Neah Evans Interview
by Nadezhda Pavlova
by Nadezhda Pavlova
We’re thrilled to bring you an exclusive interview with the amazing Neah, a talented cyclist who recently won gold at the UCI Cycling World Championships Madison Race. Neah’s journey is truly inspiring, as she overcame a major crash during the race and emerged victorious through sheer determination. Today, we’ll dive into Neah’s training routine, her unique perspective as a late entrant into the sport, and how her background as a veterinary surgeon enhances her performance on the bike.
Get ready to be inspired by Neah’s incredible achievements and unwavering spirit. Let’s jump right into this captivating conversation and discover the brilliance of Neah!
1. Hello Neah! Congratulations on your gold medal win at the UCI Cycling World Championships Madison Race. It was an incredible performance, especially considering the challenging circumstances with the crash. Can you describe the moment when the crash happened? ( What went through your mind? How did you manage to recover from the crash and continue with the race? What was your strategy for the remainder of the race after the crash? How did you and your teammate Elinor Barker coordinate during the race? )
There were two major incidents. One went pretty smoothly in that there was a crash right in front of me but I managed to bunny hop over it. In the grand scheme of things, that didn’t affect much in terms of the race dynamic, but I did have an “Ohh jheez” – an interesting moment but I got away with that. Then the crash right at the end, in the madison there’s often crashes but you check your partner is safe and you’re safe, then you continue racing.
They’d been down for a couple of laps, there was two laps coming up on the score board and we were off the front. We had one final sprint to do, one change to do, and as much as you’re not thinking about the result – we knew that we’d have wrapped it up – and then the gun went. We weren’t sure what it meant, there was two laps left, how are they going to restart it? We were very quickly trying to ground ourselves, think right – they’re going to restart it with 9 laps to go, how can we get back in a good position to where we were?
So it was a little bit panic stations, I managed to have a very quick word with El and we said right – we’re going to get to the front, we’re going to take control of the race, keep it safe, keep it fast, and we should do it. But yeah, it went from ‘we’re potentially about to win the world championships’ to ‘the race has restarted and the advantage we had is gone because we all started as a group again. So yeah, it was very stressful, but madison is chaotic, you expect the unexpected and that definitely was the unexpected.
2. How did it feel to cross the finish line and realize that you had won the gold medal? What does this victory mean to you and your career as a cyclist?
There was a huge sense of relief. Both me and El didn’t celebrate straight away because we just wanted to make sure that the score board was accurate. I think having that moment before the restart where we admitted to each other afterwards we thought this is it, we’ve got it wrapped up, then the restart, there was then this huge jeopardy over could we maintain that advantage, then we crossed the line and it came up on the score board that we won and it was such an exhilarating feeling.
I actually heard the crowd erupt before I saw the score board and I knew from their reaction that we’d done it. I thought we had, but it’s having that clarification – what a moment. It’s one of those moments that going to last for the rest of my career. This eruption of noise in your home velodrome, winning the world title after a pretty dramatic finish. Absolutely incredible.
3. With an impressive list of achievements already, including an Olympic silver medal, world championships, and European titles, how do you plan to build on your success and what are your goals for the upcoming Track Cycling World Championships and Paris 2024? As you prepare for the upcoming event, what aspects of your training have you been focusing on the most? Are there any specific strategies you have set for yourself?
Yeah, on paper I’ve had a pretty successful career to date – but there’s definitely things I still want to do to improve and develop. That’s partly my personality that I’m always striving for improvements and what can I do better, I’ve not yet and don’t think I ever will come away from a race and be like – yeah, nailed every element. There’s always going to be something. So that really helps me keep motivated and keep focused. Paris has been such a huge target since Tokyo where I came away with a silver medal, loved the experience but also I know there’s so much more to give. So yeah, really pulling all the stops out for Paris.
I’m on my off season at the moment which is driving me a bit crazy because I just want to get training, I want to start improving for Paris. It’s difficult to say there’s one particular aspect, within cycling there’s so much with the physical prep and being in the best physical place you can but also tactical and strategic preparation that we do like looking at race videos and doing technical work on the track. There’s quite a lot of elements that need to be brought together and hopefully I can nail that next year.
4.Many professional cyclists dedicate their entire lives to training and honing their skills. How did your late entry into the sport shape your approach to training and competing? What advantages or disadvantages did you face as a result?
I’ve definitely not had the most conventional start to my cycling career, it’s funny because I know people who have retired from the British Cycling programme at an age younger than I’d even started cycling which is a bit bizarre when you think about it, they’ve had a successful career and completed it and at that age I hadn’t even ridden a fixed gear bike. It’s had challenging moment because I think a lot of people see me as an older athlete and assume I’ve been around for ages – yes, now I have been around for a fair while but my time in sport is still relatively short compared to others which is quite exciting because I feel like I’ve still got some big gains to make.
