Dani King has been busy lately: a training camp in Belgium, dressing up as a sumo wrestler to cheer on her team-mates, and she has now ridden her first race of the season — claiming victory with boyfriend Matt Rowe in the Port Talbot Wheelers two-up 25-mile time trial.
“Physically I’m in really good shape, and it’s nice to be out here with the team,” said King during a recent interview at the Wiggle-Honda team launch.
Back from the brink
This is a far cry from where the 24-year-old was four months ago when it seemed for a moment as though it was game over for the Olympic champion: she was brought down in training, crashing after a member of the group she was riding with hit a pothole. King suffered a punctured lung and several broken ribs, and feared she may never ride again.
“I was back on my bike in the hospital a couple of days after the crash. That’s because where I had my collapsed lung it was good to do some sort of physical exercise so I wouldn’t get a chest infection. But it was 10 weeks before I was training properly. I still feel pain in my ribs sometimes. But it’s more of a mental battle for me now.”
King was determined to resume riding as quickly as possible, and did so with support from family, friends and boyfriend Matt — brother of Team Sky rider Luke Rowe — accompanying her on the bike.
“The biggest thing was facing the fear. But if you don’t get out, then it just builds up and it ends up even worse,” she said.
Her forced break may have coincided with the off-season, but time off the bike nonetheless set back her fitness by several weeks. This meant that, as her team-mates rode the European road racing season opener Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, King was confined to the sidelines in a support role.
“I never get to watch races from the roadside. I love the fact people dress up and really get into the race,” laughed King. “Jolien [d’Hoore] my team-mate had sumo suits, so me and Nettie [Edmondson] decided this was a brilliant idea.”
Despite dropping off the Olympic programme last year, King ultimately hopes to gain selection for the Rio 2016 team pursuit squad through gaining strength on the road. In the near future, the Wiggle-Honda rider will compete in the Tour of the Reservoir, then race for her team in European Spring Classics. Other target races include the Women’s Tour, Tour Series and the National Championships. She hopes this endurance work will improve her performance over 4km in the team pursuit.
King thinks that, with so many phenomenal riders, getting a place for Rio 2016 will be harder than in 2012, but she remains focused on giving her best shot. “Since the accident, I’ve found a lot of perspective, and this gives me the motivation for Rio,” she explained. “Chris Hoy is a cycling role model I really look up to. He is such a nice guy who has always been there to offer me advice.”
Losing her London 2012 pursuit team-mates Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell from Wiggle-Honda was an opportunity to push herself even harder.
“I was sad when they left Wiggle-Honda,” King sighed. “But in hindsight it is a good thing because if I’m going to establish myself back into the pursuit team, it’ll be fresh and dynamic again. I’ll still see them on the road and we communicate most days on social media.”
Fierce competition for Rio places
Great Britain’s female team pursuit squad is blessed with strength in depth that few countries can match, so in trying to regain her place in the Rio Olympic line-up, Dani King is up against some tough competition.
King last raced for GB at the track World Cup round held in Aguascalientes, Mexico, in December 2013. The quartet of King, Katie Archibald, Elinor Barker and Joanna Rowsell posted two world records at the event, the fastest of which was recently beaten by Australia at this year’s World Championships in Paris.
Rowsell, 26, is the longest-serving member of the team: she made her international debut in the event at the 2008 Worlds and has competed with 10 other riders in that time. Although the GB coaches have been experimenting with the team’s starting order in recent months, she is seemingly still the best ‘man one’ in the squad.
Archibald hasn’t been out of the starting line-up since making her debut at the European Track Championships in October 2013, while Elinor Barker’s run in the team dates impressively back to the Glasgow Track World Cup meeting in November 2012.
Also getting a look in is Ciara Horne. The 25-year-old raced in last year’s European Championships and London World Cup round, but was unused at February’s Worlds.
Interestingly, at this stage of the pre-London 2012 build-up, King and Laura Trott had both made just one international meeting appearance each, Wendy Houvenaghel was a mainstay of
the starting line-up, and Dame Sarah Storey was in contention for an Olympic spot.
Since then, Trott has become one of the stars of British cycling. Consistently reliable, only illness or injury look likely to keep the double Olympic champion out of the starting line-up come Rio.
Words by Maria David
This article was originally printed in the March 26, 2015 issue of Cycling Weekly