This week sees the start of the World Masters Track Championships in Manchester. Cycling on the boards of the velodrome at the National Cycling Centre should be exciting and one of the protagonists will be Janet Birkmyre.
One of my favourite riders, she has prepared for the championships by racing against some of the best riders in the world, including Scottish sensation Katie Archibald.
The World Masters brings the best riders from around the world and that is something that Janet thrives off.
Despite having a huge collection of gold medals, Janet still enjoys the competition and wants to improve all the time.
She was kind enough to give me some of her time ahead of the championships for her thoughts ahead of the event which starts on Saturday.
Q. It’s the World Masters Track Championships again, how much are you looking forward to the competition?
Massively, I love this championships! With the Euro Masters not happening this year, the World Masters is the only opportunity I get to race internationally. The racing is always fierce and there are so many lovely people to catch up with between times.
Q. How has your form been this year?
Cyclists always talk themselves down in advance of a big race or meeting and I wouldn’t want to disappoint you, but I am being completely honest when I tell you that I feel like I have been riding through treacle all season – my form has really not been great. The only good news is that I think I know why and I hope I have addressed it. After the World Masters last year I only had two weeks rest before starting intensive training again, because I wanted to prepare for the rescheduled Derny Championships on December 29th (they were rained off in August). So it was the “driest” Christmas I have ever had and I was a dreadful hostess over the festive period, but I needed to keep a race focus and concentrate on speed work, rather than the more usual base conditioning training that I would do at that time of year. It was a decision that I am entirely happy with, I picked up a silver medal behind World Champion and World Record Holder in the team pursuit, Katie Archibald, but it came at a price for the season that followed and I feel like I have been just surviving in races this year. Happily, the National Omnium Series that I ride in preparation for the big, end of season goals, finished early, so I have had the opportunity to address this and I think I am back where I need to be now in the lead up to the World Masters.
Q. How much do you still want to win gold medals after having won so many already in this championships? (I think I can guess the answer but…!)
That is not an easy question to answer, but I guess I just love winning and the World Masters is one of the biggest stages that I can compete on. But the winning and all the positive emotion that comes with it is just a by-product of the work that I put in all year and in truth, I (mostly!) really enjoy the training. Yes, it is often incredibly hard and I am suffering with more and more back pain on the bike, but I have a fascination with the whole process of going faster and if that gets me to a position where I can win, then that is all the fuel I need to want to do it all again.
I have said this before, but it is not just me, my husband David works incredibly hard to help me succeed. For example, his search for free speed has ended up with him becoming the UK distributor for CeramicSpeed after he upgraded the bearings in all my wheels and bottom brackets and saw just how good they were. Right now he is working with a carbon company that supplies F1 teams to develop new cranks and disc wheels which will be stronger and more aerodynamic than anything currently available. The search for the best is something that we both live and breathe daily, for me that is fitted around the job that pays the bills, but for David it is what he does.
Q. Who will likely be the main competition for you this year?
There are so many new names is it difficult to be sure, but I am aware that a number of riders have just moved up from the 35-39 to the 40-44 category and I notice that my scratch race is likely to be 40-49 years. When I am racing women who are eight years younger than me I need to stay extra sharp, but I have spent the season being “bullied” by some seriously talented 19 year olds, so I should be ready for them! That said anything can happen in a bunch race.
For the pursuit, I have worked really hard to make that a strong event for me and I hope that shows, whilst in the sprint events I will take whatever I can get away with, given that I do not do any sprint specific work.
This year, the team sprint is a championship event for the first time and I will be racing that with the very lovely and super-fast Ali Chisholm. We are expecting strong completion from the Aussies and the Americans. I really enjoy the team events and hope that the new line up for the team pursuit, including Mel Sneddon and Niki Kovacs works out. Sadly the ladies I rode with last year are not racing this year because of injury and/or family commitments, so it has been back to the drawing board. Anyone that underestimates the technical difficulty of riding a good team pursuit needs only to come to one of our training sessions – when I say if it could go wrong, it has. We have redefined Murphy’s Law, but I am confident that we will work really well together on the day and I have really enjoyed working with them to achieve whatever we can.
Q. How good is it to be see so many riders from overseas travelling to the championships and is there good spirit amongst all the competitors?
I am particularly pleased to see such a big entry this year, it really is amazing. I know the organisers have worked very hard to encourage more women to ride these championships, so it is good to see their efforts rewarded. Every year I get to know a few more of the competitors and, off the track, the women are really supportive and encouraging. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but I feel privileged to be a part of it.