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An interview with Emma Trott: "Always got to learn, always need to get better"

It's a great week to be a rider called Trott. 19-year-old Laura Trott is riding for Great Britain at the Track World Championships, and her big sister, Emma, will be in final preparation mode for riding the Ronde van Vlaanderen with a team that will be all over the podiums in 2011 – Nederland Bloeit.

At just 21, Emma Trott is the youngest rider on the team, and she’s looking forward to making her mark. Marianne Vos is not the first former Road World Champion she’s ridden with – in 2008 she rode for David Brailsford’s short-lived Team Halfords Bikehut alongside Nicole Cooke, and she spent 2010 supporting Cooke for the British National Team. Her year was interrupted when her collar bone was broken in the huge Belgian crash, where a driver hit five British riders at the same time. But it wasn’t all bad news – at the Gracia-Orlová stage race in the Czech Republic, she won the Time Trial by 15 seconds, beating riders like Vos, Cooke and Annemiek van Vleuten, and she finished sixth in the tough Holland Hills Classic (four times over the Cauberg!)

I caught up with Emma on her rest day last week for an online interview, and she told me all about how it felt to turn up on her first day with one of the best teams in the world, what riding Flanders is really like, and how she’s not content to rest on her laurels as a time trial specialist, but wants to keep learning and developing as much as she can. Read on for all this and more!

PdC: You’re riding for Nederland Bloeit - the most exciting women's team of 2010 - and you're the only Brit on the team. Congratulations! How did that happen?

Emma: Thanks, it is pretty exciting stuff! I was pretty made up when I heard that they were interested in me. When I was speaking to the DS Jeroen [Blijlevens] he basically said that my TT in Gracia Orlová was very impressive, when I beat both Annemiek [van Vleuten] and Marianne [Vos] - I think that helped a lot. It took a long time, though, for the contract to be signed and stuff like that; people thinks it all happens real fast, but this all happened in November, so very late in the day

PdC: You’re the youngest on the team, right? How did it feel, turning up for the first team camp?

Emma: Yep, I’m the baby of the team, as they like to call me! They really look after me, which is great. I was sick on training camp a few weeks ago and that was really stressful, but Loes [Gunnewijk], Marieke [van Wonroij] and Marianne really helped and looked after me, making sure I was not doing too much and stuff, oh and calmed me down!

I was super scared when I turned up for the first camp. The drive to the airport with my dad was funny, dead quiet, not talking - people know there is something wrong when I am silent. I did not know anyone, I was going as just me, I had to get to know nine new girls and countless new staff, but I am quite open, and like talking, so once I got there I realised that they were just like me, two arms, two legs and they were not going to bite! The most daunting thing was meeting the best rider in the world, Marianne.

PdC: How was that? Everyone says she's super-nice in real life

Emma: She is super nice, and also quiet, and I have had a good laugh with her. I don’t see her as the world’s best rider anymore, I see her as a friend and team mate - quite weird considering last year in a race she asked me who was the Irish national champ for women, and my answer was I don’t know ‘cos I am British! We both still remember that, but only I could have said something like that!

PdC: You've ridden alongside some of the best riders in the world in your time - three World Champions, now? Nicole Cooke at Halfords and last year with Team GB, Emma Pooley at the Commonwealth Games, and now Vos.... I'm guessing you don't need much help in the inspiration department!

Emma: I look back and think I must do something right to get to ride alongside some great company! Three world champs indeed - I like to think that I am learning from the best. I am the type of rider who wants to do everything real fast, training, racing, everything, so I also want to win the big races, but I am getting told to slow down and develop! But meeting Nicole for the first time was the same feeling as meeting Marianne.


PdC: And this year you’ll be riding Flanders with the team

Emma: Yep, I am riding Flanders, I am super happy and very shocked all at the same time. Big race for my first year, but I have a job to do, they say they trust my ability and have confidence in me to do it well, it is nice know that they have this confidence for such a big race

PdC: Flanders is THE race for a lot of people here at the Café - can you describe riding it last year for us?

Emma: It was special, I really like the feeling - it is just crazy.

The Molenburg is all about getting the right position - you need to be as close to the front, especially if it’s wet, it gets very slippy, but you just have to keep the pedals turning, if you stop that’s it, you’re walking, but with the people both sides also there is not a lot of space for riders as well. You just smack it into a small gear and go, in the saddle the whole way up. The cobbles are a bit shit in the middle, going around the bend, but once you get past that, it’s ok. I think it’s best to ride on the right, but when can you pick in a race....? Never!

