Some things in life are certain: death, taxes, England’s men’s football team falling short of glory. Add to that list Evie Richards smiling. In our two hours with Britain’s queen of the dirt she can barely wipe the grin off her face. It’s not, sadly, our company – we’re reliably informed she’s always like this.
Throughout 2021 Richards has had ample reason to smile, celebrating her best year yet. Top of that list of reasons to smile was realising her childhood dream of winning a senior world title. She now has a house full of rainbow jerseys. And we’re not exaggerating. When we visit Richards in her quaint power-pastel Malvern home she’s been sent boxes and boxes of rainbow jerseys to sign for her sponsors to then hand out – the first box took her nearly three hours.
This wrist-breaking work is just one of the responsibilities Richards has taken on after winning the Cross-country Mountain Bike World Championship over the summer. Coming just weeks after she missed out on an Olympic podium, it was no flash in the pan or case of peak form coming too late. The 25-year-old seemingly reached a new level of performance this summer, winning the two World Cup events that followed the Worlds.
These results announced and cemented her status in a matter of weeks. “On the second lap [at the Worlds] I came through and felt good in my effort. The leaderboard said, ‘Evie Richards: second place.’ Normally if that happens I feel like I might have overdone it, and I’m [going to get] a bit tired. I didn’t once think where Pauline [Ferrand-Prévot, who was leading] was. It wasn’t on my radar. I figured I’d just ride my race and if I catch her, I catch her.”
Catch her she did and then solo to the win. Afterward, Richards did minimal celebration, switching instead to focus on the World Cup race a week later. She won that too. That was the real revelation for her. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I might actually be quite good!’”
That comment is emblematic of a thread that runs through our conversation. Underneath Richards’s smile there is a charming openness about her foibles that you don’t always see from top sportspeople. She talks about having worked with her psychologist to finally command her pre-race nerves over the last year. To give her a boost, her mum sends her inspirational quotes before each race; “Sky above me. Earth Below me. Fire within me,” the one she sent her before the Worlds, is now on the top tube of her World Champs bike. And only now does she seem comfortable in her place at the top table of cycle sport.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of 2021 was that she didn’t get to show that top-table class at the Olympics two weeks before her World Championship breakthrough. “It was probably the worst race I can think of. It’s one of those races I’ve just tried to erase from my memory. I was obviously very nervous. I was shaking. And if you go on a mountain bike shaking, you’re just going to crash.”
Long road to Tokyo
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