The good fight

We’ve known Tom Yiangou (or Chang) since the birth of Blackmore. Within our little patch of the country he is amongst a strong group of young local riders who race both nationally and internationally. Passionate about both his riding and lifestyle choices, Tom is someone we admire greatly. As we grow and begin to choose ambassadors for Blackmore, he is a natural choice for us to fly the Blackmore flag. Tom is one of a growing number of riders and people in general who are choosing a plant-based diet. Many more of us, including us here in the Duckhouse, are taking steps to reduce significantly the amount of animal produce that we consume. The highly publicised ‘Veganuary’ has given more column inches (or characters) to the issue and Tom was recently featured in a Cycling Weekly article about veganism. We caught up with him to get a further insight into how a vegan diet fits in with training and his hopes and plans for the year ahead.

I’ve always loved cycling and I’m fortunate enough to have grown up a couple minutes’ walk away from the Chelmer CC HQ in Chelmsford and so I began riding with them at the age of 13. I did my first race at the age of 14 where I finished 4th, and took my first win a few months later. I’ve been riding with a British domestic team (Neon Velo) since turning junior in 2014 (under-19) and have ridden in that team since. Sadly, the title sponsor has pulled out for 2018 and so the team was told that it was no longer continuing in mid-December – about two months too late to be in with the chance of finding a decent domestic pro contract unless you’re a proper hitter. Therefore, this year I’ll be racing a little more low-key for my university before hopefully moving back up the ranks in 2019.

So you’ve moved away from home and now you’ve been at university for a couple of years. What are you studying and where?

I’m studying Environmental Geography & Climate Change at UEA in Norwich. It’s a super interesting degree and very important in this day and age. Hopefully I’ll come out of uni and be able to do something meaningful and important in shaping the future. Moving up to Norfolk has been great fun, it’s so different to Essex in so many ways. The culture seems to be a lot more chilled – especially within the city of Norwich, everyone’s down to earth and up for a chat. Everything seems to have vegan options and the city just breathes peacefulness, environmentalism and sustainability. Riding-wise, UEA isn’t massive in the scene yet, but a bunch of us are working hard to make cycling grow in the uni. Norwich has a great cycling club (VC Norwich) that has a number of guys that I’ll be racing alongside this year, so I’m out with them most weekends riding hard through the windy broads or by the lumpy North Norfolk coast!

How long have you been vegan for? Was there a particular thing that spurred you on?

I turned vegan at 18. It was a completely personal choice, motivated by my accumulating knowledge of the environmental impact of animal agriculture, its hideous unsustainability and the many health implications of drug-fed, poorly produced and factory-farmed animal products. When I learnt how cheap it was to live sustainably as an athlete on a plant-based diet, I decided pretty quickly to switch. It was a massive shock to my parents who thought I’d forget it after a month but nearly 3 years later and they’re learning to be plant-based too now!

Tom's been around the Duckhouse since the start so when it comes to picking brand ambassadors we could think of no better candidate.

Is there anything you really struggle with keeping to a plant based diet?

Not really. I found it tough travelling at races with my team sometimes with energy products etc that weren’t vegan, but at the early stages I was just sensible and flexible. I never, ever bought animal products but if they were given to me I wouldn’t say no. We were paid to go all the way over the country and abroad to perform in bike races so I wasn’t going to refuse an energy bar mid-race that had milk chocolate in and risk bonking, or go hungry for hours after the race because I wouldn’t eat the protein bar on the drive back to the hotel. But as I got used to the lifestyle of a domestic pro, I just brought my own foods and energy products to make sure I had what worked for me.

How do you ensure you eat enough during long training blocks? Can that be a struggle?

Oh if only eating enough was a struggle! It’s the total opposite. I can’t stop bloody eating.

 Do you favour any particular meals pre and post training?

I’ll always eat either porridge or cereal before a training session. If it’s a recovery ride I like to have avocado or peanut butter on toast. After a ride above 3 hours or an intense session I’ll usually have porridge again with some vegan protein powder in afterwards.

