At the age of 34 most office workers have long given up on any pipedream they may have had of being a professional athlete, let alone being successful at it. Not Laura Massey.
She decided that would be the perfect age to take a six-month sabbatical from her job as a consultant to the pharmaceutical industry and throw herself into life as a full-time cyclist.
The result? A place representing Great Britain at the forthcoming Road World Championships, supporting reigning champion Lizzie Deignan (nee Armitstead) in Doha on 15 October.
It is quite a far cry from the day job of a woman who had never been in a professional team before – and one who by her own admission was “a liability” when she took up cycling with a local club in Cambridge.
She told BBC Radio Cambridgeshire: “You’re squeezing the training in around work, travelling, in meetings in London and then rushing to races around the country, fatigued through life stress.
“I’d wondered how much of a difference all that makes and over the last couple of years it’s been niggling at me.
“So this year I thought: ‘Go on and do it so at least you could see and won’t have to think what if, and giving yourself the right environment like more sleep, eating better and really focusing on training’.”
Her new cycling team Drops were joining the international competition circuit governed by cycling’s governing body the UCI and so the 2015 British Masters Road Race champion decided to take the plunge into “proper racing”.
After finishing work in February, the Cambridge University graduate headed to Spain on her own for a month to get racing fit before joining her team for the start of the season.
Massey’s Drops were a completely new team, and not just to the UCI circuit.
“Our first race was the Tour of Flanders in Belgium in April and we were all very intimidated because no-one knew who Drops were,” she said.
“Everyone else seemed really professional with their team vehicles and vans and we saw Lizzie and Marianne Vos and we were thinking we’re a bit out of our depth.
“It’s just become normal to us now that we’re riding alongside the best riders in the world, have a professional set up and are accepted.”
In July’s Thuringen stage race in Germany, Massey was tasked with being the “last woman that can survive” with team-mate Alice Barnes, and her display put her into the minds of the GB Road Race World Championship selectors.
Her form, particularly in the heat, carried on into the late season, giving her an unexpected end to 2016.
“When I heard about the Worlds I didn’t at first think I would necessarily get selected because of the nature of the course,” Massey said.
“It’s likely to be a bunch sprint as it’s quite flat and I’m more suited to grippy, hillier, harder, attritional races.
“Having some late form, showing I could race in the heat, put me in with a good chance of being selected, so when I heard I was in the team I was very excited and it was a good way to end the sabbatical.”
Massey returned to her day job in September but is part of a nine-women team who will compete in Doha. And she says the experience gained has shown her the difference between top-level athletes and the rest.
“I’ve loved this year. This six months has been one of the best I’ve done,” she added.
“I’ve improved a lot as a bike rider, seeing how the professional peloton works, the race tactics and bike handling, all the extra bits on top of the fitness.
“Once you get to that level, everyone is pretty similar in terms of ability and fitness. It’s more the tactics, the skill and the confidence that make the difference.”
And how about another year, now she has turned 35?
“I’m tempted to do it again because a lot of it is about experience and once you’ve done the races once you know how they work, who the teams are and their tactics,” added Massey.
“In the second year, you’d have a lot more confidence and use that in races.
“But I guess for me, I’m not someone in my early 20s for whom cycling is my career. I’ve got a different career, a house and a mortgage, so I need to think about it carefully but my heart is tempted.”
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/cycling/37540060