The team pursuit World Champion talks about the hard work she's put in to reach the top.
Raise Your Game: How did you start cycling?
Joanna Rowsell: The talent team, a British cycling programme for young people, came to my school in the summer of 2003. They were running talent team tests to look for new riders and cyclists. I'd never really done much cycling before; I could ride a bike but I'd never competed. I thought it'd be good to have a go because I had nothing to lose so I went along.
We had to do an endurance test and a sprint test on the playing fields. I got asked to the next stage of testing because my times were good enough, and after that I went to three more stages of testing. I got picked for the talent team in January 2004. I was literally a novice when I started, and they took me from being a complete beginner to where I am now.
At first, I didn't know whether I'd enjoy it, I just thought I'd give it a go. The first year was really hard, because I was a beginner, but I kept going and I got better. Then I realised I was really enjoying it, and I was actually good at it. After that, the harder I worked, the more I enjoyed it because I could see my improvement.
5 December 1988
- Gold - Women's Team Pursuit, UCI World Track Championships, Poland (2009)
- Team Pursuit World Champion (2008)
RYG: How do you prepare for a big event?
JR: We usually do a big block of training leading up to the event. Then, in the week beforehand, you kind of taper down; the volume goes down and the intensity goes up depending on how big the event is, and how far you have to travel.
When you're training for a big event you slow down your training, and that's always quite hard because you want to keep going. You have to ease off and rest, and as annoying as it is at the time, it's good to rest. It benefits you in the long run because you're saving your energy, so that you can go fast on the race day.
RYG: Do you set yourself targets and goals?
JR: I usually do assessments in the lead up to a major competition to see where I am, if I'm not going fast enough, or if I'm going too fast and need to ease back a bit, because if you go too hard you'll blow out, and you won't make it to the finish.
For the track, you set times in training so that, for example, in the three kilometre pursuit you know what time you need to go through two kilometres to reach the time you need for the three kilometres.
There are also different races that we target along the way; road races and track races during the year in the build up to big competitions. I had a national road race back in June 2008 and got a bronze medal, which wasn't my big target, but it was a small target along the way.
RYG: What is your favourite event?
JR: My favourite event is the team pursuit, but that isn't an Olympic event for women, it's only an Olympic event for men. I won the world title in it in March 2008.
Out of the Olympic events, the only one I do is the individual pursuit, which Rebecca Romero has just won in Beijing so that's a high target to achieve.
RYG: Britain's cyclists have had a fantastic year; there must be a lot of expectation on young people like you coming through the ranks?
JR: It's really inspirational to see them win like that. It makes you see how much you want to be like them. If I carry on like this, and carry on working hard, then I can get to that standard, because at the World Championships we won seven gold medals in the Olympic events.
Everyone was saying 'Oh their country is winning before the Olympics,' but we just kept pushing on and kept improving, and all our riders have gotten even better.
RYG: You've been tipped as a star for the future; presumably you'll be looking towards the London 2012 Olympics and beyond?
JR: I'm on the under-23's academy programme. Currently there's only one other girl on the programme but hopefully this year they'll take more. Then there'll be a group of about six of us and we can go off and race together and train together.
RYG: There are concerns that the pool of girls coming up through cycling is getting smaller. What would you say to encourage people to try cycling?
JR: Just give it a go, join a club and have a go. When I started I was a complete novice. I didn't know anything about the sport, and look where I am today.
Even if you find it hard at first, keep going if you enjoy it. If you don't enjoy it, maybe try a different sport. Everyone should give it a go, especially if there's a facility like a velodrome nearby. It's so easy to turn up and do a taster session.
RYG: Would you say preparing for a race is similar to preparing for an exam?
JR: For an event, you do all your training beforehand and try and peak for the event. It's the same as revising for an exam. You do all the learning and revising leading up to it so you can peak on the day. I think if you can do one, you can certainly do the other.
RYG: Do you eat healthily?
JR: I eat a lot of carbohydrates to fuel the training I do. I do over 20 hours a week so you need a lot of pasta and rice with each main meal. I generally try to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables too.
RYG: Who is your biggest inspiration?
JR: I find Victoria Pendleton to be quite inspirational. Obviously as she's just won at the Beijing Olympics, but I admire the way she came back from a rough time at the last Olympics to win the World Championships the following year. She obviously raised her game, not only physically but mentally.
To go through a bad patch and go on to win three world titles in that event, numerous other titles, then become Olympic champion, I really admire what she's done.
Be the best you can be and never give up.
Double Olympic gold medallist athlete
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