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Laura Trott interview

Laura Trott interview
Mark Bailey
12 Aug 2015

Double Olympics track cycling champion Laura Trott talks training, milk guzzling and her quest for gold at Rio 2016.

Laura Trott says that whirling around the bends of a velodrome at over 55kmh can feel a bit like ‘spinning around in a washing machine’. But interviewing the 23-year-old livewire from Hertfordshire can be just as exhilarating, amusing and discombobulating as any high-speed dash around the track. Within a few minutes, she merrily leapfrogs from her hatred of ‘hairy’ strawberries to her love of Chinese food; from getting squashed at Bruce Springsteen concerts as a kid to being serenaded at the London velodrome in 2012 by Sir Paul McCartney and 7,000 fans with a rendition of Hey Jude; and from her lifelong routine of being violently sick after intense training sessions to her surprising – and constitutionally impressive – ability to neck a pint of milk in one go. In the middle of a question about Rio 2016, she interrupts her own answer to announce, ‘Hang on, I’ve got the video online here – it took me 8.4 seconds to down the milk. Not bad. Sorry, totally changing the subject…’ 

The fast-riding, fast-talking, 5ft 4in pocket rocket first blasted into the hearts and minds of the British sporting public when she won two gold medals at London 2012, aged 20. The first came in the team pursuit, in which two teams of three riders – starting at opposite sides of the track – ride in synchrony for 3km around the velodrome in a bid to ‘pursue’ the other team and edge ahead. Her team-mates then were Dani King and Jo Rowsell, although the event has since been upgraded to a four-person, 4km race. Her second gold came in the omnium, a multidiscipline event featuring flying laps, time trials, head-to-head battles and chaotic group races.

However, it was Trott’s effervescent personality, disarming honesty and defiant ability to overcome a remarkable series of health challenges – including asthma, an undiagnosed condition that caused her to sporadically pass out, and the acid reflux problem which causes her to be sick after training – which ensured her story transcended the boundaries of the velodrome and leapt into the mainstream. Popular, affable and refreshingly normal, Trott not only completes extraordinary cycling achievements herself but she has a unique ability to make other cyclists feel like they can too. 

Laura Trott Vulpine

‘It’s a nice feeling to think I might have inspired people to get into cycling, but almost weird for me because I don’t feel like an idol,’ she says. ‘I idolised Kelly Holmes [2004 Olympic 800m and 1,500m champion] and Bradley Wiggins when I was growing up, but I’ve never spoken to Kelly about how it must have felt for her to have fans. I just find it weird because I’m such a normal person. I remember meeting Bradley at the London Bike Show when I was a kid and it felt amazing, but if a kid came up to me today I would feel like I’m still a kid myself!’  

Trott has a magnetic appeal to fans and sponsors. After London 2012, her local sports centre in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, was renamed the Laura Trott Leisure Centre in her honour. She is an ambassador for the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 event – a 100-mile sportive that will attract up to 25,000 riders in August. She has enjoyed afternoon tea at the Women’s Institute in Wimbledon, helping to promote women’s sport, and at the London Nocturne bike race in 2013, she was handed a raw chicken by a butcher at Smithfield Market who was simply overwhelmed to meet her. Life has, it seems, been quite strange for Laura Trott since London 2012.

‘Oh, it’s just incredible,’ says Trott. ‘The attention after London 2012 was crazy. But it was an amazing experience. The feeling you get on that podium and the pride that comes over you… It was such an unreal moment. I remember how I felt when I was listening to Sir Paul McCartney and all the crowd singing Hey Jude when I got my medal. I was standing there thinking, I don’t know what is ever going to top this.’

