Interview: GB’s Joanna Rowsell at the European Championships

EXCLUSIVE: VeloUK talks to former World Women’s Team Pursuit champion and record holder Joanna Rowsell

Link: Joanna’s Website

When the Women’s Team Pursuit was introduced at the Manchester World Track Cycling Championships in 2008, one of the riders to pull on the rainbow jersey for the first time in this event was Londoner Joanna Rowsell who rides for Horizon Fitness/Prendas Ciclismo.

2008 and a new era was born as the Women’s Team Pursuit was introduced as an event at the World Track Cycling Championships. L-R: Rebecca Romero, Wendy Houvenaghel and Joanna Rowsell. Photo: Richard Robotham.

Joanne was part of a formidable line up that also included the World Individual Pursuit Champion at the same championships, Rebecca Romero and Wendy Houvenaghel who was to finish second to Rebecca at the Olympics a few months later.

For the ‘Statos’ among you, Joanna says she has ridden something like twenty two Team Pursuits for Great Britain in qualifiers and finals since she began three years ago which makes her the most experienced of the quartet who has travelled to Holland for the Europeans championships.

Her role in the Team Pursuit for a large part of those rides for GB has been as ‘man’ 1. That’s the rider who gets to sit in the starting gate and when the start is given, has the job of getting the team up to speed before the other two riders aim to carry that speed before ‘man 1’ hits the front again a few laps later.

“During my career so far, 99 per cent of the time I have been man 1” says Joanna. “I’ll probably be man 1 during qualifying on Friday too” Joanna explained. “I have always been man 1 in the past but now we have Laura (Trott) and Danni (King) who are very quick starters as well, we have three of us that can do that job which is great because it leaves us with lots of options to change the order around.”

“With all my experience, I think I’m quite versatile and can ride in any position as well manage the pace to match the distance and choose the right gear etc.”

Having been part of the event at its inception, Joanna has seen the event become much more competitive over the years as she explained. “Nowadays, there are a lot more countries closer together at the top. The first year we won it (in a time of 3:22.415), we had the other team (Ukraine, 3:29.744) in our sights and almost caught them but now it’s much closer.”

“The top four teams are generally within a second of each other and it’s been very very close. Even the teams in fifth place are very close to getting that bronze medal ride off. We certainly don’t have it our own way any more.”

By way of example of how quickly the other countries were catching up, in 2009, the gap between the winners of the Gold medal and the Silver medal (New Zealand) was just over a second in the final. Joanna was part of that GB line-up to win Gold as was Wendy while Lizzie Armitstead came in for Rebecca Romero.

That same line up finished second to the Australians (Ashlee Ankudinoff, Sarah Kent, Josephine Tomic) in 2010 and then in 2011, Joanna missed out on a ride in the final after an horrific six months leading up to the international track season.

2010 and the other nations had caught and relegated the Great Britain team to the silver medal position.

At the Track Worlds 2011, Joanna was a reserve which considering the crashes and injuries she had suffered in the second half of 2010 was a great comeback by the young rider. During the summer of 2010, Joanna’s luck took a tumble when she crashed and knocked her front teeth out and as some one who has suffered that, it’s a hard knock to have to deal with but more was to follow.

“Then I had glandular fever” Joanna explained “and followed that by breaking my elbow just before Christmas so between July and Christmas, I got in very little bike riding. In all, I had twelve weeks off during different periods prior to Christmas.”

“So it was always going to be a long shot for me to make the Worlds team in 2011. I did manage to make the team for the Manchester World Cup and did a good ride there which was great for my confidence. I didn’t make the final selection for the Worlds though because by that point, I had trained so hard in January and February, I just ran out of endurance to keep that going to the Worlds at the end of March. I was still pleased to be selected as a reserve though and all things considered, that was a great achievement.”

Joanna however had to sit out the Team Pursuit at the Track Worlds in 2011 while her teammates, Dani King, Laura Trott and Wendy Houvenaghel went on to win the Gold medal which for someone who had been part of the team since it was formed, and ridden in every World Championship, was very frustrating.

Despite all the troubles in 2010 with injuries and so on, Joanna and GB won the Gold medal for the Team Pursuit at the Manchester World Cup.

Joanna however showed her determination to force her way back into the squad by training hard in the summer and the fruits of that were in evidence at the British Track Championships where she recorded a time of 3.30 for the 3,000 metres, a truly World Class time in the same mould as those recorded by Houvenaghel and Romero in Olympic year and showed Joanna was coming of age at the very highest level.

“I felt I was getting my old form back from a couple of years ago and so it’s onwards and upwards now.”

