Life for Britain’s teenage starlet Lucy Garner, now in her second professional year with Giant-Shimano, is good and it’s getting better.
Having announced herself on the world cycling scene by winning back-to-back junior world titles, Garner wasted little time in bagging her first pro victory at last year’s Tour of Chongming Island.
And the 19-year-old has just completed the inaugural Women’s Tour, where she rode for Great Britain and finished seventh overall against a high-class field.
Competing for the British team offered her the opportunity to sprint for herself, with much of her work for Giant-Shimano in support of Kirsten Wild, and Garner admitted it had been an incredible event.
Riding the Women’s Tour
“It was good,” she told RCUK. “It was pretty different not going in with Team Giant-Shimano. I had to get used to riding with different riders again but it was a great opportunity for me to be able to mix it up at the end and try my sprint out.
“A lot of the time, this year, I do a lot for Kirsten Wild, who is obviously our strongest sprinter, so it was really nice for me to have the chance to sprint – on home roads as well. It was just amazing, really good racing.
“Obviously women’s cycling is getting so much bigger. When I heard about the Women’s Tour happening I think a lot of people still doubted whether it would go ahead or not and when it was final that it was going ahead, so many people were so excited.
“Especially the GB girls who are having to move away to places like Holland, with a lot of the races being in Europe, it was just such a good time to have the opportunity and belief from organisers to make women’s cycling big in the UK.”
I never could have imagined the crowds that would turn out for the Women’s Tour. There were hundreds of people out on the course supporting
The five-day race saw huge numbers line the streets to cheer the peloton on, with Garner one of a number of British stars on show – Lizzie Armitstead, Dani King, Emma Pooley, and Laura and Emma Trott among the others.
It helped the inaugural event, won by world champion Marianne Vos, become a huge success for organisers and Garner believes it will only go from strength-to-strength.
“I never could have imagined the crowds that would turn out,” she said. “The weather wasn’t even that nice as well, and there were still kids screaming and supporting us throughout the whole course.
“It wasn’t just a case of passing through a village and there were a few people there, there were hundreds of people out on the course supporting and it was really, really nice to see.
“I’ve done a lot of big races but there was just so much passion. It was the support that really, really made it special.
“A lot of the professional riders couldn’t believe it as well. I saw a lot of tweets from the other riders saying they couldn’t believe the support we were getting and it was just incredible really.
“With it being a first race, you don’t really know what to expect but everything went spot on actually.
“The racing was great, the atmosphere was great and we got so much media attention for women’s cycling. For a first event it was huge and I think it can carry on, definitely, and just get bigger and better.”
Climbing the ranks
For Garner however, the Women’s Tour was just a small part of her season, with podium places at the Molecaten Drentse 8, GP de Dottignies and Dwars door de Westhoek adding to her riding stock.
I’m really happy to already have three podiums in the one-day races and that wasn’t expected by me or my coach
And it is particularly pleasing for the teenage star, having initially found the transition to professional ranks to be a difficult one.
Now living in Holland, Garner – who has been announced as an ambassador for the Dreams Come True children’s charity – admits she is growing into the professional lifestyle.
“I’m really happy with how it’s gone this season,” she said. “Last year, I don’t think I could say [I was] disappointed, I just really didn’t know what to expect in my first year as a senior and I did have quite a few batterings in the races.
“Mentally it was quite hard for me. But I had a really good winter’s training, and I just really focussed on getting my endurance higher so I’m pretty fit at the end of the races so I can sprint.
“That’s something I’ve really worked on and it’s paying off. I’m really happy to already have three podiums in the one-day races and that wasn’t expected by me or my coach so I’m really happy with how it has gone so far.
“Last year was just such a huge step-up. The physical side of it, the speed of not just racing but training too, it was just really big.
“But also a lot of the things around it were hard. It was a new team, I had to move to Holland and leave my friends and family behind, but now I think I’ve just really settled down.
“Now, with the team, the racing and the environment I’m living in, I feel really comfortable and feel like I have a place in the peloton, which is really nice.”
Garner’s victory at the Tour of Chongming Island played a big part in confirming her place in the peloton and she delivered a perfectly-timed sprint into a strong headwind. Where her opponents started too easily, Garner kept herself well hidden before bursting into the sprint to take her first professional victory.
Now, with the team, the racing and the environment I’m living in, I feel really comfortable and feel like I have a place in the peloton
And Garner admitted the result underlined what she is capable of.
“For me, that was a really, really big result,” she explained. “It’s always nice to win but, for me, to have it in my first year as a professional, that was something really special.
“It was nice to have the opportunity to sprint because, as I’ve said, we do have the world’s best sprinter in our team in Kirsten Wild so a lot of the time I’m working for her.
“She’s taught me a lot and it’s nice that I had the chance to prove to the team, and to her, that if she’s not in the race I can step up and get a good result in her absence.”
With two junior world champion jerseys in her possession, you would be forgiven for expecting big things from the off from Garner.
But the Leicester-born ace paid tribute to the patience and planning of her team as she eased into life in the professional peloton.
“I was a bit nervous that people would expect me to perform straight away but being with the team it really made me feel like there was no pressure whatsoever,” she admitted.
“A lot of the races I wasn’t going in to get a result. It was a case of, ‘right, your goal is to go over the climb first’ or something like that. It really is a big jump. To say, ‘right you can try this sprint out, let’s see how you do’ – it doesn’t work like that.
“You’ve got to take it step by step. Honestly, last year, I didn’t feel pressure. It was really nice racing actually to just find my place, rather than constantly having to think about getting the result.”
Those small steps have lead to big ambitions for Garner over the coming months – once she has recovered from a fever she was struck with following the Women’s Tour.
I’m really hoping that the results I’ve had will pay off and I’ll be selected for the Commonwealth Games
The Commonwealth Games is among her targets – with England’s road race team, who will ride in support of Lizzie Armitstead, set to be announced next month.
“I’m hoping to get selected for the Commonwealth Games,” said Garner. “Hopefully I’ll find out about that soon, in June. I’m really hoping that the results I’ve had will pay off and I’ll be selected so we’ll just have to see.
“But I’ve got quite a lot of races in Holland and Belgium that I’m going for. Unfortunately, after the Women’s Tour, I came down with flu and fever which is a little bit annoying as the next few weeks were supposed to be my peak in the season.
“I had the opportunity to go for the races but it’s put me back a little so I had last week off and this week has been easy training so hopefully I can still go for those races in the next couple of weeks.
“It’s nice to have that feeling, sprinting again – it’s good so hopefully I’ll still have the opportunity.”
She added: “Beyond that, the World Championships look like they’re going to be really tough again, really hilly, so we’ll just see how I go.
“Lizzie’s going really well at the moment in climbing, she’s climbing amazing, so I think she’ll be really going for the Commonwealth Games and World Championships so hopefully I can be there to support her and help her with that.”
Support may be the key word in Garner’s immediate future, but look beyond that and it’s not hard to see the young Brit, given her current rise, being leader in her own right and standing on the top step of the podium regularly.
Lucy Garner races for Team Giant-Shimano, is an ambassador for children’s charity, Dreams Come True and is currently gearing up for the annual fundraising campaign, the Dream Tea. Dreams Come True also has places on cycling events such as the Prudential RideLondon. For more information, visit http://dreamscometrue.uk.com