CREATING A KING
British Cycling's Luke Webber talks to Dani King - Vision1 Racing's young signing - and discovers what it takes to be cycling's latest hot property, along with some less appealing truths...
Bonkers. That seems to be the word of the moment, tune of the moment and the only way to describe Dani King's route to a place on the world's premier road development team.
Skipping a math lesson to ride bikes on a school visit from British Cycling's Talent Team is a little detached from the normal route into cycling, but seemed to work out for a 14-year-old more interested in competitive battles than crunching numbers. One month later Dani was quickly inaugurated into two-wheeled culture and had already kissed the tarmac, dusted off, been tactically outwitted in a circuit race and cried before vowing to become Olympic and World Champion.
Four years on and at just 18, King rides in an envious position with Vision One. As part of the ultimate development team headed by World and Olympic road race champion Nicole Cooke, the lifestyle shift to professional athlete is already underway. Bags litter the house as Dani readies for a weekend of racing in Belgium and although tea is on tap, there's no cake. As I riffled through another pile of dedication food Dani's scowled response wasn't what I was after.
"Cake is banned in this house - you won't find any in the cupboard either. That's what it takes to be signed by the world's greatest rider."
Thwarted, I continue, asking questions about the serious stuff like if college friends would compare her to Victoria Pendleton or Frankie from The Saturdays. It was a comment met with laughter, setting the tone for the evening.
Who needs math when riding a bike?
King's path into cycling at the highest level can only be described as direct. One missed math lesson resulted in an invite onto the Talent Team and the British Cycling programme of development. Over winter finishing third at the cyclo-cross National Championships and gaining five podium placings at the National Track Championships attracted GB coach Iain Dyer's attention and selection for the track's Olympic Development sprint squad. Within eighteen months the European Track Championships beckoned, but ninth place wasn't exactly the success Dani imagined.
Taking advice from various people a change of direction was decided, with a future in endurance events on road and track over the explosive and specialist sprint discipline. With a place on the endurance Olympic Development team confirmed, there was only one obvious route to take: from Manchester to Belgium and the notorious European way of bike racing. Renowned for not only being much faster than domestic competition, I was intrigued as to how physical a bunch of girls in spandex on skinny tyres could get - and was left suitably intimidated.
"There is no love lost, you are fighting for your life under a cascade of riders. The first few times are very intimidating, riders are bullying the bunch around with disdain for the rulebook, blatant elbows fly, you're physically pushed about in a set of movements all designed to overawe or tactically leave you missing the move. When you get away, as I did for the win in Borsele, it is hard earned and a real sense of achievement. I can say that racing on the continent has accelerated my development and only moved me in the right direction."
A DIFFERENT ATTITUDE
Overseen by British Cycling this direction had in three years produced a promising cyclo-cross, track and road rider with a lifestyle in stark contrast to many of her peers. But a scenario many consider bewildering was taken naturally by Dani on a life journey defined by an inseparable love story with sport; swimming before she could walk and trying everything in between.
Inspired by biathlon skier and double Olympian dad, Trevor was and continues to be a major influence - and not only when it comes to participation. A positive mental attitude is an integral part of forming a striking personality.
Long term goals are simple; "I won't be satisfied until I'm Olympic Gold medallist and World Champion." The magnitude of such aims startles me, but Dani wasn't finished.
"I watched Nicole win the road race, I saw her do what I dream of. It was an amazing feeling, quite emotional for me. It gave me goose bumps, I could feel inside that was where I wanted to be, I could imagine it - and it felt so real.
WINTER OF DISCONTENT
Late 2008, at a time when cycling's public presence was at an all time high and after a successful summer of racing Dani was looking forward to a winter campaign on the track, mixed with college studies. However in October King's reapplication to remain on British Cycling's books was rejected.
For the first time there would be no professional support with which Dani had grown as a cyclist and become accustomed to; but the greatest source of anxiety was less obvious. Without a team for support Dani was in road racing's most dangerous postion: isolation. For a single rider success and even opportunities to race are limited at best and essential international competition unlikely.
