What happens when the prospect of success moves from hope to expectation
Words: Chris Sidwells
Photos: Cycling Legends and Andy Jones
The first top result changes a cyclist. Ambition moves from wishes to probability, and talent from potential to plain sight. The change shows in the rider’s demeanour. It's not big, just a sense of urgency and expectation replacing hopes and wishes. I’ve seen the change many times as different riders climb the ladder, and I saw it in Emma Cockcroft before the national time trial championships in Northumberland.
Her Bianchi Dama team boss, David Walters offered me a seat in the team car following Emma, it was the Thursday after the Tour of the Reservoir, where Emma was tenth overall after a brilliant second place to Dame Sarah Storey on stage one. She attacked early on that stage and rode 55 miles with Storey, who won the stage, but second at this level and in such company was a big step up for Emma.
It was her best result in three years since the former rower took up cycling. It also came after David Walters told me just before the Tour of the Reservoir; “Emma has had a word with herself. She knows she’s been too passive in races and let things happen instead of trying to make them happen.”
Well, she made things happen on stage one of the Tour of the Res. “I got to the front early on and had a go, and it worked,” she said before warming up for the time trial.
There’s an old joke in cycling that the best race tactic is to start fast and go faster. Emma Cockcroft tried it for the first time, and it nearly worked. “Who knew?” she shrugs.
It might have worked had Sarah Storey not stopped contributing. “She had team mates in the group chasing us, so she stopped working and I had to drag her round. I understand why she did it, but my thinking was ‘second is better than being caught, so I kept going, and in the end she beat me. Which is okay, it was the best thing for me to do in that situation, and it ended with my best result.”
Emma came out of the Tour of the Reservoir with tenth overall, another step up. The whole weekend boosted her confidence. She was looking forward to the national championships anyway. “And I did a massive p.b. for a 25 during the week,” she tells me.
Her real objective for the nationals was the road race, but 31st in the time trial was a competent ride at this level. She looked strong from the team car, showing great bike handling on a difficult gnarly course, and she seemed to get faster as the race went on.
Afterwards, though, Emma saidd, “I’m a bit of a chugger in a time trial, my power for a 25 is the same as my power for a ten."
David Walters later said that Emma had done no specific time trial training for this one, and while she is strong in long road races she now realises that time trials of international length, 30 kilometres or less for women, require specific training. It’s another lesson learned.
The national road race championships on Sunday went well right up until just inside the final kilometre. Emma was up front and in or near the action all day, then she got on Hannah Barnes’s wheel as the front group closed on the last of Jessica Roberts’ brave attacks.
Roberts, deserving victory more than anybody else, held on to win, but just when a possible top-ten was there for Cockcroft she was brought down by another rider. She got up and finished 39th. Bad luck, but she and her team left the North-East knowing they are breaking into the top level racing in the UK. A big win isn’t far away for Bianchi Dama.