Ahead of the women’s time trial at the British road championships, much of the expectation centred on the likes of Katie Archibald and Sarah Storey but Hayley Simmonds, by her own admission, flew under the radar to clinch the title by over a minute.
The 26-year-old, riding for Velosport, is currently balancing life on two wheels with life in the lab as she’s working towards a doctorate in organic chemistry at Cambridge University. It was at Cambridge as an undergraduate where Simmonds first took up cycling, just six years ago, having switched from rowing, which had become too time-consuming.
Despite the academic pedigree, her ambition is to make a living as a full-time cyclist and she hopes this title will be a career-making achievement.
“The latest submission date for my PhD is next March but I could submit before then. I’d love to go full-time in cycling after that,” Simmonds told Cyclingnews while sporting her newly acquired national champion’s jersey.
“I think there are more opportunities now. The women’s side of the sport is growing massively so I think I’ve come into it at a really good time and hopefully I’ve got a big result at an optimal time. So I’m hoping today’s result will help me with the ambition of going full-time.”
Simmonds claims she slipped under the radar to some extent, but quite how much that can be true of someone who won both the CTT national 50 and 10-mile titles last year is up for debate.
One person who knew she’d be in the mix is the rider she beat into third place, Sarah Storey.
“She’s done an absolutely phenomenal performance and she’s always been great rider,” Storey told Cyclingnews. "From our perspective in the women’s peloton it’s not out of the blue, she’s always been there or thereabouts, and she’s done some cracking rides in other events.”
At 37, and with a string of medals to her name, Storey is well positioned to assess the opportunities on offer for younger, up and coming women cyclists. She has seen the female side of the sport grow in terms of exposure and popularity and has had spells as a teammate of both Simmonds and 21-year-old Liv Plantur rider Molly Weaver, who was second in the time trial on Thursday.
Though she insists there is still much progress to be made in women’s cycling, she concurs with Simmonds that this is a great moment to make a breakthrough.
“The sport is growing and winning a national championship is a phenomenal achievement and it will certainly provide opportunities I would hope.
“To try and help riders like her come through, and to see her win a national title, and Molly get a silver medal, it’s great to know that you’ve been involved and have worked alongside riders that are doing really well and moving forwards. Hopefully that will continue. Molly is a professional rider now in a Dutch team, which is superb and hopefully Hayley will continue to go from strength to strength.
“Year on year people are realising how good value women’s cycling is. The restructure of women’s cycling from the UCI level is going help push that forward, too. With the opportunities that there are, with more opportunities in the UK to create a pathway through, we’ll see people like Hayley more and more.”