Recovering from a tough 2012, Olympic track cyclist Wendy Houvenaghel shares how becoming the face of the Tour of Wessex sportive has helped her to enjoy cycling again.
You may not remember Houvenaghel’s story from the London 2012 Olympics. Wendy was chosen in Team GB’s squad of four, which also included Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell, for the Team Pursuit event, she was in the form of her life.
Despite going quicker than some of her team-mates in training, however, the multiple World Champion and silver medallist from the Beijing Olympics was not selected to race in the heats, semi-final or the final. When Trott, King and Rowsell struck gold, breaking their own world record in the process, Wendy was left with nothing.
Now the dust has settled we caught up with Wendy, to chat about how she recovered from last years Games and how becoming the face of the Tour of Wessex sportive has helped her to enjoy cycling again.
Personally, I felt at London Olympic Games I was at my peak fitness, my results from the season proved that and it was just a great disappointment for both my family and my friends that I didn’t get to take part in the competition on that day and of course the implications were great. There wasn’t anything I could have done about it to a) have been in any better shape and b) to have been a better team player and to have done my bit and played my role to the best of my abilities, there was nothing I could have done any better.
The decision lay with the team head coach at the time, and I couldn’t do anything to change his mind. Our team went on to win, which was great but the aftermath of that was quite a tough time for me to have to deal with. I was very lucky in that I had some very supportive family and friends who were there for me, they just helped me through that difficult patch.
Life goes on, when you put everything in to perspective, it was only a competition and one that I could have done.
I know, just from training times that I was more than capable of fulfilling my role within the team, but I had to move forward and move on with my life and make the most of all the opportunities that did come along after the London 2012 Games for me.
Nick Bourne, the event director of the Tour of Wessex, actually has been very instrumental in helping me back on my bike again, by giving me the option of taking part in the Tour of Wessex, you know, giving me that goal to think about over winter. Obviously now I have committed to that, my whole frame of mind with regards to cycling is positive again and I’M very much looking forward to the challenge of taking part in the Tour.
Nick had followed my career over the years, and he approached me to see whether I’d be interested in helping out with the Tour. It’s been an incredibly successful event in the past, and I think Nick just wants it to be bigger and better; he wants more involvement, not just from different age categories but also from women as well as the men.
He chose me to really encourage women who are involved and passionate about cycling to give it a go. At the Tour of Wessex there are numerous opportunities for us women, to get cycling. Over the weekend there will be British Cycling Breeze rides, so for those people who may not have much experience on bikes, they can get involved on the 10- and 20-mile rides. For those who are a little bit more ambitious, there are longer day rides, right up to 3-stages.
I think really Nick’s view and his outlook for the Tour of Wessex was to include more women, to use a female, well-established cyclist to help spread the word and get more women interested as well as the men.
I’m keeping my options open with the distance that I’ll cover at the Tour of Wessex, I am very keen to take part in all three stages. It will be my first experience of a sportive so I’m very much looking forward to it and very excited about taking part and I want to complete all three stages, so it just remains to be seen whether I do the standard or medium distances over the three stages.
Sportive’s can be quite a daunting prospect for women to try because of the sheer number of people taking part. Perhaps they feel a little bit intimidated by the distances involved, and I suppose if you haven’t done it before, it’s that element of not knowing what to expect. So I think it would be beneficial to try and put those thoughts to one side, and to embrace the situation, go out there and get stuck in.
I’m a qualified dentist as well as professional cyclist. I went to Dental School, qualified in ‘98 and then joined the Royal Air Force for six years. I got picked for professional cycling while I was in the RAF by British Cycling coaches, talent spotters and then went on to the Beijing Olympic Games.
It was nice to be able to work on a part time basis after I’d left the RAF in order to concentrate on cycling, training effectively and targeting certain races. I was able to win a few National titles while working as a dentist, and then later on I became a full time professional athlete in 2006.
I started my cycling career at 27-years-old and then got picked up by the squad when I was 28. When I was 27, I’d sort of established myself as having a talent, I’d won a few events by that stage, but I really only started cycling in 2002.
Age isn’t a barrier to a career in cycling, it hasn’t been for me, in the early stages it certainly wasn’t. You should follow your dream, if you feel you’ve got a natural talent for cycling and if you have big aspirations then you should really try and achieve them, don’t let anyone put you off or try to distract you in anyway from what you can be capable of. That’s what I would fundamentally advise, if it’s realistic, if you think you can make it, you must go for it.
It’s the adrenaline rush when you win, and it’s the constant desire to win again. Just the sense of achievement that you can get from winning, from being successful on the bike, that’s what motivates me cycling.
No, I haven’t retired from cycling; I had been a member of the Great Britain cycling team, right up until very recently, however since leaving them, I’m no longer a funded professional athlete with the GB cycling team. I am still cycling and enjoying riding my bike these days, and there are a few competitions that I will aim for over the few seasons and just see how I get on really.
With regards to cycling, I don’t have any plans to start my own bike range, I literally just want to enjoy my cycling and just attend local competitions, just try to inspire people by being there and keep things rather low key for the mean time.
Entries are now closed for the three-stage Tour of Wessex cyclo-sportive, which takes place in Somerset and Dorset over Saturday May 25 to Bank Holiday Monday May 27. You can still take part in the 10- and 20-mile Breeze rides, organised from Event HQ: Somerton Sports Club, Somerton, Somerset, TA11 6HS.
For more information visit the Tour of Wessex website.