Emma Pooley Interview: “You increase your luck by doing more attacks!”
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Monday, March 28, 2011

Emma Pooley Interview: “You increase your luck by doing more attacks!”

by Ben Atkins at 5:14 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Spring Classics
British champion has no designs on the overall World Cup but is angry over the loss of major races

emma pooleyEmma Pooley (Garmin-Cervélo) has started the 2011 World Cup as she ended the 2010 one: with a dominant solo victory. As usual for the British champion though, credit for her victory in yesterday’s Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Comune Cittiglio was shared with her teammates.

VeloNation caught up with Pooley as she travelled home to Switzerland afterwards.

In any race, especially one with hills, Pooley is almost certain to attack; it’s a tactic that has worked for her time and time again. She’s one of the best climbers in the World, but it was not on a climb that she got away in yesterday’s race.

“The race had been quite active from the start to be honest,” she explained, “it was always fast; on the climb we, as a team, were attacking, and over the climb as well, and there was a reduced group by the time we got down the descent.

“I think I attacked, maybe 3km from where you go through the start/finish; it was uphill, but it wasn’t a hill.”

Having escaped the peloton, Pooley was then faced with almost 70km alone at the head of the race.

“And then I had all the laps to do, obviously…” she said.

Victory in the 2008 Trofeo Binda was the event that made the world of women’s cycling sit up and take notice of the then 25-year-old Emma Pooley. That race was won in a long solo attack, very similar to this year, but for one thing: the distance to go to the finish when she attacked this time.

“[It was] a bit longer actually!” she laughed. “It wasn’t an attack that I thought would necessarily stick, but we were just trying to make the race hard and I guess it worked out.”

A bigger margin of victory comes from a stronger team behind her

The other difference between the two wins was the margin of victory over her pursuers; in 2008 she won by 1’07”, this time the margin was 1’32”. Much of this though, is down to the rest of the Garmin-Cervélo team policing the pack behind her.

“It’s very helpful to be in such a strong team, where behind I know that my teammates are covering everything,” she explained, “so every move that another team makes has got another [Garmin-]Cervélo rider in it, which is a bit of a disincentive for them to ride.

“Of course, when you’ve got a group of twenty or thirty then there’s no team with more than two riders there, so they don’t chase as hard and also they don’t want to chase knowing that my teammates will be sitting on, laughing their heads off!”

The group that sprinted for second place included long-standing teammate Sharon Laws, as well as new signing Noemi Cantele, but it was not only these two that were working on Pooley’s behalf.

“Carla [Ryan] was there for most of the race too,” she explained. “We really had a strong team, in that we had the strength in depth so that if there was a group on the hill it would probably have four [Garmin-Cervélo] riders there at least; and that gives you strength in numbers in terms of attacking.”

As usual Pooley’s victory came as a result of the attacking style of racing that Garmin-Cervélo – and the Cervélo TestTeam before it – practices.

“We’d all been attacking and I think that I was just lucky that it was mine that worked,” she said. “Then they didn’t chase for a while because it’s a long way to go.”

So was it all down to luck then..?

“Well, not luck… it was the team actually,” she explained. “Well, you do need a lot of luck, but you increase your luck by doing more attacks. I’m often lucky because mine’s the one that sticks but it doesn’t always work.

“Last year we rode a very aggressive race and it didn’t work out.”

Tough weather but a key rival missing

There were also a number of external factors that worked in the Garmin-Cervélo team’s favour, and Pooley in particular.

“I think the weather helped up because it was a tough day, it was pretty cold and rainy, so that put a few people off.

“Plus, of course, Marianne Vos [the winner of the last two editions of the race – Ed] being at the World [Track] Championships…” she laughed. “She’s a lot easier to beat when she’s not there!”

Having won two editions of the race, out of the four that she has ridden, Pooley evidently has some kind of affinity with Cittiglio and the Trofeo Binda course; but it hasn’t always gone perfectly there for her.

“I don’t know, obviously it was the first major race that I won so it was pretty amazing being a total nobody winning a World Cup,” she agreed, “so I had really fond memories of 2008. But then 2009 was dreadful! It was really cold; I really do like the place, but I’m more surprised to have won today really.

“No, with a 50% record, I like the place!” she laughed.

“It’s always amazing to race in Italy,” she continued, “because everyone is so keen and there are spectators out even when it’s pouring with rain. They have a passion for cycling that – even if it’s women’s cycling – they have to come and watch.”

Overall World Cup victory is not on the cards

emma pooleyPooley’s win gives her the first World Cup jersey of the season, just as it did back in 2008, but the British champion has no real plans to keep it until the end of the series in August in Plouay.

There are plenty of events in the series that suit the capabilities of Pooley; as well as the Trofeo Binda, she’s won La Flèche Wallonne and two editions of the Grand-Prix Plouay, as well as the now defunct Montréal World Cup. There are also plenty of events in the series that don’t suit her style though.

“Not really no,” she said. “I don’t think I could ever win the World Cup, if I’m going to be totally honest. I don’t think I could win the World Cup overall unless Marianne Vos and every other sprinter decides to retire because, frankly, I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell in [Ronde van] Drenthe, or China [Tour of Chongming Island].

