If you were paying attention to British race results in 2013, the name Jen Edwards is one you’ll have noticed. The Welsh rider seemed to appear out of nowhere early in the season and immediately began picking up good places, then started winning stuff – Rounds 1, 2 and 3 of the Race to the Spring Series and the Wolverhampton Wheelers Circuit race. She also came eighth at the Stafford GP, part of the National Road Race Series, a result made even more impressive by the twelve riders she beat: tough, fast riders like Jo Tindley, Molly Weaver and Nicola Soden. Winning the Great Orme Circuit Race proved that a serious new talent had arrived.
2014 got off to an excellent start with more wins, but then her results began to tail off. Fortunately, Team 22 continued to believe in her, and in this interview, she explains what happened and what she’s doing to ensure she returns to the top.
When and how did you first get into cycling?
I first got into cycling through triathlon and commuting to work really. I played a lot of hockey, netball and rugby as well as doing a lot of climbing and kayaking as part of my hobbies, but suffered a pretty bad knee injury while climbing in 2009, so I focused on linear sports which was how I got into triathlon. A couple of friends and I entered the Slateman Tri in Llanberis, North Wales (where I live), as a relay team in 2012. I had been doing a lot of commuting to work on my bike, but that was the grand sum of my training before I undertook the 56km time trial round the Snowdonia National Park. I completed it in 1 hour and 37 minutes on my road bike with clip-on bars and was pretty chuffed with that effort, so from that day my husband encouraged me to just take up bike racing, so I gave up the running and swimming… after all everyone knows Rule #42: A bike race shall never be preceded with a swim and/or followed by a run!
What do you love most about the sport?
What’s not to love! The freedom that a bike gives you is awesome. That feeling you get of coming home absolutely shattered, most likely dripping wet either from sweat or rain, just gives you such a satisfying feeling of achievement. Also the amount of people I am friends with through riding bikes is unreal because the social scene and café culture that comes with it is great. Above all I think that feeling of pushing yourself to the limit and thinking you can’t give anymore but you have to because you’re chasing the person in front of you or working hard for your team is fantastic!
Where would you like to be at this time next year?
I am guessing you mean where would I like to be in terms of teams? [Note: not necessarily, but this question is deliberately ambiguous so that interviewees can answer it any way they like – ed.] I haven’t really given it a lot of thought as I am focusing on my winter training at the moment.
I am really happy with where I am now. My team (Team 22) are ace. I love all the lovely ladies on the team and we all get on really well, which makes racing together that much more fun and motivating. The support we get as riders from our sponsors and team manager is second to none and because of that we all ride hard for each other and push each other, so unless the team ends up all relocating to Europe (unfortunately highly unlikely, although I think our team manager wouldn’t mind if we did!!) I am going to stay where I am. If you mean in terms of performance I am going to train hard over winter to up my game for next year and see what I can do.
What does the future hold for women’s cycling? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
That’s a difficult one! I would probably say I am indifferent. There are aspects of what is going on in the sport that fills me with excitement and you can see things moving forward, but there are other things that I feel haven’t changed at all and there seems to be a real rift in the sport between women who are professional riders and those who are hard-working amateurs! Having Olympic champions turning up at a Regional B race isn’t exactly motivating for those trying to get into the sport!
I feel the support and change is mostly coming from those like small businesses willing to fund events and sponsor women’s teams, which is fantastic because we couldn’t do it without them, but it just doesn’t feel like there is enough support coming from the top of the sport to encourage women to move up. A classic example is that Britain didn’t send any British women riders to the World Time Trial champs because Emma Pooley had retired and we apparently weren’t guaranteed a medal! I thought that was a shame as there are plenty of great Time Trial riders in this country who would learn heaps from that experience and to me that highlighted how shortsighted British Cycling can be.
In 2014, a lot of fans have been getting more involved in women’s cycling by helping to promote races and riders. Do you have any ideas what we can do to help even more?
Yeah, get blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting and cheering! There’s always a great friendly atmosphere at women’s races because ultimately we are all there to have fun. Races are generally the only times we get to all meet up and have a good catch up and we always love meeting new people. We need to encourage women to give riding a go and to buy decent bikes because ultimately it’s people buying bikes and kit that funds the sport and enables sponsors to give more because they feel there is a return… so to all you lovely hubbies and boyfriends, you know what to get your Mrs for Christmas!
