Dame Sarah Storey is competing with her team in this year's Tour de Yorkshire.
Sometimes you get the most enjoyment out of something when you’ve had to concentrate really hard on it, and I think that’s very true.
We were lucky enough to speak to the record-breaking athlete ahead of her race at the Tour de Yorkshire, which takes place from Friday 28 April to Sunday 30 April, with the Asda-sponsored women's race happening on Saturday 29.
The super-woman has won six swimming gold medals and nine cycling golds at The Paralympic Games, as well as competing against non-disabled athletes representing England at The Commonwealth Games and has won medals at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup meetings.
We chatted to Dame Sarah about her illustrious career, getting excited about her new team, and racing in front of the best crowds in the world - in Yorkshire, of course.
Why did you switch to cycling from swimming?
"I wasn’t allowed to swim for a number of weeks because I had an ear infection so I was using cycling as a means to stay fit. My infection lasted longer than expected so I spent more time cycling. By the time the infection had cleared up I’d been selected for the British cycling team and I had to decide which sport I wanted to take forward to Beijing."
You hold 72 world records – do you ever just wake up in the morning and think, wow?
"It’s a life’s work – we’re gearing up for Tokyo from next year and that will be my eighth Games. It’s been done over a long period of time. I’m a multi-eventer and there are more opportunities. In rowing you only get one event, but I was an individual medley swimmer and now I’m a track and road cyclist now so I’ve had a few goes at it. I’ve been in the right place at the right time and in great shape to sneak ahead of those records."
What has been your most enjoyable race?
"They’re all enjoyable for different reasons. When you’re standing on top of the rostrum at the Olympics that’s incredibly special – I’ve been fortunate to do that 14 times. I’ve been in solo breakaways in the tour of California at altitude, which was brutal and the concentration levels were intense, but Clare Balding said on the radio the other day that sometimes you get the most enjoyment out of something when you’ve had to concentrate really hard on it, and I think that’s very true."
What or who inspired you when you were starting out?
"A lot of it goes back to primary school. I had an incredible head teacher who focused on sport and I did loads. Then I watched the Games in LA as a 6 year old and was inspired. I wanted to be a British athlete."
Tell us about your team for the Tour de Yorkshire – will you be racing?
"My team is racing so I have to be selected. We have 11 riders in contention for the race vying for the 6 places. I’m hopeful that I’ll be on the start line. We’ve raced the Tour de Yorkshire since its inception and I was in the grand départ in Harrogate in 2014 when the Tour de France was here so I feel like I’ve been here since the start."
Are you excited by your team?
"Our team is a mixture of ages from older riders (30+) and younger riders with some exciting talent. We have a first year junior who has been winning senior races through the winter. We have a rider who is focusing for the first time on the road; previously she was a mountain bike cross country rider. We’ve spent the week together and done a few rides and it’s good to see how the winter training has done for the team.
"Yorkshire will be our first venture into the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) calendar. We’re a UK based club team – we’re not registered as a professional team this year although we hope to be in the future. We are giving our riders the opportunity to experience racing at a higher level. The team that will be selected for the race will be the people who have already experience UCI racing and then we’ll bring along our other riders to be part of the support crew so they can be in and around the race and understand the processes. It’s pretty different from a normal tour series race with the TV cameras and the race convoy."
Do you prefer cycling at home with a home crowd?
"Cycling at home is incredibly special. You don’t get to do it that frequently. But having great courses and organisation is the thing that makes you want to go back. The Yorkshire race is very well organised, it’s such a huge group of people that are very passionate about cycling. Yorkshire is an incredibly sporty county, as we know from the Olympics when Yorkshire could have made the medals table as its own country. It’s a fabulous place to race and with the World Championships coming up in 2019 we’re heading to that crescendo. The Tour de Yorkshire will grow and the women’s race will grow and we need to persuade the powers that be to make the Yorkshire race a major stage race in the calendar."
How do you train for a race like this?
"Everyone in the team has their strengths and weaknesses and you train accordingly. For this race you need to do rides that are longer than the distance of the course. The rides will be up to 160k/100 miles. For the climbers they’ll be focusing on the types of climb, making sure they can keep up with the other riders. It will be a hard race. Each year it attracts bigger and better teams so it’s very exciting."
Which part of the course are you most excited about?
"I’m reccying the course on Easter Saturday. We try and recce the route close enough to the race day that we have it in our minds. I’ve studied it, and I think the distance is fabulous. They’ve upped the women’s race so we’re on the same course as the men for the Saturday with some challenging climbs and that iconic run into Harrogate which will give us a fabulous finish."
Where do you get the best crowds for support?
"The very best crowds were at The Paralympic Games in London. But within able-bodied cycling, Yorkshire over the last couple of years has been immense. Last year I couldn’t believe the crowds that turned out in Otley. I think it was an 8am start and the whole town was there. The crowd is what people always remember; it really pushes you round."
What would you say to anyone who wanted to get into cycling?
"Go for it! You have to find a place where you can start cycling with support. Find a local velodrome and there will often be coaching sessions there. Learning to ride the track is a good way to get to learn cycling because there’s no brakes or gears so you have to learn to handle the bike without relying on the brakes. Then join British Cycling, become a member, get your race licence, look at the handbook and do some racing. Race as a private member - and then you’ll find the right club because people will be there at the races to support. If you’re more interested in the off-road, the cycle cross scene is really big in the UK especially in the winter and that’s really great for doing as a family."
What does a normal day look like for you?
"There isn’t a normal day really. If you’re a track rider you’ll have regular appointments at the track to do the gym sessions and track sessions but as a road rider I spent most of my time out on the road, which is often dictated by the weather. You’re generally out on the road from between one hour to five hours. In the winter you spend a lot of time doing long miles then you start focusing on intensity efforts. Once the racing season starts it all depends - you could be racing four or five times a week if you’ve got a stage race. There’s a lot of variety and it’s one of the things I love most about cycling. As a swimmer we didn’t race very often so having this freedom and lack of routine is a breath of fresh air."