The crowds are always friendly, if you have ever been to a football match, the noise is like that. Riding up the Muur - well, that experience will live with me forever. It was amazing - the noise, everything, my legs were burning, but you just don’t care, all the people everywhere, cheering, shouting - now that really was like a football match. They don’t care who you are, although I heard some "Go Team Sky!" shouts - riding in the national kit with Sky on, they think we were the women’s team.

The crowds are there for the men’s race, but it means we get them too! We need more races like that, Flèche Wallone, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Flanders are some of the best to do.

It must be a big ego boost, knowing you've been picked from THAT roster!

Emma: It was a very big confidence boost, it came in Spain when I was sick, so it could not have come a better time, either.

So how did it all start, cycling?

Emma: Now this is an interesting one. You hear all the time "British Cycling came to my school and I didn’t want to be in maths"........well not for me! As a kid me and my Lil Sis always use to go down the River Lea on our bikes, with dad! Every Sunday, nothing special, just a nice loop before lunch. My mum was over-weight, had tried to lose it but just was never very successful. She finally decided cycling was for her, but dad had heard it all before, got her a cheap crappy bike, but she wore it out in a few weeks! So a nicer bike was in order. We used to swim as well as do any other sport we could, and this is were we meet some people from the local 500m outdoor track at Gosling Sports Park. We went to watch at first and we were a bit scared - no brakes, can’t free wheel. The following week we went for a go, me and Laura were on the track loving it, in the group in the first session. Mum and Dad, well let’s say they didn’t take to it so quickly. The good news is mum lost the weight and has kept it off!

PdC: And how did that lead to riding alongside Marianne Vos and Nicole Cooke?

Emma: It kind of just got bigger, dad had to give up playing cricket to take us to races, we just kept pestering. It all started with Welwyn Wheelers, and Simon Layfield and Sophie Bruton were my first coaches, those were the people who instilled everything like discipline into me - without them and their belief, I might never have got going! Peter Waghorn of Welwyn Wheelers is another influence – he’s recently had a stroke, and I’m hoping he makes a speedy recovery.

It just kept going, winning my first national road title as a junior at my first attempt, I changed club and coaches that year, I rode for VC Londres and Nigel Hampton coached me. He did me a lot of good, and to be fair, moved me along a lot in two years, then over the last years it has been about adapting to the big races. My dad has coached me for the past few years, and ain’t done a bad job!

I decided to move to Holland - if I wanted to make it, I had no choice. I moved to Holland by myself, 19, alone, scary stuff, but it had to be done, I found a team to ride with and then it went from there. I wanted to know if I was good enough. Dad had said I had to do A Levels, university I can do later in life, but I have no desire to be in debt so, it is not something that really interests me.

It was hard, but worth it - in that year I won six races, then I got a big win last year and things keep looking on the up. It was scary when I was there but I got used to it and ended up loving it.

I moved to Belgium part way through my first season as there were no hills, and now I live in Oudenaarde in Hof Ter Kammen, with Hilde and Christain, two of the nicest people ever! It's a great place to stay and they are my Belgian family! It's also a really good base for cycling holidays in the area - so good they are always full!

PdC: What were the biggest things to get used to, when you first moved over? And what do you miss about Belgium, when you're back home in the UK?

Emma: When I first moved over, it was a case of trying to find my bearings and some nice training roads. I don’t worry any more, I just turn off any road and know that I will eventually find a road I know, but before I was so scared about never getting home! But if I’m honest there was not a lot to get used to, I love it here, much more than England. It is very relaxed, chilled, and that is me, I am from London (well just outside) it’s all too busy, rushed, so for me here is dead nice

When I am back home I miss the cafe with green chairs, or Sophies as we call it - the hot chocolate and bagels are to die for
PdC: Was it Moving Ladies you started with? And is it true Martine Bras helped you out when you moved over, and gave you somewhere to live?

Emma: Yep, the good old Moving Ladies, if it wasn’t for them, I doubt I would have got the exposure that I did.

Martine Bras, she is a very good friend of mine and helped me sooooo much. She is ace, it was not just living with her, but we did a race together and she really helped, I learnt so much in one race, it was unreal.

PdC: You seem to be part of this crazy year of young British talent - with you on Nederland Bloeit, Katie Colclough on HTC and Lucy Martin on Garmin-Cervélo – a little British Invasion of the big teams! You were riding with them last year for Team GB… will you have a coffee & compare how the teams operate?

Emma: I think there is a big invasion of us Brits at the moment! The good thing is we are all young, so we have many years! We can really do some good things!

Coffee.....yes! Comparing teams....NO! We all know which team is the best so there is no need!

PdC: Not each of you with poker faces, trying to find out the weaknesses?

Emma: Haha, we had a whole team session on poker faces, so I am very good at it! No one knows, keep them guessing!

PdC: It was a strange time, though, when you moved out to ride - with teams collapsing, races disappearing.... and not many British women riding out there.... did you worry about any of that?

