Emma Pooley Interview: world champion, world class
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Emma Pooley Interview: world champion, world class

by Shane Stokes at 7:34 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
British road race champion talks about her superb season and her plans for 2011

emma PooleyIt has been a phenomenal season for the British rider Emma Pooley, who picked up wins in twelve races. It wasn’t so much the quantity but rather the quality which underlines her spectacular evolution into one of the world’s very best riders. Those wins included the Flèche Wallonne and Grand Prix Plouay World Cup races, the Tour de l’Aude, the Giro del Trentino, both British championships and the world champs time trial title.

Pooley previously pulled off some fine victories in 2009, including another World Cup double of Plouay and La Coupe du Monde Cycliste Féminine de Montréal, but this season marked a clear improvement. Her time trial prowess, her climbing and her confidence all moved up a notch. When she won last year, she did so on some occasions with audacious breakaways which took the others by surprise. This season, with a proven name, she did things a tougher way, in that she started as one of the clear favourites, was marked by her rivals, yet triumphed nonetheless.

While she’s now one of the very best competitors in the sport, Pooley retains a very genuine modesty. When she sat down with VeloNation recently for an interview, she diverted any talk about what she had achieved in a slightly self-depreciating way; statements about her strength this year were offset by her talk about how strong her team was, how the other riders helped her, how they themselves could have won if she had not.

Her tone of voice also changed, with Pooley being more animated when she is speaking about other riders. When talking about her new world time trial championship rainbow jersey, she is far more reserved than when asked about the Maillot Arc-en-Ciel won by fellow Cervélo Test Team rider Thor Hushovd. Her voice becomes notably more animated then, and again later when she speaks about team-mate and fellow Briton Lizzie Armistead.

The fact that she, the world TT champion and Olympic runner-up, speaks of her ‘hopes’ that she is selected for London 2012 show that she takes nothing for granted. She’ll continue to work hard and aims to improve further in order to make certain that she will be racing there.

In the meantime, she’ll be vying for victories with the new Garmin-Cervélo squad. She is one of several riders from the current setup which will travel across with the bike manufacturer to the American squad. She doesn’t want to say too much as the details are not yet released, but it’s clearly something she’s thinking about and planning towards. She won’t have everyone from Cervélo Test Team beside her, but there should be enough strong riders to ensure that they once again seize a sizeable chunk of victories in 2011.

And while Pooley might play down her abilities, in all likelihood she’ll clock up several more big wins.


Q: Emma, you are here at the Cervélo Test Team hotel right before the men’s Tour of Lombardy tomorrow. This will mark the final race for their squad, after almost two years in existence. The women’s team is going on longer than that - was there anything planned for you and your team-mates at the end of the season?

A: No, because some of us had to go straight to Delhi from the worlds [for the Commonwealth Games]. I think the whole team would have been racing at the worlds, except that two girls were injured. Sara Düster broke her pelvis the weekend before and Claudia [Hausler] crashed in Toscana and couldn’t race. So not everyone was in Australia.

Every year we plan to have a get together to celebrate the end of the season but it never happens, which is a bit sad.

Q: The worlds must have been an incredible experience for you, winning the time trial. Were you expecting that it would work out as it did?

A: Well, I was hoping, I was hopeful, but I didn’t dare to assume, obviously. I liked the course when I checked it out earlier in the year, and so I thought it was worth training specially for. I went out to Australia as soon as I could and I trained in Perth, where I have got friends…I had previously trained there in the past. I am lucky enough to have family there. My aunty is great and she put me up for a couple of weeks and I trained.

I just thought that if I prepare as well as I can, just for that time trial, then if I don’t win I couldn’t have done anything else. It was worth trying and it paid off, so I am really pleased.

Beijing would probably be my best time trialiing result to date, but that was a very special course and I thought that maybe I would never get such a good result on a standard time trial course. So I am quite pleased.

Q: What was the experience like – was it a career-best moment to take the jersey?

