Parenting and Professional Cycling – in conversation with Lizzie Deignan.

Finding the balance between work life and family life can be tough for just about anyone, but when you’re a professional athlete, performing at the top of your game, the training is hard, work is hard and often means much time away from your family in competition. In a new series on the Pusher of Pedals blog, I’m talking to professional athletes who are also parents, what’s it like getting back in to training, who does the night feeds and what’s harder, training for the next big race or leaving the family?

I’m very excited to say that opening the new series is former road race and track world champion and in 2016 was the reigning World, Commonwealth and National Road Race Champion, Lizzie Deignan.

  • What is your best advice for new parents who want to fit training around parenting? 

Good question! If you have the time and you’ve made the time in your schedule and when the time comes and you think actually I’m just too shattered to go out – ignore those feelings and go out anyway! Once you’re out you will love it – the freedom and the break from being a parent for just a couple of hours I think gives you the motivation and enthusiasm to return and be a better parent.

  • Women’s cycling really is doing something which seems arbitrary to add maternity leave to contracts in 2020, aren’t they? Shouldn’t this have been added sooner? 

Yes of course it should have been added sooner – there’s plenty of things that should have happened sooner but the main point now is to focus on the future and the positive steps going forwards. I’m delighted they’re adding the maternity leave clause and I hope that by having clauses like this and by me and other athletes being examples that there are more people who can hopefully combine motherhood and professional sport.

  • Rest is an important part of training, there must be times when you’re so tired from parenting and training? 

Yes absolutely but it is a funny one because I think most parents will tell you that there’s an extra energy reserve when it comes to your own children. Plenty of parents are at work all day and then come home to do the bedtime routine and the rest of it. You just find energy from somewhere.

  • We’re the same age – I’ve two boys Barnaby, who is two, and Elijah, just a month old. I’ve entered my wife and I in to the World Championship Sportive… she’s obviously thrilled at the idea… any advice? 

Well I look forward to seeing you at the finish line – I’ll wave you over as I’ll be there supporting Leeds Cares (the official charity of the UCI World Championships and sportive) all being well! My advice for you both would be to be realistic about the amount of training that you can do so that you don’t feel guilty or like a failure if you miss a session and just try and do some – even if it is just little and often. Just make sure you are doing some riding even just at weekends and make sure you enjoy it!

  • There are many things which I can use as an excuse to not train after we’ve eventually got the kids to bed! Fatigue, house chores, kids are down too late to train, not in the mood… list goes on. What mental hurdles do you have to get over to train or is it just something you want to do, no matter? 

No absolutely not! I don’t always want to train but I think I’m in the fortunate position that my job is professional cycling and I’ve never been someone who has skipped work or commitment. I have to be conscientious and the repercussions of me not training only impact on myself. Nine times out of ten you feel better for training anyway so I suppose it’s about avoiding the guilt of not doing it.  

  • I’ve read that you plan to retire after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, what’s the motivation behind this, if it’s true?! What’s the plan after retirement? Inevitable question… more kids? 

Yes that is the plan at the moment because I want to expand our family and also because hopefully I will have achieved everything I want to in my career by then.

  • Do you feel you’ve changed as a bike rider since Orla has come in to your world? 

Yes! I think the fact that cycling is not my sole focus anymore means that I can be a bit more balanced and motivated than before. I have a different perspective on it.

  • You must be sick of people asking if Orla is going to be as successful on the bike as her parents when she’s older? 

Not as sick of it as she will be!

  • What kiddie accessories have you already got for your bike? 

Yes we have! I’m actually really looking forward to using it – I think she will delighted. A friend gave us one of those chairs that you stick on the front and knowing her she will love it as she loves anything where she’s up and moving.

  • The world champs in your home county is exciting, are you chomping at the bit for the rainbow jersey back? 

Yes! I’d forgo any other race to win that race.

  • The first time we’re also seeing males and females competing together at the Worlds, do you ever think we would see a mixed gender peloton? 

No, I don’t think so.

  • What are your thoughts on the women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad being halted because the men were going too slow? 

I think it was a shame that it go so much bad publicity because I think they’re an incredible organisation who do a lot for women’s cycling. It wasn’t great, there was obviously a mistake and they shouldn’t have been set off at that time but the logistics of stopping the men’s race to then have to stop it again potentially – you’ve got to think of the health and safety of the riders first and foremost and I think they made the right decision.

  • As a breastfeeding mother, were you ever worried than training could affect your milk supply? 

In my experience it didn’t have any impact on my milk supply. Things that had an impact were not eating enough, not drinking enough so you obviously have to account for the fact that when you train you need to eat more and drink more because you’re going to be dehydrated and under fuelled if you don’t but it’s definitely possible to do both.

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So there we go, Lizzie seems to be fitting in professional cycling perfectly with being a parent, sometimes I wish I had the ability to get on the bike after a day with the kids but I guess that’s one of the many factors which separates me from pro athletes!

