A Picture in Time
Date: January 30th, 2012
Where: West Pennine Moors
Features: Joanna Rowsell Shand
Photo and words: Chris Sidwells
Olympic medals are made of this, Joanna Rowsell Shand alone on a freezing cold day on the West Pennine Moors putting in the hard yards. This stuff is rarely seen on TV, but the best do it as a matter of course. Joanna returned from a tough British Cycling training camp in balmy Mallorca a couple of days before, and the watery sun did nothing to dull the chill of this ride.
I’d met Joanna at her house just north of Manchester. We were going to get some photos of her favourite training ride for a Cycling Weekly feature, but given the weather; just above freezing, snow on the moor-tops and patches of ice, I suggested we take my car, drive to the most scenic parts of her ride and get the photos there. Then I would get her back home double-quick so she could ride on her turbo trainer. But that’s not an Olympic medallist’s solution.
“I’ve got to push it a bit today,” she said. “We start a block of intensive track training tomorrow and I always need a day to get my body going. We had two hard weeks in Mallorca, then I rested this weekend, but if I take another easy day my body won’t be ready for the intensity of the training we start tomorrow, so it won’t get the full benefit from it.”
The London Olympics were six months away. This day, the day after, the day after that, they were crucial parts of the build-up. Oh, and by the way, when Joanna said she’d rested at the weekend, she rode all this training route the day before just to check it be would passable for the photo-shoot.
“It’s okay going up the hills, but I’ll stick to the main roads going down,” she shouted on the glacial hilltop where I took this photo. And that’s what she did, the main roads were treated so ice free, and on the minor ones Joanna just dodged the icy bits.
After two and a half hours she was back home unscathed, and I started breathing again. Not just because I’d been worried about her safety, I didn’t fancy explaining to her coaches that I’d broken one of British Cycling’s medal certainties for London. Because that’s what she was.
Rowsell Shand’s Olympic event was the team pursuit, and 2012 was the first time it was included in the Games. It was only introduced to the UCI world championships in 2008, and when this photo was taken Team GB had won gold medal four times out of five. The one time they didn’t win gold they took the silver.
Of course all the hard work paid off in London with not only gold for Rowsell Shand and her team mates, but 12 medals including eight golds for British cyclists. Joanna won gold in the Rio Olympics in 2016 too, as well as five world titles. No doubt clocking up more freezing cold rides in the process.