In the following years, Trott stormed to gold in both the team pursuit and omnium at the 2013 and 2014 European Track Cycling Championships. She also won gold in the team pursuit and silver in the omnium at both the 2013 and 2014 Track Cycling World Championships. But she wasn’t happy to claim two silvers at this year’s World Championships in February. ‘At the time, I was disappointed,’ she admits. ‘You want to win every race you enter. But looking back, I’ve improved so much since the year before, especially with my speed in the flying lap event. So I see these events as stepping stones towards Rio 2016. I hope to go to the Worlds next year [held in London in March] and try to get back the team pursuit and omnium titles. I’m getting closer, but little things haven’t been quite right. I want to go to Rio 2016 and win the titles I got in 2012.'

Road racer

It’s a common misconception that track cyclists rarely ride on the road. Trott routinely trains on the roads around Manchester (where she is based in order to be close to the Manchester velodrome) to help build fitness. She also competes in road races for the Matrix Pro Cycling team. ‘We do a lot on the road because we train here in the UK and we go out to Majorca too,’ she explains. ‘We need that background endurance to help us when we get on the track.’ Psychology also plays its part: ‘It’s easier to race than train because you always have a target.’ 

Laura Trott portrait

Trott won the Prudential RideLondon Grand Prix in 2013 and the following year she triumphed in the national road race championships held in South Wales, losing her title to Lizzie Armitstead at this year’s championships in Lincoln, finishing a still creditable third. In May this year she won the Milk Race, held on a street circuit in Nottingham, beating British team-mate Katie Archibald by just three thousandths of a second. ‘A win is a win, isn’t it?’ she says, chuckling. ‘When I crossed the finish line, I didn’t know if I’d got it or not. I was super happy when I found out, but that photo finish is going to stick with me forever. I made a lunge for the line but for the first time. On the track, you tend to be in the saddle so you don’t really do that.’

The road-racing circuit also enables Trott to enjoy some head-to-head battles with her British team-mates such as Dani King. ‘It’s good that we all ride for different teams now,’ she says. ‘Last year Dani and I both rode for Wiggle-Honda and we sometimes tripped over each other as we were both good enough to win races but had to work together. Now we can race each other, which is fun!’

The grass-roots boom in road cycling in Britain has wowed even professional athletes like Trott. ‘The buzz is very exciting,’ she says. ‘I always see it when I go to the RideLondon race. My dad is doing it this year. My sister [Emma, a fellow cyclist who rode for the Dutch team Boels-Dolmans between 2012 and 2014 before retiring] did it last year. My uncle’s done it. It’s amazing to see how many people have got into cycling. I remember going to races and there would be only 10 people there. Growing up, I could see the health benefits of cycling from my mum. When I was a kid, she lost six and a half stone [40kg] in 18 months by cycling. So to inspire people to get on their bikes gives me a nice feeling inside.’

Fighting fit

Trott’s sporting story is not one of a child prodigy who was predestined for greatness. She endured – but overcame – a series of health problems during her formative years. Born with a collapsed lung in Harlow, Essex, in 1992, she spent her first weeks in intensive care. Growing up in Hertfordshire, she suffered from asthma. ‘I can remember having a few asthma attacks and it was terrifying,’ she recalls. 

On the advice of her doctor, she took up sport to help improve her body’s ability to cope with the asthma. She enjoyed swimming, but trampolining was her real passion until she began to suffer from an undiagnosed condition which caused her to pass out in mid-air. ‘I had to have brain scans but nobody was sure what it was so I had to stop,’ she says. When her mother Glenda took up cycling, Trott did too. 

‘My first cycling memory is from when my parents bought me a road bike but I was too small for it – the handlebars were too far away and I couldn’t pull the brakes. I crashed into a barrier, which my dad wasn’t impressed with. I also crashed at [the outdoor velodrome at Welwyn Garden City] because my dad didn’t screw my pedal in properly and it fell off. I was only eight – I didn’t know how to use an allen key.’

