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Spin All Star Riders: Hayley Simmonds

Posted by The Dr. on

For the 2015 season, we're really pleased to be able to support even more women's road cycling.

Along with Flanders based road racer (now champion!)  Dani Christmas we're delighted that the superfast ladies of Team Velosport Montegrappa are spinning on our X-Series carbon Fat Boys at elite women's races across the continent and back at home in the UK. 

Today it was our pleasure to sit down with British 10 & 50 mille TT champion Hayley Simmonds

Freezing at the Sign In for Gent Wevelgem in Ypres

Hayley, please introduce yourself to our several followers on twitter and to everyone else who's interested in women's cycling.

Thanks. Well I'm a PhD student studying inorganic chemistry at the University of Cambridge. I started my PhD in April 2012 and I'm due to submit my thesis in 2016.

Chemistry was never really my thing I have to admit. All those terribly complicated long compound names and the rules to combine them!  So it's no surprise at all that you found bike racing. The perfect antidote to life in the lab! Am I right or am I right?

Actually, I first tried cycling in 2010, having been a rower for the preceding 9 years, first at school and then at Cambridge University (rowing in Blondie, the heavyweight reserve crew, in the 2009 Henley Boat Races). 

It was my other half, Mark, who first suggested I try cycling, as he himself had been road racing seriously for many years. At first I only cycled for fun, competing in a few evening time trials and the University Championship (BUCS) TTs. 

However then my competitive nature took over and I wasn't happy simply competing - I wanted to win events! In November 2011, following a 5 week holiday to South America at the end of my MPhil, I started training properly, aiming to do well in the 2012 BUCS events. In April 2012 I won the Oxford vs. Cambridge Cycling Varsity match and finished 2nd in the BUCS 25 mile TT Championship in the process. 

Based on that I decided to enter the RTTC National TTs, finishing 8th in the 10 and 9th in the 25 during my first year of competing in them. I entered my first road race, a circuit race at Cyclopark, in October 2012 and finished 4th; this race actually resulted in me riding for the GB Cycles team for 2013.

Things have really progressed from there! 2013 was my first season of road racing but I've also continued with the TTs - it was TTing that got me into cycling and I still love them! My biggest results so far have come in TTs but I really want to start getting equally big results on the road this year.

Impressive stuff! You see Hayley: the power of chemistry. Either that, or the benefits of having a lot of time on your hands between lectures and lab sessions.  So who's your favourite road racer of all time?

Fabian Cancellara! He's a great time trialist, but also uses his strength on the road to excel in the classics. He is pretty much the type of rider I aspire to be.

Snap!  Fab's exactly my sort of racer too. In fact, I mostly pretend to be him whenever the boss allows me out on my bike.  So when you're attacking the bunch Hayley,  are you channeling your inner Canch whilst your team mate Jenny Crouch is harnessing her inner Stannard? 

Not quite! I’m normally actually just concentrating on the race when I attack. It hurts too much to be thinking about much else! However, this video of Cancellara at E3 Prijs Harelbeke in 2011 is what I would like to look like when I’m attacking.

What would you say your proudest cycling moment has been so far?

I have a few from the last couple of years actually…last year I was extremely proud of winning both the National 50 and National 10 mile TTs. I was proud of the 50 because it was my first win at a National Championship. I'd had a terrible week from a personal perspective and had considered pulling out of the event the day before. Winning it was therefore quite emotional. 

My win at the National 10 was also special because I think the 10 mile TT is the one people ‘want to win’. I was presented with my medal by Denise Burton-Cole, Beryl Burton’s daughter, and my result at the event had just secured me the Beryl Burton "Champion of Champions" trophy for 2014.

Hayley drops World Road Champ Maurizio Fondriest during a training camp climb in the Prosecco Hills

I'm also really proud of my results at hill climb events; winning the BUCS Hill Climb in both 2013 and 2014 (with a new record in 2014) and finishing 6th at the National Hill Climb in 2014. 

I had some quite low moments during my final year of rowing in 2009 and this meant that when I stopped rowing I basically stopped doing any sport. As a result I gained a lot of weight and had even less inclination to participate in any competitive sport. So when I finally decided to do something about my situation and took up cycling I absolutely hated any sort of upwards gradient and I found hills extremely tough as I was still very overweight (lucky I live in Cambridgeshire really…). 

Over the past 3-1/2 years I’ve worked really hard to shift the weight and although I still have a little bit more to go I am proud of how far I’ve come. So winning a hill climb really emphasized my progress; I always said that the BUCS HC was an event I would never enter so to have now won it 2 years running, and been the first woman to record a sub- 7 minute time (6.43.5) in 2014, well that means a lot to me.

Chapeau! So what the hell are you doing working with us crazy old fools at Spin?

