19 March 2013

Matrix Racing Academy Team Launch: An Interview with Jessie Walker...

15.03.13 is sure to go down as a date to remember in pro-women's cycling. This was the launch of the 2013 Matrix Fitness Racing Academy Team.
All photography by Guy Collier.

It was a launch event like no other - a complete break from the norm. Forget those stifled images of a whole team together for a day of posed photos with cars, bikes and kit. Turning the standard on its head, it was about getting to know the individual women on the team; who they are, what they're about and what makes them tick. This was about breathing a new lease of life into the launch 'format' - a documentary of how it all went... another nod to The New Cycling.

Months of planning between Sports Director / Manager of Matrix Stef Wyman, and founder of Vulpine Cycling Apparel & team sponsor Nick Hussey, resulted in an amazing all day event. Accompanied by Stef & team mentor Helen Wyman five of the eight team members came to Vulpine HQ on Friday morning to try on some gear, have a few relaxed team photos taken in-between documentary shots of the morning & then each rider was paired-up with their own writer & photographer for the day to interview them & get shots that reflected their style & personality. Then it was off to London cycling cafe Look Mum No Hands for the launch party in the evening. Didn't I say that this was a launch like no other?!

I was thrilled to be selected as one of the writers for the Matrix Launch & to work with professional wedding photographer, huge cycling fan and bloody nice bloke Guy Collier, who also did all of the stunning documentary shots around Vulpine HQ for the day.We were both paired up with rider Jessie Walker, who I had the pleasure of interviewing and doing the shoot with around Brick Lane - famous for its gritty and bright urban graffiti, this was the perfect setting for Jessie with her love for Art and Photography.

At 18, Jessie is the youngest rider with Matrix Fitness Racing Academy, and is entering her second season with the team.
"I’m kinda new to the sport of cycling, compared to a lot of riders" explains Jessie over a hot chocolate in the coffee shop we'd chosen for the day - "But I come from a cycling background because it runs back four generations on my Mum's side of the family... and both my Mum and Dad used to race on an international level!" You could say that cycling is in Jessie's genes, but it wasn't a family expectation that she go into racing - "We would mess about on our bikes on family rides, but I used to do cross-country running with my brother before cycling."
Inspiration to ride on a competitive level came from outside the family circle of cycling for Jessie, after going to watch the 2009 Lincoln Grand Prix - "I went to it with my Dad and saw Russell Downing win the race. He'd done really well and just seeing him win with an amazing finish was incredible, as was the atmosphere." 

The spark which ignited the desire for Jessie to race was burning, and soon enough her Father bought her a road bike, with an interesting first experience on it - which Jessie looks back on and can laugh about... "My Dad was all like 'I'll get you a road bike!' but I'd never ridden a road bike up until then. I tried it out, and you know the first time I rode I think I started crying because I couldn't clip in the pedals! I remember getting to some traffic lights and just falling because I clipped wrong!" 
There is something truly refreshing talking to Jessie about her experiences & the fact that she can indeed smile about it not being perfect the first few times, but getting there is part of the adventure... it certainly gave me inspiration, being a world away from clipped-in riding! "Another time I was riding on this little lane with my brother which was just one track. He stopped infront of me and I was like 'What are you doing?! - Keep going!' I couldn't clip-out and just fell into a nettle bush! I wasn't happy but it's all good fun, isn't it? Clipped-in takes a while to get used to, but soon you just don't think about it - you just do it and go with it." 

Life away from the Matrix Team is a busy affair for Jessie, yet getting out there on a bike still plays a huge part in it... "On recovery days I just like to go for a ride. When it’s a nice day you just want to be out there and just going for a steady ride is just lovely"
It's clear she's dedicated to the 2013 team, but there is the not so small matter of Jessie's studies and just how she balances her education with cycling. Training everyday, along with attending Sixth Form College and revision, Jessie explains it's a demanding regime; "In the week, training is shorter and more intense, with 1-2 hour sessions indoors, or I might go out and do a short ride. The weekend is where I get my longest training sessions."

She's a determined young woman, with a great support unit around her... "I did all my GCSE's without the pressure of cycling which was good and I got my results. Now the pressure is on; I have my A-Levels and 2012 was my first year of racing with Stef's team so I didn't have any [pressure] on me. I just need to finish my A-Levels... my education comes before my cycling and Stef really understands that. He promotes that as much as he can - on the training camps he makes sure we've got Wifi and quiet places to go and study which is so good. I really want to get my results and take it from there" 
Unless you've been living under a rock recently, there is a real boom in women's cycling happening at the moment and a shift in the culture from racing though to fashion. The world is sitting up and paying attention, which is something that Jessie hasn't let pass her by... "I do think the sport it attracting more women. When I first got into cycling I just thought 'this is a man’s sport'; that’s why I didn’t think I’d race a bike. Then when I saw girls racing I thought 'Yeah actually, I want to give that a go... why not?!' and from then it’s getting more girls throughout the years."
"When I go for a ride, I really go for it - I'm sweating and you don’t care…. And then you get off the bike and you try to look nicer… that's why it's nice there are cycling clothing brands out there like Vulpine who are making clothing to look good on and off the bike. Of course, when I've done a hard ride one day and I'm going out that night, I like getting glammed up! I love getting ready, getting dressed up. I’ve got so many dresses…. I think I’ve got too many dresses, but I can’t ride in a dress!" 