Laura Trott RideLondon

Trott enjoyed racing on the concrete and grass tracks of Hertfordshire. ‘I was really good on grass tracks because I’m light so I just bounce over the top of the surface where others just sink. Especially if it had been raining – I could get all muddy but just float on by. I remember me and my sister beat Victoria Pendleton one time. It was a real highlight. It was an endurance race so it wasn’t really her thing [the two-time Olympic track champion was a sprinter] but it felt like a big deal to us.’

Ever since her early forays into cycling, Trott has been haunted by the acid reflux problem that causes her to be sick after intense training sessions. ‘It’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be,’ she says. ‘Every Wednesday night we would do a sprint session at Welwyn Wheelers and I would just wander over to the middle of the track and be sick. When I was at the Commonwealth Games, they showed it on TV which was great! But I can control it better now by having things like Yakult to settle my stomach.’

Trott soon developed into a powerful racer. Although she lacked the brute force of other riders, she was fast, aerodynamic and harboured a murderous will to win. She can recall beating boys to win a bronze medal at the under-12 national track championships. She also broke a junior record in the 2km pursuit. ‘I was just doing it for fun’ she says. ‘Nobody knew who I was. They were like, who the hell is this girl who just rocked up and broke the record?’

In 2005, at the age of 13, Trott was scouted by British Cycling and selected for their Talent Team – a coaching programme aimed at developing gifted young riders. Aged 15, she progressed to the Olympic Development Programme in which athletes are nurtured for future Olympic success. She later moved to Manchester. ‘It was funny because all of a sudden I had to look after myself,’ she says. ‘But that time really helped me to grow up.’ 

Gold ambition

After winning two British junior titles on the track in 2009, Trott won her first senior European medal in the team pursuit in 2010 and her first world title in the same event in 2011. In 2012, she won the omnium and team pursuit at the world championships before repeating the double at the Olympic Games. ‘I might have been disappointed if I hadn’t won at London. I was young but I was still world champion at the time.’

Laura Trott Matrix

Although she enjoys riding on the road, the track has always been her passion. ‘I like the atmosphere and enjoy how the crowd get to know you personally. In a velodrome, they can see every part of the race whereas on the road, you just whizz by.’ Plus, she would rather suffer splinters from the wooden boards of the track than endure road rash: ‘If you get a bad splinter, the doctor just cuts it out of you and that’s the end of it.’

Despite her stellar success, Trott is keen to emphasise that the life of a pro cyclist is not always as glamorous as people presume. ‘I love what I do but cycling is a 24/7 job,’ she says. ‘My dad is an accountant so he gets stressed about work but he can go home afterwards and switch off. Whereas if I walk around a supermarket, I’m constantly thinking, should I be sitting down and resting? If I want to go for a meal I can only eat certain things. If my friends want to go to McDonald’s, I can’t. People forget that. Everyone says I’m living the dream – and I am living my dream – but it’s also really stressful at times.’

There’s no doubt that Trott is a naturally garrulous and chirpy athlete, but having fun also helps to keep her career in perspective and prevent the pressures of pro cycling from becoming overwhelming. When she’s not training, she’s happy to walk her sproodles (a springer spaniel-poodle cross), Sprolo and Pringle, with her fiancé Jason Kenny, the fellow British track cyclist. A lifelong fan of Bruce Springsteen, she goes to his concerts whenever she can (‘I love No Surrender,’ she says). Nor does she get too worked up about the rigours of
a professional athlete’s diet – cooking is not her forte. ‘I use a Thermomix which lets you throw in lots of ingredients and does all the hard work for you,’ she says, chuckling again. ‘But Jason normally cooks for us. I love Chinese but we rarely get to have it.’

Trott seems far too amiable to be such a ruthless assassin on the track. But behind all the giggles and the soppy dogs lies a ferociously competitive spirit. The track star already has Rio 2016 in her sights. ‘I always remember the feeling I had at London 2012 when I was standing on the podium with my medal, and it’s that feeling that keeps me going,’ she explains. ‘I want to get that feeling all over again.’

Laura Trott is an ambassador for Prudential RideLondon.

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