As Lizzie herself mentions, she is an ambassador for the Leeds Cares charity which will be the Official Fundraising Partner of the 2019 UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire, which will run from 21st September to 29th September 2019. As a charity dedicated to championing exceptional healthcare in Leeds, Yorkshire and beyond.

If you want to ride in the UCI World Championship Sportive then you can with Leeds Cares, these places are the first to be released, so by signing up you can ensure you’re guaranteed to take part  in one of the greatest cycling events in the world. As these places are the first to be released, you will be assured your place in one of the greatest cycling events in the world by signing up. Simply pay a deposit of £50 now and pledge to raise an additional £395 (£445 total) by 31st July, 2019 and you will be part of the action. You’ll also receive an exclusive limited edition Leeds Cares branded Santini cycling jersey to wear on the day.

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In interview with former British Road Race Champion, Hannah Barnes

Monday the 12th of July marked the return of the Zwift Academy, lauching from Rapha’s flagship store on Brewer Street, London. On display was not only some of the finest clothing Rapha had to offer but also some of the best riders in the female pro peloton, former British Road Race Champion Hannah Barnes and 2016 ZWIFT Academy Winner Leah Thorvilson – try getting that right after a few complimentary drinks.

The ZWIFT academy was spoke about at length and you can read about that by clicking here. For all of you who didn’t click on, here’s what Hanna

h and I spoke about.

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  • Improving women’s cycling

Me: It’s no secret that the men’s tours have waaayyyyy more coverage than any women’s race. Be it a road race or a time trial the men get the lions share when it comes to TV coverage.

I asked Hannah what can be done to increase the popularity of women’s racing, should women’s racing try and break off and have its own deprecate races or try and tag on to the men’s races to try and boost coverage and make it cheaper for broadcasters.

Leah and Hannah
Hannah with Leah Thorvilson
Hannah: “It’s hard because there’s fans already out there watching men’s races and it’s really hard to compete. It was at Liege we were racing and at the finish line they were showing the finish to last years men’s race. I’m thinking ‘Ah, that would have been such a good opportunity to see our race broadcasted.’ So I think it’s better if we’re completely out there on our own. The women’s tour which has just finished – a five day race just for us. To see all the fans and crowds and t

he TV all there to see us race. I think that’s really encouraging for our sport.”

And I’m inclined to agree, if you’re going to make a stamp for your sport and try and showcase it the best. I understand the temptation to go before a men’s race where the cameras will already be and to break away from that is a complete risk because if it fails, there’s lots on the line. In order to grow as a sport there needs to be more women’s races and tours of their own. Not be at races where they’re showing something else at the finish line…

  • The British Road Race Jersey

Me: Did you feel added pressure putting on the British Road Race Champion Jersey?

Hannah: “I wouldn’t say added pressure, but it certainly motivates me. When I’m out training I’ll see a reflection in a window or I’ll look down and see my white sleeves. I’ll honour it and I’m proud to wear it, I feel pressure when I’m racing anyway so it’s actually quite a treat to wear it.”

  • The future for Hannah Barnes

Me: Where do you see yourself in two years time?

Hannah: “Oh I dunno, finishing the women’s tour race on the podium is something I’m quite proud of. I’ve got a great team supporting me, t

hey have a lot of confidence in me which is really encouraging because I’ve always lacked in confidence in my abilities. To have them supporting them supporting me and really wanting me to push and improve is great. I’m in a really good environment to do just that.”

A true political question dodge here by Hannah, she’s barely going to give away her long term goals though is she! She’s 24, current Road Race champion and fresh off the podium from the women’s tour. She’s doing alright, I’d say.

  • The future of Women’s Cycling

Me: Where would you like to see women’s cycling in the next few years?

Hannah: “Coverage, coverage, coverage. A lot of people say wages and money, for me, I don’t do it for the money I do it for the coverage. For me my mum and dad and family can’t watch me race like they used to be able to when I was a junior. I’m racing all around the world. Racing at the Women’s tour was great because they were there to watch me and I would just be able to love it if they were able to watch the race if they’re not able to be there in real life.”

I have to say I completely agree, more coverage is only a better thing for the sport, racing is racing and great races are great races. Why doesn’t women’s races get the same coverage as the mens? Which lead me to this question.

Me: Are the organisers doing enough?

Hannah: “Yeah, I guess so, I mean they’re putting on La Course, I think they’re trying new things. You only have to look at the Hammer Series which is what I think is one of the best few days of racing I’ve ever seen.

 

  • Advice for beginners

Me: I had to ask Hannah what her advice would be for old and young in getting in to cycling. As a sport and also a pastime.

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Hannah sharing a joke about the first time Leah got on a time trial bike and asked where the brakes were.
Hannah: “Ride in a group, if you’re riding on your own and struggling, it can be really hard to keep yourself going. It’s hard because it’s a really expensive sport, I think that if you have really nice kit it helps you feel good and if you have a nice bike and it rides good. There’s all those combination that helps you feel better. If you have a bike which doesn’t feel nice and it’s set up wrong for you then it’s going to give you all sorts of aches and pains and you’re not going to want to go and get out on it.

