Sarah Storey interview: Paralympic legend in unknown territory as she battles rush hour

Dame about to embark on bold bid to break cycling’s distance record in London

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The Independent Online

There is a mystique about the hour record, from sepia-tinted early attempts to the “Superman” era of Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman, to Rohan Dennis’s new record set earlier this month. It is the simplicity of man and machine against the clock for one relentless hour of fearsome pedalling that taps into the wider public’s psyche.

But what about the women? Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel set their record when she covered 46.065km in 2003.

On Saturday, Dame Sarah Storey will attempt to break the Dutchwoman’s mark, fittingly at the Olympic Velodrome where she added two Paralympic golds to her tally of 11 in cycling and swimming, the sport in which she first made her name.

So it may seem odd that someone who places such importance on getting into the record books, and plots meticulously to do so, has never watched a full attempt on the hour record.

When Dennis achieved his landmark in Switzerland on 8 February, Storey had had every intention of watching, only to be sidetracked by her 20-month-old daughter Louisa.

“I only watched the last 35 minutes as Louisa had me playing football,” she says. “It’s the first time I’ve watched anything like that and it was hugely impressive. It was a Hollywood ending with him lifting his bike over his head. I fully expect to be grovelling around and then collapsing on the track.”

The 37-year-old may be a newcomer to cycling’s most in-vogue discipline but she is well aware of the potential horrors, having spoken to Dr Michael Hutchinson about his unsuccessful attempt, which became the 2006 book The Hour. “Hopefully it doesn’t end the same way,” she says.

Storey was born without a functioning left hand but is a competitor of such singular focus that she came within a whisker of earning a place in the Great Britain women’s pursuit line-up for the London Olympics.

Breaking the hour record was never a dream of hers though – it was suggested by the Revolution series organisers, to run in conjunction with Alex Dowsett’s stab at the men’s mark, now delayed after a training crash.

Storey says it plays to her strengths – “I love training for hours on end” – but it has ejected her quite abruptly from her comfort zone. She does not expect to do a track ride of more than 30 to 40 minutes in training, which means the last 20 minutes are “the great unknown”.

“Normally, you’ve rehearsed and rehearsed,” she says. “Not this. The hour is so acute and I don’t know how it will be. You can train to give yourself an idea but you’ll never fully know until that moment. It’s such a fine balancing act of not overdoing it, so there’s not the issue of a stitch or dehydration.”

Sarah Storey won Great Britain’s first medal of the 2014 World Paracycling Track Championships


Nor has she any idea of how her body will react, adding “best ask me afterwards”. But she has experience at shutting out pain, focusing solely on turning pedal after pedal in relentless pursuit of that 12-year-old mark.

“I won’t be thinking about anything else outside my little bubble,” she says. “I won’t get the chance to consider anything else but what I’m doing: can I maintain this pace, what my coach says on the die, what’s my head position, can I feel my helmet? The mind’s taken up with plenty already.”

An hour record is impressive enough in its own right but attempting it while still breast-feeding is even more remarkable. Louisa will be in the stands with Storey’s parents, although Storey expects her to miss her crowning glory by falling asleep, as she did at a raucous velodrome in Glasgow last month.

But she believes parenthood will help rather than hinder her challenge: “You just have to find ways to make it work. There are difficulties, like driving to the start of a training ride and Louisa wanting a feed, but that could just be her wanting my attention.

“Sport means you have to travel [much of the preparation has been done in Lanzarote] and it’s important we stay together as a family.”

There has been a spate of sporting super mums, namely Jo Pavey and Shelley Rudman, while Jessica Ennis-Hill is attempting to get back to the peak of her powers after giving birth last summer. Storey describes her fellow athlete mothers as “inspiring”.

Sarah Storey


Her preparations have not been without glitches, including a respiratory infection.More detrimental, she believes, was being snowed in, costing her the chance of a long run at speed at Derby velodrome.

The biggest question is whether she will do it. “Confidence can be beneficial but also detrimental. What I would say is that I’ve not really thought about the outcome. I just have to get to the start line and see where the hour takes me.”

Dame Sarah Storey’s attempt at the hour record is part of a weekend of elite racing at the Revolution Series on 27-28 February with tickets from £10 to £45 available at or (0844) 8542016