A FORMER British National Road Race cycling champion who now lives in Bradford on Avon has swapped his bike for a blossoming career in presenting.

Matthew Stephens, now a host for the viral YouTube channel, Global Cycling Network, settled in the town in 2013 and cannot speak highly enough of it.

“I fell in love with Bradford on Avon immediately. It’s gorgeous,” he said. “I’ve never lived in a place where I’ve felt such a strong sense of community. It’s ridiculously British, quintessential and fun.”

Mr Stephens began his cycling career aged 18 in 1988 before retiring 23 years later in 2011 and is now part of the presenting team at the hugely successful YouTube channel, Global Cycling Network (GCN).

GCN, which includes cycling hints, race reports and interviews with the likes of Tour de France winners Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, has more than 600,000 subscribers and almost 100 million viewers.

“It’s turned into a phenomenon,” said Mr Stephens, who joined the show in 2013 as a freelancer before signing on permanently last November.

“We have to pinch ourselves. We get recognised wherever we go and the amount of praise we are getting is amazing.

“It is an absolute privilege to do something you love doing, talking about cycling, having fun and getting people excited about the sport – what could be better?”

The 45-year-old represented Great Britain at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, finished seventh in the 1995 World Championships, ridden in one of the three grand tours, the Giro D’Italia and best of all became British National Road Race Champion in 1998.

“Becoming national champion was unforgettable ,” he said. “Looking back at it now and seeing the names that have worn that jersey, Mark Cavendish, David Millar and Bradley Wiggins, you realise you’re part of that heritage and that is special.”

But his career was almost over before it began, after a head-on collision at the 1990 National Championships.

“It was touch and go if I would lose my right arm,” he said. “I lost use of it for six months but it could have been so much worse.”

From 1990-92, he rode for French team ACDB. After years of graft the London-born rider finally turned professional, signing for the Linda McCartney Racing Team in 1999.

“I felt like a little kid again. I remember thinking: ‘This is it, I’ve achieved my dream, I’ve finally made it.’ Unfortunately that didn’t happen,” he said.

The team competed in the Giro D’Italia in 2000, where he earned admiration for racing on through injuries, but then the team folded due to cash issues.

“I felt physically sick,” said Mr Stephens. “That was certainly my lowest point. I thought, ‘This is the end of my career, my dream’. I couldn’t even look at my bike for six weeks.”

He signed on the dole, then worked night shifts at Morrison’s and, after a difficult year in 2002, decided to join the police force in his native Cheshire, following in his father’s footsteps.

After a decade of ‘having a big hat on’ as a policeman and riding for Sigma Sport-Specialized, Mr Stephens went onto work at ITV’s The Cycle Show, as then as a Eurosport commentator before being picked up by GCN.

“Cycling is fantastic but it isn’t real life,” said Mr Stephens, who is an avid comic book collector, particularly loving Spiderman.

“I’ve had an unorthodox career but going through the ups and downs helped me get where I am today and I wouldn’t change that in the slightest.”