Emma: You can never worry about any of that, you have to trust your own ability - if you believe you have got what it takes you have to have a go, if you never try how do you know what you could have done!

I think a lot of credit has to go to Simon Cope [the British Cycling Olympic Academy coach], he really believes in us and last year was a good year, apart from getting hit by the car

I think it’s good that we are all spread out - ok there are four in Cervélo, but then we also have riders in the other top teams. I think if young riders see us in other teams, not just the national team, it will make them think it is possible to get into these teams.

It’s better to ride for a [trade] team, it feels like you have made it - but you can’t just stop, just because I am on this team doesn’t mean that’s it, it never is - always got to learn, always need to get better, if you stop, that’s it, over. One thing that I really enjoy is learning from others, if I am going to get better I know it will be here, in three months I have learnt so much, more than ever before

This team is the best for learning, I am already doing the things I didn’t do so well last year better this year. They are so confident I just thrive on that, I do what I am told, because I know how important it is. They won I think 65 bike races last year, everyone won at least one, pressure’s on to win more this year! Oh and to become the number one team in the world.

It’s great to have so many leaders or people who can win. I am really looking forward to Flanders - team of six and we have four girls who could win. It is really amazing and I like attacking also, so think I am in the perfect team.

PdC: What do you think your rôle will be in the team this year?

Emma: I am there to learn, but to also do my job for the team. I am there to develop as a bike rider but to also take my chances when I get them. My lab tests suggest that I have it to be a very good rider, now I just have to do it on the road.

I will be targeting the u23 European TT and I also want to win the Vårgårda World Cup Team Time Trial in Sweden, but I will be doing a mix of races to find out exactly what kind of a rider I am

PdC: Can I ask about the accident, or do you prefer not to talk about it?

Emma: Yep, that’s fine you can ask

It really shocked everyone I know who's into cycling. We couldn't believe it was possible to hit so many riders at once - did they prosecute the driver, do you know?

Emma: I am not sure if they have prosecuted the driver or not, but it really shocked us also. Belgium is supposed to be safe to ride, but not on that day.

It stuck with me for a while, the first week was tough - when I came out of hospital I cried ‘cos it was the first time I could reflect on what happened; then when I had to have my collarbone operated on, I cried again. But then when I was riding it was hard, bit scared of cars and stuff. But it didn’t take long before I was back to me, pulling out into tiny gaps and stuff.

This year’s Tour of Flanders goes along the road where it happened, so that will bring it back again. In the race I won’t think about it, but in training it’s a little different. I always look at the junction now, and make sure there are no cars, if there are, I’m on the brakes just to make sure, but only at that junction.

Did you get all the messages of support from random fans?

Emma: Yep, there were loads, on my phone, on facebook, email, cards at home. It was quite something, all the support that I got.

PdC: I guess it was more shocking because it was Belgium - you know, in the UK, it happens all the time, but Belgium is supposed to be different

Emma: Exactly, then when Lewis Balyckyi got killed it brought it all back. I was close to him, and I started wondering why he got killed and we didn’t - that was hard for me. I was on training camp at the time so it was a big shock. It was horrible, just left me numb half way up a mountain - Laura rang to tell me, the next 10Km or more were hard

It feels like a lot of the riders who were on Talent Team etc are really close - kind of like an extended family - so you share all the good parts, but also the bad.

Emma: Yeah, we were all pretty close, I was talking to him as he was moving to France, but everything is shared. But people just say it’s life, it happens, but we ride our bikes because we enjoy it we don’t expect to be killed doing it.


PdC: So (and I apologise for the abrupt subject change) the Belgian accident was a low point of your 2010 - what were the highs?

Emma: High point was deffo winning the TT in Gracia Orlová, beating Marianne, Annemiek, Nicole. It was something that I could only dream of. I really like the podium pic, makes me smile. The first thing I said after that TT was I could have gone faster - as soon as I crossed the line that was my first sentence.

PdC: Were you having to sit around for ages, expecting other people to beat you? And when did it hit you that you'd won?

Emma: I rode in the middle of the field, it was wet, and horrible. I just went back to the van, I didn’t even know I was the fastest - no one said, but I was always expecting someone to beat me. When they said I won, I was like "hang on Marianne and Annemiek surely have beaten me?" - but turned out they hadn’t. I just sat in the van unaware, it was quite funny really.

Winning by 15 seconds was a lot and I thought I could go faster! I got to the turn and thought, well I should try now, otherwise this is going to be really slow.

PdC: I wanted to ask - what is it about the Czech Republic and you? I was looking at your palmarès, and you always seem to do really well in those races

Emma: You know, I really don’t know. People often ask, and I’m not sure - just think the terrain suits me. The climbs are not too long, I can see the top and the stage race is not that long. I think I like tough races, the harder the better. That’s why I also like Holland Hills Classic, I also seem to go well there.

