It was 2014 when Neah Evans first started riding track league at the velodrome in Glasgow, just four years later she was stood in that same velodrome on the top of the European championship podium as part of a women’s team pursuit team, three of which were the reigning Olympic champions.
This weekend she makes her world championship debut in Pruszkow, Poland, riding the women’s Madison with Elinor Barker after Katie Archibald was pulled from the event due to concussion.
It’s another step up in the Scotswoman’s rapid rise through the cycling ranks. The start of that rise only followed an injury to her ACL from her previous sporting-career as a fell runner.
When she got injured a little parental interference changed things. “My Dad used to cycle and he encouraged me. I did a few bike rides but nothing serious and then I started going along with the Glasgow Wheelers on the Sunday club runs,” says the 28-year-old.
Then came an entry to track league racing and after she “fell in with some sprinters” she was invited to try out for the Scottish Cycling programme and accepted in March 2015.
Though Evans now rides endurance events she has only been doing so since November 2016. “Sprinting was really good because most races come down to the sprint, it was a bit of a fast forward to the end of every race. It was good for the skills how to ride your bike, how to move it about while out the saddle,” she says.
When CW first meet Evans at the National Track Championships in 2017 she was still working as a vet – she worked a 10-hour shift the Monday after that weekend in which she claimed three bronze and one silver medal, and was still on call the day after that.
When we caught up with her again at the end of 2018 she says turning her back on a vetinary career – “my old boss sends me messages offering me my job back” – to pursue a dream “riding in circles, turning left” has made her cycling career less pressured than it might otherwise of been.
“I can’t complain, when I’m having a bad day on the bike I know I’ve chose to be here I made the decision this is what I want to try and do, it’s not my only option,” she explains. “I can’t say I don’t want to do this, why are you making me do it.
She laughs and adds: “I did not have that mindset on Sunday though when I was out for four and a half hours in 3C and hail stones and snow in North Aberdeenshire, I was hating life. Ultimately it’s my choice, I could have been in a vets surgery nice and warm having a cup of tea saving some bunny rabbits.”
Evans is fiercely intelligent a trait that clearly runs in the family as her two brothers are an engineer working in the South Pole and a physicist respectively. That is a fact she whips out to show that her home schooling (her mother is a qualified teacher) for much of her childhood didn’t put her at any disadvantage.
By her own admission she’s also very competitive, she says that competitiveness is partly why she questions how much progress she’s made since joining the Podium Programme, from which she hopes to bag a spot on the team pursuit squad in Tokyo.
But when she later says her biggest road win at the Cicle Classic earlier this year was almost a fluke as she was training through the race and attacked mostly so she didn’t have to follow other riders across the notoriously tricky off-road sectors we do wonder if she’s being overly modest about how far she’s come.
Of the British classic she adds: “I can thank my parents they used to have a driveway that was rough and bumpy it was good practice for riding that loose gravel down a hill with pot holes.”
But it’s not entirely, as had been suggested to CW, that competitiveness that stops her playing games with her BC team-mates on the inevitable long journeys to and from races. “I’ll play if I can win but a lot of them are spelling and word association and I’m dyslexic so I’m not getting involved in that,” she protests.
Evans has already bagged two World Cup medals this winter, silver in the Madison and bronze in the Omnium both in Paris. The competition to make the women’s team pursuit four for Tokyo is one of the fiercest at British Cycling and Evans says she tries to learn from all her team-mates – the craftyness of Laura Kenny, the power of Katie Archibald – in a methodical approach.
While the Olympics remain the ultimate goal she says she’d like to “pick up some other titles along the way”. Tokyo is a long way from Glasgow but for Evans, it might not be that far at all.
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