Track World Champion Wendy Houvenaghel - interviewed


Bike Envy caught up with World Champion, World Record holder and Olympic Silver medallist Wendy Houvenaghel.  A qualified dentist who served a short service commission with the RAF, Wendy only took up cycling to help with her recovery after running the London Marathon back in 2002.  Encouraged by her husband, she entered and won a number of time trials.  She took the National Circuit Time Trial Championship in 2003 and subsequently collected a number of National Time Trial titles. 

In 2005 she picked up her first National Track title, the Pursuit, after spending just a few hours riding on the track in preparation.  She went on to clock up her first World Cup wins shortly after and is now a full time athlete on British Cycling’s Olympic Podium Programme.


Wendy podium

Picture courtesy of The only website dedicated to track cycling - from local track leagues to top level international competition




BE: I wonder if I could take you back to Beijing for a moment, how did it feel to be part of such an incredibly successful team at the Olympics?


WH: It was a privilege for me to be part of the most successful team in Olympic History.  As a team, we were very well prepared and knowing this gave us plenty of confidence going into competition.  The whole team were very supportive of each other and we spent the majority of our time in each others company, throughout the days leading into competition.  Each team member got on with their own job by the time the competition week came around.  Morale within our camp was very high and everyone’s performance was phenomenal.



BE: Is it possible to attribute the success of Team GB to some key elements? 


WH: Success has not occurred overnight with the GB Olympic Cycling Team.  There has been a lot of hard work carried out, specifically over the last ten years or so.  Also, there has been an element of restructuring within the team, both management and athletes, along with a meticulous approach to training and racing.


Within the team itself is an element of competition, that is, competition for places to compete at World Championships and Olympic Games.  Dave Brailsford has spoken about the implementation of marginal gains and, as an athlete, I have been aware of the concept, most noticeably in the two years leading up to the Olympics.  Of course, the outcome was demonstrated to great and historic effect at the Olympic Games in Beijing.



BE: Perhaps the most important question is, will the rest of the world have caught up with Team GB by 2012? 


WH: The GB cycling team are going from strength to strength.  From a performance perspective, there is plenty more to come from the athletes who competed in Beijing.  We have the invaluable experience that comes from competing at an Olympic Games and it should be remembered that of the women’s endurance athletes who competed at the 2008 Olympics, the majority had very limited experience in full time cycling.  Emma (Pooley), Sharon (Laws), Rebecca (Romero) and myself were only starting out in our specific disciplines, with a maximum of two years to work with going into the Beijing Games!  So, things are looking very exciting for our team by the time London 2012 rolls around.




BE: There were a number of riders that decided to give themselves a break after Beijing and they sat out the 2009 World Championships.  You choose not to do that.  Was that an easy decision for you and just how hard was it to get back into serious training after the crazy high of the Olympics?


WH: I didn’t find it too difficult to get back on my bike after I’d had a proper break post Olympic Games.  I knew that I wanted to compete at the World Championships in 2009 and so I set about getting my qualification squared away in the World Cup event, hosted by Manchester in October 2008.  I had such good form going into the Olympic Games and it was very easy for me to tap into that form again. I was able to build on the experience from the games and put the form I had to good use.  The truth is, I’m still developing as an athlete and I will utilise all the time and experience I can muster in order to achieve my ultimate goal of Olympic Gold in London’s Games.  I will never be complacent.



BE:  It's great to hear you are still improving.  Do you think that Sarah Ulmer’s World Pursuit record will fall soon?


WH: Sarah Ulmer’s record is very special and it was recorded during exceptional and unique conditions during the Athens Games in 2004.  With the current situation of the individual Pursuit having recently been culled from the Olympic track events programme for 2012, I would suspect her record may stand for a very long time.


WH pursuiting

Picture courtesy of The only website dedicated to track cycling - from local track leagues to top level international competition




BE: What is your main focus for this year?


WH: Both the women’s Individual and the women’s Team Pursuits.  From a personal perspective, the importance of any event is dictated by whether a medal can be won at the World Championships and/or Olympic Games.  



BE: How do you feel about the changes to the Olympic programme that gives equality to women in terms of medal winning opportunities on the track?


WH: I’m in favour of gender equality with regards to Olympic medals in track cycling.  However, I’m very disappointed to hear that the men’s and women’s individual pursuit events have been removed from the 2012 Olympic programme, along with other endurance events like the points race and the madison. 


I am, however, delighted to hear the women’s team pursuit will be included in the programme of events for London’s Games, as we are the current world champions and world record holders in this event.



BE: You must be thrilled with your form this season, how did it feel to beat the current world champion, New Zealander Alison Shanks in Melbourne?


I’m pleased with my form at the moment and I know I am capable of becoming the World Champion in the Individual Pursuit.  I’ve been progressing steadily over the past four years and will be working towards achieving this goal in the individual pursuit over the next four months, as well as defending my world championship title in the Team Pursuit.




BE: Does your husband still come out training with you?  More to the point, can he keep up when he does?!


WH: Yes, he’s an excellent training partner, mentor, friend as well as husband – lucky me! Ian is incredibly proud of what I have achieved so far and he does his best to travel to watch me compete where possible.  He contributes towards my success in many ways, mostly by being there and going through this journey with me.  



