolf pack,” Brailsford said. “When something spooks all the wolves, they turn and look at the leader and they all stop. And then he does something — and that’s Chris.”
Hoy says his phenomenal motivation to keep training as hard as he does at 36, considered old for track cyclists, is largely thanks to the moment when London won the Olympic Games.