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Cycling: Olympic rowing champion Brittain finds new love, wins S’pore criterium masters

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SINGAPORE – Rowing will always be Matthew Brittain’s first love, a passion that drove the South African to a historic gold medal in the men’s lightweight fours at the 2012 London Olympics.

His second romance with a different sport – cycling – began just a year ago and on Sunday, saw him winning the Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium men’s masters title.

The multi-talented athlete had continued running and going to the gym after his retirement, but felt that he was not as healthy as before. He decided to get into cycling to improve his fitness, and soon fell in love with the sport.

On his decision to go into cycling competitively, Brittain said: “I didn’t want to lose something that has been a huge part of my life so I decided that I was going to enter some cycling races and get into cycling and it’s been amazing.”

Clocking weekly distances of 500km in the past few months, the 35-year-old’s efforts paid off on Sunday as he finished the masters event at the Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium in 25min 39sec to clinch top spot ahead of Americans Reuben Bakker and Michael Whitesides.

Cycling also made Brittain realise how much he had missed competitive sports.

He retired from rowing in 2013 owing to a back injury and sport took a backseat as he turned his focus to his finance career.

But his cycling training comprising 50 to 100km per session on weekdays and 150km on weekends reminded him of how much he missed pushing his body to the limit.

He said: “Training for the Olympics was so intense and so all-consuming that I didn’t feel very motivated to train. I was very excited to start on my (cycling) career and it was only recently I felt like getting back into competitive sport.

“I love competition. I always feel very motivated after a race or coming into a race, I just want to train harder and give myself the best chance to compete properly. The foundation for my love for sport is the racing and the competition but I enjoy the training. I don’t think many people will understand but I just like that feeling of pushing through the pain and getting your body faster and faster every week, it’s like a challenge.”

While he finished in the top spots in some local races, he felt that his tactics were not the best.

After accumulating some experience, he went into the men’s masters race at the Tour de France Singapore Criterium on Sunday with a plan to win it.

He said: “I’m feeling absolutely thrilled. It was a wonderful race, one of the best races I’ve done in Singapore… I was hoping to win. My plan was to stay calm in the first half of the race and then somewhere in the second half, look to make a move on the bunch and get away.

“Luckily I got my chance with about one lap to go. I just put my head down, took a few risks through the corners and managed to get away from the group then just followed the plan and gave it everything for the three kilometres to stay away.”

While he loves cycling, rowing remains his first love.

Although he no longer rows, Brittain remains involved in the sport and coaches the Singapore national women’s rowers. After finishing the criterium on Sunday, he cycled from Marina Bay to Pandan Reservoir for a training session.

Brittain said: “I really love rowing and that will always be my sport, that’s my calling. Cycling is fun, it’s very social and it’s easier to do it on your own whereas rowing you have your team and you have to be a bit more organised, but rowing for me is my favourite sport.”

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