Mental health in sport is an issue to which plenty of awareness has been raised over the last few years, but are we doing enough to help. Editor Will Tyrer sat down with multiple British champion Georgia Hilleard to discuss her story.
Will Tyrer (WT): In brief, just recap your story of how you got to be where you are now.
Georgia Hilleard (GH): I started cycling when I was 8 years old. I started off being apart of the pathway with RSRs [Regional School of Racing], then ODA [Olympic Development Athlete] which eventually got me onto the Junior Academy. I spent 2 years on this and successfully made the transition over to the Senior Academy and living as a full-time athlete in Manchester. I spent just over a year on the senior academy and, as hopefully most would know, it was late last year that I made the decision to leave. Throughout my youth days, I raced all events but it wasn’t until my first year Junior where I focused specifically on sprinting.
WT: So, obviously, you’ve been brave enough to come out and tell your story of your mental health struggles, which the fear of such is often deemed to be the main cause of suicide amongst males, so how did speaking about your problems help you, and what advice would you have for someone reading this who is perhaps struggling?
GH: Having someone you know you can trust and understand things that you’re going through can make you feel like you’re not the bad guy for feeling the way you do. Even though things won’t change instantly, just know that the people closest to you are always there to support you and help you through anything. It will feel like a weight off your shoulder once you have started the conversation off with what’s on your mind, whether it’s small or big, speaking to someone will make you feel better.
WT: In the past, we’ve seen many pros talk about their enjoyment in riding “Garmin-less” or without any computer on their bike, what are your opinions on riding to statistics all the time such as wattage, does it have an effect on your ability to enjoy the sport?
GH: I’ve only recently started to ride with power numbers as I have now gone to endurance and to be honest, I really enjoy it! When I was on the programme it was more about hitting certain times in your 200m etc. This for me was a struggle then as I always felt a lot of pressure to hit targets or your position on the programme would be questioned.
I think it is a good idea, maybe out of racing season, to just be able to go out for the sole purpose of riding your bike, no targets to hit and numbers to ride to.
WT: Is there anything you would suggest to organisations such as British Cycling or the UCI in order to help people struggling with mental health issues?
GH: I think just reassuring the athletes that there is someone there to help and also that it’s not abnormal to sometimes feel down etc. If they openly talk about this more, then not only will they be spreading awareness but they will hopefully encourage riders to seek any help they need.
Join Isla Rush in talking all things cycling with Women’s World Tour Rider Sophie Wright
Sophie Wright has become somewhat of a household name amongst the UK racing scene over her cycling years. From her many successes and National MTB Champion title as a Youth, to becoming Junior European and National Mountain Bike Champion, and National Cyclocross Champion in 2016 as well as winning Bronze at the Junior European Road Race Championships, Sophie was always destined for great things.
2017 was a year of ups and downs for Wright, beginning with undergoing two major heart operations, but she soon got back to winning ways just 12 days after the second procedure-winning a round of the National MTB Series. The rest of her 2017 season wasn’t any less dramatic, recovering from a broken shoulder blade to go on to come 8th at the Junior World MTB Championships and 12th at the Junior World Road Race Championships. Her formative years as a bike racer built her up for what was an incredible year on the bike in 2018.
The start of this whirlwind year for Sophie was winning the Women’s Tour of the Reservoir, a gruelling round of the British National Road Racing Series in Edmundbyers; this was just a taste of what was to come. Wright also won her first Elite National Mountain Bike race, and went on to become the overall winner of the Women’s British National Road Racing Series in her first year as an under-23. This kind of talent is hard to ignore; Women’s World Tour team Cervelo-Bigla were quick to spot Wright, and she signed for them in July. From here Wright went on to represent Great Britain at the European Championships, where she had an incredible performance off the front of the race for 60km. Perhaps even more impressive, at the World Road Race Championships, Wright finished 3rd U23.
I caught up with Sophie over FaceTime in November, at her home in Norwich, Norfolk. She told me her off season break was relaxing mentally and physically but is now enjoying being reunited with her bike and has got a clear plan with her coach of what’s to come.
One of the first things I wanted to know was how is she finding her new life as a professional cyclist; it’s safe to say she’s loving it. Being on a Women’s World Tour team means she no longer has to worry about things she did before when riding for herself, as everything is planned- so she can fully focus on racing her bike. “Little things add up which create stresses that ultimately waste energy,” she tells me, which is why Cervelo Bigla wants to make sure they have everything covered for their riders. Sophie is a very laid back, calm person, so this approach to bike racing definitely suits her, as she can keep her cool leading up to race day.
Sophie was keen to tell me how she now spends her days as a full-time cyclist. She usually gets up whenever she wants she tells me, as “sleep really is key to recovery.” Then, she’ll foam roller and stretch a bit before breakfast, and prefers to train before lunch; this training is set out by her coach. She says during the last part of her ride, she’s “probably thinking about lunch.” Twice a week she has a massage, and she goes to the gym once a week during the winter where she focuses on strength and conditioning work. After she’s home from either a massage or the gym, she’ll eat dinner with her family, and plan her route for the following day’s training. The rest of her evening is filled with working on her online sport’s nutrition course, and spending time with her family. Sounds like the dream day!
We chatted some more about training and riding, and her face lit up when I asked her to tell me her favourite places to ride. “I love Mallorca, especially Port de Pollença, and the Eastern Alps in Austria.” However, “Norfolk is great for easy café rides,” of which Sophie and I have been on a fair few together. Going back to Mallorca, she tells me she plans to spend some of the winter there training, but will stay based in Norfolk for 2019. “For my first year as a pro, I don’t want to take too many changes,” she says, which is understandable as she’ll be racing at many prestigious events in 2019.
To start her 2019 season, Wright hopes to complete in some Classics such as Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem and La Flèche-Wallone. Her aims include winning the Young Rider’s Jersey in the Women’s World Tour, for which she’ll need to achieve high results in as many races as possible. Her other targets include the European and World Road Race Championships, not forgetting the National Road Race, which is a special race to Sophie as it starts and finishes in her home city, Norwich. Wright tells me she hopes the race visits the coast, where the majority of hills are in Norfolk, albeit few but testing, as this type of course would suit her the best. It’d be an incredible feeling to win the National Champion’s Jersey in your home city.
Our conversation then visited the topic of coverage for women’s cycling. It’s commonly known that the women’s sport gets nowhere near as much TV time as the men’s, but many are working towards improving this to gain more exposure. Wright knows that in 2019 she’ll get a lot more coverage personally by racing in the Women’s World Tour compared to racing in the UK, and she believes women’s cycling is definitely heading in the right direction. “I think the road racing scene seems more ‘supportive’ than some of the other disciplines, as it’s generally more popular.” An example of this she gave was fans asking for autographs on a photo of her, and wanting selfies. It’s safe to say Wright definitely enjoys having the fans watching and supporting, which was seen at the World Championships where she rode along the finish straight thanking the crowd.
Looking towards 2019, Wright said she’s incredibly excited for the new season and her “experience with the team so far has been positive.” We chatted about her teammates, and when I posed her the question “which teammate would you least like to be stuck in a lift with and why?” she laughed and answered “Emma Norsgaard, as she’s the craziest Danish person I know!”
It’s safe to say Sophie has a really exciting 2019 season ahead of her.