Mountain bike world champion Evie Richards would dearly love a Commonwealth gold medal on home turf this week but accepts she must be realistic about her chances amid a season wrecked by injury and illness.
The 25-year-old has battled back problems since the start of the year, and contracted coronavirus last month following a stomach bug and other illnesses.
But she has been determined to take part in a Commonwealth Games so close to her Malven home and is now hoping the worst of her struggles are behind her.
“I have had a pretty rubbish year so far, probably one of my worst years I’ve ever had,” Richards said. “I’ve finished nearly every race in tears and over half of them I haven’t finished…
“I kept trying to race and it was just making it bad. I’m a professional athlete, I’m paid to race so it’s not always easy to step back out of the sport. It’s been hard juggling it, but I think we’re on the up.”
Richards’ problems mean she has barely been able to show off the rainbow jersey she won at last year’s world championships in Italy, but second place to Annie Last at last month’s British nationals was a step forward.
It was Last who beat Richards to gold on the Gold Coast four years ago. Whether Richards has the physical capability to go one better in Cannock Chase Forest remains to be seen.
A huge winter training block was designed to keep Richards flying all year. Now she hopes it was enough to mean she has not lost her base fitness.
“Obviously I would love to a win a gold medal somewhere so close to home – it would mean the world – but I have to be realistic,” said Richards, who was seventh at the Olympics last year.
“I had Covid two or three weeks ago and was off the bike for two weeks with that, and obviously had to deal with the back injury.
“I trained so hard, I hope that all that training over however many months pays off and it can outweigh all the injuries and illness.”
Such was the importance of these Games to Richards that she begged her Trek Factory Racing team to let her take part. She should otherwise be in North America, where last weekend’s leg of the World Cup was staged in Snowshoe, West Virginia, with this weekend’s round in Monte-Sainte-Anne, Canada.
“For me the Commonwealth Games is such a big thing and it being so close to home I was dead excited,” she said.
“It wasn’t easy to come, we have our World Cup calendar on at the moment and I should really be racing at the World Cup over in America but luckily my team were very kind and they let me come after a bit of persuasion.
“I don’t think they realised how much of a big thing it is for me and my family. For me it’s the ultimate race of the year and so I’m happy to have made it here.”