Emma PooleyA: Yes, I think so (laughs). It was pretty crazy. Yeah, time trials are funny because you wait around…you don’t know what will happen when you cross the line. I knew I had the best time by a long way, but I also knew that the best riders are still to go. It was pretty fantastic.

Q: And the fact that you have the jersey for a year will be something special…it’s different to a World Cup win that way, as then all the glory is on that day.

A: That is it, yes. I suppose I have had a few more results now. My first race win ever was probably still the sweetest as I had never done it before. But becoming world champion is kind of special…that is something that you will have in the back of the cupboard forever. It is nice as it justifies the sacrifices, and I’m happy because it justifies the time my coach has spent helping me. There’s lots of people in the team and sponsors as well…it is nice to kind of pay them back a bit.

Q: Thor Hushovd also got the jersey, in the men’s road race…he was a team-mate this year and will be so next year too…

A: Yes, that was pretty cool (sounds more upbeat). I was kind of cheering for the Brits in that race but as they all pulled out before the finish, then I was cheering for the Cervélo guys. It was awesome.

Q: You went to Delhi after that, in order to line out in the Commonwealth Games. How was that experience for you?

A: The Games itself was quite a cool experience, but it was a bit of an anti-climax after Geelong. It was always going to be that way because the time trial really didn’t suit me as it was pan flat. But even then, I was kind of disappointed with my placing. I didn’t expect to win it, to be honest, but I got ill before the road race and that probably affected my events there.

The sickness didn’t last that long and I was fine in the road race, but afterwards I was just really tired…..it took a while to recover.

I knew in the road race that I would be working for Lizzie and that was so fantastic…it was great that she got a medal. I am really pleased that she got one. It was worth going to just be part of that, and it is really fun to contribute, even if it is just a little bit.

Q: Jumping back to the worlds, you were quite closely marked in the road race. It seemed like any time you moved someone would cover you…

A: Yes, that was kind of the problem. From the time trial, people know you are strong and so it is hard to get away. It didn’t surprise me all that much. But in racing as a team, you still have chances. I think I had quite a useful role to play, maybe helping my team-mates get away, because every time I went, someone had to cover me.

It is a shame it didn’t work out in the end. If it had worked out slightly differently, maybe Nicole would have won or Lizzie [Armistead] might have done it….I think she could have done really well in that sprint. But it was just bad luck, I guess.

Q: Do you think that timing of Nicole Cooke’s attacks stopped you getting away…? Had she not attacked when she did, could you have had a go later on?

A: I probably would have done, but obviously you don’t attack when your team-mate is up the road. That would be crazy. And, again, you can’t mind-read in a race and so you have to do what you think is best at the time and she chose a perfect moment to attack.

I was actually thinking at that point that I wanted to attack, but I was at the front of the group and she was coming from behind. It is much better then to attack from there. It just didn’t work out, which was a bit of a shame. Maybe hoping for two rainbows was a bit greedy…

Emma PooleyQ: You took a load of wins this year – was it your best season by far?

A: Yes….but you can never separate your wins from your team-mates..lt is not like it has been my good season, it is just that we had a fantastic team. I was lucky that I was the one who was the leader at some of the races. It has been fantastic and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for the support at Aude and Trentino and both the World Cups that I won.

I can’t believe how well the year has gone, especially with the nationals and the world championships. It is more than I could have hoped for, really.

Q: When you were heading into the season, did you feel like you were in better shape than in previous years? In other words, did you have any indications that it was going to be as good as it was?

A: Well, we do testing on the rig. My power to weight was more or less the same, my lactate threshold was slightly better. But it is nitpicking, possibly. Maybe I have a bit more confidence, maybe I was a bit smarter in races. And just great team support – I think we learned to ride together really well as a team. It was really nice having Lizzie and Sharon on the team as well, as when it comes to racing with them on the national team in the worlds, we work very well together.

Q: If you look at the other results this year, what stands out for you?

A: Flèche Wallonne. That is such a big race. And I had to race differently to how I did it before, and wait and wait and wait. I was the leader and the team was behind me. I had such a lot of pressure from myself that I didn’t want to let them down, so that was pretty awesome.