“It’s fantastic that we have the jersey in the team,” she added, “but if we wanted to win the overall World Cup, we’d go for someone else.”

Not exactly built for the cobbles…

One thing that holding the jersey does do though, is make a probable change to her immediate schedule.

“It looks like I’m going to be in Flanders,” she said. “Ongoing discussion… I wasn’t going to ride it, but it seems a shame to leave the jersey at home; I don’t want to embarrass it either…”

Pooley said as much back in 2008, when her small Swiss-based Specialized Designs for Women team received an invitation to the Ronde van Vlaanderen thanks to her Binda victory. For a first-timer in the event though, whose physique isn’t built for pounding over cobbles, she did remarkably well, finishing in 42nd place in the first big group behind race winner Judith Arndt.

This was more through luck than judgement though, she says.

“I had no idea what I was doing in that race!” she laughed. “I was totally clueless! I was like ‘yeah, yeah, cobbles? I’ve been on cobbles’, but I had no idea what Belgian cobbles were like. I was always in the wrong place and I spent the whole day chasing; in the end I did finish in the main group, but I had no idea I was in the main group even, because I didn’t know how many groups were off the front!

“So if I rode it this year I hope to be a bit less of an embarrassment to my team; we wouldn’t be racing for me, there’s no way you’d ever race for me in Flanders – unless I get seriously better at riding cobbles. If I can be helpful to another teammate, then I’ll do it.”

As the home of a World Cup race winner Pooley’s team also received an invitation to the Ronde van Drenthe, in north eastern Netherlands, back in 2008.  This time though the cobbles and strong Dutch winds proved too much for the slight figured Pooley and she failed to finish.

“I didn’t really enjoy Belgium at all that year,” she said, “or Holland. It was a pretty stressful baptism of fire that year, trying to do all of the classics; all it taught me was that I was rubbish at cobbles; and riding in the wind and on the flat.

“It’s different if I’ve got a job to do for someone else then if it keeps me at the front then it’s better for me.”

2011 targets sit much later in the season

To take a solo victory after a 70km break Pooley must be somewhere close to the top of her form. After spending much of the winter training in Western Australia she has hit the season running, but is wary of doing too much too soon with her big targets later in the year.

“You can’t be too fit can you?” laughed Pooley. “I don’t know, I’m trying to do the same training as I did last winter because, you know, if it aint broken don’t fix it. Every year I try and improve on the things I’m crap at, so I’m trying to improve my very mediocre sprint, and so on… but I can’t really tell because I haven’t had any lab tests or anything yet.

“I’ve probably eaten too much chocolate over the winter,” she joked, “I don’t know. Also, it’s quite a long season; you don’t want to be totally flying now because my full-on racing block starts in June really, with the races in Spain and then Trentino and then the Giro in July.

“I didn’t plan to be… I didn’t plan to win today,” she added.

More races disappear as the women’s elite calendar shrinks

emma pooleyPooley’s season targets will necessarily be different to 2010 because of the (hopefully temporary) loss of the Tour de l’Aude. It’s the loss of another race that she took last year that angers her most though, particularly as the reigning World time trial champion.

“They’ve got a habit of cancelling the races that I win; they’ve cancelled [Souvenir] Magali Pache as well and I’m pretty upset about that,” she said angrily. “The bastards, it’s not like it was difficult to organise because it’s just on the Tour de Romandie; they’ve got everything sorted.”

The Souvenir Magali Pache-Grand Prix Suisse was a women’s invitational time trial run on the same course, on the same day as the time trial stage of the Tour de Romandie. Like the World Cup races in Flanders and La Flèche, the race was a chance for the women to race in front of a large crowd.

While the UCI has pushed the boundaries of women’s cycling by introducing the Chinese World Cup round, there is no longer a single elite women’s race in its backyard of Switzerland.

“There aren’t that many chances to wear your rainbow stripes as a World champion,” said an emotional Pooley, “and that’s one of them gone! So I’m a bit upset, you can tell the UCI from me!”

With the loss of Aude, Pooley will be targeting the other women’s ‘Grand Tour’, the Giro d’Italia Femminile, the Giro Donne, where she finished second to US champion Mara Abbott last year.

“I’d like to target the Giro,” she said, “you never know what’s going to happen in cycling; and if I’m in crap form in July then we’ll race for someone else.

“We have a really strong, balanced team, so we can share the stuff out I think.”

A strong team with a good atmosphere

While Garmin-Cervélo has a nucleus of riders from the Cervélo TestTeam in Pooley, Laws, Ryan Iris Slappendel, Lizzie Armitstead, it has changed a lot over the winter with the recruitment of riders like Cantele, Alex Rhodes and Lucy Martin. The roster has also been cut from 14 to 10, but Pooley is happy with the way things are working out.

“I think we’ve gone for small but very strong,” she said. “We’ve got a fairly small squad compared to [HTC-]Highroad, but ‘no weak links in the chain’ is the idea. I’m really happy with the team; not just everybody’s sporting capabilities, but there’s a nice atmosphere in the team; I’m really happy with it actually.

“It’s nice to look forward to seeing your teammates!” she laughed. “Not that I didn’t last year but you have to work together and it’s good to get on as well. It’s tricky as the group changes a bit, you never know how it’s going to work out; so, it’s okay so far.”


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