Liam Phillips: Lost bikes and a private party for world champion

By Ollie WilliamsBBC Olympic sports reporter
Liam Phillips

Liam Phillips has made it home. His bikes have not.

The instrument with which he won the BMX world title at the weekend is languishing in lost-luggage purgatory somewhere between New Zealand and Manchester.

"I hope somebody knows where it is," he says. "I'm confident."

Phillips has reached the arrivals hall at Manchester Airport and is almost at the end of a long but happy journey home. His family is in Somerset and his girlfriend, track cyclist Jess Varnish, is training, but his next-door neighbour and her two young children are there to greet him.

"We've been following him closely," says neighbour Janine Gallagher as Phillips admires the cards her children have made for him. "We see all his injuries as well. We're really excited for him."

Even though he is only 24, Phillips has almost two decades of riding at world championships under his belt. This is his first victory. He has been celebrating in style ever since.

"He swapped flights," says team-mate Kyle Evans. "We got to the airport in Auckland and he said, 'I'm the world champion, I'm going to upgrade.' Fair play to him."

Phillips admits he paid for the upgrade, but is unsure if he is that much more refreshed as a result, saying: "I slept as much as I could on the flight but it's difficult when you've got a smile as big as mine."

Before heading home, Phillips says he wishes he could see his family, but he has a golfing holiday booked for the following day and doesn't think there will be time.

We know something he doesn't. A private room has been reserved in the centre of Manchester, and his family is already on the road heading north from Somerset.

Archive: Liam Phillips wins BMX world title in 2013

Dozens of people attend, ranging from old school friends and relatives to the staff, coaches and team-mates he sees every day at British Cycling.

Olympic champions such as track cyclists Victoria Pendleton and Philip Hindes are there; so are Paralympians Jody Cundy and Jon-Allan Butterworth. In a corner is George North, the British and Irish Lions rugby player, whose girlfriend is cyclist Becky James.

When Phillips walks up the stairs in a pristine white shirt, his eyes and smile grow wide as cheers bounce off the wooden wall panels.

"It's good to come here and see all these people," says Liam's father, Pete. "And not just from the BMX community, but the whole of British cycling - athletes from all disciplines, across the board. It's fantastic.

"To us, it's the beginning of a journey really. Liam's always been on the fringes, waiting to make his mark. We all knew he was capable. Now he won't be just making up the numbers, he'll be the one that they're going after: 'That's Liam Phillips, the world champion.'"

Team-mate Evans is using Phillips's success as inspiration. The 19-year-old says: "Hopefully, in the next few years I can be where Liam is.

"Liam's a good man, he's always up for a good laugh, and he's a hard worker. I train with him pretty much seven days a week, he's got everything down: nutrition, sleep, the effort he puts into training. Every session he puts the max into it. I've got the perfect role model."

Across the room, Phillips is holding court, remembering his years of frustration and injury, missing out, being undervalued. All that has been released.

Gone, too, is the beard he can be seen sporting in footage of the victory. Had it been his equivalent of North American sport's "play-off beard" - the superstitious growth of facial hair in the hope of preserving a winning streak?

"I just left my beard trimmer at home," is his more down-to-earth answer. "That was the first thing I did when I got home."

A clean start, then. Despite a chronic lack of sleep in the past 48 hours, Phillips has maintained admirable clarity about what lies ahead.

"I keep going back over it, and one of the things I think is: if this is how good it feels to be world champion, I can't imagine what it would be like to be Olympic champion," he says.

"You soak it up and enjoy the moment, but then you're already starting to look ahead to the future and what else is around the corner."

But without a bike?

"All the more reason to put my feet up for a few days before training."

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