Lucy Garner looks momentarily puzzled, but then she’s been asked a dumb-ass question. It wasn’t intended to be idiotic, but it came out slightly wrong. Did she, I wondered, take cycling more seriously after winning the junior World Championships in Copenhagen?
How seriously does a young woman have to take her training and racing to beat the rest of the world’s best? Glaringly obvious, isn’t it? Very seriously. Full on. Full gas. No prisoners.
To clarify: was that the point, 2011, where it sunk in that Garner realised she had what it took to go all the way in the sport? She celebrated her 17th birthday just three days before taking the rainbow jersey. Not many teenagers have their careers mapped out at that stage.
“I have always been serious,” she says, now it’s clear what the heck I’m on about. “My parents were so shocked at how serious I took my preparations and warm-ups.”
Garner may have approached the day with her poker face on, but the support staff played it cool. “We didn’t know who I was going to be up against and I hadn’t really raced against them before. There was no pressure at all – just go in and see how I do. The day before, we were riding up the climb, doing efforts, and my coach came up and said: ‘You’re going to win this.’ It’s so strange, because every time he says I’m going to get a good result, I do.”
She emerged from the heaving bunch on the slight uphill finish and “looked around about ten times, expecting people to come by me. I couldn’t believe nobody did.”
Garner exaggerates slightly on the backward glances, but nobody came close, either way. “After that, I did get more serious. I stopped studying to concentrate on the next world title. I was never very good at school, so with cycling, I thought I would go for it. You can never go back to sport, but you can go back to education.”
Concentrating on the next world title paid off: she won again in 2012, this time in Holland. Garner possesses a blistering sprint that, given the perfect lead-out such as Elinor Barker’s in Valkenburg, trashes the opposition – certainly at junior level.
Stepping up to the seniors has, as for any 18-year-old making that transition, been a struggle. “It was difficult,” says Garner. “I remember doing my first [senior] race, Het Nieuwsblad. As a junior, I was always up there, then going into my first race and getting dropped straight away on the first climb, it was like I was standing still. It was a huge shock, as was the increase in training – hours and hours. You have to adapt.”
Garner is getting to grips with it, as she is with living in Holland. She’d already taken the plunge, choosing cycling over further education. Signing up with Argos-Shimano last year and moving in with her boyfriend, Dutch cyclo-cross prodigy Lars van der Haar (coming soon in Rouleur), showed further commitment. This woman doesn’t mess about.
“I have always wanted to be on a Dutch team and live in Holland and race out here, so all these things fell into place, so I went for it. I was speaking to Argos-Shimano before the second World Championships, and I was only with Lars for about six months before that, so it was really quick.
“If you asked my Mum, I don’t think she would ever have thought that, because I was always pushing [younger sister] Grace forward. I’ve made a lot of steps, it was pretty hard last year – moving country, leaving friends, moving category. It was overwhelming at times, because it was so different.
“It might sound stupid, but I appreciate so much what my parents did for me. I’m in the real world now. I knew I’d get through it.”
Doesn’t sound stupid in the least. Take a bow, the Garners. (There’s a great piece by Timm Kölln and Andy McGrath in the new issue about cycling families at the World Championships and parental support.)
The fact that Lucy started cycling on a mini Penny Farthing, bought for her eighth birthday, should not be held against them. Six months later, a standard machine was bought and she was away.
Now 17-year-old sister Grace is coming up fast on Lucy’s back wheel: three titles at the recent national track championships and gold as part of the junior pursuit team at the European Track Championships in Portugal.
It must be worrying to have the young upstart catching up so rapidly? “She has already overtaken me on the track! Her times are way better than mine. Obviously, we can both sprint, but she has got the leg speed for the track. And she can do both. Grace wants to be a road rider, though. But she’s really enjoying it.”
We step out into the street to take some photos in the fading sunshine. Lars proudly slips on his brand-spanking new national champion’s kit, while Lucy opts for casual.
I like this: outwardly casual; inside, totally focused and anything but casual. It’s fair to say she takes it seriously.
What a dumb-ass question.
Emma Pooley retired from cycling on a high after the 2014 Commonwealth Games road race.