Which is your favourite race, either one you enjoy riding or love to watch? Why?
Hmmmm, tough one! I don’t have a T.V, so I actually don’t tend to watch any of the races and prefer to get out on my bike at those times because everyone is in watching them, but the one race I did watch this year because I was round at my friend’s house was the Tour of Flanders. That race was exciting and Cancellara’s win was impressive as he timed it all perfectly. I did also manage to re-watch the Friends Life Women’s Tour stages and I thought that was exciting stuff. Sharon Laws nailed those climbs and really showed she was Queen of the Mountains and the women racing just tried to put break after break in – it was relentless action and proved that women’s racing can be exciting!
Here are the keys for the Neutral Service time machine – you can use it to meet anyone in cycling history. Who’s it gonna be?
I think I would have to be predictable and say Pantani. I would love to ask him (as I’m sure many people would want to) what happened during and towards the end of his career and, if he could go back in time, what would he change.
There are still some people out there who think women’s racing isn’t as interesting or competitive as men’s racing. What would you say to convince them otherwise?
I’m sure I wouldn’t be far wrong if I assumed it was mostly men that thought this, so I will tell you what my husband says: “Why, if you’re a bloke,would you go and watch men race in lycra? You’d go and watch fit women racing in lycra given the choice, especially if there is a beer stand!” That certainly made me chuckle and I think he has a point, but women can ride their bikes just as well as men can (the two crashes I have been involved in, both times I was taken out by a bloke). I think the mentality is changing and the more publicity women’ s races get the more people are realising it’s not a sideshow anymore.
What should the UCI and British Cycling be doing for women’s cycling?
It’s hard to say what they should and shouldn’t be doing without knowing all the ins and outs of their structure and how they operate, and I understand that there is only a finite amount of money to go round and that it is a chicken and egg situation. Without the interest or participants in the sport, they aren’t going to invest money, but without money it massively restricts how far it can grow without some kind of investment and I’m not talking about building new cycling tracks, but real investment at grass roots level going into rider development. Surely they can see the potential that is coming through now, not just in the junior ranks, but senior ranks too. There are senior women coming into the sport that are turning heads but regardless of how good you are, if you’re too old you’re not going to get the chance to compete at International level, even if you’re an elite rider purely because you missed the Olympic Development Programme boat. Where are the development programmes for the older riders? I get the impression that the UCI and BC have encouraged women to get into the sport, and now we have done they don’t know what to do with us all!
When you retire from competition, would you like to stay involved with cycling in some capacity, perhaps as a National Federation official?
Retire!!?? What does that mean!! I aim to always compete in some way, shape or form, and give the youngsters a run for their money in the process. Yes I think I will still be involved in some capacity, whether as an official, race organiser, marshall or tea maker!
I think we’re all agreed that 2014 was an incredible year in women’s cycling, especially here in the UK. What was the highlight of the racing season for you?
2014 has been pretty cool. It was my first year racing as part of a team so it was a big deal for me, but I have to say that it didn’t go as I wanted it to and I have been a little disappointment. Towards the end of March I got really ill with a wisdom tooth infection that spread to my sinuses and then my chest and it wiped me out for 2 months, so I lost a lot of fitness and missed a few of the key races that I planned to target. I had a really good February and beginning of March though, where I felt super strong and that my training over the winter had paid off: I won both the Pimbo and Saighton races in the CDNW series at the beginning of the year, which I was really chuffed with considering the quality of women’s riders you’re seeing in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th categories now. However, I never got my form back for the rest of the season after I was ill, but these things happen and you just can’t get stressed about it. I also had two crashes which has given me a knock-on back problem, so I’m busy working that out at the moment. I was winning the CDNW series for most of the season with my team mate Eve [Dixon] hard on my heels, so I was sooo happy that we had two team members in the top 3 and all the other girls on the team worked really hard for us both to be there too. I missed the last race in the CDNW series due to illness (again!) but still managed to finish 3rd overall and 3rd in the Primes prize and Eve won overall, so it was an awesome victory for Team 22 as we planned to target that series and we won 5 out of the 7 races in it. Next year is going to be exciting as we’ve strengthened our team (as has everyone else), so I think to say 2015 is going to be EPIC is an understatement!
Last question, and it’s the one that top psychologists agree reveals more about a person than any other: which is better – cats or dogs?
I love both. I was brought up with a cat and black lab, but my husband and I keep chickens who lay us fresh tasty eggs.
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