Talking to British Champion Emma Pooley
September 10; by Larry Hickmott
Back in June at the National Road Race Championships, from the back of a motorbike, I watched a young lady attack her socks off trying to win her first British title and whilst she seemed to go close to breaking her strongest challengers, Nicole Cooke denied her that title when the Welsh wonder cyclist won her umpteenth British title. Emma however has become a world star on the road since she burst onto the scene in 2005.
Last year, Emma was the winner of the Silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in the Time Trial and in 2009, as well numerous victories including two World Cup triumphs, Emma has also added her first British title to her already impressive palmeres.
Emma (centre) on top of the world after winning the World Cup race, the Plouay Grand Prix. Photo: CJ Farquharson / PhotoSport
That came in the British Time Trial Championships in Buckinghamshire and it was at that event I caught up with the Cervelo Test Team rider to chat about her season. Emma explained that since the British Road Race championships, any training she has done has been fairly general. “After the nationals, I didn’t have time to train because I went straight to the Women’s Tour of Italy which was hard work” she explained.
“After that I had a break and since that, I have been doing some training for the time trial but it isn’t one of my main aims. It’s important but I’m not going to sacrifice it for the Road Race at the Worlds where I want to do both events (road race and time trial). Once you start worrying about whether one will impact on the other then …”
As we stood waiting for Emma’s Cervelo bike to be checked in the sunshine outside the race’s headquarters in a very quaint British setting, the winner of the recent Plouay GP World Cup race was clearly unsure how she was going to do against the other British riders in the TT championship on a course very different to the one she won her Silver medal in at the 2008 Olympics.
Emma however did go on to win the Title race and was yet again on the top step of a podium in 2009. Speaking to Emma afterwards, she explained “I’m really pleased with the ride today. I have never had a national champion’s jersey so I’m really proud to have won and kind of relieved as well! It’s really great to know that I can now wear it for the next year. Really special.”
Photo Sarah Brooke.
Asked was it difficult to put her formidable reputation on the line in a British championship, her first time in this event, Emma replied “I don’t race much in the UK where the riders are strong and they look at us in Europe and say you should win but I don’t feel it’s that simple. I never came into this assuming I would win it and it wasn’t like there was a big gap at the end either. I am pleased in that I raced alright in an event that is different to continental time trials in that there are no following cars, no radios and it’s not as technical”.
“I had to ride by feel, by how much I could make it hurt and I was mindful that I didn’t want to finish without winning and be thinking ‘could I have tried a bit harder’? You also have to be careful not to blow up too. There was a moment when my mind wandered and I started thinking of something else and I had to refocus on what I was doing out there.”
“Winning here was also good for me because if I do get selected for the World’s Time Trial, I’ll know I deserve it being champion. I didn’t want to get selected based on results from the past because they don’t provide a comparison between me, Wendy and Julia. This course is not too dissimilar to the Worlds one so it was good for me.”
Time trialling of course is not just about the rider but the bike too and Emma’s was getting lots of looks as we stood in the sunshine chatting. She says that during what training she has been able to get in between races, she has done plenty on this very special Cervelo Time Trial bike.
Asked what is the best bit, Emma says “it has got 650c wheels which is brilliant, it is so good I really like it. Before I had to have these special handlebars to get low enough at the front but now I don’t have to have them and the bike looks a lot more proportional and I’m no longer looking like a child perched on the wrong bike. It just feels so right and no-one else can nick my wheels!”
“The bike set-up was done by carrying the measurements over from the year before and we also had an engineer from Cervelo come and help us with the position and change my crank length at the start of the season so I have had plenty of time to get used to them. They are only slight changes though. Last year I did wind tunnelling but it is very expensive and I wouldn’t do it during the season because you can get very cold and the last time I did some testing, I got a cold.”
Emma also added that it’s not only Cervelo who take on board their feedback from the testing at the highest level but also their other sponsors like their clothing sponsor Castelli which she says has been good because they too can learn about how their equipment is the best it can be for their needs.
Road Race Winner
Emma has yet another go at trying to break World and Olympic Champion Nicole Cooke and World Track champion Lizzie Armitstead during the British Road Race Championships in 2009.
