There was a lot of emotion when Lizzy Banks won her first professional race at last month’s Giro Rosa. Post-race tears dried, she stood on the podium, thrust both arms straight upwards, and let out a shout. “Yes!”
What was she thinking? “I had always wanted one of the Astoria [Prosecco] bottles and then I ended up getting one for myself!” she laughs. “You have so many emotions that it’s impossible to translate that into one feeling or one thought. It’s only afterwards, when you come out of the bubble of cycling and get back home to normality that you realise what it means.”
Having started road racing only in 2015, Banks’s rise to the WorldTour has been a rapid one. But her victory in stage eight of the longest race on the women’s calendar was not a culmination, more a step on a path Banks has laid out before her.
“Ultimately I want to be the best rider in the world,” she asserts with no hint of arrogance. “There’s nothing more admired in the sport than riding with those rainbow bands. The national bands would be incredible, but to have those world champion’s bands, that’s something that stays with you for the rest of your life.”
Along with winning a UCI road race, one of the 28-year-old’s 2019 goals is to be selected for this year’s Worlds, where she would become a part of the supporting cast for Lizzie Deignan’s victory bid, but with no time limit set on her own lofty ambition it is not necessarily Yorkshire she is targeting.
“I haven’t set one and I don’t think there’s a need to. I think it’s a shame when people do set time frames; you don’t how long you’re going to be on this journey and anything can happen in sport, good or bad.
“Many of my competitors have been riding professionally for over 10 years. All the big girls, [Marianne] Vos, [Anna] van der Breggen, Lizzie Deignan, Ellen van Dijk, Annemiek [van Vleuten], Chantal [Blaak] all have 10 years of professional conditioning in their legs.
“It’s really important to remember that sometimes when you’re frustrated in a race or you’re not getting the results that you want, they just don’t happen overnight, with the people we’re competing against it’s not that easy.
“I don’t want children so I have no physiological or maternal time limit, so for as long as I’m enjoying it and I’m injury-free I’ll keep going.”
While any athlete relies on physiological gifts, no one can achieve without psychological strength and it would be fair to say Banks has plenty of character.
No one who saw her powerful, goading and cajoling breakaway ride during May’s Tour de Yorkshire could deny Banks’s fortitude. However, her mental strength goes beyond that, as does her conviction, which saw her quit medical school in the final year of a seven-year course to pursue her cycling dream.
“I’ve always been bloody-minded and I think that is the main strength of character that makes me a good athlete,” says Sheffield-based Banks. “I have to be in a very privileged position to have the opportunity to go to medical school, but I did have a really s**t childhood and from an incredibly young age I learnt to be resilient to survive. That trait has really been what’s brought me on this path.”
Whatever Banks’s mental toughness, leaving university to pursue a professional cycling career was a risk, especially as the decision was made before landing her 2018 contract with US team United Healthcare and even now she is still unable to earn what she may have done as a junior doctor.
“I had the support of my husband, obviously the emotional and moral support, but more importantly the financial support because I couldn’t survive on my salary. Things are changing and salaries are improving, but still when you start it’s not possible.
“It’s not possible to have the structure like the men because the sponsorship infrastructure is not there, so it’s difficult. It angers me that it’s a sport that you can only do if you have the financial backing.”
This is an excerpt from a feature in this week’s Cycling Weekly magazine. Available now in newsagents and supermarkets priced £3.25
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