Emma Pooley Interview: Former world TT champion and Flèche Wallonne winner to target important events in 2014
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Thursday, November 07, 2013

Emma Pooley Interview: Former world TT champion and Flèche Wallonne winner to target important events in 2014

by Shane Stokes at 1:28 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
With PhD almost completed, Briton will knuckle down again as part of Lotto Belisol team

emma PooleyRegarded for several years as one of the top riders in women’s road racing, Emma Pooley voluntarily took a slight step back in 2013 when she decided to race with the non-UCI registered Bigla team and to miss out on many of the year’s top events.

Fear not, the Briton wasn’t slacking off; instead, she was working hard on her PhD in geotechnical engineering at ETH Zurich, vying to get a move on in it after years spent focussing on the bike. She also ran Ironman competitions and marathons, winning the Swissman tri event and then, towards the end of last month, hitting the line first in the Lausanne marathon with a fine time of two hours 44 minutes.

With the end in sight as regards her PhD – something she describes as a huge relief – she is making plans to knuckle down again to racing in 2014, inking a deal recently with the Lotto Belisol team. She spoke at length to VeloNation in recent days about her plans, saying that she will target several top events in women’s racing after deciding to try to return to her previous level.

“I wanted to be absolutely certain I want to race next year, because there is no point in doing it half-heartedly,” she said, explaining what was a relatively late contract announcement. “I have considered just getting a normal job and having an easy life, but actually in the second half of this season I really missed it. I missed not being at the Giro.

“I have been really lucky with my team this year – I have loved riding with Bigla, they have been really good to me. So I’m glad I did race. But I missed some big races. Once I realised that I wanted to race again, I should have started talking to people. Basically I was putting it off because of work and because I have been so busy with the thesis, I had months of sleep deprivation, basically. I was running from one thing to another and I never had enough time to do everything. But it moved pretty quickly when we got talking.”

Now 31 years of age, Pooley’s palmares underline what an asset she would be to any team. Her past wins include Flèche Wallonne (where she beat Marianne Vos to triumph), the 2010 world time trial championships the Grande Boucle Féminine, the Tour de l'Ardèche, the Tour de l'Aude, this year’s Tour de Languedoc Roussillon and the Cycliste Féminine de Montréal.

Other placings include twice finishing second in the Giro d’Italia Femminile, netting silver medal in the TT at the 2008 Olympics and taking bronze in the TT in the world championships.

However, due to her desire to continue to mix road racing with Ironman-style contests plus the occasional marathon, she said that some teams were wary and that Lotto Belisol ended up being the best choice.

“It is funny because almost all the teams that I have spoken to said, ‘no, no, there is total flexibility about your race programme, it’s fine, it’s fine…’ but actually it’s not [with them]. It is not normally fine, and of course it shouldn’t be – you can’t have total flexibility in your race plan, because otherwise you are not part of the team.

“But I really wanted to have certain times of the season where I could do a long distance triathlon and be sure that is okay. Because an Ironman takes a lot out of you, and you can’t then go and do the Thüringen Rundfahrt the week after that, or that kind of thing.”

She said that Lotto Belisol were one team that were happy with the idea. “They were really helpful in that. And I think rightly so, because for team sponsors it is not a bad thing…triathlon is a huge sport,” she stated.

In the interview below Pooley speaks about her slight step back this year, her victories in a key cycling event plus in triathlon and marathon running, her relief at nearing the end of her PhD, her desire to again chase victories in big races in 2014, her thoughts on the women’s Tour of Britain and the new UCI presidency, plus her involvement in the campaigning for a women’s Tour de France.

Emma PooleyVeloNation: You said that you were taking a bit of a step back this year to work on your PhD. Have you got it finished?

Emma Pooley:
I haven’t finished it, but I handed in a draft. I had the last few chapters to finish yesterday. I got the last one done at one in the morning. The draft is in now, there will be a load of corrections and my exam is in December. But the back of it is broken anyway…

VN: That must be a relief, it must feel good, given that it has been hanging over you a long time and caused you to hold back on your racing during the 2013 season…

EP: Yes, I can’t tell you how happy I am. It is better feeling than any race win! It has been a pretty hellish year.

There is a real feeling of achievement. It is not like it is a good thesis or anything, it is just getting something like that done. I am really glad that the end of it is in sight.

When people haven’t done one, they don’t really get it. I’ve had to put up with years of people saying, ‘I thought you had finished it? Surely it doesn’t take that long?’ Well, I haven’t been writing any of it, so it does…!

VN: The news of your contract with Lotto Belisol is great, and it shows that you are moving on with the PhD and getting back to doing more racing. How did the contract happen?

