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Evie Richards: ‘The most important thing is to find a group of friends and go on adventures with them’

The newly crowned Commonwealth Games XC mountain biking champion on what motivates her

Maria David
4 Aug 2022

Evie Richards has just won gold in the 2022 Commonwealth Games XC mountain biking with a dominant performance that saw her distance her rivals, adding to the XC world title she took 12 months ago. We caught up with Richards last year as part of Cyclist’s 31 Inspirational Women series, published to mark International Women’s Month. At the time, Richards already had a Commonwealth silver medal to her name and had established herself as one of the top young talents in world cyclocross.

Evie Richards has become a household name in off-road cycling, with many seeing her and Anna Kay as the natural successors to Helen Wyman and Nikki Brammeier when it comes to cyclocross.

But the 24-year-old from Malvern has an added extra, as she also is an accomplished mountain biker. Evie took silver in the Cross-country at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and after a recent World Cup victory in Spain has aspirations for the Tokyo Olympics.

The Red Bull-sponsored athlete, who rides for Trek Factory Racing, clearly loves her racing, but is equally happy just enjoying herself outdoors with her friends (coronavirus rules permitting).

Evie Richards celebrates her Commonwealth Games gold medal win. Photo: Stephen Pond / Stringer via Getty

That versatility could partly be down to the fact that Evie didn’t particularly dream of being a professional cyclist. She just wanted to find a sport that she could do in the Olympic Games.

‘I always loved watching the Olympics, and dreamed of competing in them,’ Evie says. ‘I was inspired by Olympians like Jessica Ennis-Hill and Tom Daley – also Jonny Wilkinson because we used to watch a lot of rugby.

‘I did every sport going until I found one that I could do in the Olympics, but I never really watched cycling as a kid.

‘In fact, when I went to my first World Championships a friend had to teach me the names of all the riders!’

It was also through friends that Evie got into cycling in the first place, riding around in the Malvern Hills where local riders like Commonwealth Mountain Bike Champion Liam Killeen and World Downhill and Enduro Champion Tracy Moseley would provide coaching.

Although that coaching was very much focussed on mountain biking, Evie has proved equally adept at cyclocross. She won the first ever Under-23 World Championships in 2016, then won it again in 2018.

She has also won all three editions of the National U23 Championships, and took seventh at the recent World Cyclocross Championships, right behind defending champion Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado. Not bad for someone who doesn’t train for cyclocross races!

‘I prioritise the mountain bike because I want to go to the Olympics, and that’s always been my dream. I race all the mountain bike races, and then I have a short break and use the cross races as part of a big training block over winter.

‘I feel like I was born to race cross. I love how crazy the racing is, and I like the chaos of it. One year I would like to do loads of training on my cross bike and properly race it.’

Things haven’t always been easy for Evie, though. She puts herself under a lot of pressure, something she has had to learn to manage with the help of a psychologist. That self-imposed pressure saw Evie developing RED-S in 2019, a pattern of disordered eating that affects many athletes.

‘I just wanted to win so badly and I thought the way to do that was to be the lightest I could be. I lived basically on my own and I don’t think there was anyone to pick up on it.

‘When I moved home after three or four years, my mum was like, “Oh my gosh you are so bony, you need to put on some weight.”

‘I’m lucky to have a supportive family who caught it at the right time and helped me. In 2018 I started working with [leading sports dietician] Renee McGregor, who helped me get better.

‘I remember seeing many doctors and asking, “I’m not having a period, is that okay?” And always the answer was “Yeah, that’s fine don’t worry about it.”

‘When I was growing up there was a lot of disordered eating in sport so you were aspiring to be like someone who wasn’t actually healthy.

‘I think it’s so important to get help as it can ruin a young rider and their career if they don’t fuel properly from a young age.’

For aspiring mountain bike racers, Evie is keen to stress the importance of enjoying riding and not following a strict training plan at a young age.

‘I was very lucky to be part of this group of boys and we would ride to places and have a campfire. Sometimes we would ride to a random Tesco miles away, buy ice cream, sit outside on the kerb to eat it and ride home again.

‘At a young age the most important thing is just to find a group of friends and go on adventures with them, just exploring places on your bike.

Photo: Red Bull

‘I get a lot of messages from young people asking what training plan they should be doing and I really think at that age you should just be having fun with your friends and making memories together. If you want to race then race each other.

‘That’s so important because there are a lot of people who are so narrow-minded and all they do is cycling. That can only last so long. When you’re young it’s best to do as many sports as you can and just have fun.’

Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women

Find the rest of Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women here, first published in March 2021 to celebrate International Women's Month.

Main image: Justin Setterfield / Staff via Getty