Before accidentally becoming a top university rower and unexpectedly placing in the top five cyclists in Britain, Colin Robertson hated sport. But since discovering his knack, there have been no limits for this flying Scotsman, either on the road or in the workplace.
Hailing from an academic family, Robertson - the group chief financial officer for CLSA, who has a PhD in mathematics - shunned any kind of sport. "They would drag you out on a rugby pitch in the snow in the middle of a Scottish winter," he says. "It was terrible."
But while at the University of Edinburgh, he signed up on a whim and blitzed 300 applicants to make the school's rowing team despite being in the worst shape of his life. His rookie team ousted the first rowing team in their first year and made it to the grand final of the Henley Royal Regatta, Britain's university rowing championships.
An injury ended his short rowing career, so Robertson, 37, took up cycling. When he was overtaken by a group of speedy cyclists on his first ride, his competitive streak was stirred. "I knew I wanted to be as fast as they were," he says.
Just how fast he would become surprised everyone, including himself. Only two years after picking up the sport, he finished fifth in the British Time Trial Championships in 1997. He did it again in 2008. "I was really blown away," he says. "I even beat my teammate, who was going to the Commonwealth Games."
These days he races for Team Direct Asia, a group of amateur cyclists in Hong Kong who race around the region. Just this past weekend, he won the three-day Tour de Bintan in Indonesia. He's also won the 2010 Tour of Matabungkay in the Philippines. He trains almost every day for two to three hours before work, and he calls it the best part of his day.
Robertson loves cycling for its social aspects and required teamwork, but largely also because of the pain. "I'm just one of these really insane people who love suffering, and cycling is the ultimate sport for suffering. I've done marathons, I've done rowing, but cycling beats them all."
Where did you get your sporting talent?
I don't believe it's raw talent, but that some people develop faster than others, which is rewarding, so they train more. Others progress more slowly, which is frustrating. Both get there eventually, but one has got to put in more effort. I believe I am just one of those lucky people who develop quite quickly.
Hong Kong is not considered a very bike friendly city. Where do you train?
Hong Kong is very mountainous; there is nothing flat and traffic is not good on the island. We just moved to Tung Chung, partly because the cycling is better. However, you've just got to make the best of what you've got. There are great places to cycle in Hong Kong; you just have to make the effort. Europe has some great cycling, but it's bloody freezing half the time. You have to always have a positive outlook.
How does being a cyclist help you in the boardroom?
Coming into the office with high energy levels and having already conquered something in the day gives me a buzz. I think mostly it helps you to de-stress and put things into perspective, because there is another part of your day when you're not thinking about work.
If you could go pro, would you?
I considered turning professional, but decided against it in the end. I don't think I would have been great; I think I would have just been OK. I also think people glamorise sport. A stage race, where you race for six hours a day, is actually quite boring at times. It often rains, and you're thinking: "Why am I out here?" It's fine if you're an amateur, but if you're a professional it's what you do day in and day out. I like that I can have the best of both worlds.
What's one thing you'll never leave at home before a ride?
I've got a dog tag that has my health details on it. I just think that if I don't have it with me, I am going to need it, so I have to have it and I get nervous if I don't.
What motivates you to cycle?
That I can eat whatever I like. I have breakfast before I ride. [I can eat] when I get back, when I get into the office, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon and dinner. I burn 1,000 calories an hour, so I'm burning a day's worth of food before I get into the office. My colleagues are always making fun of me for how much I eat. A more serious answer is that I can be part of team and do, quite simply, what I love.
If you could take anyone in the world on a ride, who would it be?
I want to ride with Bean, my two-year-old son. Ever since he was born, I've been looking forward to riding with him. We've started going out - me on my bike, him on his balance bike. He looks so proud to be out with his dad; there's a huge grin permanently on his face. It won't be too long, and he'll be on a proper bike. Then I am the one who will be proud to ride with him.