When Ethan Hayter declares he wants three gold medals on his Olympic debut in Tokyo next year, the immediate response would be to dismiss the 21-year-old’s dreams as, well, exactly that.
After all, only five cyclists in the history of the Olympics have won three or more golds at a single Games, and the two Britons among that list – two-wheeled royalty Sir Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny – both took until their third appearance to achieve their golden hat-tricks.
For Hayter to crash the party at the first time of asking would take something very dramatic, and would require much more than simply carefree, yet admirable, confidence of youth and masterful bike-handling skills.
But a rapid start to his career – “pretty much on fast forward” as Hayter puts it – which has already produced nine world, European and Commonwealth medals in less than two years, demonstrates the mark of a man not daunted by tough assignments.
“When I’ve got my sheet with my goals on, my top one is three golds. When you see it, you think that’s weird. I’m hoping to go to the Olympics and win three gold medals,” reflects Hayter, one of the Tokyo Eight whose progress The Daily Telegraph is tracking in the build-up to next year’s Games.
“But the way I see it is you may as well try and do as best you can. I’ve been to the  Euros and ridden all three and got three medals and I’ve got quite good performances at the worlds, too.
“At senior elite events, I’ve been on the podium more times than I haven’t, which is a pretty good record. You may as well try to do as best you can.
“But obviously there is pressure from all the other riders trying to do the same thing. I just need to be better than the other riders.”
It was in 2018 that Hayter broke into the British senior team, kick-starting his run in fine form with an immediate world team pursuit title and then following it up with Commonwealth team pursuit silver and individual points race bronze in Australia, his first trip outside Europe.
Better still was to come closer to home in Glasgow, when he beat Olympic champion Elia Viviani to European omnium gold for his first major individual title – the “best result to date” according to Hayter – as well as Madison and team pursuit bronze.
Growing up in south London, Hayter learnt to ride pedalling around Tooting Bec Common, but had it not been for the efforts of countless individuals, local authorities and the backing of British Cycling towards the Save Herne Hill Velodrome campaign, then his track skills might not have blossomed.
“I was maybe 13, my friends were going down to Herne Hill velodrome, it had just been resurfaced,” Hayter says. “There was a while where it had a chance of closing down, they managed to get funding and resurfaced it. It just so happened that was when I started going down with my friends on Saturday mornings and Friday nights. I just caught the bug. I think it also helped that I was quite good at it.”
Even then, Hayter’s Olympic ambitions only truly crystallised when he moved to Manchester the day after his 18th birthday to join British Cycling’s Senior Academy squad in 2016, giving up on his A-level studies to join the programme.
If 2018 was his breakthrough year, then 2019 has been one of consolidation for Hayter, still accumulating medals but having to face the setbacks that any athlete can experience.
In February there was world team pursuit silver and omnium bronze on the track but then a crash when well placed at August’s Tour de l’Avenir resulted in a broken collarbone which ruled him out of the men’s under-23 race at the Road World Championships in Yorkshire, while October’s European Championships yielded only one medal this time, bronze in the team pursuit.
With his clear talent on the bike extending to the road, it is obvious he is a name for the future, too, and Team Ineos have already pounced, tying him down on a three-year deal in November. Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford took a look at Hayter previously when he was invited into the team – then named Team Sky – for the autumn of last season as a stagiaire (apprentice). He obviously liked what he saw.
"It’s the best place for me to begin my career as a professional road rider and the best place for me to be with the Olympics coming up next year."
We're excited to announce the signing of @ethan_hayter on a three-year contract.
— Team INEOS (@TeamINEOS) November 27, 2019
The agreement is for Hayter to focus on track cycling until after Tokyo and then switch attention to the road. A return to the track would not be out of the question for another Games – Mark Cavendish, for example, returned to the boards to win omnium silver at Rio – but it further puts the spotlight on the young rider if he wants his three Olympic golds in one Games.
“The next Bradley Wiggins,” was how Ed Clancy, the three-time Olympic champion, described team-mate Hayter after their 2018 team pursuit world title-winning ride together – a comparison which grows further now, given the road racing expertise he has at his disposal with Team Ineos and the opportunities ahead.
The man himself responds to such lofty comments with an air of modesty, but for an individual already harbouring bold Tokyo targets, you assume the combined track and road exploits of Sir Bradley are not totally out of his mind.
“Obviously I don’t hear it and think, ‘Oh yes, I’ll be the next Bradley Wiggins.’ But you hear it and the fact that he [Ed] believes it is possible, is quite exciting and something I’d like to do. If I get three golds then, yes, I am well on the way.”