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Emma Pooley part 2: Previewing Flèche Wallonne, and the Women's Tour

In part 1 of my interview with Emma Pooley, she told us about what she's been up to in the last year - marathons in snowstorms, campaigning for women's cycling and for Amnesty and finishing her PhD in one piece. In part 2, she tells us what it's like to race the Flèche Wallonne, which she won in 2010, and how she's looking forward to the Friends Life Women's Tour of Britain, and how she feels about riding in the pack - and after the article, there are links to more Flèche previews, and information on how to watch live....

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Dany Schoonbaert

This interview is available in two formats - listen to it in full as a podcast on my blog, or read the transcript in two parts - part 1 and part 2 below


PdC: So obviously, we've got Flèche Wallonne coming up next week - how are you feeling about racing again?

Emma: Well, I'll be honest, Flèche Wallonne always makes me really, really nervous, because it's a big race, obviously, and it's always a race I've targeted because of the finish and the course.  For anyone it's a very stressful race, because it's a big peloton on narrow roads, and it's all about positioning, and it's not all about the Mur, and you have to get to the Mur with fresh legs, and something can go beforehand.

It has some bad memories for me, and of course some good memories - but out of the four times I've started it, I've only finished twice, and that's not because I just got off and couldn't be bothered, it was crashing

PdC: You got hit by a motorbike - that would piss me off!

Emma: 2009 was pretty shit, someone crashed into me from behind on the descent, after like 10k and I woke up in the ambulance with a head injury - that was pretty crap!  In 2012 someone rode into me first, that was the first crash, that destroyed one bike, and then one of the race safety motorbikes crashed ON me, it crashed and took me out.  I was right at the front, exactly where you should be - and that was a little bit annoying, to be honest!

And I got back on, and I carried on, and my bike was a bit bent, and the mechanic bent it back, from the car, while I was chasing back on at 50k an hour… and then the rear mech hanger, which had been bent, and un-bent, just sort of committed suicide 20k from the finish, it just failed and sprang into the back wheel, and I had no more bikes left then, and that was a little bit frustrating.

It's so immensely frustrating if it doesn't go well, especially because everyone expects me to be looking forward to it, because it's hilly - and I do, but basically I'm just not very good at racing under pressure, I'll be honest.  It's probably fairly obvious to everyone I race against, so it's not like revealing any secrets, that I'm not very good under pressure! So I'm trying to see if this year…. it's a race where the course suits me, and I'm just going to go out to enjoy it - and I don't think anyone's going to expect me to be any good, because I haven't raced for bloody ages!

PdC: It's almost like a perfect race to come back, because if you do well, people will say "Oh, it's Emma Pooley of course she's done well!" - but if you do badly, it'll be "oh, it's her first race back!"

Emma: Well, I'm doing The Ronde van Gelderland first, so I've got one warm-up race

PdC: But Gelderland's hardly the same, is it?

Emma: No, it's not the same!  But the other thing is, I'm really happy about the team this year, it's a really positive environment, and Dany, the Director… I've always have Directors who've tried to encourage me about Flèche, which is a good thing, but… "oh, you're in really good shape, you're going to drop Vos on the Mur!" and I'm thinking no, I'm not going to drop Vos on the Mur, it's not that easy!   I'll do my best, but please don't say that!

And so he's been really positive - like just do your best, of course we'd love to win it, but do your best, we've got a team to help you. The team isn't going to sink or swim depending on whether I win or not - and someone else on the team could win Flèche, and I'd be very happy.

PdC: I went up the Mur last year, in the Hitec car, and the noise, and the crowds…  I'd never really realised how steep it is - you see it on tv, and it doesn't look that steep, and then when you walk down it, and walk up it - yeah, that's steep!

Emma: Very steep, yeah.  But it would be ok as a Time Trial, it's just with other people in the way, that's the problem!

And the wall of noise, it's really cool for us - it's a bit like Flanders, or the World Championships, in that having all those people there, it's awesome. That's what I would like to see the sport have more often, is races on the same day as men's races.  And it's organised by ASO, who organise the Tour, so it's a great race, and I'm really looking forward to it from that respect, I'm just worried about the prospect of not doing very well!

PdC: Are you coming to the Friends Life Women's Tour?  it's just announced that Friends Life insurance company has sponsored it.

