Emma Pooley hopes Norwich return will involve an Olympic cycling medal
If all goes to plan for Emma Pooley, there will be an Olympic medal literally heading for Norwich on August 2.
The 29-year-old professional cyclist saw her London 2012 participation confirmed on Thursday with a place in Team GB’s road race squad.
It means Pooley will compete alongside three GB team-mates in the road race on July 29, before taking on the road time-trial three days later – the event that earned her a silver medal in Beijing four years ago.
So barely five days into the Games, Pooley’s duties will be over – in London, at least.
“My mum’s birthday is the day after the time-trial and it’s a big one, so at least I can go home,” said Pooley – with the next question whether she will return from Thorpe St Andrew to the capital to enjoy the rest of the Games?
“It probably depends how it’s gone – if I have had a dreadful race I’ll probably want to just go away and I’ll stay in Norwich and have a bit of a break. On the other hand, if it goes well then probably… I don’t know. Fingers crossed.”
Pooley made her name with surprise success in Beijing, where her tactical ride in the road race was also rewarded as Nicole Cooke brought home gold for Team GB.
Since then the former Norwich High School for Girls pupil has become one of the top women road racers in the world, taking overall victory in the 2009 Grande Boucle Féminine – the women’s Tour de France – as well as an impressive 2010 double of the Tour de L’Aude and world time-trial championship titles, and second in last year’s Giro d’Italia.
So while last week’s confirmation was pretty much expected, having it confirmed always helps – although don’t for one moment think Pooley sees it as a relief.
“I don’t want to sound big-headed and I wasn’t confident of selection, but the odds looked good – let’s put it that way; I was hoping for it,” said the ever-modest Pooley.
“It’s a bit different from four years ago when it was a surprise almost, and it’s not a relief. It’s more... it’s more settling into the harness. Now it’s official, it’s time to knuckle down and it’s not long to go – which is almost the opposite of relief; more picking up the burden and running with it. I think it will be more of a relief when it’s over.
“I think I’m a bit better than I was four years ago. I’ve had four more years of experience and you build on your fitness year on year.
“I’m a bit of a different cyclist now too. The course in Beijing was very suited to me – or I was very suited to the course maybe, which was why I was selected. I didn’t have much experience and I had really minimal expectations, so to then get a medal was really nice.
“It’s a bit different this summer because there is a lot more expectation and the course doesn’t really suit me. But on the other hand, I hope I’ve improved – I have been working on it.”
The London course arguably does her few favours. But reading between Pooley’s lines, it is clear she has made a big effort to ensure that at least her preparations suit what lies ahead in little more than a month’s time.
“Personally I would be happier if the course had a massive mountain in it, but that was never likely with the fact it’s in London – so tough luck,” Pooley added.
“We’ve known about the course for a while and I’ve been round it, but the fact the course doesn’t suit you doesn’t mean you prepare any less well for it.
“I’ve been trying to improve my flat time-trialling and power, and British Cycling have helped me a lot with wind-tunnel testing to try to improve the aerodynamics of my riding position.
“All you can do is prepare the best you can and try to do your best on the day. There are so many factors that influence how you perform and you have to try to make the best of all of them. And if you do your absolute best and you still don’t win, then you put your hand up.”
Tactics for the London road race will be decided at a later date – not that Pooley has undertaken the entire 87-mile road race route, for obvious reasons given its West End finish.
“The road race course I’ve only ridden a section of it, the section around Box Hill,” said Zurich-based Pooley. “The central London section, I mean I could’ve ridden it but it would have been nothing like it will be on the day.
“And frankly the risk of getting injured in the London traffic would’ve been pretty high – I’m used to riding on the right of the road so I get a bit freaked out on the left now.”
The former Cambridge University student admitted living out of the UK has been more than beneficial given the constant talk of the impending Olympics back home.
“Obviously it’s really exciting to come back and see how everyone is about it,” said the likeable AA Drink-Leontien.nl competitor. “But living abroad, people don’t go on about it all the time. My friends know I am a professional cyclist, but it doesn’t define your life.
“Most people when they go home from the office say they don’t think about work any more, so I quite like the fact I don’t have to talk about the Olympics in the evenings and first thing in the morning and every time I go for a coffee with a friend.
“They’re interested, but it’s definitely good to get away from it because there is only so much pressure and you can’t be psyched up the whole time, all day every day about a race – no matter how important it is.
“But it is going to be fantastic while it’s on here. It’s great the road events are early too…it’s going to be Olympic fever and quite exciting, and you can’t really relax and enjoy it until your event is over.
“You don’t go marching around waving flags when you’ve got a race the next day.”
Pooley will no doubt have plenty of support in Zurich, Cambridge and other places – but there will be plenty in Norwich too.
She added: “There are lots of factors in getting to where you want to go. Having other people to train with is really important and when I go back to Norwich it’s great.
“I ride with Velo Club Norwich and they’re really friendly – and fast. It’s really good training and it’s one of the important building blocks in getting to this point, for sure.”