Ross Lamb is no stranger to the sharp end of sport.
A promising footballer during his formative years, Lamb was part of Notts County’s youth setup before signing up for two years with his hometown club Mansfield Town.
Disappointment over his release from Field Mill at the age of 18 quickly made way for a thirst for a fresh challenge and he turned his attentions to a sport he knew well in cycling.
Having bought a road bike some years before, while recovering from an ankle injury on the doctor’s recommendations, he took to the saddle immediately,
As football took centre stage, time on the bike became squeezed, though he still found the time to cycle to training and home while with the Stags.
But it was an interest that didn’t leave him and, after his decision to move away from football at 19, a return to the bike offered him the opportunity to compete again.
A chance meeting saw him join Mansfield Road Club and within weeks he was encouraged to race. Not one to shy away from a challenge he did and won his first outing.
Now, a year on, he is captain of the new Godfrey Bikewear Race Team - the brainchild of Olympic medallist Bryan Steel.
“I’m a first category rider and I’d like to say I’ll get my elite licence by the end of the year,” said Lamb. “Bryan, with his contacts, has already been speaking to people for me. He’s told me he doesn’t want me to be on the team by the next full year of racing.
“He’s said he’d have failed if he hasn’t moved me on by the time next season comes around. Hopefully next season I’ll be riding for another professional team. That’s what Bryan is like, he’s very down to earth and very straight with me, he wants to do what’s best for the sponsors, teams and the riders.
“The team is set up to move us on, to help us progress. With being at Mansfield, I’ve been around professionals all the time and I know how to conduct myself in certain areas of elite sport. It’s probably a couple of years before I’m ready for that but I’m happy to be chucked in at the deep end and see how I do.”
The team was set up to help unearth and nurture talented young riders, to help fulfill potential and maybe - one day - represent their country, like Steel once did.
“It’s been one of those things where you can’t believe you’re working with him, but you’re mates with him,” said Lamb. “I’ve got to know him that well, you don’t see him as an Olympic medallist. He’s got this great history and achievements as long as your arm. He comes out with some great stories and names drop every so often.
“He’s told us how he used to room with Brad Wiggins and all these kind of guys and you’re reminded that who you’re working with is someone very special. He passes all his experience on to us and that’s probably one of the best things about being on the team.
He added: “He is vital. That’s why the team has been set up - to use his broad knowledge and contacts to first of all get us a good base to build on. He wants to get us as good as we can, prepare us to be professionals and then pass us on in to the pro ranks.”
Lamb will captain a team of four riders which includes Nottingham racer Corey Ashley, 20, and Beeston cycling duo David Ogg, 22, and Pierre Vernie, 20.
“I’ve got to bark the orders, make sure everyone is in the right place at the right time and keep morale high,” he said. “The main thing is positioning in cycling, if you can avoid a crash, make sure the tactics are all right and making sure we’re winning. If we don’t win a race you could say it was down to me why we didn’t win it, so it’s a lot of responsibility.”
Responsibility he is keen to take on, given his background.
“I’ve always been good mentally and can whip people in to shape if they need it,” he said. “Being at Mansfield was a good life experience. There was only one lad who has made it from my age group, Jack Thomas. I was pretty disappointed not to get a professional contract there but cycling suits me better, I always wanted to return to it at some point and now I can.
“If Adam Murray (current Stags boss) had taken over while I was there I might still be there now, but he wasn’t and it wasn’t to be.
“I didn’t get a contract for the first team and went back to cycling. I’d always hoped to go back to cycling and give it a good bash. At Mansfield it was one or the other, it was impossible to do both.”
The team face a gruelling summer schedule of around 85 road races including The Milk Race, in Nottingham, National Championships and National Series events. Then in August the team will go to Belgium, exposing the quartet to international competition.
“I did the Milk Race last year and dipped my toe in to it,” said Lamb. “I went to Belgium at the back end of last year too and I did pretty well out there against some good guys.
“I’m itching to get going. I’ve done all the training, done all the hours now and that’s when the hard works come in. It’ll be my first national championships this year and to be lining up against Team Sky it’s the stuff dreams are made of.
“There’ll be some big races on TV and it’ll be great exposure.”
The team has already received sponsorship from optical retailer Vision Express as well as the cycling apparel manufacturer Godfrey Bikewear, both headquartered in Nottinghamshire.
Steel competed in four Olympic Games, winning Bronze at Sydney 2000 and Silver at Athens 2004, along with five World Championship medals for cycling.
“Ross is flying at the moment,” said Steel. “He brings a lot to the team. He’s got quite a level-head. Road racing is not just about physical attributes, it’s more like a game of chess. Ross is very good at seeing the right places to move in to.
“He’s very good at leading the side. Our development guys (David and Pierre) need to have that skill. Ross is very good at getting his message across, talking to the guys and making sure they’re not panicing and getting them in the right position.
“He’ll be dictating my road tactics, I can’t do that from the side of the road or in the team car, so Ross’ role is very important to teach those guys what I’ve been teaching Ross for the last two years.”
And added: “We want to push them all to the next level. Hopefully in 12 months’ time Ross and Corey will be talking with professional teams. We see the team as a pathway. If everything goes to plan, we envisage Ross and Corey won’t be with the team this time next year. We’ll have a new intake of riders.”