PEZ-Clusive Interview: Emma Davies Jones
What does an off-duty rider do? Sit on their ass, doing nothing? Lie in bed having nightmares about how many calories they’re allowed to eat? Well, that’s just not an option for Emma Davies Jones – after life threatening injury and illness, there’s racing to do, a new team to join and new career paths ahead!
World Track Championship and Commonwealth Games medallist Emma has come back after a series of dreadful injuries and looks forward with a renewed optimism and an altered perspective that you don’t often find in pro athletes.
PEZ caught up with the former British champion as she honed her training for a season with Team Swift, and she had a couple of great insights and opinions about what it really means to be successful.
PEZ: 2008 brings changes for you, doesn’t it?
Emma: It might sound strange but I’ve done two Olympics, but I’m no longer on the British team. I have no burning ambition to go to Beijing Games …. I didn’t win a medal in my previous Games, but what would I gain from getting selection after the last few years?
The last two years have been difficult because I broke my back, then I broke my collarbone, and after that I got a thrombosis caused by the contraceptive pill – three major things that changed my outlook on life. Four years ago, I’d have looked ahead and said I’d be training really hard for the Beijing Olympics, but I’ve had a bit of a wake-up call. I want to race as much as possible, stay healthy and get to the end of the year knowing I’ve given my all.
I want to be happy, and not worrying about how I should have done this or that differently. I want a year unlike the last two!
PEZ: So you’ve gained perspective?
Emma: I’m a completely different person to the Emma of 2005. I think it makes me value ‘me’ a little more. Before my accidents, my whole life was racing my bike to the best of my ability.
I had a horrendous accident (Ed. – a broken back, suffered when she was hit by a car on a training ride.) which opened my eyes – I’d never change anything I did previously, but I knew I had to start thinking about other people instead of it being all about me and my career. It was time to realise that there were other people around.
Then I broke my collarbone, and my husband was like: “Oh my God! Will you stop doing this to yourself?!” So ….. you think ‘OK.’ You realise you can’t just think about yourself and that there different ways of being successful.
It’s a clichй but it was life-changing – individually a broken collarbone or a thrombosis won’t finish a career, but the accidents all happening so close together had a major effect.
PEZ: Is it fair to say you’ve stepped out of the ‘bubble’ of an athletic regime?
Emma: When I was with the British Cycling programme, it was a bit like being a robot. You got the feeling that you either fitted into it or you didn’t. When I was out of it I kind of woke up, and I realised I was happier, more relaxed about my life and cycling. Now, I don’t have to look at a set of scales trying to justify every mouthful I’m eating. I’m enjoying myself and I think there’s a lot to be said for that.
Having said that, what British Cycling has done in the last few years is absolutely fantastic and they’ve had terrific results, but not everyone fits into a system. Athletes are human beings, and people react differently to certain situations …. not everyone succeeds in a system.
PEZ: What’s the score with the new team, Swift Racing? You’ll be one of the elder riders …
Emma: I hate that expression!
PEZ: Ooops … sorry!
Emma: Basically, my former team Vlaanderen and my DS Christel Herremanns and the team were ringing me every second day after my accident. They made sure someone was helping me the whole way, visiting me in hospital and they’ve been fantastic. I really owed them a lot after that.
They wanted to keep me on for my experience and professionalism, but in Olympic year they wanted to look to their young Belgian riders. That didn’t suit me so we came to a really amicable agreement that I’d move on and try a new challenge. We’re still friends and I have so much time for them all.
I knew Stefan Wyman, the boss of Swift, and we spoke a lot over the winter. I asked what his vision was and saw that he’s grown his team quite organically – he’s got some fantastic ideas, so I felt his philosophy would suit me. I like the team camaraderie.
PEZ: With your experience, will you have freedom to target your favorite races?
Emma: Well, I hope to have a media career when I retire, and Stefan’s been really flexible about my ambitions there. I’ll have flexibility to pick and choose my races, but also when I take media commitments. I’m essentially freelance, so it works for both of us. If Eurosport call me, I can go to work with them and it’s fine with the team.
PEZ: What are your racing targets this year?
Emma: I’ve always loved to race. Last year, I wasn’t allowed to race after the thrombosis which was incredibly frustrating, so there are no particular races – I just want to get out, race and enjoy it. It’s a really liberating feeling.
PEZ: Who should we look out for on the team?
Emma: Helen Wyman who’s had a great cyclo-cross winter. Toni Bradshaw of New Zealand is also going to be good – we were in a break of 5 together in the Commonwealth Games so I know how strong she is! We’ll all be getting together for a training camp in France at the end of February so we’ll get a chance to gel there.
PEZ: Tell us about your commentating role with Eurosport…
Emma: The whole thing started completely by chance. In 2006, after breaking my collarbone, I raced the Giro d’ Italia and completely bombed.
I know Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett well, and I needed a pick-me-up. Paul invited me to Paris, saying I could watch the end of the Tour de France and they’d take me out for dinner.
