Olympic legend Sir Chris Hoy has a lot to answer for. The serial-medal-winner-cum-cereal- shifter is the reason record-breaking cyclist Josh Quigley ended up in hospital with a fractured skull, a hole in his lung, seven broken ribs (seven!) and a broken heel and ankle. We mustn’t forget the heel and the ankle.
It was the dead of night on Highway 36 outside the tiny town of Flat, smack bang in the middle of Texas, where it happened. All Josh Quigley remembers is cycling along in the bitter cold, then a helicopter, and eventually coming round in a hospital bed.
Turns out he’d been hit by a car at 70mph. It was four days before Christmas last year and ‘The Tartan Explorer’ was on the very last leg of his round-the-world cycling tour. He’d completed 14,500 miles, and had only 3,000 left to go, when the 60-year-old woman driver accidentally smashed him off the road.
So what’s this got to do with the saintly Sir Chris? We’ll let Josh explain.
“Five years ago I was in a really bad way. I was overweight, depressed, drinking and taking drugs to numb the pain I was feeling after the breakdown of a long-term relationship,” he openly tells us.
“I no longer wanted to live and even tried to kill myself by driving my car into a wall at high speed.
“But a few months after my suicide attempt I went along to a talk by Sir Chris Hoy and it completely and utterly changed my life. As I was sitting there listening to him talk about his love of cycling, I suddenly thought to myself ‘F**k it, I’m going to cycle around the world’. He was so inspiring. He made me feel like I just had to get on a bike. So that’s what I did.”
It’s fair to say that Josh Quigley doesn't do things by half. He needed to change his life, and Sir Chris ignited something within.
“I hadn’t been on a bike since I was a child. Now I was in my 20s, 15 stone and desperately unhealthy,” he recalls, “but when I put my mind to something, I can make anything happen.”
And what happened next was extraordinary. Josh Quigley went on a journey, emotionally and physically. And it didn’t end in a Texan hospital. There was more to come from ‘The Tartan Explorer’.
“Not only was I determined to get back on the bike,” remembers Josh, “but I was adamant I was going to finish my round-the-world tour. By the end I was cycling 200 miles a day, for 12 hours at a time. By my calculations, I’d be able to return after my recovery and finish the journey in a fortnight. No bother.”
He returned home to Scotland to continue his rehabilitation and by March he was back on the road, doing what he loved best. But there was something bigger on the horizon, something that would stop all of us in our tracks. Covid-19. The global pandemic meant returning to America was impossible for the foreseeable future.
“At first I was devastated,” Josh tells us, “I was so committed to finishing my world tour. I just love cycling, it’s the reason I get up every day. But as the reality of coronavirus hit home, cycling no longer felt as important.”
But emerging from lockdown ‘The Tartan Explorer’ was ready for a new challenge. This time on home soil. And in true Josh Quigley style, he upped the ante. His eyes, head, heart and all those once-broken ribs, were set on breaking a cycling world record. Step forward the NC500.
That’s the North Coast 500 to the uninitiated. A gruelling route of 516 miles, to be exact, around the glorious Scottish Highlands. The overall climb is higher than Mount Everest, and the record to beat in finishing the course was 31 hours and 23 minutes.
This was the figure he and his support team would be laser focused on. That and raising money for the Baylor Scott & White Medical Centre in Texas, where he received intensive care treatment after his crash.
He feels incredibly lucky that the only reminder of his vast catalogue of injuries is a slight twinge in his left ankle, which he assures us only happens when it’s cold. Which is fortunate because he lives in...oh.
But no niggling ankle or biting Highland gale was going to prevent Josh Quigley from giving his all to become the fastest man on two wheels across the NC500. The race strategy was simple. Don’t stop. Keep on moving. And that’s what he did.
“No, I didn’t even stop for any toilet breaks” he says with more than a hint of pride in his voice. He burned off more than 20,000 calories, and tucked into jam wraps, energy gels and an endless supply of Haribo.
“The last 10 hours was really tough,” winces Josh, “My support team was urging me to keep on eating but it was so hard, my stomach was in bits. That was much more painful than my legs or my ankles. And the lack of sleep, that’s a killer too. At one stage I was falling asleep on my bike. But my mantra of ‘keep moving’ did the job and literally kept me going.
“Because we never stopped it meant I could actually cycle at a reasonable rate, that wasn’t the hard part, the toughest part was finding the mental toughness and grit I needed to keep pedalling. The previous record holder had taken a two-and-half-hour break, I took none.”
And the strategy worked. Josh Quigley crossed the finishing line in the bright Scottish sunshine by Inverness Castle in 31 hours and 19 minutes. Four minutes faster than the previous record.
“Seeing Inverness Castle was the best moment of my life,” he beams, “It was so tight right up until the end, but coming round the corner and seeing the finish line made everything I’d been through in my life worthwhile.”
Of course, the Josh Quigley story does not end here. His record-breaking exploits have only urged him to pursue even higher goals. Next up? The Tour de France. But, like his sporting hero Conor McGregor, he’s not here to take part, he’s here to take over.
“The summer of 2026,” smiles Quigley, “that’s when I’m aiming to win the Tour de France. I’m already visualising that in my head.”
Gliding down the Champs-Elysees, Yellow Jersey on his chest, with Sir Chris Hoy cheering on from the sidelines. Journey complete.