EP: They contacted me and we discussed it. Women’s cycling isn’t a big world and I know the guys in charge of Lotto. They were really good to talk to, which is always helpful – you have to build a bit of a rapport with a team. They are also really helpful about my plans for next year, because I do want to do some triathlons as well as cycling, and not all teams would look kindly on that.

It is funny because almost all the teams that I have spoken to said, ‘no, no, there is total flexibility about your race programme, it’s fine, it’s fine…’ but actually it’s not [with them]. It is not normally fine, and of course it shouldn’t be – you can’t have total flexibility in your race plan, because otherwise you are not part of the team.

But I really wanted to have certain times of the season where I could do a long distance triathlon and be sure that is okay. Because an Ironman takes a lot out of you, and you can’t then go and do the Thüringen Rundfahrt the week after that, or that kind of thing.

They were really helpful in that. And I think rightly so, because for team sponsors it is not a bad thing…triathlon is a huge sport. It is seen as very separate to cycling, but I think teams that are running things with their sponsors should really see it in a slightly more positive way.

But anyway, they basically have agreed to let me do some triathlons as well, and that’s is great.

VN: When was the contact made…when did you start talking to them?

EP: I can’t really remember to be honest, but it was a few months ago. I left it a bit late because a lot of people had already been talking to teams before the worlds. But I was just really trying to focus on other things.

It takes a lot of time – you call people and they call you back. You send hundreds of emails. I was just like, ‘I don’t have the time to do it.’ It is actually stupid because you are better off sorting it out, getting it done.

I also wanted to be absolutely certain I want to race next year, because there is no point in doing it half-heartedly. I have considered just getting a normal job and having an easy life, but actually in the second half of this season I really missed it. I missed not being at the Giro.

I have been really lucky with my team this year – I have loved riding with Bigla, they have been really good to me. So I’m glad I did race. But I missed some big races. Once I realised that I wanted to race again, I should have started talking to people. Basically I was putting it off because of work and because I have been so busy with the thesis, I had months of sleep deprivation, basically. I was running from one thing to another and I never had enough time to do everything. I have just been putting it off. It moved pretty quickly when we got talking.

Ironman and marathon successes:


VN: You did some Ironman races this year…

EP: Yes, I did the Swissman, which is like a crazy mountain Ironman. It is a bit like Norseman, it was an inaugural test event, a Swiss version of Norseman. It was held near the Italian border and it went up the Gotthardpass, the Grimselpass and the Furkapass. The marathon run at the end involved a climb up Kleine Scheidegg, another mountain at the finish.

It was a test event, but that was quite nice as I was the fastest woman. I think I was fifth overall, which was cool.

When I did the Ironman Zurich, I didn’t have a very good race to be honest. I had some stomach issues from drinking too much lake water. But I had a pro start and was fifth there. So at least I didn’t embarrass myself after getting a pro entry.

It is a bit of experience, that is two in one year.

VN: You were second in the Lucerne marathon last year, and then you won Lausanne on October 27th of this year. How did it feel to take the victory?

EP: It was great. It was really nice. Lucerne last year was my first marathon, although I had previously run the distance before when I was training.

That race was quite cool, there was like a blizzard. I was pleased to go under three hours, but it wasn’t an amazing race.

I am certainly pleased with Lausanne – not particularly that I won, because that rather depends on who turns up. If a real pro runner had come along then I wouldn’t have won it. Two hours 44 [minutes] – I was pleased with it, but it is not an amazing time. Like, one of the friends I train with here, she runs two 38 and was disappointed with running two 39 in Amsterdam. So I am aware it is not a pro runner time, but I was pleased with it as it is a decent, solid time for a cyclist.

And winning is obviously really nice. It is a lovely race, and super friendly. It is nice when you have got a guy mountain biking beside you the whole time because you are in the lead, and everybody gives you a lot of cheers. Obviously I love winning, because that is why I race!

I do come from a running background. I am not really build for running, though, in that I guess I like my chocolate too much. But I guess it is probably easier to go from cycling to running if you are a bit smaller, maybe, I would have thought.

I don’t know, I have no idea. I am a total ignoramus. But I genuinely love running. I love cycling too, but running was my first sport. And so I run for fun.

It’s also good with regards time. Because of my thesis, I haven’t really had any time to train, because cycling is a very time consuming sport. Whereas running, you can fit in a run before breakfast for an hour, or thirty minutes even, and it is effective. It is really good for de-stressing, and I have had a lot of stress. So to be honest, it has been quite good for my running – I can run it all off. ‘Oh, I am so stressed with myself, I need to go for a run!’

2013 cycling season highlights and upcoming schedule:

Emma PooleyVN: On the bike this year, what were the highlights for you?

EP: Well, the Tour Languedoc Roussillon was cool, although it was in total chaos at the start. But it was a nice surprise to win there, to be honest.

