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Cyclist’s 31 Inspirational Women No9: Sarah Storey

Maria David Sponsored
3 Sep 2021

Paralympian, racing mentor and the only dame in cycling

Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women

To celebrate International Women's Month, we have partnered with Zwift to tell the stories of 31 inspirational women across 31 days

Words: Maria David Photo: Chris Blott

Between her achievements as a Paralympian and her work to support young female cyclists, it’s no exaggeration to say that Sarah Storey is a household name.

Her extraordinary contribution to sport has seen her awarded an MBE, an OBE and, in 2013, a DBE, making her the only dame in cycling.

Between cycling and swimming she racked up 14 medals in seven Paralympic Games, making her the most successful Team GB Paralympian ever. 

Sarah has also supported dozens of female cycle racers through the Skoda Academy, and through her eponymous racing team, assisted by husband Barney.

Dame Sarah talks about her reasons for passing on the torch and supporting developing riders.

‘We set up Storey Racing (initially called Podium Ambition) to enable my return to racing after having our daughter in 2013,’ she says.

At Women’s WorldTour level the development and improvement has been fantastic but there is still work to be done for the tiers below the top flight

‘We knew fairly soon after her birth that I wanted to continue competing, and having our own team enabled us to have the most control over my programme.

‘The added benefit was that we could support other riders, and over the course of the following four to five years we gradually found the right fit for our project within an ever changing and developing landscape.

‘Our remit is to develop our riders to be the best version of themselves and to experience different situations through sport that will help them in the short and medium term with their sporting life, but also in the long term with whatever they end up doing as a career.

‘For some of the older riders we work with, the narrative is slightly different but they optimise the concept of the #JoyOfTheJourney, which goes hand in hand with the process-driven approach and work ethic we deliver our programme on.

‘Regarding the academy, I first met Skoda in 2018 and we discussed the disjointed journey most female cyclists experience compared to their male colleagues.

‘Girls move from a sport that is relatively equal at youth age [albeit with shorter race distances for girls] and find themselves at junior level having to race in the senior peloton.

‘For the youngest riders, they could be just a few weeks after their 16th birthday and they are racing women with 20-plus years of experience. It’s very daunting. The absence of an U23 category further adds to this steep learning curve, and for so many it’s an unrealistic path.

‘Ideally we want to provide the girls with opportunities that enable them to develop in a nurturing environment.

‘It was important to me to spearhead the initiative, as it gave me a chance to put back some of my experience of joining cycling at an older age and the hurdles that presents.’

Find the rest of Cyclist's 31 Inspirational Women here

Dame Sarah welcomes the recent developments in women’s professional cycling, but recognises there is still work to be done.

‘At Women’s WorldTour level the development and improvement has been fantastic but there is still work to be done for the tiers below the top flight.

‘The pandemic has probably pushed this gulf even wider given the stretch on resources. Many top flight teams are able to travel and deliver on the testing requirements of racing with the Covid bubbles, but for smaller teams on lower budgets it’s a lot harder.

‘The lack of events taking place below the top flight is also a problem, and having no domestic racing has affected the lower tiers. The knock-on effect on that the professional level could be a smaller talent pool in years to come.’

Looking back on her long career there are plenty of standout moments for Dame Sarah to choose from, but a few highlights stand out for her as particularly special.

‘One of the most memorable races was my 95km solo breakaway on Stage 1 of the Tour of California in 2016, only to be caught just 3km from the finish! Then there are my solo breakaways to win in the London and Rio Games.

‘There’s also my epic attempt at the National Championships to bridge to the breakaway group of Lizzie Deignan, Emma Pooley, Sharon Laws and Nikki Brammier in 2012.

‘I feel so fortunate to have so many great memories to look back on.'

For more from Zwift this International Women's Monthvisit here.