Two gold and two bronze at the track world championships in Minsk made Welsh 21-year-old Becky James the first British rider to win four medals at a world championships. We caught up with her for a very quick chat.
Becky James is still bubbling and excited when TotalWomensCycling.com catches up with her for (almost literally) five minutes. Becky is doing a day of post-world’s interviews and press but over the phone from Newport she doesn’t sound in the least bored with answering almost certainly the same questions over and over.
“It’s still not sunk in. It’s going to take a few days,” she says when we congratulate her on her four-medal haul at the track world championships in Minsk over the weekend.
“No one expected me to do this, there was no pressure on me,” says the 21-year-old, but she admits the pressure was on when she was one-all with Germany’s Kristrina Vogel going into the final heat of the sprint.
“I try not to think about the pressure too much,” she says. “I just stayed really chilled out, played a bit of music and thought, ‘whatever happens I am going to come away with medal so I’ll just try and win this race. Empty the tank and see what you come away with.’ I really wanted to win it, I managed to stay calm and came away with the gold.”
Team GB’s coaches say Becky’s calmness and focus is her greatest strength. “She has the best race head I’ve seen for a British athlete for a long time,” British Cycling head coach Shane Sutton told the Guardian’s Will Fotheringham. “She’s got a steeliness compared to Vicky and the others.”
Becky says she took defeat in the first heat of the sprint final and turned it round. “It was so close, I knew I had the legs, I had the confidence [to win].”
Team GB’s previous queen of the track, Victoria Pendleton, told the BBC: “She was clearly the winner in my eyes before the [final heat] was over. I think a lot more titles will be going her way.”
How does Becky feel about having the baton passed to her by Vicky Pendleton?
“It’s crazy really,” she says. “Vic was world champion last year and I thought it would take me at least a couple of years to build up and maybe become a world champion in a few years’ time. I just didn’t expect it this year. It’s all so surreal to me, I can’t believe it’s actually happened.”
Even more unexpected was her second gold medal of the championships, in the keirin.
“I had no pressure in the keirin,” says Becky. “I just went out and enjoyed it. My legs were killing in the second heat. I knew my form was there, even though my legs hurt. I thought, ‘If I get to the front from the beginning everyone is going to have to try and get round me.’”
And of course they couldn’t as Becky piled on the power in the final 200m. It was a textbook example of how to win a keirin.
Rio 2016 is already on everyone’s minds. Shane Sutton has already said, “You can virtually name your team for Rio now. I think this team is heading towards greatness in three years.”
Neverthless, for Becky, “2016 feels like long way off, it’s like London has just been and gone. I don’t feel like there’s going to be any pressure on me – this was out of the blue to win these medals. Every year now I just want to keep developing and keep progressing all the way to 2016.
“The track team can definitely retain its dominance till then. There’s a new generation of riders coming through now, it’s such a young team.
“It’s so hard to go from an Olympic cycle straight into a world championships for all the new riders coming through. It was great for everyone to experience a world championships and now it’s all about progression over the next few years. I definitely think they can do it.”
Speaking of the Olympics, Becky was reported to be upset not to make the GB team for 2012. Sutton believed she was better to continue training, and Becky now agrees.
“The form I had around the time of the Olympics to now is completely different,” she says. “I wasn’t going anywhere near as well then as I was at the world championships. I knew I wasn’t good enough then and I accepted it. It would have been awful if I’d gone and performed at a lower level, and it’s all worked out for the best.”
As Becky’s handlers watch the clock, we cram in a few lighter topics. She’s known for using dance music and reggae to warm up and down. What was she listening to in Minsk?
“The music I listen to varies from competition to competition,” she says. “I’ll have one track that motivates me and in Minsk it was Tinie Tempah ‘Simply Unstoppable’. I had that on before every race, on repeat for 10 minutes.”
If the world of the elite rider seems elevated and distant, there’s another thing that connects Becky James with the rest of us: cake. She had a part time job in Abergavenny cake shop For The Love of Cake for two years. Her training rides were famously fuelled by cake.
“What’s my favourite cake? There’s too many! I do love carrot cake and a good chocolate brownie, but I’ve given up chocolate for Lent.” She tweeted her breakfast in For The Love Of Cake this morning, but no cakes were involved. “It was too early for cake,” she laughs.
And with that, our time is up. But it’s obvious that Becky James’ time is just beginning and British cycling has a new queen of track – and cakes.