I actually enjoyed all the local races I did in Switzerland with my Bigla team. It is a really pro organised team - they are going to be a UCI team next year. They are friendly, and supportive. It was weird for me because my role was to try to bring on the young riders and to teach them how to race – that is funny in ways, because I took up cycling pretty late. But it was nice, it gave me a bit of self confidence in some ways…I would go out, find them in the bunch and tell them to get the hell up to the front…but not in a nasty way [laughs].

I have enjoyed those races because they are local, and they are normally really hilly and quite tough courses. It is nice getting to train on Sunday or getting picked up, doing your race and then getting home. I really enjoyed that, and also Languedoc Roussillon was really cool.

VN: What is your plan for the next few months?

EP: Well, I am going on holiday next week. I haven’t had a holiday since September last year. I am going away with no email – I can’t tell you how relieved I am to have handed in my draft. It has been such a monkey on my back for years now…I kept putting of finishing it because of racing and the Olympics and more races.

It is not finished yet, but the draft is in and I am going on holiday. Then I have got to get back, do corrections, then have my exam, then do a bit more corrections. I will have some more time off to see people in the UK, some family and friends that I have been a bit sh*t about seeing, because I have been a bit busy. I will apologise to all of them, then I will go out to Perth to train in early January…I have done that every year, except for last winter.

I will train there until March, probably, and then get back into racing. I will do some races out there….I haven’t fixed my race programme yet with Lotto, so I can’t really go into that, but I know I will be doing the Giro and Flèche Wallonne. Those are the key aims for the season for me, I guess. And I want to find some long triathlons to do, and I would like to do the Commonwealth Games, if I get selected.

Women’s Tour of Britain, Tour de France petition and encouraging signs at the UCI:

VN: Do you think the new women’s Tour of Britain is a possibility for you?

EP: I hope so. It really depends on my programme but I would love to do it. It is going to be a really, really good race.

I am really pleased that there is a new race on the calendar anyway, and pleased that it is being done so professionally in the UK. I have had so many people contacting me since that Tour de France petition. They are saying, ‘its such a good idea, we love watching the Olympic road race and why can’t we so more women’s racing?’ I think there’s a really positive vibe about cycling generally in the UK. I think the Armstrong disaster, that scandal, hasn’t made such a big dent as we have Cav and Wiggins and Chris Froome and Lizzy [Armitstead] last year in the Olympic road race, and all the track girls. There is such a positive vibe about cycling in general and I think the women’s Tour is going to be great.

The most important thing is that it will be good for spectators, there will be lots of people watching and I have heard it is going to be on TV. I have heard that it is definitely going to be seen on TV and that is the key thing, as I think people get to watch our racing. There is no point in having a great race if it is in the middle of nowhere and nobody sees it. But I think the women’s Tour organisers Sweetspot are doing a really good job. If I can take part, I’d love to. Even though I’ve heard it is not going to be in the hilliest part of the UK, which is a pity. Why can’t we go to Yorkshire? [laughs]

VN: What about the Ironman or marathon races – do you know which ones you will do yet?

EP: No, no, I don’t know. I think I am unlikely to do a marathon during the actual cycling season as it takes so much out of you. And to train specifically for a marathon…that would also be hard during the season.

As for Ironman races, it obviously takes a big chunk out of you, but you don’t run as fast, and in my limited experience it is the fast running that really takes it out of your legs.

I haven’t decided which Ironman to do. But I’d really like to do either the UK Ironman or the UK half Ironman. I’ll have to see how it fits in the season, because you wouldn’t done one two weeks before the Giro, or something, as that would be dumb.

That is something that I need to talk to Lotto Belisol about. It is not just up to me to decide.

VN: You mentioned the petition for the women’s Tour de France. Is that in limbo at the moment, or do you think it is something that will gather momentum over time and eventually they will be forced to consider it?

EP: I can’t say too much at the moment but what I will confirm is that we’ve had contact with ASO, and it is quite positive and encouraging.

VN: Obviously there has been change at the top of the UCI, there is a new president in Brian Cookson. He takes over from Pat McQuaid. In addition to that, Tracey Gaudry is vice president now and is part of the management committee as well. Do you believe the sport is moving forward in that area?

EP: Yes I do, I think it is really positive. I’m really pleased that Brian [Cookson] got elected. He talked in his campaign about how he is going to try to help the women’s road side of the sport. He has a lot to do at the UCI, but I’ve heard a lot of really positive stuff about Tracey Gaudry. I think in our campaign, we would really like work with the UCI if we can. I think they are on the right track.

I guess the big thing with Brian in charge, they won’t just talk about it, they will actually make changes and make and effort. I think it is a good time for women’s cycling. I believe it is anyway because it is growing so well as a sport. The UCI has got to enable that, and I think they will now that there has been change at the top and Brian is in charge.

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