The Olympic gold medalist, and more recently, British time trial champion, was one of the faces of last year’s show, just a month after her success with Laura Trott and Dani King in the women’s team pursuit. The mission statement for London 2012 was to inspire a generation, and the Cycle Show gives her the opportunity to witness the effect first hand.
Rowsell added another major title to her palmares this summer; perhaps more significantly, a championship won on the road. By beating close friend Lizzie Armitstead to the national title in Ayreshire in June, Rowsell realised her potential in road races against the clock perhaps for the first time. Twice she’d finished second in the national 10-mile time trial championship, and on both occasions, had been leading at the half-way stage. “Anything over five miles was too long for me,” she jokes. Times have changed. Specific training prior to the nationals unlocked a door. Rowsell describes the victory, achieved over a distance of 22 miles, as a breakthrough. “As an athlete, I didn’t think I was capable of that, but it just goes to show, if you set your mind to a particular target, you can do it.”
Rowsell is not the first track pursuiter to reveal a talent for time trials. Despite the huge diversity of accomplishment that characterises the career of Sir Bradley Wiggins, it is his ability against the clock that separates him from so many of his rivals. Are we witnessing the emergence of Rowsell the time trial specialist? “I’m definitely still a specialist track rider,” she says, “that’s still my day job.” Her appetite for further success in the race of truth has been whetted, however, and the reintroduction of the team time trial to the world championship programme has increased the value of time trialists to professional road teams.
Mention of the worlds TTT brings the conversation up to date. Less than a week ago, Rowsell rolled out of the start house in Pistoia with her Wiggle-Honda colleagues, taking sixth place in a race won emphatically by the Specialized Lululemon squad of Katie Colclough, Evelyn Stevens, and Ellen Van Dijk, the last of whom won the individual time trial at the world championships just two days later. “The top three teams were the three teams I thought would win gold, silver, and bronze,” Rowsell says. She is confident of Wiggle Honda’s ability to improve, and excited by the discipline. The margin to the podium also gives her hope.
Rowsell has also drawn inspiration from Van Dijk’s individual triumph. “I’ve raced against her on the track a lot,” she says of the Dutchwoman. “She’s now gone on to be world time trial champion. Seeing girls like that achieve is definitely an inspiration.”Rowsell was not selected for the event – recovery from a collar bone broken at RideLondon ruled out the prospect of building sufficient form – and watched it on television. The brevity of the course (“the shorter the better”) and victory for a rider of similar background, provided inspiration.
A year in the elite tier of women’s road racing has proved both demanding and rewarding. Rowsell’s first race in the orange and black of Wiggle Honda was at Het Nieuwsblad, an experience she characterises as “in at the deep end”. La Fleche Wallonne, which, like the men’s race, reached its denouement on the brutal slope of the Mur de Huy, has been her favourite of the year. At RideLondon, however, a criterium on home soil, and a race that on paper at least must have seemed one of the less demanding engagements of her season, a crash derailed Rowsell’s season.
She can recall the circumstances of the collision that broke her left collar bone – a tangle of riders ahead, instinctive braking that pitched her over the handlebars, a headfirst landing – but she finds the immediate aftermath harder to describe. Falling in and out of consciousness at the St James Park circuit, she was taken to hospital, where an X-Ray confirmed the break in her collar bone. After five painful days in which Rowsell felt her bones were “sticking out of my body at odd angles” (they weren’t, she hastens to add) surgeons operated and she out on the road to recovery.
Despite returning to the turbo trainer within a fortnight of surgery, Rowsell missed many of the targets of a packed second half to the season. She draws consolation from her return to the bike in time for an equally busy track season. The European championships are just three weeks away, and a fortnight after that, a home round of the UCI Track World Cup in Manchester. Mexico in December and a round in January at a location still to be confirmed beckon before Cali, Colombia and the world championships next February.
Asked to asses her road season and Rowsell adopts the positive attitude intrinsic to success in any field. The crash at RideLondon has been a set back, she concedes, but her two primary aims for the road season – to win the national time trial title and to ride at a road world championships in the TTT – have been achieved. The greatest impression left upon Rowsell by her debut season at the top tier of women’s road cycling, however, is the high quality of racing. Its absence from the television schedules, she says, encourages the misconception that the standard of racing is poor, and that fields are small. “It’s the complete opposite. You often get fields of over 200 riders. It’s really tough racing.”
The track beckons, but before the boards comes the Cycle Show and a reunion with the cycling public that so values her achievements, and those of her Team GB colleagues. The road will call again next year, however, and Rowsell, older, wiser, and armed with the knowledge that her potential as a time trialist has been unlocked, will look ahead with enthusiasm.
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