Emma Pooley Interview: Winning for the team
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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Emma Pooley Interview: Winning for the team

by Ben Atkins at 8:25 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
Cervelo's Classics star talks to VeloNation

Emma PooleyEmma Pooley emerged on the international scene in 2007, but 2008 was the year that the World was really made to sit up and take notice. She won the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, the first round of the Women’s World Cup, and took the silver medal in the Olympic time trial. Her attacking style in the service of Nicole Cooke was also instrumental in the Welshwoman’s World and Olympic double. Last year saw a well-deserved move to the high-profile Cervélo TestTeam, and yet more success. Solo attacks won her two more rounds of the World Cup in Montreal and Plouay and she won the Grande Boucle Feminine and led the Giro d’Italia for three days.

2010 has started even better for the 27-year-old; a golden ten days at the end of April saw her win la Flèche Wallonne, the Grand Prix Suisse-Souvenir Magali Pache and the Grand Prix Elsy Jacobs. Velonation caught up with her at her home in Switzerland to talk about those results and look forward to the next phase of the season.

“I wasn’t expecting it to be honest!” she laughed. “I mean, you never know I a road race whether you’ve got good form or whether you’ve ridden smart and saved yourself. But the time trial I think, I was quite surprised at to be honest because I didn’t feel very good and I thought I’d maybe trained too much the week before, and then I was really pleased with the result.

“It was very nice, because the time trial doesn’t really lie does it?” she said. “You can’t hide.”

The Grand Prix Suisse-Souvenir Magali Pache is a time trial run on the same course, on the same day as the stage of the men’s Tour de Romandie. Despite reportedly feeling unwell in the morning, Pooley still managed to pull off a convincing victory over a World Class field. As she explained, parts of the course suited her climbing skill, but the conditions and more technical sections favoured her rivals much more.

“It did have a pretty long, draggy climb at the start but then there was quite a lot of flat in the wind, and then the descent,” she explained. “I thought Judith Arndt [HTC-Columbia, who started a minute before her] was in really good shape and I was kind of catching her on the climb. But then she pulled away again on the flat and I though ‘oh, that’s it, now the descent’s coming she’ll be ahead of me by the end’ or something. But it was okay…” Emma Pooley

Climbing high… and fast

La Flèche Wallonne on the other hand is a race that suits the talents of the tiny climber. Her first attempt at it in 2008 saw her finish 6th, while riding in the service of Cooke; last year though saw her crash out in the middle of the race.

“Last year was very disappointing; last year it was a target for me,” she said, “and I’d been training really specifically for it and it wasn’t even my fault that I crashed, it was just one of those bunch crashes that… I can’t really remember it because I hit my head but it was actually a real… it affected me for a long time, not because I was concussed which meant I couldn’t train for a while, but you know when you’ve built up for something… and then it’s really disappointing. So this year was particularly nice because I felt like I got my own back on that race!”

She attacked on the lower part of the precipitously steep Mur and no one was able to match the pace she set all the way to the top.

“Ha! Take that Mur de Huy!” she laughed.

Although Pooley is one of the strongest climbers in the sport right now, the steep slopes of the Mur are often better suited to more powerful riders. With Pooley’s victories usually coming from long, solo breaks, the aggressive uphill sprint couldn’t be much more different. Despite this, the Briton managed to take the win there without any specifically training.

“Not at all actually,” she admitted, “last year I did, but this year I’ve just been training more with the Tour de l’Aude in mind and so I didn’t know until I got to it whether I could do it. Because it’s a very short climb and Marianne Vos is an awesome climber as well as a sprinter but it’s almost more of a sprinter’s climb.

“So I didn’t know whether I’d actually have the power to get up it fast enough,” she continued. “For that reason it was quite nerve-wracking to wait for the end, I wanted to go the first time up the Mur but our team director said ‘No! Wait!’ and for me that’s hard because I’m more of a long breaks person.”

“It was nice because someone told me that I’d ridden like a proper bike rider for the first time! I thought that was a bit mean, bit I can kind of see their point!

Teamwork is the key

The Cervélo TestTeam is one of the strongest teams in the women’s sport, with potential race winners across the board. Regina Bruins was away in a potentially race-wining solo move that allowed Pooley to relax in the peloton right up to the final climb of la Flèche Wallonne; while her victory in Plouay last year owed much to identical attacks from Claudia Häusler.

“It’s fantastic actually,” she agreed, “the reduction in pressure, because we all have a chance; the way we race; the aggressive attacking in turn thing, is great for everyone because you never quite know which of us is going to get away, but the other teams don’t know either so they have to chase everyone. It increases all of our chances. It also means that if you attack and you fail, or if you don’t quite have the legs, you haven’t wasted the team’s options; it’s not all the eggs in one basket.”