Emma: I'm really glad, because it's going to be a fantastic race.  I keep calling it the Women's Tour of Britain, which really pisses off the organisers, because it's not allowed to be called the Women's Tour of Britain, apparently.

[Edited for swearing, response summarised as follows]: I do think it's a pity that they're not allowed to use the name Tour of Britain. That is after all what the race is supposed to be! And it would help to spread public awareness of the race and thus promote women's cycling, which British Cycling is normally very positive about - they have done a fantastic job of encouraging grassroots participation especially among women. But it doesn't matter too much, it'll still be a very exciting race.

PdC: I'm super-excited about it already!

Emma: I think it's going to be great - I mean, personally I'd prefer if it went through some of the hillier bits of the country, and had a time trial, but beggars can't be choosers, and I think it's going to be an awesome race in terms of the support and the publicity, and they've got a good sponsor behind it now.

And I just know, because I've spoken to the organisers, that they're really doing a lot to push women's cycling - and that's the direction it should be going in.  I just think it should be called the Women's Tour of Britain, and I think it'd be awesome if in a few years' time it took in more of the country... And of course from a personal perspective, I would have preferred a few mountain stages, including maybe the Tumble, and maybe of some of those really steep hills in Yorkshire, I can't deny that!

PdC: Where would you send it?  I often make my ideal race, and I kind of have these dream races, that would go over Hardknott Pass and then Wrynose Pass in the Lake District.

Emma: I agree, very much!

PdC: If we could design the Emma Pooley Women's Tour of Britain, where would it go?

Emma: It would be a series of time trials through the Lake District and the Peak District

PdC: Uphill time trials?

Emma: Up and down, you don't want to be too silly about it! [joking!]

PdC: You know like they have the Three Peaks Challenge, doing the highest mountains in Wales, England and Scotlandin 24 hours.

Emma: I've done that!

PdC: We could have a race like that - maybe have the Welsh Mountains and the Peak District and then the Lake District

Emma: I think that's an excellent idea!  Can you get talking to SweetSpot for next year's race please?

PdC: We could end up in Fort William, that would be fun.

Emma: I think the Women's Tour is going to be really, really good, and I'm really glad that we've got an invite for Lotto.  And also it's really cool because I get to go home for a few days afterwards as well!

PdC: And it's in your neighbourhood!  You grew up in Norfolk, and Norfolk isn't known for being very hilly.

Emma: Ah, but it's hillier than Cambridgeshire, where I started cycling!   I didn't ride as a kid, I didn't even touch a road bike till I was 21 and I only started cycling to cross-train for my injury.  I started road racing when I was at Cambridge, and it is pretty flat and windy, but I moved out to Switzerland very soon after.  Physiologically, I'm always going to be a hills rider, and I'm terrible at sprinting, so that was never an option, so you've got to do something!

When I started, I was really terrible at descending - really terrible - that meant I'd have to get a big gap on the way up, to have a bit of a buffer on the way down!  I always joke that I only got good at climbing because I'm so shit at descending, and now that I've learnt to descend, it seems that everyone's better than me at climbing!

PdC: We have our joke - Emma Pooley, allergic to the peloton, so if in doubt, ATTACK!

Emma: That's the other thing I'm shit at - I'm still not great in the bunch!  I've spent years being a cyclist, stressing about these things, I've come to realise, I'm never going to be brilliant in the bunch!  And I'm not going to do it for that much longer, so… And part of problem wasn't just the nervousness and the stress of the races, but beating myself up about it beforehand and afterwards - there's enough stuff in life to beat yourself up about, so tough shit!  I'm not good at it, but I do my best, and you can't ask any more than that!


Part 1 of the interview is here - or you can listen to the whole thing as a podcast

Follow Emma through her season on her twitter, and through Lotto-Belisol's twitter and website.

There's another recent interview with her on the BBC website, where she talks about her future in triathlon, and you should definitely read it!

Flèche Wallonne

Flèche Wallonne Femmes is on Wednesday 23rd April.  There's lots of information on the race website, including the course details....  basically, it's two laps of the same loop as the men, starting and finishing in Huy, with the same 11 categorised climbs the men race. We'll have a live(ish) thread for the women's race here on the Café, and my guide to following it as it happens is on my blog.

More previews and information: