“YOU should have met me years ago – I was absolutely raging,” says Rob Hurd.

The words are arresting on paper, but in person they are all the more striking because they’re delivered from the mouth of a man who is calm, polite and impeccably turned out in polished shoes, pressed trousers, and a well-cut blazer.

And although 45-years-old, the Winchester man, a former Kings’ pupil, carries himself like someone who could dust off a triathlon in his lunch break.

But then you’d expect that from a former professional cyclist who has raced against the world’s elite, including Lance Armstrong.

And the word, according to Mr Hurd, is ‘raced’, rather than ‘compete’.

“I can’t say I competed against Armstrong, because it wasn’t competitive. But I think it was at the Grand Prix Denain in 2005. I did rubbish – I got absolutely destroyed. I think that was the last race I did as a pro.

“My best was good enough for two or three hours in the race, until they really started racing – then you just could not compete.”

During his career, as a fully-fledged professional and as a semi-professional, he was the victor in more than 100 races, was a British Masters champion, and has several albums of press cuttings and photographs, lovingly compiled by his father, which speak for themselves.

He also happens to be the last winner of a certain Venta Criterium, which returns to Winchester this year after a 16-year hiatus.

“Before I left Belgium, the team said to me ‘make sure you win and when you win, put your arms up in the air or you won’t get your win bonus!’ “But it was chucking it down, and those old paving slabs were slippery even when dry, so you’ll see in the picture I very gingerly put my arms up!”

So did he ever meet Armstrong, the all- American-hero-turned-villain, who so dramatically confessed to being a drugs cheat on the Oprah Winfrey Show?

Looking surprised at the naivety of the question, he says: “No. Those around him worshipped him and he wasn’t an approachable person.”

It would be remiss not to ask if he was ever tempted to take banned drugs himself, and the answer is categorical.

“No. When I signed for a team in Belgium, I went to see their GP who asked me what programme I was on. He didn’t believe me until the results came back and then he looked down his glasses and said ‘do you think you’re smart? You won’t beat the other guys if you do not get a programme.’”

Another time he recalls being “angry” when approached by a British cycling manager who wanted his charge introduced to a “good” doctor in Belgium.

Asked when he first became convinced that cycling was in a dire state, he recalls the 2005 grand prix in Cholet, western France.

“That was when it hit me. The changing rooms were in a school and I just picked the wrong classroom – there was a team in there and they were all being injected, probably cortisone.

“I felt like a small child in a man’s world.

Not one of them batted an eyelid – they just waited their turn.”

Certainly the scale and sweeping nature of his allegations, from which neither individual riders nor entire governing bodies are spared, means he’s open to accusations of being a conspiracy theorist.

But he insists: “There is an omerta in cycling. The attitude towards me is ‘you’ve had your crack at it – now go away and don’t talk about it.’ “I do feel vindicated when I see (former Tour de France winners) Armstrong and Ullrich confessing, because people can’t say I’m just a bitter loser now.”

It’s an accusation which has been whispered behind his back more than once.

But in conversation he comes across as someone who has found some peace, although at times when recalling events he looks almost bewildered, with a kind of ‘what just happened?’ expression.

At other times he even appears to rationalise the doping scandals that have engulfed his beloved sport, and if not quite sympathetic, he seems capable of empathising.

“The guys that we knew who were doping, some of them, you couldn’t hate them. As much as they made victims of the guys they beat, they were victims too. They loved racing like the rest of us, but some of them were born into a country that had a history of racing and they were encouraged by those around them to win at any cost.

“I was fortunate to come from Winchester – it didn’t make a blind bit of difference whether I won one race or 100 races.”

Those don’t seem like the words of a “bitter loser”, and besides, what’s to be bitter about?

Now residing in Compton with his fiancée Isabelle, he still regularly puts in 50-mile rides before taking his three-year-old daughter, Leah, to toddler-ballet.