Cycling culture and the joy within it is something that has struck a chord with Jessie, as she goes on talk about... "There are so many different types of people who do ride a bike and I love how interesting it is that you can take one simple thing [a bike] and you get all these different people into it. Cycling culture is so varied…. It’s wonderful."

Being part of Matrix Fitness Racing Academy over the past year, both Jessie and the team have gained a lot of attention, and this year is set to be bigger , meaning that she'll more than likely become a role model to other young women who want to get into cycling. It's quite the responsibility to carry - something that Jessie is excited about and getting prepared for...   
"I really like the thought of that…. The other day two little kids, a couple of years younger than us came up to me and my brother. They'd been been watching me in races and told me I’d got them into cycling. They said to their Dad 'I want to be like Jessie!' Just THAT made it all worth while. These little girls had got on their bikes and said 'Do I look like Jessie?!' Inspiring other young girls to get on a bike and ride is really wonderful feeling"

... and Jessie's advice to any young women out there thinking of getting into cycling?
"Give it a go! It’s really good fun… you don’t know till you’ve tried really... so go for it!"


Jessie was an absolute joy to work with for the day; extremely funny, charming, grounded and smart. She has an extremely bright future ahead of her & VCG will certainly be keeping up with Jessie and Matrix and how she continues to develop as both a racer and an inspirational woman.

And of course, a HUGE thank you to Guy Collier for these wonderful photos. Absolute gentleman and I hope to work with him again one day soon.

Lady V x
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4 March 2013

Work It! The Fit Crowd with Sweaty Betty...

When Sweaty Betty contacted me about #TheFitCrowd, they certainly got my curiosity. Then, a couple of weeks later when I got an invitation to attend an evening of fashion and fitness, they definitely got my attention.
Empowering women though fitness is Sweaty Betty's primary aim, and since launching in 1998 there are no signs of this mission slowing down. Their latest stage in this is 'The Fit Crowd' - a collective of likeminded women working together with SB to inspire new communities of fitness focused women. This was something that really appealed to me for two reasons:
  1. My absolute belief in cycling having a wonderful impact on your health and lifestyle
  2. Being inspired myself by other women to cycle and wanting to do the same via VCG
Last week I attended the introduction evening for The Fit Crowd, held at the Sweaty Betty Kings Road boutique. This was a chance to meet the other women who were part of the collective and check out their new range of clothing, with advice from their personal stylists...
All evening photos courtesy of Sweaty Betty.

I've indulged in their clothing before for my forays into Yoga, but never for the other elements of fitness in my life: cycling and running (which I do with the fabulous RetroRunnersLDN group). The notion of having nice pieces of clothing for BOTH cycling and running was ringing in my head while looking though the racks; something for runs with the Retro Girls, as well as for "go harder"days riding on the Clubman. After having a good look though EVERYTHING in the store & trying some pieces on, I'd put together an outfit that would be ace for both. 

So, after the fashion element of the evening, it was time to get into the fitness half of it... which saw The Fit Crowd having a Barrecore class!
We all headed over to the Barrecore Studio, which wasn't too far from the Boutique for an hour long session. This was certainly a new fitness experience for me, having never done it before...
This certainly put muscles I'd not discovered I had though their paces... this class was hard, fast but enjoyable! There was an interesting "burn" in the body doing Barrecore... my face in the last photo probably tells you that to - ha! I can see myself doing this again soon, alongside my cycling... 

It was a fantastic evening and I'm looking forward to working with SB and the rest of The Fit Crowd collective again! Inspiring more women to embrace fitness IS a brilliant thing & something I hope to do more with VCG and getting on your bike!

YOU can also get involved with The Fit Crowd AND win some rather nifty Sweaty Betty gear! To celebrate the launch of the collective, all you need to is:
  1. Take a picture of yourself wearing your favourite fitness outfit 
  2. Tweet the picture to @SweatyBetty_UK
  3. Hashtag it #TheFitCrowd
The person who takes most inspiring and creative picture will win the SB gear along with some Cowshed Spa goodies. Competition ends on 31st March... so get out there with your bikes and go for it!

Watch this space for more #TheFitCrowd updates... 2013 certainly is turning into the year VCG gets its fitness ON.
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