It must be the personal touch! For example, our race wheels were all hand built for us as individuals rather than coming straight out of a warehouse. 

And the interaction between us as riders and Spin as a sponsor makes it feel as though somebody really cares what we think of their product and will work really hard to help us in any way possible. I’m really looking forward to developing a great relationship with Spin over the course of the 2015 season.

Thank you Hayley, and long may it continue.  I've really enjoyed working with you over the season so far. I particularly enjoyed seeing your courage and determination at one of the most epic road races I've ever witnessed, and I've already been around the block quite a few times.  I'm talking about Gent Wevelgem earlier this year, in what turned out to be the best race by far of the Spring Classics season.    

What was that like for you?

It was probably the toughest day I've ever had on a bike. I knew when riding part of the course the day before that we would be in for challenging conditions but I could never have imagined just how hard it would be. I've never enjoyed racing in the wet and have historically ended up getting dropped from races when conditions are bad due to a lack of confidence and concerns over crashes. Combine the rain with gale-force winds and I almost didn't want to get on my bike!

Hayley powers up a wet and wild Kemmelberg at Gent Wevelgem

Yes! I can well remember your face at the soaking wet signing on ceremony!

Still, when the flag dropped in Ieper, true to form I began going backwards through the bunch. However, for once, pig headedness took over! There was no way I had come all this way to go out the back within the first 10km! So I started riding through groups that were being dropped off the back of the bunch, using my strength in the wind to bridge the gaps that had formed, until I was back in the peloton. 

From there my confidence grew and I just kept focussing on making it the next 5km at a time. After the first ascent of the Kemmelberg I found myself in the second group with some strong girls and we worked well together until having to stop at a level crossing after 94km. We waited for around 10 minutes with growing concern over whether we would be allowed to continue racing, as everyone behind us had already been pulled from the race. Finally the train passed and we got going again, only to be told at the 100km mark that our race was over. This was completely gutting as I had been desperate to be given a finishing time. We rolled in to Wevelgem but were marked on the results as DNF.

It's terrible. But it's also what I've always loved about road racing. It's truly tough, epic and 100% authentic. It's for the Hard Men and the Hard Girls. I stood with my wife and 2 small kids on the Kemmelberg all day long. We all froze, got soaked through and blown off our feet, and we loved every minute of it.  Well, I did anyway.   

I've now had time to reflect on that race. Whilst it was gutting not to officially finish, I think this was the best I have ever performed in a road race. I gave it everything, toughed it out in terrible conditions and I think I'm a better road racer as a result. People always think of me as a 'tester' but hopefully I proved that day that I can hold my own in a road race too.

I'd say so, for sure.

Yes, my positioning could have been better. I could have stayed further forward in the neutralised section and been at the front of the split over the Kemmelberg. Maybe then I would have finished with the bunch. There are definitely positives though: I felt strong and I also felt 100% confident on my bike, despite the weather.

This is probably partly down to how much I've improved as a rider over the past 12 months but also down to my equipment and just how brilliantly my wheels handled the wet roads, gruelling crosswind and Belgian cobbles. I'm proud of how I raced at Gent-Wevelgem and hopefully I can build on this performance in the coming months.

It's very kind of you to credit some of your performance to your equipment Hayley, and it is something we know to be very true, both from our long distant past association with motorsport as well as a lifetime of cycling. A lot of cyclists look solely at the headlines when it comes to choosing equipment: the weight to the gram, the latest made-up aero numbers, which pro team uses it? But what it most often comes down to, the same as in every other form of racing is confidence in yourself and having the confidence to lean on your equipment. 

This year Hayley has been unbeatable at the Hoggenberg

Now, looking to your future!  Where do you want your bike to take you? Or put another way, where do you want to take your bike?

As many places as possible! This year I want to try and match my TT performances with road race results and I have a very full calendar. I'll be racing all over the UK but also on the continent and I'm hoping my spin wheels can help me take my cycling to the next level.

Excellent! Well I think I've taken up enough of your valuable training and lab time, so just one more question. 

Apart from racing, what else is there?

When I’m not riding my bike or doing my PhD I love to bake. Unfortunately the baking doesn't work very well alongside cycling but as a result I've become very good at not eating the things I make myself and feeding them to Mark and friends instead! 

I also love spending time at home relaxing with Mark and our cat Liquorice. Trying to balance training and racing with my PhD means that I feel like I'm constantly on-the-go, so I really appreciate quiet evenings on the sofa, relaxing in front of the TV.

Thanks very much Hayley. It only remains for me to wish you the best of luck and the greatest of legs this season.  

You can follow Hayley's extensive racing exploits on twitter, where you can also keep up with the Velosport Team

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