Leah Dixon thought her dream of competing with the world’s best would become a reality this year – instead she has come out on top in the new cycling world of virtual reality.
The 28-year-old Welsh cyclist, riding for Team Tibco Silicon Valley Bank, won the first ever V-Women’s Tour by nearly 22 seconds on Friday night.
It was not the sort of victory Dixon – an athlete who only started riding in 2016 – envisaged after signing her first professional contract in January 2020.
The rider from Aberdare was, like her rivals and team-mates, looking forward to the real event.
Instead, that ambition fell victim to the coronavirus pandemic and waits for June 2021 to be fulfilled.
“I’m really pleased to have won the virtual women’s tour, it was a really intense few days of racing,” Dixon told BBC Sport Wales.
“We went into it with some team tactics, they didn’t necessarily go to plan to start with after my team-mate Lauren [Stephens] had a virtual mechanical on stage one [when the internet drops out so the avatar stops moving], but we were able to reframe and go again with a different plan.
“We were able to work together all the way to the line. Stage three was a very brutal criterium that never really calmed down. I spent a long time with a max heart rate of 190 and was just trying to hold on.
“It was really painful, I found the race really tough. I felt like from lap 15 I was just counting down the laps. It was really tough.”
The stage race, which has been held in Britain every year since 2014, was due to take place from 8-13 June.
“I didn’t really have that many expectations going into the race. I’ve done quite a bit of virtual racing in the past. I used to ride a lot on a turbo trainer, but when you’re in a race against professional cyclists that’s a completely different ball game,” said Dixon.
“I was pretty nervous and excited to be racing against some of my heroes and for me, the Women’s Tour was the race that I really wanted to do this year so I was really happy to be able to do it in some capacity.”
Dixon started cycling in 2016 having previously struggled with injuries while competing in athletics.
“I kept fit and concentrated on my education instead, and then I bought a road bike as a way of keeping fit and things snowballed from there,” she explained.
“I’m now in a really fortunate position to have support from Welsh Cycling and the Wales Racing Academy, as well as being on my first professional UCI team.”
Dixon also has a job working as a procurement manager, which she juggles alongside her cycling training.
“I have a reduced hours contract. I’m really lucky to be part of such a supportive environment both from Tibco Silicon Valley Bank and from a work perspective,” she said.
Dixon says this year has been a “roller-coaster” from the highs of getting her first professional contract for everything to change a few months later as Covid-19 struck.
“We were out in Belgium when the lockdown actually happened and I’d just done one of my first ever classics races and I was really excited to be in these races and racing against my heroes. That was when things slowly started to get cancelled,” she said.
“From a coaching perspective, we just decided to try and reframe things and not really aim for a specific race because what would happen if that then got cancelled?
“My goals are still to help Tibco Silicon Valley Bank to a successful season, do my job and learn the ropes as a new professional cyclist, but also to hopefully represent Great Britain one day, and to represent Wales at the Commonwealth Games, which, as far as we’re aware, is still in 2022.
“Even from when I was a junior athlete as a runner, I remember watching Wales compete in the Commonwealth Games and just being like ‘I want to be there’. I’d love to be there one day.”
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