The Games in Rio are creeping ever closer and three time BMX World Champion Shanaze Reade is preparing for a very different Olympic year in 2016.
Reade hasn’t had the best of luck in the past, crashing out in the final of the 2008 games and coming sixth despite incredible performances in the heats leading to the 2012 medal decider. This time around, however – she’ll be riding a very different bike.
After years placing all her focus on the BMX track, Reade says she’s “mellowed out" and chosen the velodrome as her new home. She’s gunning for a spot in the Team Sprint squad of two at Rio, and longer term has her eyes on the Keirin and Match Sprint at Toyko in 2020.
"I just feel like my mind-set changed from being this extreme person who loved doing extreme things – and BMX as a sport represented that - then I kind of just mellowed out. I guess I’m getting old now!"
The 27-year-old, who rides for Madison-Genesis, explains: “I’ve done everything I wanted to do in the sport of BMX – I didn’t get an Olympic medal, but everything else. It's bizarre - I just feel like my mind-set changed from being this extreme person who loved doing extreme things – and BMX as a sport represented that - then I kind of just mellowed out. I guess I’m getting old now! I don’t miss BMX – in 10 days’ time it’ll have been a whole year since I rode my BMX on a track. Of coupe I’m still interested in how the teams are doing, I do a lot of coaching, but actually riding I don’t really miss it."
Ideally, Reade would have taken to the track a little earlier in the Olympic cycle – but the time was right for her – she says: “I needed to have the time that I had to realise that I was finished with BMX. Otherwise I would have had questions in my mind. It’s all planned out well, I’ve really made the right decision and I can focus now. After 16 years in BMX now it’s nice to have a new training focus – so many things are unknown, it’s challenging and fun at the same time."
Reade was the only female BMX rider on the squad in preparation for the 2012 games – now she’s competing with other British Cycling development squad sprinters for her place – she says: “I never really had female competition [within GB] in BMX, so it’s actually quite nice. It keeps you on your toes and focused on what you need to do. Sometimes if you’re having a bad day and they’re going better than you it can be a bad thing but all in all it’s good for the team to have such strong competition."
At the moment Reade isn’t in the top spot, but her PB is still the fastest time of the squad, and she has a promising history having won the UCI World Championship with Victoria Pendleton in 2007 and 2008.
She says: “I came on to the programme with a fractured knee, I had four months off so I was just playing catch up from there. Now I’m kind of getting back to where I was. There are other girls on that programme who could be just as good at the job, but I’m confident in my own training and my own ability that I should be the fastest person on the start line in Rio."
Training at the moment is pretty intense, and taking every ounce of Reade’s famous strength – she says: “This block [of training] has been the hardest block I’ve ever done in my whole entire career in sport.
"It’s a lot of interval training, trying to drop body weight to make the power to weight go up. The only similarity to BMX is the gym, trying to be strong. Everything else is so different to what I was used to. For example just sitting down – BMX you’re always stood up, doing stuff in the seat is a lot different to producing power stood up. But it’s all just pedalling at the end of the day, I let the sports scientists work out the rest of it."
Reade has a long term eye on Tokyo. She wants to contest the Keirin and March Sprint – and says: “For Rio it would have been too ambitious to explore all of the individual events, there's just not enough time. But whether I’m on that start line or not I’ll still be training towards Tokyo to do the individual events. Hopefully I can transfer all my power and focus to the Keirin and Match Sprint."
Track cycling, especially for a sprinter, takes just as much mental strength as physical – the ability not to give up in those final pedal churns to the line. I ask Reade how she copes with that, and she gives me a refreshing response: “My biggest advice - as hard as it sounds – is don’t take it too seriously. It’s not life or death. Ultimately, anyone gets into any cycling discipline because they enjoyed it and it’s fun. That’s why I got on a bike.
"Obviously we want to be the fastest in the world, but if we had that in our minds every single day it wouldn’t be healthy, so we set small goals"
“In terms of getting everything out, it’s just setting really small goals, like goals within a club – race your mates over a certain distance. That translates to how we train. Obviously we want to be the fastest in the world, but if we had that in our minds every single day it wouldn’t be healthy, so we set small goals, and we know as long as we keep ticking those boxes we’ll be where we need to be. At the same time we have a laugh, we put music on, and we enjoy it. If we have a bad day, we just know that happens on the path to success, it’s not the be all and end all."
We’ve all got our inspirations – Reade is perhaps the idol for many young BMX athletes – including those aiming for Tokyo in 2020. It is Middle Distance runner Dame Kelly Holmes who Reade most looks up to as a role model – and for good reason.
"It’s never over until you walk away and I’ve not walked away"
Holmes took Gold in the 2004 Olympics over 800 and 1600m and Reade says: “She’s got that attitude of ‘if it doesn’t work once, if it doesn’t work twice, then keep going towards that goal'. Remembering that helps me as I prepare for the Olympics – it’s never over until you walk away and I’ve not walked away."
Want to try the track? Check out our UK Velodrome Guide.