Q: Plouay was very impressive – a few days ago, a clip of your attack was doing the rounds on Twitter. Someone said it was the best attack they had ever seen….

A: Really? Well, that is nice… I thought it was really crafty as I went on the other side from what they were expecting.

Q: You seem to have definitely moved up a level this year, in terms of the amount of wins and type of wins…

A: Yes.. But we had an awesome team…

Q: Next year will obviously bring changes with many of the riders moving to Garmin-Cervélo. Are you happy with the idea of changing things around?

A: Well, I wanted to keep the team as similar as possible, really, but not everyone wanted to come to the new team. I am very sad to lose some team-mates…not just because they were awesome team-mates, but also because they are also friends. But that is the way it is.

I am sure they will be happy and successful in their other teams, and I think we will build up a strong team at Garmin-Cervélo too.

Q: I guess one of the biggest surprises was Egon Van Kessel’s recent decision to leave and work with the new Pegasus Racing setup, rather than sticking with your guys?

A: Yes. That was disappointing, and also disappointing that he decided to tell us so late.

Q: Are there any indications as to who might fill that role?

A: I don’t think it has been finalised yet, but there are some names floating around.

Q: Will things change much in terms of the team base?

A: I think the team will be based in Girona, where the guys team is based. As for me, I’m still doing my PhD here. The thoughts of moving to Girona is kind of attractive. I have got lots and lots of friends in Zurich and I have got people I train with. There are guys I train with for years and years. When I arrived back from Delhi, they were all at the airport wearing t-shirts saying ‘Emma Pooley’s training crew’. I love it in Zurich, and I lover the people I train with…it is just great. That means I enjoy my training. I am sure Girona is lovely too, but I think for the moment I will stay where I am.

Q: Have you an idea of targets for next year?

A: Depending on the course, I‘d really like to aim to go to the Giro, to be honest. That is one I like…I am never going to win a World Cup overall, so that’s the one that is left that I would like to win.

Q: You also have the London Olympics on the horizon.

A: Yes, it is getting close now…it is funny how quickly it has come around. It would be awesome to be selected for a home Olympics.

Q: It’s hard not to see them selecting you, though…!

A: There are some pretty strong youngsters and the road race is not going to be hilly, so I am not counting any chickens.

Q: How is Lizzie’s career coming along?

A: She is doing really well. I can’t believe how young she is, it’s crazy. She’s 21 and you can see how good she is. It’s not just that she is quick, but she just knows how to race. And I really like racing with her…often in races she is the leader. I am seven years older than her, but she has been racing so long and she is smart and she can make decisions in a flash. It gives me a lot of confidence racing with her.

Q: There seems to be quite a few teams next year that will also back a women’s squad as well, following the Cervélo and HTC Columbia model. Do you think that is important?

A: Yes, I think it is great. I think a women’s team should be attached to a men’s team. It gives us more stability as men’s team’s seem to have better funding, the money is there behind it. There is also more interest and publicity, so people were way more interested that I rode for Cervélo than they had been the year before, or didn’t even know that there had been a Cervélo women’s the year before the men’s team was set up.

It is really good. I think that is something that the UCI should consider is requiring men’s teams to run a women’s team as well. It doesn’t actually cost that much – it costs less than the wage of one of their big riders. It is pathetic how little it costs, frankly. And the racing is interesting to watch – the problem now is that it is just not on TV. It is really exciting racing, because our races are shorter and are full gas all the way.

I just wish that more of them could get on television, people would watch them.

Q: Some people have also proposed that if a ProTour race is being held, that there should also be a women’s event…

A: That would be fantastic, because again it would get media coverage, and it would get spectators, which we don’t have much of, either. And for the spectator it would provide two spectacles…even if it was a stage race and it only went through once, they could start our race two hours earlier or further up the road, and people could watch two pelotons go by. I think that would be really good for the sport.

And again, I don’t think it would cost that much extra. Most of the infrastructure in place already. That kind of thing would really bring our sport along and help it develop.


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