With the dust barely settled on the 2012 BMX World Championships in Birmingham, we spoke to the current Amateur Girls World Champion – namely Joey Gough. Joey raced as a youngster a few years back, competed full-time for the national squad for the British Cycling Federation, and then blew it out in favour of riding trails with the locals in the woods and taking BMX back to its roots.
But then, a couple years ago, the racing bug bit her once more – and Joey’s natural riding skills came to the fore – but she’s no gym-addict, she doesn’t do laps around velodromes with a pushy trainer at dawn, and she would rather roadtrip around France hitting up trail spots with a crew of like-minded mates than ride countless road miles… but her core bike skills and good-time attitude scored her new sponsorship, new drive, and that incredible World Championship Title.
We talked to Joey in depth about her time at the World Championships, how she came to win this year’s title, and her good-time approach to racing bicycle motocross. We could all learn a little from Joey’s attitude to the game, so read on.
So take us through your final day at the Worlds then. How did you feel as the racing progressed through the motos, semis, and then the main? Were you confident? Nervous?
During practice earlier in the week I had been feeling strong and good on the track. The strict timetable of one-hour practice can be hard to deal with, but I have come to get used to that, getting everything dialled in pretty quickly and enjoying the whole vibe. I was getting over a cough but thought I’d be fighting fit by Friday. I woke up on Friday full of cold! Our motos were in the morning around 9am. I was winning, but I felt nowhere near as good as I had, wheezing after each race. After the motos we wouldn’t be racing again ‘til 7.30 in the big show. That’s a hell of a long time to wait, but as it turned out I was grateful of that. I still felt pretty crap, but by the time I had warmed up, I was feeling well enough to put it out of my mind. We had no track time before our quarterfinal so a good warm-up was essential. I had a good gate and won my quarter, which gave me first gate pick in the semi and the confidence to pick gate one. Again I got a good start and I won convincingly. This is where I started to think about what I wanted out of the final. I decided it was a win or nothing!
You don’t strike me as being a super-competitive racer to be honest, but did you change that tack on the day? Kinda get your game-face on as it were?
‘Quietly competitive’ is probably how I’d describe it… but I’ve always lacked the extra competitive edge to get to No.1 at the big-pressure one-off races. This week I felt far more prepared mentally than I ever have been in these situations. I was chilled out during the week, enjoying every minute and, yeah, I suppose I got my game face on when I needed to. I got nervous before each race, but that’s good if you can deal with it... everyone gets nervous. It’s the nerves that start up your fight or flight system, producing the adrenalin to give you that bit extra in a race and the buzz afterwards that makes it so worthwhile!
How was that main event then? And what about right after, how did you feel?
The main was possibly my worst race of the day! My attitude was right, but everything went a bit quick on the gate – I lined up on the gate last as they called our names, which gave me less time to get set and focused. Then as the call started, the cameraman next to me started talking to his buddy, I was like, “what the hell?!” He stopped, but I didn’t have much time to focus and the random gate dropped on the fastest possible setting. I missed it completely and found myself way behind. I wasn’t letting that stop me though, I knew I had the inside and jumped into first, just in time to take the lead. We were level out of the first turn and I sort of had to fight my way through into the lead again so I didn’t get to pull away by triple manualling and jumping this time... this put the pressure on a bit and I knew I wasn’t feeling quite as good as I’d like, so I played it a bit safe down the last straight instead of jumping it all like it had been in practice – I didn’t want to throw it away! As I crossed the line I let out a sigh of relief... it was a bit of a nail-biter! I was just thinking, bloody hell I’ve never won an international before, ever.
How long have you been racing before now? I know you’ve been riding trails for a long time and to my mind that’s more your thing, so is racing – especially at this level – a relatively new thing?
I started racing BMX when I was three, so my background is actually BMX racing. It was the jumping that I always loved though, often riding so much on the Saturday before a race that I was useless by Sunday! In my early twenties I got into trails through a few friends, I loved it. Still doing some BMX races, but mostly getting into racing MTB 4X. 4X was new and exciting, similar to BMX but with more emphasis on skills than pedalling. Making podiums at 4X World Cups was an awesome experience, at this point it was a far more professional and spectator friendly set up than BMX was.
When racing becomes your job, you sacrifice that side of things and I was missing it. So I completely left the race scene, BMX and 4X, and went down the trails every week with my friends, digging and riding. After three years I got into riding the track again and started to get a bit of an itch to race something. I went to a National 4X race on a bit of a whim, and finished third in the men’s over 30’s class! I had more fun than I thought and suddenly found myself signing up for the Fort William 4x World Cup. It was bizarre, I was just there having fun with a good bunch of friends and I ended up winning all my heats and leading the final ‘til about half way down the track... I got overtaken by the World Cup Champion finishing second, I wasn’t too disappointed with that!
After that I got picked up by Identiti who hooked me up with a super-trick 4X bike. They were also planning to venture into the BMX racing market for the first time. I knew the Worlds were going to be in Birmingham the following summer and things kind of escalated from there...
So you won the Amateur 17+ Women’s World Title, but you mentioned earlier that there’s quite a gap between your class and Elite. Is there really that much of a gap, do you think you could hang in Elite?
