Richmond Park to Olympic Park

Joanna Rowsell used to cycle laps of Richmond Park, with only club-mates and the resident deer for company.

But last weekend over 6,000 people were roaring her on in the Olympic velodrome as she won two World Cup gold medals, helped her team to a world, and set her sights on going even faster at London 2012.

She only tried out the sport as a teenager because it gave her a chance to miss a double maths lesson, and admits she didn’t even ride a bike to school at the time.

Rowsell has high hopes for 2012.

On Friday night Rowsell, 23, joined Dani King and Laura Trott to clinch victory in the team pursuit with the top three teams all breaking the old world record for the 3km event. The event is on the Olympic programme for the first time in 2012, giving the trio a wonderful chance of gold.

And on Saturday she was on top of the podium again after winning the individual pursuit – an event she hadn’t even trained for – beating former world champion Alison Shanks of New Zealand by more than a second.

“It was a wonderful experience to be in London and in front of a home crowd,” said Rowsell. “I’ve not had that sort of experience anywhere else in the world.

Great Britain qualified second fastest for Friday’s final, behind Canada, then saw Australia break the world record in the bronze-medal race off, just before their event. But they stepped up to set a new world best of three minutes 18.148 seconds – a second better than the old mark.

“When we were warming up, we saw Vicki Pendleton and Jess Varnish win the team sprint with a world record, which was inspirational,” said Rowsell.

“Then Australia broke the previous record and we thought: ‘We’ve got to do it; we can’t let the Aussies have the record for more than five minutes’.

“We had been training in Manchester – where it’s colder and there’s no atmosphere – and been riding around world-record time but the crowd makes such a difference and to take a whole second off was amazing.”

Rowsell could not have dreamed of such success when she was talent-spotted at school in Cheam in 2004, as part of a British Cycling initiative looking to find complete novices who could compete at the highest level.

Her results on a turbo trainer were some of the best ever for someone in her age group but she admits: “I liked it but I was hopeless. I had power, though, so they decided to take a gamble on me.”

She had a tough time as she had to learn the ropes quickly but won a national junior title at her first attempt and a world team pursuit title aged 19 in 2008.

Richmond Park is a popular cycling training venue.

Some of Rowsell’s early riding experiences were with Sutton CC, riding laps of Richmond Park, which she describes as “a lovely environment to train in”. Box Hill, the feature climb of the Olympic road race, is near her home and the four-minute effort is ideal training for the pursuit.

In fact, she has had more practice over the road race route than many of the women who will compete at the start of the Olympics, as last summer’s test event was for men only, although several of the world’s leading women tried out the course on the morning of that race.

But while the likes of Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins cross Richmond Park and climb Box Hill in search of Olympic gold in July, Rowsell’s focus will be firmly on the track.

After the World Championships in Melbourne in April, she will move out to Belgium with her trade team, Matrix Fitness – Prendas, for some road racing to build endurance then get back on the boards to find even more speed.

“There is lots of hard work still to do,” she said.

“At the World Championships, the Australians will really be out to win in front of their home crowd; it will be their version of this event in London.

“It will be a massive event but, come the Olympics, no one will remember the Worlds.

“We want to keep getting faster and we hope to take more off that time. We don’t want to win by just one second.”


For more information about Joanna Rowsell, click here to visit her website.

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