Wednesday, 1st March, 2017
This time we spoke to Kate Cullen, Rider of the Year 2006.
Kate has a Wikipedia entry which states she got in to cycling after designing a velodrome as part of completing an Architecture course at the Glasgow School of Art. I began, by asking her if this was indeed true and not some elaborate hoax(!)
‘Absolutely true’ She told me!
‘I had already been looking at the Maryhill Basins, with their oval shape and cycle path interchanges, so the link to ovals and bikes was already there. And then someone suggested a Velodrome. A friend of a friend on Edinburgh Road Club took me to see Meadowbank ‘drome and I was hooked. My tutors loved the unusual idea and I passed!’’
From designing Kate then went to riding. ‘’I could pedal fast: I had more speed than strength, so the gearing in use at that time suited me. At first I focussed on sprinting, but I gradually moved toward the endurance events.’’ The change suited Kate and she started to pick up wins and podium places at Scottish and British level. In 2006 she hit a career high point, winning the Points Race at the British Champs, followed by a Bronze medal in the same event at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. It was these performances which led to her winning the Rider of Year. ‘It was such an honour to win that title. You are up against the best riders in their fields in Scottish cycling and it gave me the confidence to keep going.’ And keep going she did.
Kate had been receiving financial support from Braveheart from practically the very start of the fund, and these contributions, along with funding from other sources allowed her to meet her living costs. This made it easier to be able to train and race in Manchester and Australia, as well as later on, on the road in the Netherlands and Belgium in the Criterium races scene. She also found out it was cheaper to train on the track in Alkmaar in the Netherlands than to go to Manchester to train! (Although Kate does point out the Euro exchange rate now might not be so advantageous). Kate made a serious point about funding for professional women’s racing, which both then and now is nowhere near equal to men’s racing.
Alongside her Melbourne medal, Kate also pointed to her Double Whammy of Points Race and Scratch Race British Champion in 2007 as another high point. And rounds off a trio of high points by referring to her 2010 crit season in the Netherlands, supported by a generous Dutchman called ‘Harry’ who helped house and support many international women racing on the scene. She scored several wins in typical Lowlands conditions. But 2010 was also the year things turned sour for Kate.
She was involved in a major crash at the British Road Race championships that year, when she managed to land on team-mate Eileen Roe. This resulted in bruised ribs and recovery time. A little later that same year, Kate crashed again, breaking a rib in the process. This heavily impacted on her preparation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games at Delhi. Kate would go on to compete on the track and road in Delhi, but felt she was unable to ride as well as she could have, under better circumstances. Kate finished as top Scottish rider in all three events she competed in, so who knows what would have happened with a full training schedule and no dose of stomach flu while in Delhi. But as Kate got off the bike at the end of the Road Race, she knew it was time to end her racing career and turn her attention to her future.
Her current role has kept her well and truly in touch with her past, as she is involved in designing and delivering temporary and permanent sporting facilities. Kate had a direct involvement in the conversion of the SECC to a multi-sport venue for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. ‘It’s not as easy as you think to turn a place like the SECC into a top class sporting arena!’
Our conversation has probably run on a bit longer than either of us anticipated, so I decide to ask Kate one last question: Any tips for the younger cyclists coming through?
‘’I see a lot of women on bikes and racing but who still have to train and race with men. And I think they are sometimes afraid of that, or see it as a barrier. They should see men simply as cyclists who are slightly better. Get as good as the men, and then keep getting better, because the top women are better than many men. Pretend they are national/international level riders. And use them to keep improving’’
And with that great motivational tip, I thanked Kate and let her get back to her day