Well, the Elite level has changed so much in very little time. When I was involved previously, it was just the beginning. The gap between amateur and Elite is growing all the time. Most nations’ Elite riders are fully-funded athletes and are getting more and more professional, those who aren’t funded are making sacrifices in order to train full time. As amateurs, we are working full-time jobs and have other priorities in life. I thought about racing Elite at the Worlds even though I knew I wouldn’t stand a chance of doing well, because I had a burning desire to ride the eight-metre Supercross starthill again. I only ever raced it twice before. The big hill is awesome, such a buzz! So earlier this year I raced an open Supercross race at the new Manchester indoor facility to see how I got on. It didn’t take long for me to get my nerve back on my own, but when I lined up on the gate with seven others, I knew I was gonna get snapped, and my head said I didn’t want to launch that jump in the middle of the pack anymore. Especially not after seeing half of them crash badly on the first jump in practice! It’s one thing knowing you can jump it fine, but you’re kinda of relying on the others being able to as well. I just held back and enjoyed being a part of it. I realised then that the difference between amateur and Elite is not only physical, but mental too. I was unwilling to put my neck on the line like I used to, it’s not my dream or my livelihood anymore like it is for these guys. I don’t want to put myself out of work for six weeks and I would quite like to spend summer having fun riding my bike. Of course, crashes can still happen, but racing SX when the stakes are high bumps the risk factor right up.
I think your rise to this new title isn’t that traditional, I mean, do you spend that much time training at the track and climbing through the ranks doing regional races and so on – what do you think?
Well I guess I did all that when I was younger, made it as far as I could go, then quit. My comeback has been a little different. I just do whatever makes me happy now. I go to the gym, but if there is something else on then I don’t care if I miss a session. It was only about a year after quitting racing I went back to the gym as I noticed I was getting sketchier at the trails! I quite enjoy it anyway and it keeps me going through the dark winter nights. Other than that, I’ve been spending more time at tracks these days but it’s not been a drive to win, it’s been because I’ve been loving it again. In the short time I have been away, there have been so many new tracks built that are really fun to ride. I still ride trails and love it, but with all the races going on it’s been a bit less often. I also feel confident enough now that I can spend six weeks away from the trails and still ride them well, it took me a few years to get to that point!
How have the guys you ride with and your local scene reacted to your title?
They were over the moon for me! We have a tight-knit group of friends here, all with one thing in common – a love for riding tracks and trails and just having a good time. I love these guys. They all came to the Worlds to watch, which was amazing, none of them had voices left when I saw them afterwards! I think they were more excited than I was [laughter]!
Good times. You go on BMX roadtrips through France hitting tracks and trails spots with these guys too – how do those trips go?
The trips been going for ten years now and I’ve been on the last six. It was started by my friends Paddy and Moonbay with a small crew from Sheffield and has grown ever since. Basically, we meet at the airport, fly over to the south of France, hire a few mini buses and base ourselves at an F1 hotel for the week. We get up around 8am each day, travel about, riding a few spots all day and have a few beers in the evenings. We’ve made a few good contacts out there now who always welcome us at the tracks and love it when we visit. We don’t ride like any other racers out there, it’s a big BMX family all there for the laughs and the fun, always wanting, hitting the biggest jumps on the track! We have quite a different attitude to out-and-out racers, many just wouldn’t ‘get’ this trip. I have so many good memories, my stomach hurts from all the laughing by the time we get home, these trips have been some of the best times of my life.
What’s your current sponsorship situation like?
Since the 4X at Fort William last year I’ve been riding for Identiti, from Ison Distribution. It feels like I have known them for years now though! They are relatively local to me so I’ve got to know them really well, I’m having a great time riding for them I really feel like part of a fantastic set up. They do so much for me I can’t begin to thank them enough and with their massive range of products they set me up some really trick bikes. I’m very lucky! They were so happy when I won my first World title – and theirs. Dave the team manager was in tears in the stands!
What’s your take on clip-pedals in racing then?
Clips have become a bit of a forgotten argument in racing now. It is what it is, everyone’s kind of got used to it now and let’s face it, all the berms are tarmac these days no-one’s gonna stick a foot out in a corner anyway. Personally, I’d prefer it if everyone was on flats because I am an all-round rider, it’d save me swapping pedals so much. When I go to France I always ride flats – as do most of the others – so I can pop a few tables! It does feel quite good when you accelerate on clips and I have no problem riding them, but I wouldn’t miss them if they were banned. Rules have been brought in to ban younger riders from using them which is great, because so many young riders don’t learn the basic skills first and it stops pushy parents attaching their kid to the bike. I also think it makes the sport seem more accessible to a kid who just rocks up with a cheap BMX. Oh, and I will never get used to seeing roadie type shoes on a BMX, yeah they are faster, but it’s just wrong! I’ll stick with my Vans thank you...
Do you think this title will change the way you ride, maybe make your racing career – so to speak – more serious maybe? Or is it just back to the woods and riding with the locals?
Nah, I’ve been there and done that, realised it’s not for me anymore. BMX to me is about having a blast and I’m having the time of my life at the moment. Being an amateur suits me, it’s where I’m staying!
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