Evie Richards reveals the physical and mental toll of becoming a professional cyclist

Evie Richards, Britain’s first elite women’s mountain bike cross-country world champion and Commonwealth champion in the same discipline, has revealed the physical and mental costs of reaching such heights.

“After leaving school at 16 to join the British Cycling Academy and focus on becoming a professional rider, my periods stopped,” Richards said in a wide range. BBC (opens in a new tab) Reportage. “Over the next five years, I only had three menstrual cycles because I exercised too much and didn’t eat properly or enough.

“When I spoke to the doctors, I was told that losing your period was very common as a professional female athlete, and that it was nothing out of the norm or something to worry about. “

In the years that followed, Richards learned that it was a symptom of relative energy deficiency in sport (Red-S), a condition that can affect both men and women caused by insufficient caloric intake and / or excessive energy expenditure, according to a study published by the British Medical Journal. It can have adverse effects on many parts of the body, including the menstrual cycle, bone health, and cardiovascular health.

In an attempt to mold herself into a more traditional “climber” physique, Richards also became obsessed with her weight.

“No one ever told me it was unhealthy except my mum. I remember one time when I came home after winning silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia and she just to say I looked like a bag of bones, Richards said.

“I was always told I wasn’t cut out to be a climber, and I thought people were probably right – but it just made me more competitive and obsessed with my weight to make sure I would be considered sufficiently “small”.

“It only stopped when I started working on changing my mindset and my refueling. When I became world champion, I showed everyone that I didn’t need to be thin to be fast on the slopes.

By sharing her story, Richards hopes to set a good example for budding young cyclists, teaching them how to fuel up properly and avoid eating disorders.

“I see some of the athletes I race against posting their weight on social media and it makes me angry because it literally breaks a young girl’s heart – she will see it and chase after being so thin on the scales, like I did,” she said.

“I want to see a lot of girls start cycling, but more importantly I want a lot of happy athletes and it doesn’t help when you see people running around looking so sick. You run better when you are happy and healthy.

“I was obsessed with racing and winning”

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</div><figcaption itemprop=Evie Richards at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games (Image credit: Getty Images)

Richards traces her love of sport and competition back to her childhood when, determined to reach the Olympics, she played basketball, rounder and hockey before discovering cycling.

Soon after, Richards was selected for the British Cycling Academy in Manchester and competed in her first World Championships in Norway, aged 16.

“I remember…I thought my life was amazing. I just wanted to do this forever. After moving to Manchester and joining the Academy, that feeling changed,” she said.

“I was obsessed with cycling and winning, but at the same time I lost all pleasure in riding my bike.”

There, Richards said, she distanced herself from her friends to maximize her training time and put increasing pressure on herself to justify the sacrifices she had made to become a professional cyclist.

“My anxiety about getting the results I wanted meant that I would be physically ill before races and during them. There were many times when I didn’t even finish because I fell very sick,” she added.

“It made me even more worried about the race, because I felt like I had cut my social life and got next to nothing out of it.”

Since receiving the proper support and guidance, including from a psychologist, Rich Hampson, and a nutritionist, Renee McGregor, Richards says her mindset has changed.

“We realized that the only time I wasn’t sick in the race was when I was doing cyclo-cross, because that was the discipline where I didn’t put any pressure on myself, and the one which reminded me most of coming home to Malvern when I was a kid and falling in love with the sport.I haven’t been sick before a race since.

“My periods have started again now,” she added. “When they stopped, my first reaction was ‘it’s great, it’s less embarrassing when you’re racing’. But now I know a lot more about my body and how bad it is to miss your period – and how staying healthy will get you the best out of yourself.

After achieving a lifelong goal of competing in the Tokyo Olympics where she finished seventh, Richards won the rainbow jersey at the Mountain Bike World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy.

Her year in the Rainbow Bands, however, was marred by a lower back injury and she lined up at the Commonwealth Games starting line with little competition under her belt.

“It was my first race this year without pain or tears…and I won, in front of all my friends and family, which was very special,” she said.

“I’m in a better place to deal with injuries and everything now. I’m back near where I grew up, riding where I used to ride with my dad and the boys in my village.

“I love it and if you enjoy what you’re doing, life is so much better, and so are your racing results.”

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