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“Yeah, my first race was Bungay Crits in Suffolk. They had the same event for maybe 10 years.”
How did you get on? “I won.”
So you started off well then! “There wasn't a separate group for girls so
we raced with the juveniles. I was 14-ish I think. I also did a lot of grass track racing and time trialling.Al
though in Norfolk there were only really four of us racing grass track in the youth races: me, my brother, Victoria Pendelton and her brotherAlex.An
ything over 800m I had her every time, ha ha.”
Sounds like there was a hot bed of talent in
Norfolk then even if there was only four of you.
“There was quite a good Criterium scene
for a few years but I think it has all but died off now.
Can you remember the first time you thought
“You know what, I'm pretty good at this?” “Erm, I think it was pretty gradual. On a
national scale I would always get beaten, by Nicole Cooke or Ceris Gilfillian, orMegan Hughes or..... etc.
There was always someone just that bit better.Ma
ybe when I won my first national trophy cyclo-cross I suddenly thought “Hell, I can do this.
At the time Louise Robinson (2nd 2000 cyclo-cross worlds), Isla Rowntree, Victoria Wilkinson and Sue Thomas were really good and they were tough to beat.
I was 22. I was inspired by Johnny Wilkinson's winning drop kick in the rugby world cup final the day before. I still have the photo of me winning it; it was a pretty defining moment to be fair. I was still working as a physiotherapist at Preston hospital at the time.”
So there you are, you've won a National Trophy race and things are going well. Can you talk a bit about what it took to get on to the next level? Sacrificing work I suppose was one thing?
“Yeah, I left work in theMay after that season of cyclo-cross. I got married, moved down to Rugby and then guested with the national road team for the whole summer. I was really lucky as it was an Olympic year and they were running a full program but they didn't have enough riders all the time. I got a chance to race, [including] a cobbled classic in Holland and got some really good results for a 23 year-old whose longest road race before then had been 100km.
I was asked to ride every other race after that. Then, the next [cyclo-cross] season I was a completely different rider. In that cross season after [being with the national road team] I was sixth or seventh in everyWorld Cup.”
Just going back to that experience with the national team, presumably you were suddenly thrown into a very professional set up. Was that tough to get used to?
“Not at all. I've always been a person who
just gets on with it. It wasn't quite as glamorous as it sounds but the top riders on the team were fighting for Olympic places. I was pretty unaware of it all as I was an outsider just there to help when needed and get my own experience.
Everything was new and exciting. I think I finished about 67th in pretty much every single stage race I rode that year but had a lot of fun and learnt a lot.”
Looking back now would you say that year
was probably the most important, in terms of setting you up for the years to come?
“I think it really helped me understand the steps I needed to take to move up a level in the sport. I quickly realised there was a massive gap in my training to what the girls on the continent were doing.
How did the 2006 race pan out? Did you lead it for a long time and have to hold on, or was it a battle in the balance to the line?
“I just rode my own race. I've always been a fast starter so just went for it from the gun. Louise never got on me and I stayed away. I think i won by about 35 seconds. It felt good.
I did a lot of grass track
800m and I had her!
Having ridden six stage races in my first season I realised my body could take it and I would be better for it. I think I did 26 hours of racing in one week that year. That hurt.”
So you were riding on the road, competing in stage races etc. What prompted the switch to cyclo-cross?
“You don't know what you are good at until you try, plus road racing massively complements cross in terms of speed, acceleration, endurance training etc.
I actually got quite good at the road, getting top 10 places and winning King of the Mountains jerseys in UCI stage races. But in order to get better and be as successful at road as I am at cross I would have had to give up cross and put a lot more time into training and I really didn't like road racing that much.
I don't mind smaller races but world cups are just not my thing. I hate that fact that you have to be either ox-like in strength or super tactical all the time. I prefer cross where you ride hard, to the best of your ability, always pushing your skill level. Normally the best person on the day wins, not the one who holds the wheel then bobs past in a sprint or has the best team.”
Let's talk a bit about your first national title in 2006 - was that the first time you'd ridden the nationals?
“No. I was strong enough to win the year
before but Louise [Robinson] knows how to peak and was super strong that nationals and I was a little psyched out by Nicole Cooke riding and made a couple of stupid mistakes. I think I rode three nationals before I won.”
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