Published: 19 September 2013
Words & interview: Simon Powers
Image: Alex Broadway/swpix.com
British Cycling Olympic Podium Programme athlete Jess Varnish, fresh back from injury, is looking to use this week’s National Track Championships as a marker of her return to form and for potential selection to both the European Track Championships and the Manchester round of the Track World Cup in early November.
“For me it’s all been going well. After having returned from injury, it had taken me quite a while to get back into it,” she confirmed.
“I had to have four months completely off which nobody really wants to have and then a couple of months just trying to get back into it.”
The 22-year-old West Midlands rider has a palmarès which defies her young age having already been a world record holder as part of the infamous team sprint pairing with Victoria Pendleton and attaining a European Championship title in the same event in 2011 in Apeldoorn.
One of the highlights of her career was when her team broke the world record in the Olympic test event at the London Velodrome in round three of the 2011/12 track world cup.
In the qualifying round Australia broke their own record which had stood for nearly two years but unperturbed, the GB paring went out onto the track in the final and broke it once again setting a marker that remained in place until the current record set by China at the Olympic Games.
With the massive disappointment that was to ensue for her on Thursday 2 August on that very same track firmly behind her, Varnish looked to be going well and during the 2012/13 track world cup season as both her and Becky James dominated the team sprint and took the overall leader title.
She showed her natural speed and guile demanded by the individual sprint too, gaining a bronze in Cali and a silver later on in Glasgow, with the world championships on the horizon there was everything to look forward to for the Bromsgrove rider until one day an injury picked up in the gym in Manchester suddenly changed all that.
After suffering from a damaged disc in her back, Varnish was faced with the unenviable choice which no athlete would want to make, complete rest or extensive surgery.
“After the Olympics, I didn’t really have a break,” Jess confirmed. Then I ended up having to take a forced break. It was either have four months off my bike or go and have back surgery.
“To be honest, that was a pretty easy decision for me really, I don’t want surgery on my back at the age of 22. To have that break and really reflect on what I have done and where I want to be has been good”, she acknowledged.
After her four month rest she spent the next two months gradually rebuilding herself up to getting back on a bike and back into the gym.
She returned to competition at the Fenioux Piste International event in late July in France where she recorded some impressive results including a bronze medal in the sprint plus fourth in both the keirin and the 500m time trial. She backed this up only a month later with another bronze in the individual sprint at the Cottbuser Nächte event in Germany, an event littered with past and future Olympic talent.
“I had to go there this summer and really show myself. I wasn’t that bothered about what other people thought, I just had to prove it to myself that everything was going to be OK and that I was still going to be able to compete.
The National Track Championships will mark the start of the international track calendar, a busy affair starting with the senior Europeans in October and culminating in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next July.
This year has seen the introduction of a system requiring riders to earn points before they can be selected for world cups. Thankfully for Varnish, even with the major setbacks to her training, she has managed to attain a sufficient amount of them to compete.
“Because I was unable to race early on in the season, I just had to go out and get the minimum amount of points needed to be able to go to world cups and luckily I got them. I was pretty happy with that, to have four months off and then to come back.
“I am just taking it one event at a time currently,” she revealed.
“Just have just got to keep focussed and hopefully I’ll be in a good place to compete at the Commonwealth Games. It is one of my dreams to go to such big events as the Commonwealths and the Olympics,that really would be fantastic.”