Emma’s ability to Time Trial has not only helped her win Olympic and British honours but also to win road races. Emma admits her sprint isn’t all it could be even though I remember her giving Lizzie Armitstead a good run at the road race nationals and Lizzie is no slouch. Emma uses her ability to ride alone to win and this year, two victories in World Cup road races have resulted from that ability.
“Riding away from (my rivals) isn’t as easy as it used to be – not that it was ever easy” Emma says of her long lone breaks “but I was pleasantly surprised at Plouay”.
Emma says that a big difference this year for her is the experience she has gained riding in a big pro team. “I have learnt a lot this year riding with the team and the really experienced girls we have in it. Having a lot more race direction during races means I have learnt how to race better which has been important. It is hard to know whether I am fitter this year but I certainly know that I am better tactically in races which is good because it was that which was frustrating me last year.”
Emma is one of many world class winners in her Cervelo team but the cliché ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth…’ does not apply to this team as Emma explained. “It works really good actually. It is brilliant and so much fun. In races there is never a lot of pressure on one person because we go into races with two or three riders who are strong enough to win it and so we don’t race against each other but race the tactics”
“If you’re lucky, it’s you that gets in an attack that sticks but it is also extremely satisfying to help some one to win – it’s brilliant. We also know that if we race well for some one else they will give it everything another time to help you.”
“One of the best things about this year has been being on such a strong team. It has been good fun and special. We go into races with a very detailed strategy which is good because you go into it knowing exactly what you have to do and there is no hanging around at the front and seeing what happens – it’s always like ‘this lap you will attack here’ and then we can change the tactics after talking among ourselves and the captain on the road. It is one of the strengths of the team that it’s not just about the riders but also the race direction.”
Looking back at her first World Cup win this year in Montreal (Canada), Emma says “I went so stupidly early that it was a complete surprise to them all but it gets harder to get away now because now they expect me to do it. At Plouay, I got away when I didn’t mean to because every time I attacked properly, they were expecting it because it was the obvious place on a long climb for example. I think when I got away they weren’t paying attention and I think you have to get smarter at taking advantage of the opportunities you are given.”
Quite a picture! Emma winning at Plouay this year. Photo: CJ Farquharson / PhotoSport
Road World Championships
In late September, Emma’s next big goal will be the Road Worlds and having ridden both courses, the small in stature but big hearted rider has given them her seal of approval. “I only got the chance to see them a few weeks ago because the season has been so busy. It is a good three hour drive for me with a big tunnel along the way and I don’t really like driving that much” she told me .
Having spoken to a few riders now who have ridden the course, everyone has commented on how tough it is. Emma is no different and of all of those I have spoken to, Emma is the most enthusiastic about it unsurprisingly. When I asked her what would her dream course be for a road race she replied smiling, “maybe just a 60 kilometre climb but I don’t think that is going to happen!”
Back to reality then and this year’s course where Emma says of it “the course for the Worlds is pretty stunning. I am not the only person who is going to love it but it is very hard so that’s great. The roads are good too as the roads in Switzerland are generally quite good.”
Comparing it to last year’s course in nearby Italy (Varese), Emma explained that the 2009 version is much harder. “The climbs are steeper and longer and the descents are good. The descents last year were steep ending in dead corners where as this year they flow better, are fast too but you can always see where you are going.”
Finally, as we could now see the chief bike tester ‘Doc’ very clearly now and her bike test was a few minutes way, I asked two final questions. First, the highlights from the year?
2008 World Race Championships and Emma Pooley gives the riders from the other countries plenty to grimace about as she attacks on a climb. WIth a harder course for 2009, Emma is much happier with the challenge it provides for the biggest race in the world.
“The Berner-Rundfahrt World Cup was really great when Kristian Armstrong won and then Montreal was fantastic for me. At Plouay I was pretty ecstatic too because I didn’t think I would win it”.
And the final question related to her studies. Emma found herself in Switzerland many years ago when she travelled there to study during her very early years racing and now the bike racing is a really big part of her daily life which it wasn’t always. It seems success on the bike has changed things a bit as Emma explained.
“At the moment I don’t work during the season but then in the autumn after the season I get back into the studies. I am a full time bike rider now and it’s great It’s much easier not having to juggle the two things the whole time like I used”.
Thanks to Emma for her time and god luck to her in the World Championships where I will again be with the team and you can follow the progress of the Brits here on BritishCycling.org.uk and get the odd tweet on my twitter page, http://twitter.com/AussieLarry