Marmite to Dynamite: the Journey from Beginner to Elite Level Racing

In three years Christine Robson went from the beginner in a Marmite jersey to a rising star. Here's how....

Christine Robson has been commuting since 2008. She started out on a bike her then boyfriend picked up on eBay for £7.50. It wasn’t until 2013 that she got herself down to the velodrome, wearing the one jersey she happened to own – with ‘Marmite’ blazed across her chest. Yet in just her third season of racing she’s found herself competing against Olympic and Paralympic gold medalists and World Champions.

The Velo Club Londres member has been riding a fast moving upward trajectory ever since she first sat on a fixed gear bike and pedalled in circles in 2013. She gained her Category 1 license in her second full season of racing and earned a place in the Elite women’s races at the London Six Day event in 2015. This year she placed fourth in the National Derny Championships, won the Full Gas National Women’s Omnium, and raced two rounds of Revolution.

“If I went back in time by three years, I’d just laugh, and tell myself ‘that is the dream!’”

Understandably, it’s all been a bit of a whirlwind – and the 28-year-old is still letting the motor paced journey sink in – telling me: “It’s absolutely mental. If I went back in time by three years, I’d just laugh, and tell myself ‘that is the dream!’”

We caught up with Christine on a Monday morning, as she got back into the swing of her day job after racing in the Revolution Elite Women’s Competition in Manchester. There she was up against against the likes of Dame Sarah Storey, Elinor Barker and Road World Champion Amalie Dideriksen.  Talking about the experience of battling some of the fastest riders in the world, she tells me: “On the start line, I had to say to myself ‘look, you know how to ride a bike, if you get dropped you get dropped, if you’re in the mix that’s great.’ I guess when you’re on the start line, you’re all in the race together.”

Image: David Pearce

The journey from beginner to the sharp end of competition began at Herne Hill Velodrome in 2013. Up until then, Christine had only been using her bike to commute – admittedly ‘competitively’ as she tried to pick off the lycra clad road bike riders on her Scott hybrid. Describing her first ride on the track, she says: “It was the first time I’d done non-commuting cycling. I remember thinking ‘God this is so scary – this is not for me!’ Then I went to the women’s session the next day.”

“[My first time on the track] I remember thinking ‘God this is so scary – this is not for me!’”

So began a steep learning curve. That summer Christine lost an impressive 12 kilograms and gained fitness in bucket loads, as well as making good friends at weekly women’s sessions: “The women’s session wasn’t just training – we all bonded. Herne Hill has such a community atmosphere, at all sessions. Before I went there I was like ‘everyone’s going to judge me’, ‘everyone’s going to think I’m a noob’ – looking back I very much was, but the atmosphere was so friendly. I just kept going back.”

During the early days, Christine only had one cycling jersey – a Foska ‘Marmite’ jersey (you know the one). That gained her the nickname ‘Marmite’ – she says: “Sometimes people don’t know your name but need to contact you in training, so they’d shout ‘Marmite’ at my back. It probably stuck more in the women’s sessions, because then my friends started using it. I think my VCL kit was my first non-Marmite jersey.”

Top left - the first time 'Marmite' rode on an indoor velodrome, top right - spinning out at Rollapaluza, bottom - Herne Hill velodrome women's session

Christine soon joined Velo Club Londres (VCL), also riding with Brixton Cycles Club some weekends where she was greeted by a high level of support and knowledge. From her weekend at Revolution, she has two favourite moments: taking a lap with Dame Sarah Storey and receiving hundreds of messages of support from VCL and Brixton team mates.

How to Find a Group to Cycle With

On the first memory, she recounts: “I saw her go off the front, and I saw other people looked a bit tentative, so I tried to bridge across the gap. Luckily I only took one other girl with me and we worked together. I think that’s the first time I’ve ever got a lap. So to do it in that setting with Sarah Storey was really cool.”

Speaking about the support from those watching on Eurosport at home, she tells me: “The other best bit about Revs was getting back to the pit and seeing loads of lovely messages from VCL and Brixton club mates.”

Revolution is the first time Christine has raced out of VCL colours, donning kit for – Class Cover. She says: “I love racing in VCL colours, I feel really proud to wear the kit. I have been asked to join teams – but I don’t really feel the need to – I’ve got my own bike, and my own wheels, and I’ve got really great team mates. The VCL women have grown a lot in the last couple of years, so I’ve got loads of women to ride with.”

Most people wouldn’t even dare to dream of the level of success Christine has managed to accumulate in such a short space of time. So what’s next?

“I don’t really know what I want to achieve in cycling. I never expected to be doing these kind of races. And I’m so happy that I have had that opportunity. Sometimes I think it’s amazing to be even racing these people – but also I’d like to do better [in competitive fields]. Some people have said to me ‘if you were completely satisfied, you wouldn’t keep pushing yourself, you wouldn’t keep moving.’ You’ve got to keep moving and learn what not to do.”

Image: John Orbea
Racing in VCL Colours. Image: John Orbea
  • A typical week in a winter training block:
  • Monday: Track session (Herne Hill race training)
  • Tuesday: Rest day
  • Wednesday: Wattbike, turbo or rollers
  • Thursday: VCL Chaingang session
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: Track session (Herne Hill intermediate)
  • Sunday: Long ride

In search of progression, Christine has started working with a coach this season. She tells me: “Going into the Six Day, I felt like ‘I’m kind of at this level, and I don’t know what to do to get better’. It’s kind of nice having that other person to like tell me ‘do this session, this will make you better at this’.”

How to Plan Training and Actually Stick with It 

She explains: “It’s just having that other person who knows the right thing to do. And he’s also helped me get my head into it. I still get nervous sometimes – and a lot of track racing is in your head. I think I need to get braver – and be less scared to get my elbows out. Riding at [the level of Revolution and Six Day events], you notice that everyone is a lot closer, it’s a lot faster, but I guess that’s good, it’s pushing me. Moving around the bunch and making contact is something I need to get better at.”

Image: David Pearce
Image: David Pearce

For those contemplating competition, or simply keen to step their cycling up a level this winter, Christine has three key tips…

Join a club

There are clubs all over the UK – and they’re a great place to start. Christine says: “Definitely join a club. I joined VCL just before winter 2013. That really helped because you have people to train with on the Sunday when you go for your long ride. I don’t really like long road rides, but with a club it doesn’t feel like ‘ugh I’ve got to go for a long ride’ – it’s just fun and sociable.”

Try the track

It doesn’t have to be Herne Hill (though it is a recently resurfaced all weather track!): “Everyone is so friendly, and they’ll help you get involved. Even now I do much better training around people, and there will always be people you can chase. It’s hard to motivate yourself when you’ve got an hour of pain on a Wattbike ahead. Having someone to chase and seeing other people do it you learn a lot quicker.”

Try everything – and enjoy it

Christine has raced a bit of everything –and says: “Try different things. Try BMX, try track, try road – just to find out what works for you and what you enjoy the most. Then you’ll get the most out of it. People say to me ‘oh you’re so dedicated’ – but it doesn’t feel like I’m dedicated because I’m just doing what I love and enjoy.”

We look forward to seeing where doing what she loves will take Christine next! In the mean time, if you’re keen to have a go yourself, check out.. 

7 Reasons you Should Try Riding Track (Whatever your Ability)

UK Velodrome Guide

Why You Should Try a Track Taster Sessions and Take it Further

Review: HOY Fiorenzuola 002 Track Bike

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