“It’s not just Claudia either; you’ve seen already how strong Regina is this year and Sharon[Laws], Carla [Ryan]… For the Tour de l’Aude we’ve got this awesome line up.”

As well as a number of strong climbers and breakaway specialists, Cervélo also boasts one of the fastest sprinters in Kirsten Wild. “If we bring Kirsten to the race we can do what the hell we like,” she joked, “because as long as we keep it together… I particularly like racing with Kirsten actually, she’s a lot of fun to race with and she’s so smart.

“It’s funny, someone asked me whether we had an ‘Armstrong/Contador’ kind of situation in the team with me and Claudia, or me and someone else and I thought ‘have you not seen how we race?’ You could say that it’s simply that we’ve got lots of strong riders but we take advantage of it, and actually enjoy things, and it’s actually really fun. There’s no animosity at all; it’s great.” 

Classics over, now on to the stage races

In last year’s Giro d’Italia, Pooley took the pink jersey on the summit finish of Monte Serra but relinquished it three days later to teammate Häusler, who won the race. For the Briton it was a positive experience, and one to learn lessons from. “I was never expected to be in the lead so I viewed every day in pink as a bonus,” she said, “but it was never really my goal, the Giro, and so I wasn’t… Obviously I was upset to lose the jersey, but I was upset with the way I lost it because they attacked on the descent and that’s where I got dropped.

“So I was angry with myself for that, but I was happy because it had always been Claudia’s aim to get the lead, and then she had it.”

This week sees the start of the Tour de l’Aude, the oldest stage raceon the women’s calendar, and the race that Pooley has been training for. It is a race that she has had mixed experiences in her two attempts at the race so far.

“I’m still looking forward to the Tour de l’Aude,” she said, “but you never really know how you’re going to survive a 10-day stage race. Last year my endurance wasn’t quite there so quite apart from being dropped on the descent I was just knackered by day 7. Claudia’s much better at judging her energy and hanging on to it.”

She rode last year’s race in support of Häusler’s victory but her first time at the race, in 2008, things had not gone so well. She rode as part of the Great Britain team, in order for her and Cooke to get used to one another, but surprised many people by often being dropped, before finishing outside the time limit on stage 7. “There were a couple of factors,” she explained, “I was just exhausted because I’d had a really good spring but I was tired, and I just didn’t conserve my energy very well. It was utterly depressing actually. I ride in the wind too much, basically, and that’s not very good in a stage race. You can survive in a one-day race but…”

This time though things will be different with Pooley having trained specifically for the race. As with everything Cervélo though it will be the team victory that’s important, she says. “We’re going there for someone from Cervélo to win it,” she confirmed. “As I said, the way we race is to have lots of strong riders and attacking, we aim to keep lots of riders high up on the GC and one of them will win it, and I don’t really mind who.

“I genuinely don’t mind who, but all of us have to be in good form so obviously our aim is to be in top shape for the Tour de l’Aude and then we’ll race and see what happens. If Regina wins I’ll be super happy, or if Claudia wins, or Sharon… We never really know how things will pan out; cycling’s such a lottery sometimes!”

The Giro, proper mountains and the Worlds

After the Tour de l’Aude Pooley looks forward to the next big stage race, the Giro d’Italia, and one stage in partcular. “I’m really looking forward to the Giro because of that Stelvio stage!” she exclaimed. “It’s exciting! It’s wonderful, because we so rarely get proper mountaintop finishes and proper mountains too. Monte Serra was great, but the Stelvio is a famous big, big climb, so I’m so excited. I can’t wait.”

Pooley’s personal target at the end of the year will be the World Championships in Melbourne, Australia, and contrary to early reports she has found that the course is not at all flat. “It’s a tough climb in every loop,” she said, “and the time trial lap is very similar and also quite bumpy so I’m quite interested in the time trial because I think it’s much tougher than last year’s course. So. I’m looking forward to Worlds, definitely.”

There is a possibility though that her diminutive stature might cause a problem for her, if the weather is not ideal. “The only thing I’ve heard is that the wind can be absolutely at that time of year in Geelong,” she added. “It could be windy enough that no one would use a disk wheel, which means I won’t be able to stay on my bike!”

At just 1.57m (under 5’2”) tall Pooley has often had trouble getting bikes, particularly time trial bikes, to fit. Riding for Cervélo allows her to race time trials with smaller 650c wheels though, not an option with all bike sponsors. “I’m on the smallest size [48cm] of P3 or P4,” she confirmed. “Its great, it’s so much better, it’s just so much easier to get the position right and actually the handling is much easier in crosswinds because there’s so much less surface area on the cross section of the front wheel. I really am super happy with my P3!”


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