Dani King was World Champion on the track for three years consecutively, and remains reigning Olympic Champion. Yet for the 2016 season she will be switching her focus to the road having been advised by British Cycling that she won’t be joining her team mates on the track at Rio.
For the newly engaged 24-year-old, the decision has cemented her dedication to the road. She's signed with Wiggle Honda for another twelve months, and when we spoke to her she was bristling with excitement for the Olympic year ahead of her as a road cycling specialist.
With the introduction of the Women’s World Tour for 2016, women will have more opportunities to prove their strength over longer races. King said: “Just the opportunity to have a similar race programme to the men - it makes a big difference to me. Since I started on the road it’s improved so much and it’s just exciting to see where it can go. I’m just so lucky that I did the track, now I’m doing the road, when they’re both at their highest in terms of coverage and exposure and media attention."
It’s not just the discipline that’s changed for King, her crash last winter meant she spent time in hospital and had a lot of time to think – she said: “Before I could get quite stressed out and let [cycling] control my life a lot - and I think the crash gave me perspective on the fact it’s not the be all and end all. I haven’t changed my motivation and determination to succeed on the bike – but it’s nice to have a bit more perspective on it, instead of it completely ruling my life."
The new focus on the road should provide King with the opportunity to be really specific with her training, she said: “I’ve never ever had a full season on the road before so I can really focus on the specifics through the winter and just get stuck in at the beginning of the season. Where previously I did less hours, probably at higher intensity, now it will be more hours, less intensity – with different types of efforts. So where my efforts before were up to 4 minutes I guess I’ll be doing efforts of 20-30 minutes – practicing for getting in a break and potentially, working hard to get away and staying in that effort, instead of on/off four minute efforts [like the Team Pursuit]."
The focus, she hopes, will reveal great things: “I hope it will make a really big difference to my performance. Obviously I’m not going to just step into the road scene and start winning the biggest races - but I’d like to definitely contribute more to the Wiggle Honda team and then obviously have opportunities myself to get results. Before I was doing a lot more work for other people, obviously not having the form on the road to win the races.
"I hope that I’ll be able to prove that I am one of the strongest and could be a leader"
When King re-signed for another year, Team Owner and Manager Rochelle Gilmore said: “Personally it has been difficult for me to not actively pressure Dani to turn her focus and attention to the road earlier. However, the time has come, her heart has made the decision very clear for her towards the end of this season."
King is flattered by this comment, saying: "I’ve got the potential to be good on the road and I think that’s what she sees which is really nice. I’ve never trained for the road, as yet, but I’ve been up there at some of the biggest races in the world – so if I can do that without the specific training there’s a lot of potential. And having the whole race season will make a difference – so far I’ve gone into the race season having not raced for months, juggling the track, so I think having that consistent race programme will be really good for me."
For now, Wiggle Honda have King for one more year - she’s not signed a two year contract like many of her team mates – she said: “I don’t know how next year is going to go and so it’s best to take one year at a time and see what happens. I love Wiggle Honda and I’m really pleased to have signed with them again, they’ve been so supportive with me racing on the track and the road and I’m really excited to be able to spend more time with the team and be more part of the race programme next year."
She won’t be forgetting the track totally: “I’m riding the 6 Day [at Lee Valley]. I might do some Revolution events. I do love the track and I’m still going to love the track – it’s always special to go back to London [after the Olympics]. I’d never turn down opportunities to race on the track, it just won’t be my focus – I’ll just be doing it for the enjoyment factor, which is still really important."
"I love riding my bike and if I get given an opportunity like that where I can race on the track I will do it, if it doesn’t impede my race programme."
Of course, King would like the chance to join Lizzie Armitstead for the Olympic Road Race in Rio – but it’s going to take work: “The Olympic road race doesn’t suit me at all – it’s a really hilly course – so that’s going to be another challenge, but one that I don’t think is completely out of the question. I can get over climbs, it’s just a case of training for the specifics. I’m going to get away in the winter and do some warm weather training camps – Mallorca, Lanzarote, the places where they’ve got the longer climbs. In the UK, we’ve got climbs, but there’s none probably over 15 to 20 minutes."
It won’t all be sunny weather riding, however – and there will be some time on the UK roads – we asked for King’s advice on winter training: “Kit is so important through the winter. I think base layers are really important – a thick base layer and one that brings the sweat out so it doesn’t sit on your skin, making you cold. And also I really like a buff [neck scarf] – we’ve got a really nice one with Wiggle Honda and I often use two – one over my ears and head and one round my neck, and they’re probably my favourite. And overshoes as well, and a good set of gloves. You’re moving your ankles but your toes and feet aren’t moving so they get really cold."
“To eat - I like brioche with jam in it or something quite sweet on the bike. I tend to use proper food during the winter, because through the race season you’re just living off gels and bars, but I think it’s nice to be able to use food and make rice cakes or flapjacks just to have in your pocket rather than having bars and gels all the time."
“I do love the feeling of getting back from a long ride, and getting warm in the shower and then putting my slouchies and slippers on and getting in front of the TV and having a nice warm lunch. You can’t go wrong with beans on toast."
Newly engaged, King is looking forward to an ‘engagement/end of season holiday’ which begins on Thursday – she said: “We’ve not set a date, we’re going to start making plans on holiday. The wedding will definitely not by cycling themed. Me and Matt [Rowe] did meet through cycling but I’ve also got an amazing life away from cycling as well."
We look forward to seeing King racing for Wiggle Honda (www.wiggle.co.uk) during the next season - and wish her all the best. She and Team Sky rider Luke Rowe offer coaching services at King and Rowe - so check out their page for more info.