Joanna Rowsell was one of Great Britain’s star riders at last week’s UCI Track World Cup in London, following up Friday’s victory in the team pursuit alongside Dani King and Laura Trott by winning the individual pursuit on Saturday evening. That performance made her one of only two British riders – the other being Sir Chris Hoy – to come away from the event with a pair of gold medals. In between those two winning rides, road.cc caught up with the 23-year-old from Sutton for an exclusive interview.
That victory in the team pursuit came against Canada confirmed that the London track is, as its designers claimed, the fastest in the world, with the British trio setting a new best time of 3 minutes 18.148 and their opponents also getting inside the new record set just minutes earlier by Australia as they took bronze.
“It was absolutely awesome,” Rowsell reflected. “The crowd were amazing and we were confident we could do a quicker time. We weren’t that pleased with our qualifying ride on Thursday night and we knew we had it in us to go quicker. It’s just about getting it all together on the night and really doing everything we can with the ride, and it all came together so we’re over the moon.
“The track’s really good, it’s obviously brand new so this is the first time it’s been raced on, so it’s really good to get a feel for it. It’s quite similar to Manchester, if anything the banking isn’t quite as steep here but there’s not really anything in it to be honest,” she continued.
In common with other home riders, the noise and encouragement of the British fans who made up the vast majority of those inside the Velodrome made a big impression on Rowsell, who said, “The crowd were absolutely awesome. It was just like a wall of noise, it was really so loud, that’s going to make a difference for us, I think.”
One member of the Great Britain coaching staff with a particular interest in seeing how the track performed was women’s endurance coach Paul Manning, who after winning team pursuit gold at Beijing alongside Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas and Ed Clancy to cap a successful career on the bike was snapped up to work on the project with the venue’s builders, ISG.
“He’s been a really awesome coach,” said Rowsell. “Since he crossed over to the programme a couple of years ago he’s really changed things and had a real look at how we do things. We’ve tried out loads of new ideas.
“He’s changed the structure of our training, we’ve seen the times tumble since we’ve changed our approach, and he’s really got a good grip on the programme.
“Obviously because he’s been there and done it, he’s got all the knowledge and he’s so great to have on race day when you’re preparing for the race because he’s been there so many times, he’s got all the experience in the world, so that’s really useful as well.”
One of Manning’s tasks along the way has been to whittle down the candidates for a place in the women’s pursuit team at London 2012 from more than a dozen, including Olympic individual pursuit champion Rebecca Romero and multiple Paralympic champion Sarah Storey to the current four – Rowsell, Trott, King and Wendy Houvenaghel, silver medallist behind Romero in Beijing, who rode in Thursday’s qualifier.
While the women’s team pursuit, raced over three kilometres rather than the four which the male quartet ride, features three riders, Rowsell confirmed that the selection process is now over, with the four women who rode at the World Cup going forward to the Games.
“We’re a team of four and they’ll be taking all four of us to the Olympics,” she explained. “At the Olympics, we have three rides over two days, and two of those rides are only on hour apart. So having a fourth rider and being able to swap between two riders will be to our advantage and I know it’s something other teams will probably be looking at as well.
“So we’re looking to go as a team of four and probably use all four riders. Obviously that’s to be decided nearer the time but that’s the way we’re looking at it. We’re very much a team of four still and all aiming to keep going faster.”
The fact there is a women’s team pursuit event at all in the Olympics is due to the reorganisation of the Olympic programme to create balance between the number of events open both genders.
While that means that Rowsell will have the chance to go for gold in an event in which she won the world championship in 2008 and 2009, among the events to disappear are the individual pursuit, the event in which she won her second gold of the week on Saturday evening, beating Alison Shanks of New Zealand in the final.
However, Rowsell maintained that the first-time inclusion of the women’s team pursuit at Olympic level has given renewed momentum to the that event. “You can see how much everyone has developed since it’s become an Olympic event.
“There’s so many more teams competing and the timings are getting more and more competitive and pushing on. I mean.”
Referring to those rides on Friday evening by Australia in the bronze medal race and Great Britain and Canada in the final, she said, “Three teams broke the previous world record and that shows how much everyone is improving.
“I think the fact it’s a team event requiring three riders and each country needs to get three female riders up to that standard is definitely helping improve women’s cycling as a whole.”
Next month, Rowsell heads to Melbourne for the World Championships, but after that she will be taking a break from the track to hit the road with her Matrix Fitness-Prendas team.
“They’ve got a base in Belgium but they’ve also got quite a lot of racing in England, including the Johnson Health Tech GP Series,” she explained, referring to the four-round event introduced last year that runs alongside the Tour Series.
“I’ll probably be doing some of those and some racing abroad, maybe a stage race or two, after the Worlds, to get in a good last endurance block before the last push to the Olympics,” she added.
Rowsell’s success this weekend has caught the attention of the wider media – the Daily Mail has a story on how the confidence she found on the bike after being talent-spotted by British Cycling helped her come to terms with the alopecia from which she has suffered since she was ten years of age.
She has also been appointed ambassador for Action Medical Research, the charity which includes a number of cycling events as part of its fundraising activities.
“It’s just been arranged recently, they’re a really good charity and it’s great to support them, hopefully I can attend some of their events this year, especially after the Olympics, it will be great to get involved in some of their fundraising,” she said.
This week, however, Rowsell is enjoying a few days of well-earned rest with her family. Off the bike, she says, she enjoys spending time with her boyfriend and going to the cinema and eating out, but “nothing too strenuous that requires too much time on my legs.”
Rowsell’s gold-medal winning performances at the weekend showed that those are working just fine right now. The whole of Britain will be hoping they’re in just as great a shape come August.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.