Perhaps too proud to openly talk about the full extent such a change had on her outlook Dani spoke guardedly. Unfortunately, it was easy to distinguish the body language that shouted this was a wound still very much open - even if that was something she'd rather not tell me as I asked about a chosen path without national support.
"It's great that I have supportive parents, friends and sponsors like Elliotts who have personally made my Olympic ambitions possible through financial support. But also with the stuff that people don't see, having someone to talk to. That was important when I was not accepted (to the Plan) because there were downsides. I was disappointed, I was lost and worried, I didn't know what to do. I had to get a grip though and remember the motivation I had over the summer and take energy from that. There was no way I was going to give up. I wanted to get to the same destination and if that meant doing it on my own then that was what I had to do. The destination was no different, just the way to get there had changed."
An unexpected hesitation and emotion you'd not associate such a confident young woman was not common ground and almost inevitably from this abject failure would come success.
A NEW CHAPTER
By December Stefan Wyman, the manager of a new team with a new vision would approach several young riders - Dani included - and start a revolutionary professional women's road racing team. Masterminded by Nicole Cooke with a core of experienced competitors Vision 1's credibility is boosted by the praise from all team members, as Dani worked hard to erase any cynicism that this was a publicity stunt for the biggest name in women's cycling.
"Nicole is totally committed to the team. To be in the position I am now, with someone who has changed women's cycling in the UK is completely special. She is always there to talk to and is so approachable. At first it was weird, just a few months back I saw her on TV, getting the gold and the jersey, but I'm getting to know her now, getting over that initial shock of being in the same room at the same time and being mentored by such an inspirational figure."
With a new team and new coach Courtney Rowe on board all that was needed was a result to renew confidence - something that a philosophical King in confident mood enjoys telling me. Her January successes at the Revolution winning both the scratch and dash, were the first victories for newly formed Vision 1 and attracting coverage from Channel4 television goes some way to convincing me that although unplanned, Vision 1 is the right team at the right time.
STUDENT TO APPRENTICE
Currently concluding her A-level exams and racing a domestic programme of National Series events as her team are at World Cups is a contentious point, and with a wry smile there's one answer as to where Dani would rather be - but as always she's taking the positive note.
"I got to race one World Cup - the Tour of Flanders - and I have to keep reminding myself when I put the pressure on to be there that I've got ten, twenty years to go. I wasn't going to quit college at 17 when it was still possible to do both. Besides, education is important because maybe you won't always be a bike rider. You also learn a lot of other skills that you can bring to the cycling experience - time management, social skills, deadlines, handling pressure. It is a different type of pressure to riding though, so when you can get on the bike you appreciate it more. I have got a completely different lifestyle to my friends, I'm aware of that, but this is what I want to do. I could change if I wanted, but it doesn't interest me. It is an easy choice to make. I like to have a real aim something to follow and sure, it's crazy and out of control but I like that; it suits my personality."
I couldn't agree more.
2009 - Vision1
2006-8 - British Cycling Olympic Development Programme
2005 - British Cycling Talent Team
British Women's Circuit Champion
2nd - Smithfield Nocturne
1st - Round Three Women's National Road Race Team Series
2nd - Tour Of Rijssen (Holland)
2nd - Cheshire Classic Women's National Road Race
1st - Revolution 23 Motor Paced Scratch 5km
1st - Revolution 23 Six Lap Dash
1st - Stage 2, Borsele Junior Tour
9th - Junior European Track Championships - Sprint
Away from bikes...
Favourite Food: Fajitas
Favourite Song: Dizzee Rascal - Bonkers
Place To Be: Cardiff with boyfriend Matt Rowe
Away From Bikes: Spending time with girlfriends, shopping and chatting!
According to DK, you know you've made it as a pro when...
You get custom shoes with your name on.
You have the World and Olympic Champion's phone number.
You show the world exactly how to do a race winning celebration on TV
You then get texts from mates telling you you're on TV!
You have to get up at 4am to go race in Belgium.
You don't have to stay up until 4am revising for exams.