A chat with British cycling superstar Emma Pooley

The 2008 Olympic silver medallist talks to 220 about Challenge Philippines, her plans for 2014 and how a series of fortunate coincidences led to her becoming a pro athlete...

Emma Pooley

We chat to British cycling superstar Emma Pooley, winner of an Olympic silver medal at Beijing 2008 for road time trial, about winning bronze at Challenge Philippines last month, her plans for the 2014 triathlon season, and her varied sporting past…

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Congrats on your third place at Challenge Philippines, you must be very happy?

Thank you! Yes, I was pleased – and surprised – to be on the podium, especially next to great triathletes like Annabel Luxford and Mel Hauschildt. I would say my race was far, far from perfect though, so I can’t say I was quite satisfied with my performance!

Can you talk us through how the race went?

I had a terrible swim. Terrible. It was the first time I’d done a beach start… and I really should’ve practised that! I missed the group straight away and that was a big mistake. I was a bit upset about that because I’ve been swimming a lot and I thought I’d improved. From my swim time, you can’t see that! But anyway, I had plenty of people to chase on the bike… and the bike course was super hilly in the Philippines. Beautiful, spectacular, and tough!

I had a few mechanical issues – my handlebars kept slipping down because of the rough roads, and I had to stop a few times to hoist them back up again! But it was a great bike course I thought because it was so interesting, and quite technical too. Always something to see, a corner to approach or a hill to attack. I caught a few people on the bike leg and came into T2 seven minutes down on Melissa, and five minutes down on Annabel (according to the commentator anyway).

I thought those gaps were far too big to close down, but I also knew that fourth place was close behind me… So I was pretty sure she’d catch me. I would have run my hardest anyway, but I guess that fighting for third place gave me an extra incentive! The run was a good one too – in the forest, interesting, up and down the whole time. Lovely.

What did you ride? And do you make any changes to your position/equipment when you’re racing tri to when you’re time-trialling on the road?

I rode my TT training bike, a 48cm P4 with training wheels: old (very old!) 650 Mavic Ksyriums… I don’t have any race wheels here in Australia (for my winter training camp) and it’s hard to find 650s. But actually the wheel choice was lucky because the roads were so rough – and the day before the race, I managed to ride through a pothole and dent the rims on both front and back wheel. At least since they are alloy, I could ask a mechanic to tap them back out and true them and they would still go round! (Huge thanks Anna Stroh and the support mechanics at the race for helping me out!). Broken carbon wheels are a lot more tricky…

I didn’t make any changes to my bike position, but if I could have moved the handlebars up a little I would have done… but the bolt on my stem is stuck fast and rounded out… Also I wore a hydration rucksack (!) because my frame just has one bottle cage with a tiny aero bottle, and I couldn’t find a handlebar-mounted bottle to fit. Not the most elegant look, but I certainly drank plenty on the bike and I think that was really good for the run.

What was the whole experience of racing in the Philippines like? We’ve heard it’s beautiful…

It WAS beautiful! And everyone was friendly, and the race was really well-organised, and I would love to go back. I loved the course: so tough. A real challenge! The race setting was stunning, tropical forests and beautiful countryside and villages full of cheering schoolchildren… It was so nice that the following day I went back to ride round it again and stopped for mangoes by the side of the road.

What are your plans with regards to bike racing and triathlon this season? Will you be racing both? Or will you be concentrating on the bike at some point? Are Lotto-Belisol open to you racing tri?

I signed with Lotto-Belisol to race for them in professional cycling races this season, but we agreed that I could also do a few triathlons. So there are some bike races I’m targeting, and leading up to those target races I’ll run and swim a lot less of course…

On a similar note, what are your goals for 2014?

On the bike: the Fleche Wallonne, the Giro, and (fingers crossed for selection!) the Commonwealth Games. For triathlon, I’ve signed up for Embrunman…

Your roots are in multisport, is that right? When did you first start? And what made you switch to pure bike riding?

My roots are in running! And my first competitive sport was rowing, at school. At university I did lots of cross-country running, athletics, and orienteering, and got into a little adventure racing. I only took up road cycling to cross-train when I had a stress fracture. Triathlon seemed to lead from that naturally, but I was never very good. I don’t have much of a turn of speed.

A friend persuaded me to do a few road races, and it seemed like I was better at that than triathlon – certainly better than I was at Olympic-distance triathlon. It took a few years for me to fully switch to cycling, but after a few OK results I got hooked and wanted to see whether I could do well…

It was rather speculative back then, I never intended (or wanted!) to be a professional athlete. I just enjoyed the challenge and the fact that occasionally I could do well at a race. A series of fortunate coincidences I guess!

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(Main image: …some guy)