That perhaps is Joanna being a little modest because with the ‘3.30’ being no less than 4.6 seconds off her personal best for the 3,000 metres, Joanna was obviously going better than ever before.  Asked what she puts the improvement down to, Joanna replies “I have changed the way I train this summer. Having had glandular fever last year, I recognised the need to give myself a lot more rest. In general now, I’m doing a lot more quality and less quantity and scheduling in a lot more rest periods.”

“I’m getting more from training like that rather than trying to pack in the hours. The Team Pursuit is about speed and doing a lap really really fast, then a fast recovery for two laps on the wheel and doing that over again. It’s about high cadence too so I don’t think I need as many hours as I was doing in the past. I changed some basic things and that seems to be working for me”.

In Appeldorn (Holland) for the Euros, Joanna has been making her first Team Pursuit efforts on the Dutch track and after their first training session, she says everything went really well. “We were up on the schedule” she says adding that it was a good session to look at what gears were best for the track and what schedule they will be looking at riding to on Friday.

During that qualifying round on Friday, where a fast time is so important to make the Gold medal final, Joanna thinks that their main competition may come from the Dutch who were fifth at the Worlds and just missed out on a ride in the bronze medal final.

GB Training in Appeldorn — more pics on the Facebook page for the Europeans website

“It’s their home track so that gives them an added incentive to be really on it for this event” Joanna said before adding, “Germany too will also be a big threat.”

Joanna explained that at the Appeldorn track they have three sessions on the track before they race, yesterday, today (Tuesday) and Wednesday and each session will see them make two efforts. “Six team pursuit efforts and then its race day” Joanna explained.

“We’ll have to try and not over think it – just  choose the correct gear and stick with it. Because we train all the time on Manchester, we do get really used to it. Like when to swing up and when to swing down and it’s become automatic. That does change at different tracks but so far we’ve fine.”

The track though says Joanna is definitely slower than Manchester so no World Records are expected even though training has gone well for them in Manchester and the form is good for the riders in this mini peak pre competition. Unlike the men where many of their riders have been busy away from the track on the road, the girls have had plenty of track time.

The training for the Women’s team in the lead up to the Euros has been on going on all summer but began in earnest the week before the nationals where they had a hard week on the track before a week on the road to top up their endurance before more track work last week.

“We had two full weeks of Team Pursuit training before coming out here but we also did plenty during the summer” Joanna says. “We had a Team Pursuit camp in July and for most of August and September, we’ve been based in Manchester doing one or two sessions a week together so it’s not a case of us doing our own thing as we’ve been Team Pursuiting all summer on and off.”

The race for Joanna and the other girls in the GB team is not just between them and the other countries. There is also plenty of competition for places to be part of the trio on the start line in the London Olympics.

That competition for places says Joanna, keeps them on their toes. “It was never only about the three of us going for three spots so the competition for places is driving us to keep improving. In training, you’re not just thinking about beating other nations but also about what the other GB girls are doing and keeping your spot in the team.”

Right: Joanna Rowsell is in the starting gate for the Women’s Team Pursuit and from the 22 or so TP’s she has ridden for GB, this is the place she has started from in 20 of them.

“You can never be complacent but it’s always been like that ever since the first year I rode with Wendy and Rebecca where there were several girls going for that spot. It is getting closer now though and so it’s about turning up at track sessions on time, not tired and focused on being fresh when you need to be.”

While Joanna is in Holland for the Euros, other riders like Wendy Houvenaghel are in the middle of training for one of the World Cups, probably Cali, where a different line up is expected to take to the track in the Women’s Team Pursuit.

Joanna explained that it’s not so much the A team that is in Holland but about taking one group of riders to Holland and then another to Cali to test out different training blocks to see what works best for the riders. The riders in Holland happen to be the four that were ready go for this competition while Wendy for example is in another training block preparing for Cali.

The big prize the riders are after is that Olympic spot in London at the home Olympics and every British athlete will be working over time to be part of it but for those from London, the Olympics in their home city is even more special. And Joanna is of course from London.

“The site of the Olympic Velodrome is where Eastway used to be and that was one of the first places I raced at when I took up cycling” she says. “So it’s very close to home and it’s going to be a really big thing. Everyone I went to school with is talking about it and everyone in London knows so much about it.”

As ever though, the racing at the Europeans may well go under the radar for the majority of the public but it’s significance can never be underestimated. Not just for GB but for each and every rider and their ambition to be part of the London Olympic dream. Thank you to Joanna for talking to us and good luck to all the riders in Holland this week.

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