Feature – Nikki Juniper Fighting all the Way


Gordon Wiseman interviews Nikki Juniper (Team Giordana Triton), leader of the Matrix Fitness Women’s Tour  Series

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Feature – Nikki Juniper Fighting all the Way

from – Gordon Wiseman

Nikki Juniper (Team Giordana Triton) returned to this year’s Jupiter London Nocturne knowing that, as last year’s winner and current leader of the Matrix Fitness Grand Prix series, her back wheel would be the wheel everyone would be clambering to get onto as the women’s race counted down its final laps.

But that wasn’t something that fazed the 34 year old rider from Brentwood. “Well it’s another race to be honest and having won last year after my fifth attempt – which was the icing on the cake – I actually said I wouldn’t come back this year unless it was as a spectator. But I’m with a different team this year and I wanted to come and support them. And as we’re racing in the other direction it’s like racing on a different circuit so I’m really excited” she explained before the event.


VeloUK – “How pleased are you with your Matrix GP results so far this year? With two races to go you’re leading both the overall and the Sprints competition and Giordana Triton have already picked up a team win”.

NJ – “It’s been a really good year for me. But I recognise that with such a young team, I’m really the team ‘mum’ so I’m really enjoying being able to give so much to all our younger riders. I’ve got a really strong endurance background having raced triathlon for ten years and coupled with being the eldest, I add something to that side of the team. We’re mainly a development squad and my being there and doing so well lets the younger riders know that they can also give it a go and not be afraid”.

VeloUK – “Is that your character, ‘give it a go and don’t be afraid’?

NJ – “Definitely. I admit that before a race I get terrible race nerves and can panic. But once the race has started I just get in there and if I cross the line having given it everything I’ve got then I know I’ve done my best. I’m my worst critic and if I haven’t given it my all I’ll be the first one to say that”.


VeloUK – “There’s two rounds of Matrix series to go and one of those races is on a circuit in Bath that’s never been used before. Do you know anything about the Bath circuit?”

NJ – “I’ve been told it’s got some good cobbles and good climbs so I’m hoping it’s my kind of circuit. I prefer the racing to be harder than just fast. If it’s harder it’s actually safer because the field quickly splits up and you’ve got smaller groups to actually race against. And that’s particular good at the front of the race where I always try to be”.

VeloUK – “Are you aware that the last two winners of the Matrix series have gone on to ride for UCI registered teams?”

NJ – “I did know that but they’re completely different riders to me’ – Eileen Roe (Wiggle-Honda) and Hannah Barnes (United HealthCare). ‘I’m an all-rounder and I’m fully aware that I’m kind of near the end of my career and I’m absolutely stoked with what I’ve done and achieved. But if I can now give something back, perhaps after another couple of years then I’d like to be involved as a team manager or a coach, helping with other riders as they develop then I’d be completely happy.”

“But if the opportunity did come along, I’d have to first have my partner involved in making that decision but you can never say never. Nick Yarworth is both my partner and coach and he’s played a major part in my success and that of the teams so far. But I’m not a 19 year old, I’m 34 so I’d have to see what my situation was first of all”.


VeloUK – “What are your expectations for tonight’s race (London Nocturne)?”

NJ – “Katie Archibald (Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International) has got an unbelievable turn of power once she puts the pedal down she can just get away. But I think a lot of people see the start list, see names like Katie and Eileen Roe and they think ‘oh my God’ and I think they sit back in awe. Yes, those girls deserve respect but every woman on the start line tonight has an opportunity to do well. On the start line we’re all equal so we just have to give it a go”.

VeloUK – “The Matrix GP start-lists have all had 60 or 70 riders entered”.

NJ – “Oh yeah, that’s unbelievable. They’ve been massive and tonight’s Nocturne is the same and that’s such a good thing to see. There’s been different riders at the front of all the races and the different circuits all suit different riders. I’ve seen the women’s side of the sport grow since I lined up for my first race in 2009 when there were just 9 of us in that race and now there’s 70. As I say, that’s just unbelievable.”

VeloUK – “But the whole appearance of the women’s race scene has changed because now the teams have proper rider support, team vehicles and starting to get the kind of support you’d expect at the top level”.


