'Some athletes are genetic freaks, some are technically proficient and skilled – I wouldn’t say I’m one or the other. But what I did have was a huge desire to compete.'
Three-time Olympian and 2013 BMX world champion Liam Phillips is nothing but honest when it comes to assessing his career on two wheels.
That may be influenced by having to face up to the harsh truth that his competitive riding days are at an end, begrudgingly admitting defeat to a hand injury sustained back in February and which could not be corrected despite three bouts of surgery.
But it could also have something to do with Phillips’ own character– determined and driven but also acutely aware of the importance of those around supporting him along the way.
“It’s not ideal retiring this way, I would have loved to have carried on racing. But I have achieved a lot more than what I would ever have expected before starting out my career,” he said.
“Each time I was training towards a race, I would create a solid plan and try my hardest to stick to that.
“It also helped that I had an incredible support team around me. They had a lot of input into what I did. All of that as a package allowed me to compete with the best in the world.
“I’m friends with a lot of the riders on the circuit and I know them well. We had some great battles together.
“I do think though that if they also had that application and also the support I had, they would be untouchable.
“I was able to compete with them because I had such a great team around me.”
Support team or not, do not take Phillips’ modesty as a sign he was lacking in talent in any way.
Eleven gold medals at UCI BMX World Championships and UCI BMX Supercross World Cup events demonstrate an athlete able to match the best.
In 2015 he became the first rider to win back-to-back BMX World Cup titles but it was his global triumph in Auckland two years earlier which was particularly sweet for Phillips.
“When I was kid I had always dreamt of wearing the rainbow jersey, it was my aim growing up so to achieve that was pretty special,” he said.
“I think that jersey just signifies everything, that you are the best in the world for the next 12 months.
“Being world champion in 2013 was by far the biggest achievement for me in my career.”
As much as there were highs for the British rider, there were also lows and frustrations.
After gaining valuable experience at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Phillips’ preparations were hit in the run up to both London and Rio by a broken collarbone.
Displaying his usual battling tendencies, he made it to both but failed to medal, including crashing out at the quarter-final stage at the latter.
Again, he is able to look back and reflect without bitterness.
“There are some regrets about the Olympics and Rio. But any other colour medal than a gold and I wouldn’t have been satisfied anyway,” he said.
“Over my career, I don’t tend to focus on any other results than the ones I have won. The races I have won I could tell you every single detail about it, the others not so.
“I would have loved to have worn the rainbow jersey one more time. For me it would have wiped out any disappointment I had from the Olympics.
“If I had not been injured this year and gone to the World Championships and won that race then I would probably have knocked my career on the head. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason.”
Which brings things onto Phillips next move. The crash in February, brought about by a bike mechanical, saw him fracture his wrist and hand in four places.
Surgery followed but his recovery plateaued and he twice more went under the knife of a top surgeon who had treated Premier League goalkeepers and professional golfers.
But with simple tasks such as opening the front door with a right hand ‘that no longer looks like a normal hand’ causing pain, Phillips had to accept that his riding days were over.
“I had a feeling it was coming but it was still a shock when someone tells you you are not able to complete again. I was like, ok, what do I do now?” said the Taunton-born rider, who has his own coffee shop but is keen to stay involved in cycling.
“I don’t want to say no to anything that comes my way. I would love to work with other athletes who are in the same position when I was younger trying to break through.
“There are a lot of talented young riders who don’t quite make it. I would love to be able to offer some sort of service, I’m really passionate about the sport.
“I would like to be remembered as someone has had success but also who had a backbone and did the best for the sport.”
That drive to succeed continues to shine through for the now-retired Phillips.
By Pippa Field, Sportsbeat