There’s definitely advantages and disadvantages, ultimately even if I think it’s not the best way of getting into the sport, it’s what happened for me and I can’t change that so I’ve just got to capitalise on it. Because I have got more life experience it means when something goes wrong I’m probably a little bit more robust and a little bit more philosophical in my viewpoint so there’s definitely advantages to be had.
5. Can you take us through your journey from being a veterinary surgeon to becoming a successful cyclist? How did you make this transition and what inspired you to take up cycling as a career?
Going through vet school, in the early stages I did horse riding but then my horse got injured. I shifted to hill running because I needed a cheap sport to do. I absolutely loved hill running, then in my final year I got ill and injured, I didn’t really look after myself, I was too busy enjoying the student lifestyle. I was looking for something to do to keep fit for the running, and my dad always said you’d be far better at cycling than running. I was like yeah, whatever dad. But he was right, I found that I could cycle whereas I couldn’t run at that stage so I was doing a little bit of cycling for fitness and he booked me into the velodrome for a taster session. I’d never been in a velodrome, I had no ‘oh, I want to try that’, he just booked it and I gave it a go. I was hooked straight off, I absolutely loved it which is quite funny. And then at that stage I was looking for a job as a vet, I got a job, I didn’t particularly want that job if I’m honest I just went as a practice interview and he said can you start next week. I said I’ll start next week if you let me get an early finish two days a week so I can go to the track and train and he said yes.
It’s one of those pivotal moment of – if he’d said no, I had only been cycling on the velodrome a few months so I wouldn’t have really pushed it. But because he was so accommodating, that kind of sparked it, and he was fantastic in allowing me to juggle cycling alongside working as a vet but it was very much – I was a vet, and in my limited free time I cycled. I did that for I think two years, and then as the cycling progressed, I really wanted to up my training. I started on the Scottish Cycling sprint programme and it was evident from my physiology that I’d be better suited to endurance but I was struggling to physically have enough time in the week to do the training. I went to my boss and said listen, can I go part time? He was brilliant and said yes, so I did that for a year before I got the opportunity with British Cycling on the programme.
That was a year out from the 2018 Commonwealth Games, so I thought if I can get there it’ll be the highlight of my cycling career and then I’ll go back to being a vet. So I spoke to my boss and said I want to quit or take a year out and he was so supportive. He said yes, do that, there’ll most likely be a job waiting for you when you get back. So I really thought when I went full time as a cyclist I was going to do it for a year, go to the commonwealth games, and go back to being a vet. Fast forward a few years, I’m still winging it I’m still getting away with being a full time cyclist and I’m loving it. But it was really difficult and I don’t think people appreciated how hard it was to juggle the two things especially when I wasn’t an established cyclist, it wasn’t as if I had a huge training history and I knew what I was doing; it was a really steep learning curve of learning a new sport, working as a vet which is highly stressful at the best of times so I was chronically fatigued and sleep deprived just trying to do everything. But I loved it, it was hard and I was so grateful when I went full time as a cyclist but it was quite an experience and I was very lucky to have a lot of support and encouragement along the way.
6. In your opinion, what sets you apart from other professional cyclists? How do your diverse experiences and background contribute to your performance on the bike?
Naturally I have quite a philosophical approach to things but definitely having worked as a vet and having lots more life experience to many other cyclists, I do think is advantageous. It’s not necessarily the best way to get into cycling but it’s my journey, and I can make the most of it, which I’m trying to do. There is a huge pressure that you get from cycling and a lot of it is self induced. But as frustrated as I can get when I race or when training doesn’t go as well as I’d like give me 48 hours to be annoyed and I’ll move on. Because ultimately it is a bike race and there are more important things. It’s not life or death. I had a lot of stressful situations when I was working as a vet so I think it’s definitely helped keep me grounded, but I’m still very passionate about cycling, I do care about it but I’m also realistic. I know at some point it will come to an end and I’m super fortunate that I’ll be able to go back to my career as a vet.
7. What advice would you give to individuals who are considering a career change or pursuing a new passion later in life? How can they overcome self-doubt or fear of starting something completely different?