PdC: Holland Hills was a great result too - all over the Cauberg

Emma: Yep, I really like that climb. People hate it, but I think if you think like that then you’re not going to do well.

PdC: And you're National u23 Time Trial champ... what is it about time trialling?

Emma: I just love hurting myself, the burning in my legs, feeling sick as I cross the finish line, it’s something that I enjoy. All the pain, but you know, no pain no gain

PdC: I like that you say you want to see how you develop, rather than just be happy with being great at ITT

Emma: Being a Time Trialler can get me places, but I think I can develop into a rider who is good in the shorter stage races, with shorter climbs.

So in the future, if you could only win one race, which would it be?

Emma: You know, that is hard... Flanders. Although I would love to be World Champ and Olympic champ - but Flanders is the race to win. It is such a cool race, such a good atmosphere, I just love it. I think any rider can win it, it’s all about having luck on the day and a strong team. I rode last year, I think I did ok, helped Nicole and then rode to the finish. Got shelled just before the Molenburg.

PdC: This is a pretty cool month for the Trotts - you in Flanders and Laura at the Track Worlds - the top races for your disciplines. Are there any other Trotts out there, waiting to take over the cycling world?

Emma: No other Trotts thank god, one more is enough! It is cool, it is the best feeling in the world having Laura do what she does, and me do what I do. We are super close and always looking out for each other

PdC: And she's following in your footsteps to Moving Ladies too?

Emma: Yep, Laura has gone to Moving Ladies, I said to Laura that is the right thing to do and she listened. She moves out to Belgium after the Worlds, so will be good to train together again. It’s just nice to have her around - not many people get on with their siblings, but we do. We want to be the Schlecks of the women’s world!

Nice for her, that you can be there to help her out

Emma: Yeah, but she stands on her own two feet, so all is good!

PdC: You've ridden in two very different races so far with the team - Qatar and Omloop Het Niewsblad. I read your blogs from Qatar on Cycling News, but can you tell us a little bit about both races?

Emma: Two very different races, a lot of learning went on, I can assure you!

I enjoyed doing the blogs, something that I like doing. I want to do it more often, it's nice people can see a rider perspective, and from a woman not just a man.Emma_trott_4_medium

Qatar was flat, windy, sand everywhere, hot! It was my first race in new colours, pretty optimistic, but turned out not too bad. I had a good day on day one, really helped my team in the lead out, something I would not have done last year. I was tending to help where I could in that race

Het Volk I was all fired up - I really like racing here in Belgium. I was motivated, knew my job and did it well, that is how I got the ride in Flanders. I am not scared to kill myself for a team mate, ‘cos I know there will be a race where they will ride for me

PdC: Without giving away secrets, what have you learned from the other riders so far? As individuals and as a team

Emma: It is an amazing feeling, our team is very much one big family, we all help each other, as a group we are stronger. I have learnt that being confident is the best thing in the world, if you are confident then you do well. Also that having fun is the most important thing. We are always smiling and joking, but still take the racing seriously, I like that kind of atmosphere

Sarah Düster taught me to go down hill faster in Gran Canaria in January. I worked out if I could follow her, I can follow anyone, she is nuts, no fear, literally. She is one of the nicest girls ever! She is super funny, and so cool. I think she will get her chances, she deserves them and given a chance will no doubt do well

PdC: So the final, quick-fire questions - how would your best friends/sister describe you?

Emma: Loud, talks a lot, can be very hyper at times, smiley, bubbly - but Laura would say annoying, ugly!

PdC: Ha! And how would you describe her?

Emma: Laura - stupid, ugly, fat, can’t cook… But I generally love my Lil Sis, I would not change her for the world, we have a lot of fun when together!!

PdC: If you only had €20 left, what would you do with it?

Emma: I would go to the cafe with the green chairs here in Belgium and have a large dark hot chocolate (maybe 2 with 20 euros) and a bagel, unless you have tried it you don’t know how good it is.

PdC: And finally, who were your inspirations when you got into cycling?

Emma: When I think about inspirations, I would say Jens Voigt, I like his never-say-die attitude, his ability to keep going no matter what, the work he does for his team-mates. But then all the usual people, Victoria Pendleton, Nicole Cooke.

PdC: Nice to be able to go from being inspired by someone like Nicole, to riding alongside her, to beating her in the Czech Republic!

Emma: Yep, pretty special feeling that was! Now, to work out how to beat a phenomenal talent like Marianne again…!

Interview: Sarah Connolly. All photos subject to copyright & used with kind permission of Anton Vos