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PEZ Talk: World TT Champion Emma Pooley

PEZ caught up with reigning Women’s World Time Trial Champion, Emma Pooley, at the end of March, just a day after her World Cup season opening solo victory at the Trofeo Binda. A few days have passed since the interview, and a collarbone has broken in the meantime, but the answers are no less intriguing. Let’s see what the Garmin-Cervelo leader has to say…

Contributed by Ashley Gruber

Emma Pooley’s 2010 campaign was the stuff of dreams: a World Championship in the time trial, British national championships in both the road race and the time trial, along with wins at the Tour de l’Aude, Giro del Trentino, GP Elsy Jacobs, GP de Suisse, La Fleche Wallonne, and more. It was a dream season by any interpretation.

Heading into 2011, things got a bit hairy for Pooley and her former teammates at the Cervelo TestTeam. The TestTeam announced late in the year that they wouldn’t continue into 2011. The merger with Garmin followed soon after, but there was a tense period around that time with the big question: what will become of the women’s team?

Thankfully, the answer followed soon after – the Garmin-Cervelo team would carry a women’s professional team next to its men’s ProTeam and development squads.

The team was reshaped drastically, but at the helm was Pooley, and it didn’t take long for the 28 year old to get her season off to a flying start. She triumphed in stunning solo fashion at the year’s first World Cup event, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Not long after, she followed that with a 10th place finish at a race wholly unsuited for her, the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

When things were set to head back into her terrain (read: uphill), disaster struck. Just days before Pooley was to defend her title at La Fleche Wallonne, she crashed at home whilst training in Zьrich. The accident couldn’t keep her out for long, as she was happy to report that she was back on the road not long after getting back to work.

We talked with Emma right after her season’s first win – the Trofeo Alfredo Binda.

PEZ: Congratulations! How are you feeling after your win yesterday?
Emma Pooley: Thank you. I’m a little bit tired, actually, but I’m really happy with it.

PEZ: This wasn’t your first time winning the Trofeo Alfredo Binda…
No, I won it for the first time three years ago, and then I thought I’d never win it again, because it’s kind of hilly, but not super hilly. I didn’t think I’d ever manage it again, so it was really nice.

Pooley celebrates a brilliant solo victory at the Trofeo Aldredo Binda.

PEZ: Do you have any nicknames?
Uhhh, well Em, and people who know me really well then I guess I’m little Em. Nothing particularly exciting. That’s more like my Mum or something.

PEZ: Coffee, tea, or neither?
Both. Not at the same time. I drink tea at home and coffee when I’m out.

PEZ: Beer, wine, water, nothing?
Wine, water, or cider.

Drinking and/or spraying, the bubbly works well either way after a big win.

PEZ: Favorite food?
Oh there are so many! I love food! Does it have to be a one word answer? I think fruit is probably way up there. The thing I always eat when I get back from racing is apples. My favorite thing is to have my tea with some apples and cheese together. That’s probably my favorite thing that I miss when I’m away.

PEZ: Pre-race food?
Oats. Porridge. I really like the Clif Bars, actually. I’m not just saying that because they’re a sponsor – they are really nice.

PEZ: Are you a calorie counter, or do you eat what you feel?
I kind of think about it, but I’m not…I don’t count them. You have to watch what you eat, roughly.

PEZ: Last meal request?
Apples and cheese and a glass of red wine. It’s got to be the right cheese and the right apples. Maybe some really nice chocolate as well.

PEZ: What kind of car do you drive and what kind of car do you dream of driving?
I don’t have a car. I’d quite like to have a Mini though.

PEZ: Do you train with power?
Um, yes. [Laughs] If I can. I don’t base my training on it unless I’m doing really specific intervals, but I really like to see afterwards what I did. It’s good to compare it to racing as well. I do like to have it. I don’t need it to be honest. It’s really useful, but not entirely necessary.

PEZ: Do you have a favorite work out?
I hate intervals on power. They are painful. My favorite training rides are with friends. Just racing basically, and then without even trying you get a really good training session done.

PEZ: Do you have any secret talents?
[Laughs] Sewing. I’m quite good at sewing. Mostly I make my clothes shorter, but I like making stuff as well. I don’t have that much time anymore, but I used to make clothes. I’d generally start with a pattern, and then change it totally by the time I got going and then it would end up looking very different than what I started with.

PEZ: What comes with you when you travel?
Tea bags, mouthwash… The usual stuff like toothbrushes, obviously. Yeah. I always have tea bags and a pearing knife for eating my apples.

PEZ: What is your favorite place to ride?
There are so many! Where I live in Switzerland is amazing. It’s really beautiful. I think my favorite place is Perth in Australia, because there are so many groups and it’s just a big, fun race everyday basically. It’s not as scenic as Switzerland, but it’s just so much fun.

PEZ: The most interesting place you’ve slept as a bike racer?
I slept in my car once. When we did the national championships, I slept in my car.

PEZ: First bike you had?
I had a little plastic tricycle. I’ve got a photo of it here on the wall. Hang on, I’ve got to look, I think it was yellow. I guess that was a trike and not a bike. It was a yellow and blue tricycle with the pedals on the front wheel and it had a little basket on it. I was two or three I think.

