As far as we can tell Gem Atkinson is filled with that sort of boundless energy and spirit that is hard to come by these days. She is never-not smiling, to use the parlance of the day. Up the hills, then down the hills in the cold or the rain (and the sunshine), she has been a participant in our Women’s line shooting, wearing and testing all the kit in places like France and Italy. Yet, throughout it all, she maintains her “smiles for miles” attitude. We sent through a few questions to find out what makes this peppy lady tick.
Aside from being one of the happiest riders that we have ever used in our photography, you’re also extremely positive in everything you produce – from your blog to your Instagram and Twitter. How do you do it?
Well, I guess it’s hard not to have an ear-to-ear grin when I’ve been so lucky to ride in some of the world’s most beautiful places with some truly wonderful people. I can’t help but exude happiness when I’m in the saddle, because truth be told, its just pure, simple escapism for me. I get to decompress from everything; sometimes it’s a stressful workday, sometimes a minor or even major niggle. I like that at the crux of it all, the bike represents this magic weight to me – it always outweighs any problems or anxieties. It never fails to tip the scale over to joy.
I’ve heard that the winter months in the Old Country can get a little dreary. What do you do specifically to keep your riding going and motivate yourself?
This winter I’ve tried to mix it up a bit. We have actually been quite lucky to have had a mild winter so far, so I have managed to squeeze in a bit of base riding, but I’ve hit the gym to do a bit of weight work. I spoke with Kirsti Ruud on the shoot in the Cevennes about how she had implemented it in her past racing endevours, and it was something I had never done before so was keen to give it a shot.
Has it helped?
For sure. It’s also a little easier on those horrid rainy mornings to drag my butt to the gym for a weights session and some intervals on the spin-bike than it is to hit the crappy icy roads so early in the morning. Variety is the spice I think! I’m always looking to try new ways of approaching things and taking a bit of inspiration from those around me doing things a little different, rather than my usual aimless plodding-along efforts.
Motivation-wise I really love Instagram. No matter what the conditions are or how blasé I am about cleating up for a ride, a quick browse and someone somewhere across the globe has uploaded a photograph that looks so great it instantly inspires. The #ousideisfree tag is such a great example of that. You have these pockets of riders all over the world all connected and sharing little windows into each others cycling lives. It’s a brilliant little community.
Who’s your favorite cyclist these days? I know it is off-season, but give me something to look forward to.
Well… I think 2014 is going to be a belter of a season. I’m impressed by the potential of AG2R this year, I think Betancur had a great 2013, was right up there in the early Ardennes races, and then landed 5th at the Giro with the young riders classification. I’d love to see him build on that this coming season. There’s also his teammate, the plucky grimpeur Romain Bardet, who I think has the potential to prove something on the platform of the big races.
Team Giant-Shimano also look like they will liven things up, with the formidable sprint nucleus built around Kittel, but on the other spectrum climber Warren Barguil who I can see repeating his Vuelta stage hunting style with great success. They also picked up Lawson Craddock for this season, so I will look forward to see how he goes. In that same vein I’m rooting for a big ride from Team Sky’s Joe Dombrowski, perhaps a climbing stage in a one-week race or something. Ellen van Dijk has moved over to Boels-Dolmans this year, and she boasts one hell of an engine! As to who is my favourite ‘rider du jour’? My man Purito [Joaquim Rodriguez], if only for his outpouring of grief on the Worlds podium last year. Gets me every time!
Do you have a current favorite in the blog/website department that you turn to for inspiration?
I just found the blog ‘Peak Experience‘ out of Japan and some of the pictures are amazing. It’s just the documenting of riding with friends in amazing places… but yeah. That’s proving a nice escape and distraction from my ever-expanding inbox at work! I also like to geek-out and lurk over at the weight weenies forum and paw over exotic hardware. And just for looking at nice photos I like to check Ces Idee La blog (http://cesideesla.blogspot.co.uk/)
You do a lot of photo editing. How do you keep your eyes fresh for that? Are you constantly looking for what or who is new out there?
Well I guess it’s two extremes really, I’m either delving into the archive at work to uncover cycling pics from those vintage years, marveling at riders like Anquetil, or things like Gimondi in bed, or I’m scouring flickr.com. There’s some insanely good hidden talent tucked away in the dark recesses of flickr, like, professionally executed really interesting stuff. I really dig the guys who aren’t bound so much by briefs and editorial constraints. Often their viewpoints are born out of lack of access and such, so they end up with some creative angles when it comes to cycling photography, and cycling lends itself well as a sport to that eye for lines and angles.
I know that you’re also into your sneakers. What fresh new footwear do you have for the spring season?
I do indeed love footwear, guilty as charged. I have to shout out to Leon [Cerrone] here for introducing me to Folk shoes for ladies. I have these gorgeous ‘Harriet’ shoes, which are perfect for bowling around town in. I love the style of them. I’m also admittedly a bit of a swoosh fan. I love anything lightweight. The flyknits are becoming a go-to because it doesn’t really feel like I’m wearing any shoes…. nice for plonking on post ride. Also just to troll my mates I do own a pair of crocs. They are actually awful, but I’m big on the trolling factor. Plus… if they’re good enough for Ricco…
What is your favorite thing to look forward to when it comes to riding in the springtime?
Well, springtime is great because there’s the pro racing really starting to kick off, the traditional ‘classics’ prove to be so exciting and unpredictable. I love riding with friends afterwards and dissecting the race, arguing the rightful winners, the decisive move, the high points and low points. Yeah it’s great!
I love the fact that springtime sees the small buds of the winter training peek out, a small glimmer of forthcoming summer legs. Kit-wise it’s also nice to get a bit of respite from the winter military operation it all becomes, suddenly it’s not a case of scrabbling around looking for every thermal layer available for my 4:30am commute.