For me, bike fits are really important. There’s a lot of people you can see who have just bought a bike and got on it, not thought about saddle height or handle bars or anything. That can give you all sorts of back ache, if something is painful to do then you’re not going to do it.”

  • Mixed cycling events at the olympics

Me: I don’t know whether you’ve heard but at Tokyo 2020 there will be mixed events, with men and women competing along side each other in athletics, swimming, table tennis and triathlon. I put it to Hannah about a mixed track team maybe.

Hannah: “I don’t know if it would be such a great thing, living with a professional male cyclist (Team Sky star of the future, Tao Geoghegan Hart) we train together sometimes but our abilities are massive. There’s not many sports where there is such a big gap, as in cycling. I don’t know how it would work to have a mixed event.Hannah-Barnes-Canyon-SRAM-2016-salute-sprint-pic-Allan-McKenzie-SWpix.com_

I’ve always wanted to do a mixed madison, that could be fun… There’s no way there could be a road race. I mean I could beat Tao in a sprint… but not after 200km of racing.”

There you go, you heard it here first, Hannah Barnes can out sprint Team Sky rider Tao Geoghegan Hart!

Chatting to Hannah was refreshing, it was great to hear the thoughts of a young aspiring rider, great to hear the insights on the female peloton and where she would like it to go and how she enjoys riding. On top of that though, she’s a nice person, in my professional career I’ve worked and spoken to a lot of celebs who get lost in money and lose that motivation. Ten minutes with Hannah I knew she wasn’t in professional cycling for the money or the fame, that was just a side effect. I could tell that she was in it for the passion of the sport and just doing something which she loved.  Keep up the good work Hannah!

Read about my ZWIFT experience here

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Zwift academy is a Go! ZWIFT! 

In 2016 ZWIFT led a very successful campaign to find the an emerging star and throwing them in to the pro peloton with a contract with the women’s world tour team, Canyon//SRAM. Guess what? They’re back at it again in 2017 and you can sign up here

DB1X6241For many this is a dream of a life time, the possibility of racing all over the world starting from your very own living room, or spare room, or garage, or just about wherever you could fit a tablet, phone or a laptop and hook it up to your turbo trainer and ZWIFT.

If you’ve not heard of ZWIFT before or familiar with how you can ZWIFT check out my blog here where you can read all about it and also read about the Wahoo KICKR too.

So what’s this all about and how do you win a pro contract? Well, basically, if you’re a woman and think you want to try your hand at being an elite level cyclist on one of the best cycling teams in the women’s pro peloton, you need to sign up to the ZWIFT

academy and get pushing the pedals.

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Winner of the 2016 ZWIFT academy, Leah Thorvilson

At the launch of the event on Monday the 12th of July, Leah Thorvilson, winner of the 2016 GoZwift academy, spoke about how she won and what life was and what life had become. It may surprise you that Leah doesn’t come from a cycling background but a running one. After four surgeries in three years and recurring pains and more injuries, Leah turned to cycling, more specifically ZWIFTing.

What followed was months of reality checks and surprise as she found herself progressing through the rounds and all the way to he final training camp where she won her pro contract. If this shows you anything, if you’re thinking you would never win, a runner who when on her Time Trial bike for the first time didn’t know where the brakes were won and is now about to enter her first National Championships. Still think yo’ve got no chance?

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Proof, I was there.

In 2016 each of the three rounds of competition, a panel of judges narrowed riders down by carefully analyzing data gathered during online rides and workouts. CANYON//SRAM Sports Director Beth Duryea, Professional Pursuit World Champion Mike McCarthy, and TrainSharp Founder Jon Sharples were part of the selection committee who chose twelve semi-finalists before narrowing it down to the final three.

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Discussing plans for next year over a beer.

“Finding talent in cycling is a numbers game, in terms of casting the net wide and drawing performance data back in. That’s what excited us about the Zwift Academy concept. Indoor training provides the accessibility for participants, a safe environment to train and a controlled environment to analyse data, then Zwift adds the social element build a community of riders and spur them on. It doesn’t surprise us that Leah is our winner. We’re looking forward to seeing how she can develop into a bike racer,” commented Jon Sharples, TrainSharp Founder.

“When you see an idea really become something, it’s an amazing feeling,” noted Ronny Lauke, CANYON//SRAM Racing team manager. “We took a chance with the Zwift Academy and we’re very pleased with the potential we saw not only in Leah, but in the other finalists as well. Watching and seeing all these women dedicate themselves to the sport, it makes one wonder how many more are overlooked.”

The 2017 academy is already up and running and you can sign up by clicking here. Who knows you may even end up like 2016 winner Leah.

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You can sign up to the academy here

Read about my ZWIFT experience here

You can view the Wahoo Turbo Trainer range here

You can read my other blog posts here

See my Instagram here

Follow me on Twitter here

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You can join the Strava Club here