PEZ: How did you get into racing?
An accident, actually. At first I was a runner and then I got injured and couldn’t run for a while so I took up cycling as cross training, and then I got into triathlon. Because of that, I went to a proper road race and seemed to be better at that than I was at triathlon, so I thought I’d give it a go. I never wanted to be full-time or anything, it was just a fun thing to do and it worked out that way. It was accidental.

PEZ: How did you finish your first race?
Well, my very first race I was at the back of the bunch. I remember being really cross. It was pretty flat in the UK. I remember finishing and thinking that the girl who won didn’t go on the front the whole race. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

Emma was a late addition to the Garmin-Cervelo squad for the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but the World Cup leader at the time rode extremely well to take 10th on the day on a course that fits her like a glove with three fingers.

PEZ: Which race are you most proud of?
Golly. Oh. I don’t know. I’m pretty chuffed with all of them. Can I come back to that one?

PEZ: Do you train solo or with friends?
I much prefer to train with other people, unless I’m in a really bad mood.

PEZ: If you weren’t racing now, what would you like to do?
I would just ride my bike for fun. If I weren’t racing I’d like to open a cafe or something somewhere remote and nice for cycling. What I would probably be doing though is being an engineer, which is what my job is.

PEZ: When you were a kid, what did you want to be “when you grow up?”
I wanted to be an artist for a long time. Then I just didn’t know. I still don’t know.

PEZ: What kind of artist?
I don’t know. A painter I think. I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, to be honest.

PEZ: How was the Garmin-Cervelo merger for you?
To be honest, it was pretty stressful because I was worried it wouldn’t work out for the women’s team to carry on. I knew we had really strong support from Gerard at Cervelo, because they’ve been fantastic with the women’s team. You never know with stuff like this because it takes so much money to run a team. I’m super happy with how it worked out, but at the time it was pretty worrying, and I thought it might not happen. Now that it has, it’s really great. It’s a really great setup. It’s really good to be attached to a men’s team again. It brings us a bit more publicity and maybe it makes some of the people in men’s cycling realize that women’s cycling is more interesting than they think. I hope. It’s a really great team.

Emma became one of the world’s absolute best during her time with the Cervelo Test Team. Here she is winning the GP Plouay…solo…again.

PEZ: You like that it’s attached to a men’s team?
Yeah, I think it’s really good. If all the men’s pro teams had a women’s team attached that would be really good, because if you think about how difficult it is for a small women’s team to find sponsors for clothing and cars and tires and bikes and everything, you can get all that from a men’s team. It doesn’t cost very much to run a women’s team. The budget is half a million Euros in comparison to I don’t know what it costs to run a men’s team.

It’s good for publicity in general. You’d be amazed how many more people are interested in talking to me about cycling, because I happen to be on the same team as the men I don’t know very well. Sometimes you hear “Oh, are you cheering for the guys? And you’ve met Thor Hushovd?” It’s really funny. “Yes, I have met him. And he’s met me as well!”

PEZ: What can be done to bring women’s racing forward in terms of money and exposure?
I’ve got quite strong views on this. I think that if our races don’t get put on television, then sponsors won’t be interested. They will continue to not get their money’s worth, basically. TV time is worth so much money, and it really annoys me that women’s racing doesn’t get that.

Some of our races get on local TV, but there was talk a few years ago of putting all the women’s World Cup races on Eurosport, and that would be amazing. So many more sponsors would be interested, and I think people would watch it. Maybe they wouldn’t turn it on especially unless they were into cycling, but they’d end up watching it and then realize that it’s not boring and so many people who haven’t seen women’s racing say “Oh, well I don’t want to watch it.” Maybe they wouldn’t want to watch men’s racing either if they hadn’t tried it.

I think that’s something that the UCI should push for and I’m a bit disappointed really that they don’t push harder for women’s cycling both in teams and the races. I think that one of the best ways to get women’s racing on TV would be if all the major men’s races had a women’s race alongside it, like Flanders does or Fleche Wallonne.

Can you imagine if there were a women’s Tour de France where we started every stage maybe further down the road, as our stages are never allowed to be as long as the men’s? That would be amazing! The UCI is the governing body, they are the ones that should be pushing it. To be honest, I don’t understand how they can just sit there and watch the women’s racing be decimated like it has this year in terms of races being cancelled because of lack of sponsors. You’ve got to at least try to push it a bit, and I think their lack of interest has been disappointing.

PEZ: Was there a race that you had been particularly looking forward to that has been cancelled?
Many. This year the Tour de l’Aude, the Magali Pache time trial, and then the year before the Montreal World Cup. Every year there is another catalog of bad news about races. I mean, I shouldn’t complain too much, there are new races as well, which is great. It’s a real shame though when you lose the tradition of a race.

PEZ: Is there a men’s race without a women’s equivalent that you’d like to do?
The Tour de France. I know that’s aiming a little bit high, but that would be fantastic. People who don’t know about cycling, their first question is always “So you’re going to ride the Tour de France?!” Well, how many women have you seen in the race? Then they say “But isn’t there a women’s Tour de France?” and I say “Well, no there hasn’t been for years.

