Report: ride with Emma Trott plus Q&A session
20 August 2014
Young riders aged 7 to 14 had a fantastic time cycling with Emma Trott in our “Ride with Emma” event at Redbridge Cycling Centre. They chatted with the recently-retired pro while riding a few laps of the road circuit with her. Then we interviewed Emma and held a Q&A session with her – read below for plenty of straight-talking views & advice.
Q. How was youth racing different when you were a young rider yourself?
A. There just weren’t as many youth riders, particularly girls. We didn’t have a separate girls’ race – the girl who won was the one who could hang on the longest and got dropped last! It wasn’t great racing for girls, and it’s great that things are changing now.
GB women are very strong on the track now, of course, but we have to make sure that we keep road talent coming through, especially with the retirement of key riders like Emma Pooley. Having women’s racing on TV is a big thing – it’s something for girls to strive for. And hopefully the sport is going the same way as tennis has with its Grand Slams, in that women will earn the same from their sport as men do.
A. They’re in the prime time! People say to me that I quit too early just as the sport is starting to get good. I’ve had the best time of my life being a bike rider and I thoroughly enjoyed it. But there’s a lot of hard work behind that.
Women don’t earn the same amount of money as the guys do – if a male rider is on €50,000 a year, their female equivalent will only be on €20,000, but that doesn’t filter down: there are many girls in the peloton riding for nothing, and although they’re called “pro” they’re actually semi-pro and they have to hold down a full-time job as well. So then they’ve got to train and work, which is “mission impossible” – it’s really hard. I would work in the winter as well as train, and I’d use commuting as training too. But things are improving: we’ve got to the point where there are minimum wages, more races, everyone has to be paid properly, and the UCI is overseeing it better.
Just last weekend we had the women’s Prudential race, we’ve had La Course in Paris, we’ve had the Women’s Tour of Britain, and I’m hearing something about maybe having a race in Glasgow as a legacy of the Commonwealth Games. Britain is the leading country for female cycling, so you girls are in the best place at the best time.
A. Boys and girls should remember that the British Cycling talent development system isn’t the only way to become a top-level rider. It’s great that we’ve got the Talent Team and the Olympic Development Programme, for example, but I wasn’t on any of those. Adam Blythe who won the Ride London-Surrey Classic yesterday – he wasn’t either. There other ways to get there: you’ve just got to work hard, that’s the bottom line.
The BC system doesn’t really allow you to do exams and go to university. But if you crash in a race and damage yourself badly so you can’t race, what will you do afterwards? There’s life after cycling. The one thing Dad pushed us to do was our A-Levels.
My time-table would be: get up early, train, breakfast, go to school. I’d do school sport at lunchtime and also after school. I’d come home, study, then go straight out of the door and train. In winter I’d swim too. But as kids we did everything: swimming, trampolining, and football.
A. Especially at a young age children shouldn’t be told to focus on one discipline, and they shouldn’t be told to do lots of training either. Children must have a say in what they’re doing – not parents who might be trying to live out their own dreams. It’s got to come from the kid, and the kid’s got to be the one pushing the parents, not the other way around. My sister Laura and I made Dad quit cricket because we wanted to ride the bike – the drive was all from us.
A. About the age of fifteen. I stopped swimming, and cycling took over. And then it went: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday with the club, Friday track league, and Saturday/Sunday racing – but that was because it was what Laura & I wanted to do, and Dad realised that we were serious about it.
A. I’ve noticed that the kit that kids have now is incredible. But I think “What’s your next level? Where do you go from here?” You see kids with top carbon bikes, deep section rims, electric gears – that’s a pro’s bike! I never had a carbon bike. I won my junior national road title on a normal aluminium bike with a set of deep sections. Dad would never go out and just buy us kit – we had to earn everything that we got. And Laura & I shared a lot of equipment too.