Does it feel a bit ridiculous or even condescending that some people’s reaction is like, “what do you eat?” almost insinuating that all everyone eats is meat based or that you simply can’t feel ‘full’ without meat in a meal or a snack?

I guess so. But when I tell them I’ve just had a falafel wrap with coleslaw, hummus, tahini and avocado or a chickpea and sweet potato curry for example, they usually understand!

Meals like these aren't as hard as you think and once you get used to cooking more without meat you'll wonder why you didn't start sooner.

Many people struggle with convenience foods especially where the relationship between the animal and the product are removed. A ham sandwich at a service station for example. Have you got any suggestions for how to address that sort of scenario?

Just think behind the package. About the ham in that sandwich. God knows what on earth that pig had been fed or injected, what conditions it lived in, what part of the pig it was and the factory that the meat was processed and flavored to taste after going through unhygienic, rusty machines. Or even if it was a pig for that matter – god knows what animals go into ham in this day & age. They’ll do anything for a profit in animal agriculture.

Best post ride snack?

Fruit! And porridge. Lots of porridge.

To some degree the ethos of cycling and veganism do go hand in hand. With your degree in mind, are these relationships something you want pursue in the future?

Without a doubt! It’s such a sustainable lifestyle. My performance on the bike has flourished whilst eating plants, and I’ve cut my carbon footprint in half. I’ve never headed out on a ride thinking, ‘ah, if only I’d eaten meat these last two years my zone 4 wouldn’t top out at 380 watts- it’d top out at 500!’.

Café and restaurant recommendation?

So many in Norwich – my personal favorite is Tofurei and I really like Ancestors Coffee. Back in Chelmsford, A Canteen has great vegan options for a meal out, as does the good old Nando’s – proof the movement is growing dramatically! But wherever you are, just google it, you’ll find places that do great vegan snacks, cakes and meals everywhere. (And Blackmore can highly recommend The Feel Good Café in Chingford too!)

Have you got any recommended reading or articles you can steer people to?

Watch ‘The Game Changers’, ‘What The Health’ and ‘Cowspiracy’. Check out ‘How Not To Die’ by Dr Micheal Gregor and also just YouTube in general. There are so many vegan youtubers in the fitness sector, especially cycling. Eat Plants is a great channel.

So when does your racing start in ernest this year? (also include what your main races are in 2018 etc etc)

Due to a pretty sever hip flexor injury (a torn psoas muscle) which occurred in late January, my early season is having to take a hit. I don’t plan on racing anything major now until April (Mark Bell Memorial), but I will do a couple of regional races as training during March to help me get back to good shape. Sadly, the injury has massively set me back from the condition I was in prior to it. Worryingly, my physiotherapist warned me that the injury was quite serious, and that I should prepare for some prolonged recovery time. It’s a complex muscle that, if severely damaged, can have lifelong effects. My FTP at the time of the tear was around 370 watts at 73kg, but it’s now a struggle to even hold above 300 watts for any real considerable time. With such good numbers in January and great progression being made, I had really hoped to have a good showing in the early season in Belgium and back home at the Jock Wadley, a race that has massive national prestige. It’s a bit depressing at times after being in such good form, but it is what it is – I’ve learnt over the years that cycling is never an easy ride (if you’ll pardon the pun). Once I’m back to form, which is a bit of a guessing game at the moment, I hope to be targeting some National B road races, some Belgian 1.12’s and then by the height of the summer I’ll be racing in Chiang Mai (Thailand) and the Midi-Pyrenees in southern France, where my family now have a house.

Tom is ready to face another busy year of racing both home and abroad.

Oh go on then indulge yourself, what are you listening to right now?

Kings Of The Rollers Vol 1 – Serum B2B Carasel

And are you the only person you know who microwaves bagels?

Nope. It’s a classic in my student house, something I learnt. If a bagel is fresh, it’s the best thing ever. But after a few days it starts to go hard, so putting it in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds gets it right back to the best. Plus it’s warm and gooey – pure winter perfection.