In his latest interview, Brendan Gallagher sits down with Dame Sarah Storey to talk about motherhood and her return to competitive cycling.

LIFE has changed mightily for Sarah Storey in the last 12 months – she is now a Dame and the mother of a five month old daughter Louisa- but the one constant will always be her love of sport and this weekend she finally gets to pin a number on her back again and race at the Newport International Paracycling Cup.

Storey lives for racing and competition and after kicking off with the 3km Individual Pursuit and 500m TT at Newport she will be switching back to the road and beginning a campaign which she hopes will earn selection in the England team at the Commonwealth Games, riding support for Lizzie Armitstead. Beyond that who knows, but the fires still burn and Storey is ruling nothing out which has rather been the story of her remarkably be-medalled career.

Pregnancy and motherhood has changed her though, as Storey readily admits, while also offering a welcome opportunity to “decompress” after 2012 when she became one of the biggest stories of the London Olympics and Paralympics.

Storey trained throughout her pregnancy and had intended to race just eight weeks after Louisa’s arrival but the need for a Cesarean section saw that comeback delayed by three months and offered a glimpse at the challenges ahead if she want to combine top level sport and motherhood.

“I was always going to train as long as possible when pregnant, which is exactly what I did but obviously after the Caesarean, which is quite major surgery, we had to reschedule the comeback. It was just one of those things you can’t predict and you just go with the flow.

“It was very interesting training through pregnancy. I keep a meticulous training log and up until seven months I had clocked just 15 hours less than the corresponding period when I was training to try and get in the Olympic Team Pursuit squad and then training for my four Paralympic events. That’s only about two hours less a month! Even in March this year I was going well enough to keep up with the GB squad on a training week in Majorca.

“We had no real expectations either way, so it was all a bit of a voyage of discovery. The volume of work didn’t present a problem but obviously I had to carefully judge the intensity of the riding I was doing. I needed to be very careful about over-exertion and hydration and to make sure I was correctly fuelled at all time so the baby could grow and there would be no issues there. Being sensible is the key. There is no need for those days when you dig deep and push yourself until you are literally hanging off the handlebars, oxygen debt like that isn’t acceptable for the baby, but you can still amass a lot of steady endurance work.

“After eighteen weeks we started to move my handlebars higher and higher and eventually they were right at the top of the stem. I continued to train in some form or other right up to the contractions starting although from seven and half months I was doing a lot less, seeking out the quiet flat lanes of Cheshire. We live on the top of the hill so I started doing ‘bump-friendly’ rides that did not end with a climb. Then in the last couple of weeks I did just an hour a day on the turbo making sure I had enough energy left for the actual labour, you have to be well rested for that.”

The next challenge, after maintaining a formidable fitness level during her pregnancy was getting back in the groove after the six weeks complete “rest” advised by surgeons after the Caesarean. For just about the only time since she was 12 Storey did precisely that and religiously stayed away from her bike and the swimming pool where her other great sporting glories were achieved.

“It was perfect. In between getting to grips with being a mother I hardly missed a minute of the Tour de France or England winning the Ashes. It was sporting heaven for a while. After six weeks I started back half an hour day building it up to an hour at the end of the first week. In the second week I went up to two hours a day and that is pretty much where I left it, not for physical reasons but because of Louisa’s feeding schedule. I must admit I didn’t quite realise how much that determines your day.

“At the moment I won’t lie and I’m finding combining training and breast feeding quite demanding, it’s harder to do the extra training and those digs that take you to the next level because the fatigue hits you quicker I suppose that because you are giving up so many of nutrients and fluids! Recently, as I look to up my endurance work I have learned to split the day into two decent sessions with a feeding break in between, not to mention a rest. Once I cut down and particularly when you stop altogether there is the potential for the body to really go into overdrive with all the extra energy and nutrients.”

During Storey’s enforced absence there have been two major developments in the world of cycling that particularly affect her which she had been following closely. The last women to be cut from the GB Women’s Team Pursuit squad for London 2012 just under a year ago, that event has now been extended from 3km to 4km and from three riders to four. A rider like Storey, with her big engine and extra endurance, should theoretically be well suited to the new event, but while sitting on the side lines it has all moved on apace. Already GB are reeling off times of 4mins 19secs and the smart money says they will be close to 4.10 come Rio 2016.

“I was up at the Velodrome when the GB girls were training recently and I can’t believe how quick they are riding already. They look so slick and standing back a step or two from when I was in the squad it was quite beautiful to watch although I know only too well that doesn’t come easy.

“I’m a long way off that level at present and my immediate goals are on the road, but it would be great to spend some time training with them at some stage just to see how it goes. There is a long complicated qualifying process for Rio and I would imagine GB would like to operate an enlarged squad to spread the load a bit so it might be I would be able to help out in that respect. It’s a case of wait and see really.”

The other major development is the Women’s Tour race next May, about which she is wildly excited:

“The concept is incredible. I am totally supportive and my team – Boot out Breast Cancer – will be busting a gut to earn an invite alongside the top ten professional teams who get automatic invites. This race could change Women’s road racing for ever because if it works, women riders will have to be treated equally for evermore, there will be no going back, the genie will be out of the bottle. The standard will have been set.

“What make me most proud about the Women’s Tour is that it is GB who are, again, taking the lead in this. There is a lot of talk about Olympic legacy and have we got it right after 2012, well this would be a fantastic example for me as to how and Olympic legacy should work. It’s very little to do about new stadia and facilities and all to do with new attitudes. The wonderful fans and British public in 2012 treated everybody equally whether it be men and women, Olympians and Paralympians, British competitors or our guests from around the world. Every medal and athletic achievement was celebrated for what it was. It was a timely message and it would be great to see that get its full expression in the Women’s Tour.”

Sarah will be racing in the Newport International Paracycling Cup this coming weekend. To find out more information about the competition and to purchase tickets to watch the action, click here.

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