It’s daunting when you’re thinking about changing career or even taking up a new sport but whatever it is in your life it’s 100% right to be a bit fearful. It shows that you care about it and it means a lot, but also it’s important not to allow that fear to prevent you from trying. It might not pan out and that’s fine, you can go back to where you were. But, you’ll always regret not giving it a go. For me, it would have been so easy to maintain cycling as a hobby and not actually try and pursue it as a career, that would have been the safe option, and on paper what a lot of people thought I should have done, but you never know what you can achieve and you have to put yourself out there. Surround yourself with people who will support you and encourage you, and if you don’t have those people around you it’s time to try something new to find those people who are going to help and support you in your new adventures. It might not be a success but you’ll definitely get some good stories at the end of it. Just enjoy the adventure.
8. Apart from cycling, what other interests or hobbies do you enjoy?
I have allowed myself to lose some hobbies – cycling started off as a hobby and has escalated fairly fast! My main hobby at the moment is walking with my dog, I really enjoy taking him out for nice adventure walks, getting out onto the hills. I used to do hill running and I still love being in the hills, although I unfortunately don’t get to do it nearly as much as I’d like to. Partly just logistics of living in Manchester and the effects that would have on my cycling. But when I do, I absolutely love it. If I can get horse riding I also very much enjoy that.
9. As a successful cyclist, how do you balance your professional career with your personal life? What strategies or routines do you follow to maintain a healthy work-life balance?
As a professional athlete, everything you do affects your training, so it’s not like you can clock off at 5pm on a Friday and go out and have a good weekend before clocking back in to being an athlete on Monday morning. Sometimes you’re training 6 days a week and there’s knock of effects. If you have a late night, that can still affect your training several days later. It’s always in the back of your mind, which means when you get to off season you really relax and enjoy it. But it can be difficult to get that work/life balance because you think: “It would be fun to do that, but do I want to deal with the later knock on effects?” So it is definitely a juggle, and one that I don’t always get right. I’m always looking to improve as a cyclist and it’s very difficult to do something you know is going to be counter productive to your performance and also the fact that I live with another cyclist, the whole environment is pretty cycling heavy and performance based. But I love it and I enjoy it and I think because I’m come into it later I’m ready to really race it. I don’t have this yearning and thinking what else I could be doing with my life. I had an amazing student experience and very much lived that life to the full so I’m very content in being a full time athlete and I’m very focused on it.
10. Can you share some of the most memorable moments or achievements in your cycling career so far? What made these moments special for you?
Up until the World’s last week I would normally say there’s 3 pivotal moments that really stand out in my career. First one was the Commonwealth Games, coming away with two medals. I went there having been full time for only about a year, and I felt like an imposter. I didn’t really have any expectations, I thought I would probably go back to working at the vets. But coming away with two medals was the realisation that actually I’m quite good at this cycling thing. Let’s see how far I can get with it. The next one was the Olympic Games. The Olympics has so much prestige, when you say you’ve been everyone around you gives you this double take which is very special. And when you can top it off by saying I got a silver medal, it’s really cool.
Then, last year I became points race world champion, which again was hugely special because you get to race in the rainbow bands and it’s the first time I’ve been world champion. It was one of those moments when you think, I’ve really made it as a cyclist. I’ve been to the Olympics, I’ve become World Champion. Then after this year’s World Championships, winning a world title to a home crowd on the velodrome where I learned to ride, that’s now one of those moments that I’ll remember for the rest of my career. So now I’m up to four really special moments.
11. As a role model to many aspiring athletes, what message would you like to convey to those who may feel discouraged or limited by their circumstances? How can they find the courage to pursue their dreams, just as you did?
I always feel strange when people refer to me as a role model because I think a role model should be someone who’s got everything figured out and is executing this perfect plan. I’m still learning and still developing so it feels weird when people say I’m an inspiration – I make so many mistakes still. My philosophy is very much – give things a go. I was late into the sport, I was late going full time, but I was given these opportunities and I capitalised on them. I think that’s one of the most important things, if you’re given an opportunity – even if you don’t think it’s something that’s right for your path at the moment, you never know whether it will be a side branch that’s going to lead you onto even better things. So my advice would be to make the most of every opportunity, capitalise on it, even if you don’t enjoy it, it’s a learning experience, something you can talk about in the future. The hardest part of any journey is taking that first step.
The number of times when I have a four hour training ride to do, it’s wet, it’s windy, it’s cold, it’s the middle of winter and I think – why am I doing this? But actually, once you get out you can find enjoyment in it. But that initial getting out is the hardest bit of that ride. It’s the same with training as it is trying something new – it’s that initial step which is super super difficult. Just jump – give it a go. Don’t be afraid to fail. Everyone makes mistakes, the best people in the world make mistakes but it’s about owning those mistakes and learning from them to minimise the times you repeat those mistakes.
We’ve got lots more great interviews coming from Nadezhda, inclusing a few podcasts in 2024! Keep checking in 🙂