BE: How many hours of training do you do pre-season and during the season?


WH: Pre-season I train between 20-24 hrs per week and then during season that increases to 30 hours per week.  Most of my work is done on the road and then any fine tuning is carried out on the track.  A lot of my track time is spent focusing on the technical aspects of both individual and team pursuiting and of course, I place more emphasis on high intensity work the nearer to competition I am.



BE: In the early days, before you became a legend, how did you keep yourself motivated?


Legend, thanks!  The desire to fulfil my potential as an athlete, in the sport I have a natural gift and talent for, was and still remains my main motivating factor.



BE: During the period of your short but very successful career, which of your results is the most memorable for you?


WH: My Olympic silver podium presentation was fabulous, along with all the hype afterwards!  Becoming World Champion was (and is) pretty special too!


The overwhelming emotion on the Beijing podium was that of relief.  I was absolutely thankful that the work I had put in over the previous two years had been rewarded with an Olympic medal.  Of course, coming within 2 seconds to getting the Olympic gold, I felt disappointed as well. Listening to my national anthem on the podium always brings feelings of satisfaction and pride.   



BE: What do you think about during a Pursuit, to keep yourself focussed and to block out the pain?  Do you talk to yourself?


WH: I just think about getting over the finish line as quickly as I can, I find the speed exhilarating!  It’s all usually a blur once I have started my race, but I do encourage myself especially towards the end.



BE: For how many years do you feel confident that you can continue to improve as an athlete? 


WH: I’ve been a full time cyclist since June 2006 and every year I’m becoming stronger and faster. Personally, I think I will have realised my potential in the discipline of Pursuiting (Individual and Team) by September 2012 and after this, I will be satisfied that I have given myself every opportunity to do what I said I was going to do right from the start and win an Olympic Gold medal. 



BE: There is no doubt that the Beijing games were one of the most spectacular and successful ever.  How will Great Britain follow that in 2012?


WH: As a team we will be faster, we will aim higher and we will be stronger.  I’m very excited about London 2012.


Having the Olympic Games in London will provide our team with the home nation advantage, which is invaluable.  The Beijing opening and closing ceremonies will be a hard act to follow, but I’m confident that London will provide something spectacular none the less.  I think we can provide that wow factor by winning many Olympic medals.



BE: Who is your sporting hero/heroine and why?


WH: Jensen Button, Formula 1, I was delighted for him when he became World Champion.  The bookies had him at odds of 100/1, he was runner up in Sports Personality of the Year 2009, which I’m sure is a pleasant bonus to cap off a very successful year for him.


Also Mary King the Three Day Eventer.  I admire her consistency and reliability.  She gets great performances from her horses. And of course, I train and compete with one of the biggest sporting heroes of the present time, Sir Chris Hoy! He’s a stereotypic consummate professional, both on and off the track and is a great inspiration to the rest of the team, as well as to me.


 WH Pursuiting 2

Picture courtesy of The only website dedicated to track cycling - from local track leagues to top level international competition





BE: Which superpower would you choose for yourself?


WH: Power to manipulate the weather would be very useful for my training and racing rides especially in the UK!



BE: Tell us the truth, do you ever stop for tea and cake when you are out on a long training ride?


WH: I wait until I get home before I have my mug of strong tea (white with one sugar) and slice of cake (fresh cream Victoria sponge).  It is important to have a balanced outlook with regards to your diet. The best thing for me is that my nutritionist actually encourages me to eat cakes and chocolate because my skin fold values are so low! (That's a low Body Fat count! - Ed)



BE: What does a champion like you typically eat for breakfast?


WH: Depending on training requirements, for breakfast I enjoy a bowl of porridge oats with semi skimmed milk and fresh fruit or honey on the top, along with a glass of fresh orange juice.



BE: How many pairs of cycle shoes do you own? 


WH: I own three pairs of cycling shoes.



BE: Is that more than you have pairs of ‘heels’?


WH: No, I have lots of pair of high heels, just not enough opportunities to wear them all (just at the moment anyway)!



BE: Do you watch bad TV when you are on the turbo trainer? 


WH: I just listen to music on the turbo trainer, as I don’t have a TV set up in the garage.  I spend up to one hour in a typical turbo session, which isn’t too bad. My sessions keep my mind occupied.



BE: Is there an item of make up that you always take track centre (please tell me you work at looking as gorgeous as you always do!)?


WH: I only put some make up on when I want to look presentable for my podium pictures! I usually have mascara somewhere in my sports bag. Each to their own!



BE: What do you listen to on our iPod just before you go out to race?


WH: I listen to lots of dance music when warming up for racing. 



BE: What is the longest period you have gone without riding your bike since you became a full time bike rider?


WH: Six weeks and that was just after the Olympic Games.


Picture courtesy of The only website dedicated to track cycling - from local track leagues to top level international competition


Read about Team GB's success in the UCI World Cups:

UCI Track World Cup Round 1 Manchester

UCI Track World Cup Round 2 Melbourne 

UCI Track World Cup Round 3 Cali







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