'I coached GB track cyclists to Olympic gold... and then won the National Road Series myself': How Monica Greenwood leapt from trackside to podium

The former GB coach on how she got back on her bike and put theory into practice... with startling results

Monica Greenwood leads the peloton at the Curlew Cup
(Image credit: SWpix.com)

For each article in this long-running WATT WORKS FOR ME series from Cycling Weekly's print edition, we ask a pro rider about their favourite things in training: what has helped them most in getting to where they are today. The aim is to get to the heart of the beliefs and preferences they hold dear when it comes to building form, maximising fitness and ultimately achieving results. For this edition we speak to Monica Greenwood...

How did you first get into cycling? 

Initially I was just a kid on a mountain bike riding with my friends, building jumps and smashing around the streets. When I was 14 or 15 my mum was diagnosed with cancer – she was treated and is fine now – and cycling was my way of getting away from the uncertainty. There weren’t any mountain bike clubs, so I started going to the velodrome in Manchester and got into track cycling.

Why did you switch from racing to coaching?

Like many female athletes reaching their late-teens, I’d discovered life and boys, and needed to earn money. I’d come third at junior nationals but I wasn’t on the national programme, and there was no [development] infrastructure. I trained as a journalist, but while I was qualifying I started coaching with my local club and then decided I wanted to be a coach full-time.

Fifteen years later, you’ve returned to racing – why now? 

I’d been gradually increasing my training volume since 2018, and did some local races on the quiet. The hardest bit was making my racing more public – because of my job [as GB women’s endurance head coach], it would have been embarrassing to do badly. During lockdown, I was furloughed for a while, and again my way of coping with the uncertainty was by riding my bike. Over the next couple of years as Podium coach we won several titles including the Madison [with Katie Archibald and Laura Kenny] at the Olympics – a career pinnacle. Next I wanted to find out what I could achieve as a rider.

Laura Kenny with coach Monica Greenwood at the Tokyo Olympic velodrome

(Image credit: Getty Images)

What did you learn from your coaching career that you’ve applied to your own racing?

My husband [Ben Greenwood, GB Podium endurance coach] put it nicely when he said, “Most people learn what they should have done only after they’re too old to do it – but you’re just about young enough to put it into practice.” It definitely helps. I know what good numbers are, what good training is. I still don’t get everything right, though. For example, I didn’t rest enough while I was still coaching, and sometimes I expect more from myself than I would from an athlete I was coaching.

Does it feel odd being the rider, not the coach?

To be honest, I forget that it’s me. In recent UCI races, I’d find myself thinking about positioning as though I was telling Katie Archibald where to be: “You wanna be second wheel at the last corner” – and I’d forget that I’m me! It’s good because I don’t really think about it, I just do it. Also, I’m used to learning the weaknesses of rivals, meaning I’m less intimidated.

What have you taken from the best riders you coached?

The best athletes don’t wait for answers or advice, they drive the process themselves. What’s world-class about them is their head; something in their mindset that is on another level. For example, I coached Tom Pidcock as a youth and he basically fooled the whole of Yorkshire into thinking he didn’t train. One day he left his notepad behind after a session, and I picked it up expecting to see little more than doodles of penises, but the diagrams were outrageously sophisticated with incredible levels of detail – better than the slides we’d shown them! It was clear, this kid wasn’t messing around.

How do you push hard without overtraining?

I’m not scared of being tired. At certain points, I want to be knackered. Sometimes that’s the hard part in knowing how hard to push. Equally, I know when I need to go pretty easy to come back from that level of tiredness. If I don’t want to ride, that’s the biggest warning sign that I need more rest.

What's your favourite session?

My favourite session is actually unstructured: go out, pick three climbs, the first being five to eight minutes, the second, three to five minutes, the last one, a couple of minutes. I’ll ride each one at VO2max intensity, with the recoveries being the duration of the descents.

RIDER PROFILE: MONICA GREENWOOD

Age: 34
Height: 5ft 7in 
Raised: Cheshire 
Lives: Macclesfield, Cheshire
FTP: 275W (estimated) 
Rides for: Team Coop–Repsol
Best results: 4th – Leiedal Koerse (2023); 5th – GP Eco-Struct (2023)
Social media: @monngreenwood monmoogreenwood

QUICK-FIRE FAVES

Distraction on the turbo? Angry hip-hop from the Nineties or Noughties 

Place to ride? The Peak District

Type of race course? Three-minute punchy climbs, some cobble sections, slightly uphill finish 

Inspirational cyclist or sportsperson? My husband – he was the catalyst to my falling back in love with bike riding 

Dream race to win? Tour of Flanders 

Post-race treat? Anything from Mrs B’s – Belfields bakery in Macclesfield

Sport or hobby outside of cycling? Horse riding

Quality in a training partner? Either climbing or sprinting ability – so I know where I can beat them and where I can’t

The full version of this article was published in the 12 October 2023 print edition of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe online and get the magazine delivered to your door every week.

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