I arrived stupidly early because Paul had some VIP tickets and we went into the commentator’s canteen and met Eurosport’s David Harmon. Paul said to him he should get me in and David said: “That’s ideal … Sean Kelly’s got to go to some presentation so I need someone to come in and talk to me for half an hour.”
We were on air 90 minutes and he invited me back …. I was like “Err … OK, I didn’t think I was that good!”
But I got a call to go back for the World Championships to cover the Women’s race. In 2007, I couldn’t race and they had a free spot on the Tour so I got the chance and went for it.
PEZ: How do you prepare for the gig nowadays?
Emma: Here in Belgium if there’s a race it’ll be on one of the TV channels – we get French, Belgian and Dutch stations so we see every race. Nowadays, I definitely take more care to look at what’s going on in the men’s races, and note things down whereas before I wasn’t too concerned if it was a men’s race!
PEZ: For those not able to tune in to Eurosport, David Harmon’s co-commentator is Sean Kelly – what’s he like to work with?
Emma: He’s a fantastic guy … one of life’s true gentlemen. Very quiet, generous and unassuming. Sean and David have kind of taken me under their collective wing and helped me along. I’m very happy to call Sean Kelly a friend of mine.
Sean’s got such knowledge and experience. He’d never push it on you though – he’d only tell you things if you asked him. A lot of people are really nervous around him, like “Wow, it’s King Kelly!” I was like that, too, the first time I met him.
Now there’s a big joke because Sean and I just take the mickey out of each other on air. It’s funny, verging on the ‘nasty’, but a couple of times I’ve said things and straight away on the forum there are people going: “Oh my God! Emma’s really upset Sean this time!” while we’re just standing laughing at each other.
PEZ: Is it easier to break into the broadcast media because of your racing career?
Emma: If I was half-decent at tennis and wanted to do something similar it would be easier because there’s more call for female voices there. Cycling’s still very male-dominated. One example from the Tour de France – behind the scenes where the TV trucks are, it’s like a complete maze.
I went out and asked where the women’s toilets were, and the guys are like: “Huh?! Women’s toilets? This is the Tour de France!” I had to walk two kilometres to the nearest cafй to find a women’s toilet because no-one had thought about them.
PEZ: Maybe with shorter, more action-packed women’s races looking more attractive to TV than a six-hour siesta of a race at the Vuelta more chances will arise?
Emma: A whole women’s race is like the last 2 hours of a men’s race. In the Vuelta, it can be tricky to commentate on a whole stage! Getting into something like commentating and TV depends on a lot of things such as TV companies liking you … write lots of nice things to Eurosport about me!
PEZ: Tell us about another new venture, Cobbled Classics Tours.
Emma: I started playing with ideas and discussed things with Christel Herremanns, and her husband Rik van Slycke (a Quick Step DS), and I said “I’m thinking of doing a bike tour …. something really exclusive, high-end,” and Christel said she’d like to try it with me.
We put it down on paper, came up with the concept and image …. and Cobbled Classics was born.
This is our first year and we’re offering a five-day package based around the Tour of Flanders. Guests will get to ride and dine with Sean Kelly, which I think is worth the money in itself! You also get dinner with Phil and Paul. You get to ride the Flanders Sportif event on the day before the race, with team camper van and team clothing provided.
We’ll have breakfast in Bruges on race day, then onto a VIP bus with on-board TV, so you can watch as you travel to prime locations en-route to see the race …. it’s an amazing package deal.
There’s a gastronomic tour of Ghent and a visit to one of Belgium’s premier breweries. There are separate packages for non-riding partners, wives or girlfriends. We’re aiming at a small party to make sure everything is personal and special.
PEZ: You live in Ghent, right, so you’ll know all the towns and roads along the route pretty well…
Emma: I live in Oudenaarde actually, about 15 kms from Ghent. It’s a beautiful town – in the summer you can sit in the square at different cafes and follow the sun as it moves!
As far as the roads, I’ve been lucky to go training with a couple of ex-pros who’ve lived here all their lives.
You think you know the place well, but when you go training with them you’re totally lost. Then all of a sudden you pop out onto a road and you’re like: “Aaah, that’s where this road goes!”
PEZ: Places like that are just like rabbit warrens.
Emma: Funnily enough, there’s a great story about Sean Kelly a few years ago from the Tour de France. He was driving with David Harmon, looking for the stage finish and the fans had stolen all the directional signs.
Sean wound down his window and asked in his best French: “”Where’s the finish line, please?” He’d only managed asked an Irish guy who happened to be walking past! After a little chat, Sean asks again and the guy just answers: “Well, Sean, you never needed to ask where the line was a few years ago!”
He walked off and Sean and David still had no idea where they were!
It’s great to hear Emma in fine form after the trials of the last couple of years, and learn how those setbacks have made her more determined to succeed on her terms. We wish her well with her new team and her new ventures. If you want to find out more about Emma, check out www.emmadaviesjones.co.uk and her team’s site www.teamswiftracing.com
• See the team website: www.teamfbuk.com/