In the build up to this year’s Rapha Women’s 100, we spoke to three female riders who sit on different branches of the cycling tree. All of them featured in the recent Rapha shoot in the Cévennes: Polly Farrington, a novice rider who came into the sport from running; Gem Atkinson, an enthusiast who has been in love with the sport for almost a decade; and Hannah Barnes, a first year professional racer, already making waves with her team in America. We asked each about their goals in 2014, what the sport means to them, and who their biggest influences are.
Polly Farrington – Novice
How did you get into the sport in the first place?
I’ve always ridden bikes for fun but it wasn’t until June last year that I decided to start taking it a bit more seriously. I was commuting by bike but I was still just running for the most part. A rapidly approaching duathlon and a family cycling holiday led me to increase the miles, after that I never looked back.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
Running is my first love, and if I’m not cycling I’ll be out running somewhere, I can usually be found loitering around Richmond Park or down by the river [Thames]. I have my second marathon in a few weeks and my first 24-hour race later this summer. Apart from running and cycling I’m also a huge lover of clothes and fashion, but with all the sport I do I find it a constant battle not to look like a total scruff bucket.
Why do you think cycling appeals to you?
Cycling appeals to me in the same way running does, total escape. It’s fast, you get to spend hours outdoors and there’s so much to learn. There’s not much about it that doesn’t appeal to me really.
It seems to me that women can suffer just as well (if not better) than the boys. What do you think?
Do you even have to ask?
What are your main goals for this season?
I’ve got the marathon at the beginning of April and then the plan is to dedicate summer to getting faster and fitter on the bike. I just received my racing licence so more racing is definitely on the cards, and then I have a few big rides in the pipeline that I’m really excited about: L’Eroica, Ride 100 and a 450km jaunt with friends to watch the start of the Tour de France. I’m hopefully going to find some mountains at some point too…
Apart from obvious riding ambitions, what helps motivate you?
If it’s a beautiful day I want to go and ride, spending time with and watching amazing riders motivates me to ride, if you feel happy, bored, sad, I don’t think there are many states of mind that can’t be improved by getting outdoors and riding.
How would you describe yourself as a rider?
I love to ride but I find that a lot of the time I’m riding with people who are a lot stronger and more experienced than I am, as a result of this I would say I’m a pretty scrappy rider. I’ll be miles out of my comfort zone but I always want to hang on for as long as I possibly can. I definitely have a stubborn streak.
How would you like to be known as a rider?
The runner who can just about hold her own on a climb, and never gives up.
Who has been your biggest inspiration on the bike?
Everyone I met on the Rapha trip was a huge inspiration. I don’t get to meet incredible riders like that on a daily basis and I was blown away by how strong and how passionate they were about the sport. Gem Atkinson is definitely my biggest influence though, if I can be half as supportive and generally amazing to other new riders as Gem has been to me, we could get a lot more girls on the road.
What so far has been your greatest achievement with riding your road bike?
I don’t think I have one defining greatest achievement (yet) but every time I go out and ride further than ever before, or when I conquered my first mountain in France, or took part in my first race. All those moments gave me a real sense of achievement. Hopefully there will be a lot more to come.
How about the fondest riding memory?
Richmond Park holds a lot of my fond riding memories, along with a lot of my running ones. As a kid riding around the trails, running there every weekend, commuting through every day on my way to work. The Cévennes were also beautiful, and riding there was a huge eye-opener for me. Riding with my family in Normandy in the summer was also great fun.
What’s the best lesson you can give to anyone wishing to start riding?
Everything is going to be new and scary but don’t let that put you off. Stick with it, don’t be afraid to do things out of your comfort zone and if you’re not sure about something always ask for advice. There are lots of great initiatives and resources for women looking to start riding now. For those not wanting to throw themselves straight into the traditional club environment I would recommend the incredibly useful Total Women’s Cycling website.
Where do you hope to be as a rider this time next year?
This time next year I hope to have a year’s worth of new, challenging and exciting riding experiences under my belt. I want to have spent time with friends, raced, climbed mountains, tried mountain biking and cyclocross, and ridden as far as I can. I also want to have perfected my poker face; it’s a work in progress.