Ipswich, Suffolk, Great Britain
26 MAY 2015 – IPSWICH, GBR – British Individual Women’s Cycle Speedway champion Charlie-Jane Herbert at the Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club, track
Charlie-Jane Herbert’s interest started when she was seven. Her older brother had persuaded the family to watch him race. When the organisers told spectators that there were enough bikes for them to all have a go she found the sport for her. No plans though to emulate Nicole Cooke who was then making a name for herself in women’s road cycling, the sport that had caught Herbert’s eye was cycle speedway.
Since the sport’s heyday in post WWII Britain the number of those racing has dropped dramatically, however one visible area of growth in recent years has been in the number of female riders.
21 JUN 2015 – LONDON, GBR – Charlie-Jane Herbert (left) of Ipswich Eagles challenges Nick Gunkel (right) of East London for position at the first bend during their South East League Two cycle speedway fixture at Canning Town Recreation Ground in London, Great Britain
“There was only like a handful (when I started),” says Herbert, the current British Individual Women’s Champion, “and now you’ve got so many girls and women racing all over the country its opened up their own league and given us the chance to race either with the women or against the boys.”
Along with the women’s league now offering regular racing through four regional teams there are also a club championships and individual women’s and girl’s heats at regional and national championships.
“There never used to be as many women racing as there are now. You can see it progress because now you’ve got girls who actually are a threat to some of the boys and you can see it growing because you get more and more girls turn up each time you go away.”
With cycle speedway the only type of cycle racing that permits contact between riders, falls and collisions can be a regular part of the sport. Does she think that puts some women off taking part ? “I think it does because I tried to get friends to come down and try it and they’d see me turn up with cuts or bruises, and at one point I broke my ribs, so they were like ‘No, I don’t want to do that because I don’t want to have a cut’ and ‘I don’t want to have a bruise’.
“I think its got more physical this year because you have the worlds and people are really trying to show they are capable of winning.”
Whilst a student she was even able to add in extra training to her schedule using a local Park and Ride area to practice her gating (starting), sprinting and pickup (pedalling again as she comes out of a bend) in her quest for the British title.
This year, with the pressures and constraints of work, the opportunities to train have become more limited. The twice a week training of last year has been cut to one, but more intense, session a week where team mates at her new club will encourage her to keep riding when her legs begin to tire or she starts getting out of breath.
“It keeps you going so you get used to say two on the trot races. You have done the training work, you have had to keep going. If your legs are going or a race keeps getting rerun after a couple of laps it benefits you that way.”
Herbert has now raced twice for Great Britain, first as a junior in Australia in 2013 and then against the Australians in the recent Test Series.
Even though cycle speedway lacks the high profile of other cycling disciplines, being selected for the Great Britain team is still clearly important to her. “It is such a magical feeling because it shows that all the effort you have put into training and matches you’ve actually been recognised for, and you have actually got to the top flight where you can actually put a shirt on to represent your country. At one point when you are younger and see the older lot racing you think ‘I’ll never get that’ and then you do and you are like ‘I’ve actually worked and achieved something that I never thought possible and was once a dream’.”
So how would she feel if she won the Women’s World Individual title ? “When I won my British title I was speechless. To win something even bigger, I would probably still be lost for words. It would be something I have only ever dreamed of actually achieving.”
26 MAY 2015 – IPSWICH, GBR – British Individual Women’s Cycle Speedway champion Charlie-Jane Herbert at the Ipswich Cycle Speedway Club track
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