Were it not for a rare sun-kissed English day several years ago, multiple world and Olympic champion Joanna Rowsell might never have got on a bike.
It’s a scary thought, as those few laps on a heavy mountain bike around her London school’s playing field left talent scouts so impressed by the teenager’s raw speed that she was immediately on their radars.
Now 25 and five-times a world champion after adding to her haul in Colombia in February, this week Rowsell was due to ride through whatever conditions were thrown at her in the inaugural Women’s Tour through eastern parts of England.
But with World Cup leader Lizzie Armitstead, world No.1 Marianne Vos of the Netherlands and double Olympic champion Laura Trott still primed for action, Rowsell has no doubt the cream of women’s cycling will showcase female sport in its best light.
“Everyone wants a piece of us. Now is the most exciting time to be a female cyclist, everyone’s talking about it,” said Rowsell, who has had to pull out of the Women’s Tour through illness.
“I think it [the Women’s Tour] is going to be massive. Already the foreign riders within my team have said they’re really excited about it.
“In the UK I think we’re really leading the way and the next logical step is an international race, which they’ve managed to get together.”
Rowsell will never forget the crowds of London 2012, her debut Olympics where she teamed up with Trott and Dani King to win the team pursuit.
King and Trott are Rowsell’s Wiggle-Honda teammates and the aim is to inspire younger riders while tempting novices to the sport between Wednesday’s start in Oundle and Sunday’s finish in Bury St Edmunds.
“I think women’s cycling is going to be huge,” Rowsell said in March, fresh from her latest World Championship heroics and at a Q&A in Manchester Central at the Bike & Tri show.
“Younger girls that are in the sport have something to look up to. When I started, Victoria Pendleton was the only one really racing at that level whereas at the moment there a lot of top girls.”
Why there are so many more these days is anyone’s guess, though Rowsell said a post-Olympics visit to her old haunt in September 2012 quickly showed women were becoming more interested in velodromes than makeup.
She added: “When I went back to my first cycling club I couldn’t believe how much the numbers had increased. They said female participation had increased four times.”
The interest and enthusiasm shown in cycling since the Olympics has helped Britain establish itself as one of the leaders of the pack and it is little surprise organisers jumped at the chance to put on the Women’s Tour.
With equal prize money, daily television coverage and athletes put up in good hotels instead of campsites, which have been used in the past, the five days of action will be a joy for competitors and cyclists alike.
Rowsell, who suffers from alopecia, has not only given strength to present and future cyclists but has also had a profound effect on bullying in school as children become more and more image conscious in an increasingly cyber world.
“I’ve met so many people with alopecia who were bullied at school but since seeing me that gave them confidence and the bullying stopped,” she said.
“I never set out to do that but I’m proud and honoured to make a difference.”
By Tom Pilcher
© Sportsbeat 2014