I think kids need to learn that the way to get better is to train well not just ride expensive kit. And also not to use big gears of course, so that their knees are protected using restricted gears instead. Laura’s cadence and pedalling action was incredible. She’d never have got like that if she’d been just allowed to ride bigger gears. My fastest ten mile time trial was 21 mins 05 secs, and I did that on a junior gear and at an average cadence of something like 110 rpm. Just pedal – it’s everything.
Q. You said when we last met that you enjoyed your career hugely, but that maybe you started a bit too early. Can you expand on that a little?
A. In British Cycling’s eyes, as a Junior you already have to be good if you’re going to make it onto their talent programmes. I think if I’d started later I’d probably still be racing – mentally you get tired, even if not physically. I rode yesterday in the Prudential RideLondon 100 with my Dad & Laura and my Dad was surprised at how strong I still was, having not ridden my bike. I sometimes used to say to him that I wasn’t talented – that I was rubbish! Maybe I’ll race a little bit next year, maybe do a few criteriums.
As a kid you should be enjoying your life, and having your teenage years. I think I missed out those teenage years. Friends would say “Can you come out tonight?” and I’d say “No, I’m training”. “Can you come out this weekend?”, “No, I’m racing” or “No, I’m in Holland”.
Q. So do you think you would have reached the same level if you’d had a bit more balance at the age of 12, 13 or 14 years old, and you would have had a longer career?
A. Yes, because that’s how the Dutch do it. They keep doing their football, or their skating which is really big in Holland. That’s where Marianne Vos came from: she didn’t really start until she was a first year senior. Jo Rowsell and Lizzie Armitstead – they didn’t start until they were about fifteen years old. So I don’t think it makes much difference.
I can’t sit here and criticise the British Cycling system too much because not much is going wrong at the moment. But I also think that a lot of people drop out early, especially on the girls’ side. They’ve been in the system for so long and it’s all go-go-go and you don’t get a break. But that’s the nature of professional sport.
A. Welwyn Wheelers. We had a good team, and three of us turned pro: me, my sister Laura, and Andy Fenn who rides for Omega Pharma – Quick-Step. Our coaches Simon Layfield and Sophie Bruton taught us the right stuff early on.
They taught us the importance of the basics: you go to the Nationals, there’s your chair, you put your bag under the chair, that’s your space, put your rollers there. That sounds quite regimented, but if we hadn’t learned it then when we went away on racing trips we wouldn’t have known what to do. It’s not just the riding, it’s the way you behave – it’s everything.
A. Some of those riders had a break and went away but then have come back into the sport again. I think because they missed out their teenage years sometimes people go away and experience life and then are ready to come back. Even if you stop as a 16 or 17 year old you can come back and still make it. There’s so much racing going on now whatever your level.
A. There’s no need for anything special at that age. I think you should let kids eat what they want within reason, as long as there’s a balance of fruit and vegetables. And their races are short so they just need water in their bottles until they’re doing longer races when they might want something like SIS in their bottles.
A. The road was always my favourite but I tried everything. At one time British Cycling had all the clubs across the region competing against each other: cycle speedway, BMX, cyclocross, MTB, track, circuit racing. In fact that’s why Simon’s and Sophie’s coaching was so good for us: they’d put hurdles from the running track on the ground and then we’d have to run over the hurdles, zig-zag around them. At the time we thought “That’s ridiculous – when are we ever going to need to run over stuff?” But I quickly learned in my first European race that what you’re running over is bodies and bikes!
Q. Now that you’ve stopped racing, do you still enjoy riding the bike? How many hours a week do you ride now?
A. Nothing really! Honestly, I haven’t got the time at the moment. I ride to work and back if I have a chance, and I run a bit.
I went straight into full-time work after retiring from racing and I probably should have taken some time out first. And I’m getting so many other opportunities too, that I realise now that people must value my experience and that I can use it in other ways now.
I enjoy riding my bike – maybe a 200km promotional ride on the first day of the Tour de France wasn’t the easiest thing, or 86 miles in the pouring rain at Ride London… But that’s about all I’ve ridden! But when I’ve got the time I’ll get on my bike.