Women's Team Pursuit Gold at Manchester World Cup


Going into the World Cup I was riding with two legends of the event, Horizon Fitness team mate Joanna Rowsell and a rider I know well from racing together on the road and track, Wendy Houvenaghel. I wanted to make sure I lived up to their previous experiences in the event and could put the short time we’d spent training together into a solid team performance.


Womens team pursuit Manchester World Cup 2011

Picture courtesy of www.trackcycling.me.uk the only website dedicated to track cycling - from local track leagues to top level international competition


As with other events on the track in the GB team, the squad of women vying for places in team pursuit is a large and very strong.  As with the men’s team pursuit squad, the women’s team have been training in every combination possible over the past four months and there has never been very long to get comfortable or familiar with one person’s wheel - we have to ride all wheels and be flexible in any line up.


As we lined up for qualification on Friday at the World Cup, we knew we needed to post a strong ride, something of a marker to give the other teams - there were another five to qualify after us - a benchmark to aim for.  We were riding above schedule in the first half and posted what would be the fastest final kilometre of all the teams.  This meant we were able to slice 0.9 seconds off the previous British Record, to set the second fastest time of all time and also the fastest at sea level with a 3.20.962.


Womens team pursuit ready to start at Manchester World Cup 2011

Picture courtesy of www.trackcycling.me.uk the only website dedicated to track cycling - from local track leagues to top level international competition


Personally the ride was manic - I felt like I was in a washing machine, going round and round so fast I didn’t have time to be the cool, calculated rider I had been in training. I missed a change when the team was travelling at around 57-58kph, this left me with a few metres of a gap that I had to close and the “ooooh” of the crowd as they realised what was happening made me wonder if I didn’t have several hundred people sat on my shoulder. The noise was just incredible!


Nothing prepares you for a full house at Manchester.  Riding with an aero-helmet on magnifies the noise and encouragement, which is truly awesome, but having no previous knowledge of this, I wasn’t prepared for how it sounded and that noise seemed to add to that sense of everything hitting you faster than you can respond. My mind was on overdrive as I was trying to take everything in and this just added to the clumsiness I felt and didn’t enjoy!


I finished knowing I had plenty more to give and knew there would be a real benefit of experiencing the qualification.  I would need to cope better with travelling at that speed and it was a case of learn fast, pull your socks up and do it better in the evening.  We were fastest qualifiers by such a small margin and knew the final was going to be tight.  We decided to up our schedule, adjust the turn formation and go out to race and try and win.  Times and records are always a bonus and we were focusing on our strategy and the process we had been working through in training.  I was personally determined to put the first ride down to a steep learning curve and pull my best form out for my team mates in the final.


Heading into the final was exciting, the crowds were right behind the British team and watching the men’s sprint and the encouragement the crowds were giving Sir Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny, as well as the excitement when Ben Swift came charging through to nick some points in the men’s omnium points race, made me feel settled that all this noise was going to spur me on for the final.


We lined up in our formation to start, Joanna in the gate, Wendy in two and me in three.  Starting has been an area I’ve put a lot of work in over the last three years and it’s not unusual for me to do 28 standing starts in a session!  I knew getting off the line smoothly and quickly was going to get me settled on the back and ready for the speed and power of the delivery from Wendy.  Jo is an awesome starter, strong and controlled and takes us right up to pace after a lap and a quarter, Wendy did a huge lap and a half and I brought us through the first kilometre and we were faster than the qualification.  By this point the crowd were in full voice and we executed our turns, changes and line on the front as planned and I could just hear the crowd roaring us home.  Each time we got on the front we were giving it everything to keep the speed high, we knew it must be close by the noise of the crowd and we just kept on driving.


By the time Wendy delivered me for the final time, there was just three quarters of a lap to the finish which I knew I had to drive through before drifting up to give my team mates the space to run underneath for our blanket finish. We all knew it was the final sprint by this point and we all put our heads down for the final push to the finish! Although the crowds were roaring us round on every lap, I still had no concept of how close the ride actually was and really couldn’t have told you whether or not we were faster.


Crossing the line in the home straight, the scoreboard is behind you, so I didn’t see that first, I saw Barney (Sarah’s husband) leaning so far over the fence I thought he was coming on to the track! By the look on his face I knew it must be good and when I craned my neck to look back and see a “19” I screamed with excitement!


Womens team pursuit podium at Manchester World Cup 2011

Picture courtesy of www.trackcycling.me.uk the only website dedicated to track cycling - from local track leagues to top level international competition


What a ride! What a team, I felt so proud and realised I’d got my head together, I hadn’t felt like I was in a washing machine anymore, it wasn’t hitting me so fast I couldn’t react and I felt so proud to have broken the British Record again with two such accomplished and strong team mates.

The crowd stood up to applaud our ride and they were just so excited for our win it was a truly fantastic atmosphere. I found myself riding round without slowing down, wanting to get closer to them to say thank you! Thank you for shouting so loud, thank you for willing us to win and thank you for having such faith! I could pick out one or two familiar faces, I knew where Barney and our parents were and I was just truly amazed by the excitement we had created!


I eventually realised my team mates were on the apron of the track and I headed down to join them and do our interview with Jill Douglas. After a warm down a Pro Peptide [my second of the day] and a quick tidy of the hair, we were heading to the podium and a playing of the national anthem.  After that there were more interviews and then the chance to meet the crowd in an autograph area.  That was a part I really enjoyed, the chance to meet the youngsters who were telling us about their own bikes, the Mum’s and Dad’s who were saying how much they had loved watching us ride and the cycling fans who knew so much about what they were watching.  Without that support it would have been such a different experience and I felt lucky to have felt that home crowd advantage.


Womens Team Pursuit at Manchester World Cup Feb 2011

Picture courtesy of www.trackcycling.me.uk the only website dedicated to track cycling - from local track leagues to top level international competition


So now it’s a recovery weekend and time to get back into the groove for another road camp in Mallorca.  In the women’s team pursuit squad we are looking forward to putting just one squad into the World Championships in Apeldoorn, so there is everything to train for and the challenge that whoever rides is likely to need to go even faster than our ride to secure the World Title. I’m fortunate to have another opportunity to race before the next Team Pursuit and will be gunning for the defence of my World titles in the Para-Cycling Worlds in both the Individual Pursuit and 500m Time Trial.


More news to come soon, thanks for your support.

Sarah x



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