There should be one, I think. They used to finish on the Champs Elysees. That would be fantastic. People would be interested to watch it because there is this huge excitement about the Tour. We have tours in France, but they are not the Tour of France.

PEZ: Do you like racing in France?
Not in particular. Italy is a fantastic place to race because the pasta makes eating a pre-race meal that much easier. Also Italy always has loads of people out watching and supporting and are really passionate about women’s cycling as well, and that’s just great.

PEZ: What are your biggest goals with the Garmin-Cervelo team?
I think I’d like to see our quite small team get together and race really well and I’d like to see everyone on the team achieve their goals of winning races. I think we have a really balanced team and the idea is that everyone gets a chance to win something. I want to see people on the team win. Personally, the race I’d really like to go for, although it depends slightly on the course which they haven’t announced yet is the Giro Donne?a?

PEZ: Is there a race above all that you dream of winning?
The Giro or the Olympics, obviously!

PEZ: How important are the 2012 Olympics to you? Will you build your season around that?
It’s really important, especially since I’m from the UK. I can’t be sure I’ll be selected, but if I could do it, it would be the most amazing opportunity to race for a home crowd.

PEZ: When do you find out the final selection?
I’m not sure, they haven’t posted the final selection document yet. It will be fairly late. For Beijing, I think it was in July, so only a few weeks before. I mean, you know if you’re on the long list probably in the winter, but they can’t make the final selection until it’s really close because they want to see what shape people are in.

PEZ: What do you do before a big TT? Do you have a routine?
If it was in the afternoon I’d do some kind of spin or a ride on rollers in the morning to sort of wake up, and then breakfast. I’m really fussy about what I eat before a time trial because there is nothing worse than being sick during a TT. I have a playlist on my iPod that I like to listen to when I’m warming up that gets me in the right mood.

Don’t mess around with Emma before a time trial. There’s a race to be won.

PEZ: What kind of stuff is on the playlist?
Oh, I can’t tell you, it’s too embarrassing! It’s a really weird mix. I have a few classical songs on there but also Eminem’s Lose Yourself. They are such apt words for any kind of race, really. I like to have a bit of space, normally. Obviously you can’t just ignore everyone. I like to be able to not be hassled. It does stress me out a bit at a TT if there are a lot of people around asking you for autographs or things that are better to wait until after, really.

PEZ: Do you have an opinion on the recent radio controversy?
It can make it harder as a rider. I’m not entirely sure why they’ve done it, to be honest. I don’t have a qualified opinion, so I think I’ll keep it to myself.

PEZ: Do you live in Zьrich proper, or near Zьrich?
Just outside, down the lake a bit.

PEZ: Why did you choose that location?
I moved to Zurich in 2005, because I started a PhD here, and I wanted to live abroad anyway. I got an offer with a good supervisor here. It ended up that I found a team here in 2007, and that worked out really well. I didn’t want to move. I like it here. I made it my home. I haven’t finished the PhD, so I’m still studying. I can’t leave until I finish. The area has great riding as well, not so good in the winter, but that’s why I go to Australia.

PEZ: You have family there, so it makes it easier?
Yeah, that’s why I went there the first time. It makes it a lot cheaper to stay. I live with my relatives. A bit cheeky, but they haven’t kicked me out yet.

PEZ: Do you speak German?
I do. I learned it in school. I think it’s such a fun language – the way they construct words. They have the most clever words. They have words that we don’t have. They have a word for when you get a song stuck in your head. Ohrworm, ear worm. Isn’t it clever? I think German is really cool. I couldn’t really remember that much when I got here. I had the basic grammar rules in my head. I speak French and Spanish, and I think the more languages you learn the easier it gets. They are all quite similar, well, European languages anyway.

Emma gives an interview to Castelli’s Steve Smith in her beautiful new World Champion skinsuit from Castelli at the beginning of the season.

PEZ: What are your goals when you finish your PhD in geotechnical engineering?
I just want to finish it! I’m at the stage where I feel like I’m constantly letting myself down a bit. It’s a bit of a stressful thing, but I just want to finish it. I never really do much work in the season when I’m trying to train and everything and traveling all the time. I know it’s a lack of self discipline and that if I made myself do it, I could work at it in the season. At the moment I just want to finish the damn thing!

PEZ: When you train, what do you put in your pockets?
I have my little plastic bag with my phone, money, and my donor card because I think it’s quite important. It sounds terribly morbid, but I’m a very strong believer that I really want to donate my organs if I die suddenly. Realistically, if I’m going to get hit by a car it’s going to be while I’m training.

Food. There is a little Swiss thing like gingerbread filled with nuts, which is one of my favorite training foods. Also grapes. If it’s really hot I take grapes. Suncream, generally.

PEZ: If you could have dinner with a famous person living or dead who would it be?
Douglas Adams. He wrote the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

PEZ: What’s your advice for an aspiring young racer?
Keep it fun!

Could the proudest moment have been anything else?

PEZ: Did you ever think of the race you are most proud of?
I think the World TT Championship has got to be it.

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