NJ – “Yes, there’s definitely more interest being shown by bigger companies as they begin to realise that women’s bike racing is exciting and is a place for them to get involved. And they can get an awful lot of exposure for a smaller amount than, say, one of the men’s teams.

“I think part of that is because in bike racing women are used to having to do nearly everything for themselves so when they get the chance to join a team they don’t expect a lot and have been happy to race for just a jersey, a pair of shorts and a little mechanical support. So for big companies to get involved with a sponsorship deal won’t involve a great deal of money and certainly pocket money compared to the men’s side of the sport so it’s a win-win situation for them. Now what we need is for such companies to come along and actually get involved.

“But there’s then the importance of women who are involved in the sport to know they’ve got to give something back. They mustn’t just expect money for everything, go and talk to schools, help out with cycle schemes in the community. That’s what I do for my job, going into schools, talking at school assemblies. And getting girls involved at a young age is very important because many still think bike racing is just a man’s sport. We need to get round that.

“That’s what the company I work for’ – Vandome Cycles of Dagenham – ‘does. I’m actually at my happiest not just when I’m racing but also when I go and see some of the younger riders we’ve got involved in the sport race themselves”.

VeloUK – As soon as the Matrix Fitness Grand Prix season finishes we move to the Aviva Women’s Tour. How big do you think that is in developing the sport in the UK?”

NJ – “I think that’s hugely important. They only allow I think it’s 16 UCI teams and only two domestic teams at present and I’d love to ride that myself but our team didn’t get an invite. But we didn’t have that until very recently and to see that go through the streets of England, that’s brilliant. And that can only get better.

“The amount of positive feedback they got was enormous, people saying things like ‘I didn’t know women could race that fast’. And lots of people say women’s racing is so exciting and I think that’s because we do have that ‘well I might as well give it a go’ attitude.

“If we were to have a GB team in the race this year, you know some riders think just to pull on a GB jersey is everything and it is a goal to aim for but there’s so much more to aim for in cycling.

“And the first thing is just to get on your bike and enjoy it. If you just focus on getting that jersey and you don’t get it, well… It’s great to have that dream but also have dreams you can enjoy.”

VeloUK – “So where is your focus now, just tonight or on hopefully retaining the overall jersey in the Matrix series? Where’s your dream?”

NJ – “Tonight is like a party on a bike, it’s great and I just want to enjoy it and soak it up. I got the win last year and I know people will expect me to defend it but the result at the end of the night will speak for themselves. But I’d really love to keep the jersey through to the end of Bath on Thursday night. And that would also bring the team so much confidence for the future as well”.

Post Race Interview Note – VeloUK weren’t able to catch up with Nikki after the race where she eventually finished in 3rd place. The accident she was involved in as Nikki had to race off to A & E. She said the following day, “it happened right in front of me, I simply had nowhere to go”. It resulted in her suffering bad cuts and bruising on her left arm and leg and the aftereffects of a bad bang to the head.

Such were her injuries that she had to be helped up and down the podium steps and was clearly in some pain and discomfort even then. After attending to those duties she was taken straight to hospital. “Like I said, the accident wasn’t my doing but when something like that happens right in front of you there’s nowhere for you to go. But having hit the deck, I then got hit really hard on the head by another rider’s foot or pedal.

“I managed to get back to the pits but was super charged with adrenaline so rushed back into the race and somehow managed to finish 3rd which was quite amazing in the circumstances. But others also came down in the race, even on the neutral lap. Eileen Roe and I were talking and we thought that in future some sort of grid system should be used because of the different levels of riders taking part in the race. Yes, everyone deserves to be on the start line but different levels of ability should be taken into account”.

“I was taken to A&E and the arm and leg were OK, just bad cuts and bruises but they wanted to do a CT scan because of the head injury. Eventually the results came back OK but I didn’t get home until 5.45am this morning. Being in A&E all Saturday night was certainly an ‘interesting’ experience! So for the rest of the day I’ve just slept!”

“I’ve now got to make sure I’m ready for the Matrix race in Peterborough on Tuesday night. Will I be there? Of course I will, I’ve got a jersey to defend!”

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