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‘To be selected for the Olympics was beyond my wildest dreams’: Q&A with Marie Morgan

We speak to the first British woman to win a stage at the modern-day women’s Tour de France in 1993

Giles Belbin
27 Jul 2022

The first British woman to win a stage at the modern-day women’s Tour de France in 1993, Marie Morgan (formerly Purvis) tells Cyclist about representing the Isle of Man, missed chances at the Olympics and breaking the Hour record

Cyclist: You were relatively late to cycling. What made you start?

Marie Morgan: I’d been a middle-distance runner in my teens, holding various local records and titles. But my running career came to a halt when I was about 18 after I badly tore my left calf muscle.

By the time I was 26 I was basically becoming a couch potato; life was passing me by. My then husband had an old bike and I asked him to adjust it so I could go out on it. It was a struggle to start with but I stuck at it, gradually increasing distances. 

Cyc: We hear you had a bad accident shortly after you started competing.

MM: During one of my early TTs I got hit by a car pulling out of a driveway. I catapulted over the car and spent a week in hospital. My jaw was wired up for eight weeks. I couldn’t do any form of exercise and was on a liquid diet.

A couple of weeks later I drove to watch the local 10. It was a perfect night and nearly every record across the different categories was broken. I remember being gutted at a missed opportunity of posting a PB.



Cyc: Was it a challenge to get back on the bike after such a bad accident?

MM: Cycling had given me back a passion I had lost – taking part in a sport and getting the best out of myself.

It was a nasty accident and I remember looking in the mirror and being absolutely horrified at my swollen face, but that didn’t detract from the fire that had been reignited in me.

Cyc: You were selected to represent the Isle of Man at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in New Zealand. How did you find the step-up in racing?

MM: The speed was unbelievable. I really did get a shock at the level the girls were racing at. I went out the back fairly early on with a couple of others and that was basically the end of the race for me.

I felt quite demoralised by the whole thing, but I knew what I had to do if I wanted to be a medal contender.

Cyc: Four years later you narrowly missed the podium in Canada. 

MM: During the race my chain unshipped and completely jammed. I spent the next three or four laps chasing alone. Coming into the final straight I caught a small group for a sprint but I didn’t know what position we were sprinting for.

It turned out it was for bronze. I finished fourth in the end. If everything had gone right that day I feel I would have got a medal. 

Cyc: The women’s Tour de France returns this year. In 1993 you were the first Briton to win a stage in the modern history of the event. What happened?

MM: On the final climb I stayed on the front and went at my own pace. One by one the riders started going off the back until I was on my own. The crowds were fantastic – they lifted me.

I remember thinking that this was my day, my stage and a reward, not only for all the hard work I had put into my cycling but also for everyone that had helped and supported me on the island.

The next day was to Alpe d’Huez. I got to wear a red jersey to denote that I had won of the previous stage. I was on cloud nine wearing that jersey on that famous climb. 

Cyc: You also recorded five national road race titles and set the British Hour record during your career. What stands out for you the most from all of your achievements on the bike?

MM: Every road race national title was really special. My first in 1990 was a total surprise. It finished at the top of a hill and it had been quite a negative race until the closing stages. I went for it and hung on, much to my utter surprise.

Going for the Hour record is brutal. There is no place to hide – it’s just you and the track, lap after lap. It was one of the hardest events I ever competed in and one of the results I cherish most.

Cyc: What about any memorable moments from your career?

MM: I remember in a local men’s race I once rode in, the commissaire stopped the race and asked the men whether they were just going to sit on my wheel and let me do all the work or were they going to make a race out of it… I found that quite amusing.

Cyc: You also represented Great Britain in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games.

MM: To be selected for the Olympics was beyond my wildest dreams. It’s the pinnacle for any athlete. In 1992 I got away with an Italian rider [Maria Paola Turcutto] and as we came up the straight to start the last lap I noticed that my front wheel had a slow puncture.

After a bit of a scramble I was given my spare bike. I didn’t know [eventual winner] Kathy Watt was chasing us down and when she went flying past it was too late to jump on her wheel.

I came 24th and was gutted with the result. The fact that I had a go rather than just sitting in the bunch helped with the disappointment.

Cyc: How would you describe the type of rider you were?

MM: I enjoyed pushing myself physically to the limit. I expected to feel like I had raced hard. If I’d sat in during a race and at the end sprinted and won, I wouldn’t have got any satisfaction from that.

If I worked my socks off, rode as hard as I could, attacked, but came third, that would give me more satisfaction.

I remember a Q&A with GB rider Sally Boyden the year after I retired. She finished by saying she was determined to race aggressively to quell fears that my retirement would make women’s road racing negative.

That was a massive compliment to me – it was me in a nutshell.

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