In this week’s Lockdown Lowdown, we turn the spotlight on Welsh rider, Leah Dixon, who recently claimed top honors at ŠKODA V-Women’s Tour. Dixon is in her first year with Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank and transitioned to cycling from a running background. During quarantine, Dixon has quickly become adept at virtual racing, however, like all of us, she can't wait to get back on the road with her teammates! We chatted with Dixon about her move to a pro cycling career, favorite sporting moments, and what she likes best about being a part of Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank.
How did you get your start in cyciing? What drew you to the sport?
Leah Dixon: I started cycling pretty late, having first bought a bike for my 26th birthday in August 2016.
I've done sport all my life having started ballet at three and karate at 5 (I have a black belt in karate). I started athletics when I was eight after attending a summer camp in the school holidays and fell in love with the sport. I competed until I was about 19 with some success ( seven Welsh National titles across 1500m - Cross Country). I was lucky enough to have some great experiences, go to some amazing events, and meet lifelong friends. My dream was always to be a professional athlete.
When I went to University, I seemed to get injured quite a lot. It was possibly because of a variety of things, including overtraining, running too much on the road, and probably more importantly, not listening to my body. I developed chronic shin splints. After a couple of years of a continuous cycle of being unfit or injured, I'd lost the love for the sport, so I decided to focus on my education and the university 'experience.' Since then, I completed an undergraduate degree in English Literature and History, and a Masters degree in Strategic Procurement Management. Just to add, I may have lost the love for competing in athletics, but I am still a huge athletics fan and can quote you all sorts of stats about athletes, events, and the history of the sport.
After University, I moved from home in Wales to the West Midlands for work. I still kept fit by running or going to the gym, etc., but without competing. I watched the 2016 London Marathon and saw some great performances from ladies I used to compete against and thought, 'if they can do that, maybe I can' so I rather ambitiously entered the 2017 Brighton Marathon. Started training (or overtraining) again, and shock got injured again. To cross-train, I started doing some (what seemed like crazy) ironman sessions on a watt bike in the gym when my dad suggested I buy a road bike, so that's what I did (albeit, at the time, I didn't know the bike was too big for me and missing a stem cap).
I mostly just rode the bike at weekends when I went home and chased segments on Strava. While at work in Wolverhampton, I saw an advert for a Women's only session at Aldersely Velodrome with Wolverhampton Wheelers. So off I went with my bike, despite never having ridden in a group before and not being able to ride clip-ins! It was here that I fell in love with the sport. I started going to more sessions and enjoyed seeing my progress as I got fitter and became more confident. I did my first race in 2017 and haven't looked back since (or run a marathon).
What do you love most about cycling?
LD: I'm so new to the sport that I am still improving in all aspects. I enjoy pushing myself and seeing the progress that comes from hard work. I want to see how far I can go.
I enjoy the tactical aspect of the race and how it's rarely the strongest person who wins the race, but often the smartest. I also enjoy how you have to take risks in races, and sometimes you have to be prepared to lose to win. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't but either way its a lot of fun!
I love the team aspect of cycling and how it takes a whole team to get a result. You have to be reliant on your teammates to do their job in a race, and you have to do yours. I like the feeling of responsibility and accountability. I don't want to finish a race and be the reason my teammate hasn't got the result they were aiming for. I like the idea we can all help each other to succeed.
From a training and travel perspective, I love all the places my bike can take me. Even in lockdown, I feel like I have been able to take time to appreciate my surroundings. I've spent a lot of time recently exploring the Derbyshire countryside!
Since you've started racing, you've finished first on Stage 2 and the overall at the 2019 Tour of the Reservoir, second overall in UK National Series 2020, earned the Most Combative Rider Jersey on Stage 1 of the 2019 Women's Tour De Yorkshire and, most recently, took first on Stage 2 and GC in the Skoda Virtual Womens Tour 2020. Which one meant the most to you and why?
LD: The one that means the most to me is Tour De Yorkshire. It was the biggest race I had done to date. The support on the roads as we rode through Yorkshire was amazing and one that I will never forget. It was definitely a race that made me think that I want more of this.
What has been the most challenging moment you've experienced so far? How did you work through it?
LD: The most challenging moment for me on a bike was probably the whole Tour of Ardeche race we did in 2019. At this point, I still had a full-time job and the race would be the longest amount of time I had ever been on a bike in a week, let alone the longest stage race and the most amount of climbing. It was a lot tougher than I expected, and I think while I struggled physically, I also struggled mentally and emotionally as I felt like I couldn't help the team.
I got through it with the help of some great teammates who gave me help, advice, and encouragement through to the last day and also with the mindset that if I could get through this, nothing else would seem as hard!
What advice would you give someone wanting to start out in cycling?
LD: My advice would be to enjoy and have fun! Cycling is a great sport whether you want to ride to your local cafe right through to being a professional.
What are you are you hoping to accomplish during your professional career?
LD: As a first-year professional cyclist, I have a lot to learn! My short term goals when the season restarts are to gain experience, do my job, and hopefully help the team succeed. Long term, I would like to see how far I can go in the sport, represent Great Britain, and go to the Commonwealth Games.
From a personal life perspective, I still work part-time, so short term would be to get better at managing a hectic lifestyle! And convince my boyfriend, Jacob, to buy a cat.