Joanna Rowsell: World Champion, Women's Team Pursuit
The more you taste success, the more you want it
Joanna Rowsell is the reigning UCI Women's Track Team Pursuit Champion for the second year in a row. Joanna had no particular interest in the sport, and did not come from a cycling background. She admits to only have gone along for a try out because it was more attractive than the impending maths lesson.
"I got into cycling because the Talent Team visited my school, and it meant I could miss maths. I attended their testing, which they held on the school playing field. As a result I was invited to the next stage of testing. After three rounds I was given a place on the Talent Team and this is how I started cycling!"
Despite the interest from the Talent Team, Joanna started to ride locally to develop her skills.
"I was about fifteen when I started riding, and I started racing when I was sixteen. I'd joined Sutton Cycling Club, a club for under eighteens. Later as I got better and more into the sport, I went to VCL (Velo Club de Londres) based at Herne Hill. That was so I could ride on the track."
Joanna also regularly rode at Crystal Palace in the annual summer league, and at the regular circuit races held on the purpose built, traffic free road circuit in Hillingdon. But like other women competitive cyclists, found a lack of opportunity for women to ride. Being forced to ride alongside boys and later men, actually worked in her favour, as she learned to ride at their pace and develop skills such as group riding, drafting and making breaks. Although frustrating and at times perhaps demoralising, she now sees a change in the general attitude to women in sport, and recognition of the hard work each of them has put into their achievements.
"Women's sport always seems to be overshadowed by men's sport and there are many inequalities such as the number of Olympic events for women in cycling. But I think the media are realising the achievements of women, and there was certainly a lot of media coverage surrounding the Olympics last year for both the male and female cyclists. As a woman I think it is important to prove women's sport is as competitive as men's and strive to show a good image to the public of both competitiveness and also fair play."
Like all athletes, Joanna has had her fair share of problems.
"Over the years there have been stages where I've encountered problems, whether that was illness or injury or times when things like the type of training just hasn’t been working. But there are always more experienced people willing to talk and lend advice and you realise every problem can be worked through if you look at the situation logically."
Things started to come right for her four years ago, her determination to do well and the hours spent on her bike finally showing impressive results.
"I realised I could be successful when I won the Junior Women's National Pursuit title in 2005 as a first year junior. My time in the final was the quickest time the event had been won in since Nicole Cooke rode it. That then motivated me to go on to compete for Great Britain in the pursuit and also beat Nicole’s National Record."
Having taken Nicole Cooke’s record from her, and realising that she had the talent to compete at the very highest level, Joanna’s confidence and motivation soared.
"I was motivated to train and get better mainly because I didn't like being bad at something. I was also out to prove to people that had doubted me in the early stages. I began racing cyclo cross as a first year junior, which meant I raced the senior race with all the men which I found very daunting at first. In my second cyclo cross race I was first woman and that was what really spurred me on to continue. This race was part of the London League so I carried on with more of the series in the hope of winning the overall women’s trophy. I persisted with the all the races and managed to win the series, and this really motivated me to continue racing. The cyclo cross racing had given me the confidence to carry on and try different things."
Having got to the very top, and becoming a World Champion, what is left for her to achieve?
"I am still motivated to keep getting better. Once you have won one world title, you want another one! And then you want to do other events too. It just keeps going and the more you taste success, the more you want it."
Like anything, however, sacrifices run alongside the successes, and there is a price for being top achiever.
"I love being a full time athlete and being able to commit 100% to my training schedule. However it does mean things like not meeting up with friends sometimes if you have to train and being away from home a lot. But my parents often come and watch me race so I get to see them quite a lot."
Although she does spend much of her time based at the Velodrome in Manchester and riding in high level competitions, Joanna still rides in local events such as Crystal Palace and Hillingdon when she gets the chance, keeping the whole down to earth attitude of cyclists in general. In keeping with that ethos, she has some very practical advice for anybody wanting to start riding.
"The best place to start is to find a good local club. There is a big female cycling community in London, so finding a local club with other female members shouldn't be too difficult. This will then give you people to ride with and people to go to races with. Competing in your first race can be made so much easier if you have a team mate with you who has done it before! And there is no need to worry about being laughed at – even the pros fall off sometimes!"