Larry Hickmott writes … When your mum and dad were both cyclists competing at the highest level, it’s no surprise that their son and daughter are racing too at the top level in Britain in their respective categories. Except the main reason Joey and Jessie Walker are racing is because they saw a certain Russell Downing winning at Lincoln.
Talking about the time she came into the sport, Jessie explained “Its weird because everyone thinks we got into the sport through my dad which we have in a way. We’ve grown up around bikes but he’s never mentioned racing really and then we went to watch some with Russ Downing that he won, Lincoln, and dad said ‘do you want a bike’ and my brother (Joey) said yes.”
“Seeing all the youth races, especially the girls racing, I thought I have got to give it a try because my brother’s doing it and I’ve got to beat him! It’s gone from there and I’ve loved it ever since. Dad is very supportive and gives us lots of tips.”
They haven’t been racing that long but Jessie has already got herself a ride in Britain’s top women’s team, Matrix Prendas Ciclismo and is currently on a training camp in France living the dream!
Jessie with Mick from Prendas and Helen the team’s mentor.
Asked how it feels to be part of such an illustrious squad, Jessie replied “I love being part of the team! I was a bit nervous as I felt like I was the newcomer but they welcomed me into the team and they are really nice people. Because I am so young, I can see a team like this helping me progress and I love the team.”
It would be natural for a youngster like Jessie to feel the pressure of joining a team of experienced riders, in one case, a World champion, but she’s cool with it. “Because the team has a lot of star riders in it, for me it is not about results. Stefan (Wyman) is very supportive and he’s just saying he wants me to get in as many races as I can and get as much experience as I can”.
“So there isn’t a lot of pressure on me at all which is good. The team are very supportive too that I’m still at school doing my A levels which my dad was pleased about because he has always said I have to look after my education.”
Last year Jessie rode for her dad’s team, RST Clothing/Trigon bikes and that was a tough year. “Last year I was a first year junior and that was a big step up from Youth racing. I was part of the RST team and because the RST team was still being set up last year, it was nice to see it growing. Because it was a new team, people would look at it thinking ‘that looks good’ and I did get a lot of attention”.
A lot of that ‘looks good’ is down to the detail that her dad Chris Walker has gone to with making sure the team looks professional. The clothing and the bikes. A month or so ago I spent some time at the team’s headquarters and listened to Chris as he talked through how and why the bikes look like they do.
Wth a lot of years designing clothing for motor cyclists, that experience combined with his knowledge as a former professional cyclist, has all gone into making sure his team look good which Jessie and the others in the youth team certainly did and still do.
Jessie’s brother Joey with their ‘famous’ father, Chris Walker who won the Milk Race in 1991, & also won four stages in an Italian race called Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda in 1991. The overall winner of the race that year; Lance Armstrong.
But, while brother Joey is still in the Youth team, older sister Jessie has moved onto a senior team and there Jessie says she is looking to learn. “I want to learn tactics, how to work to help my teammates and all the things which will be new to me.”
Not that Jessie isn’t pretty switched on already. The day we met, Jessie had ridden to the Darley Moor circuit with her dad and she is a regular on a chaingang with some pros called the Downing Brothers, Dean and ‘brother’ Rus. That chaingang experience certainly came into being useful in a recent trip to Holland.
There, Jessie rode two races in two days with other Juniors including World Champion Lucy Garner. Finishing both races, 19th in the second one, Jessie explained that prior to the first one she thought she would lack the fitness to do any good but in the end, felt okay.
Jessie next to Joanna Rowsell at the Halfords Tour Series last year.
“Positioning in those races was so important and I learnt a lot. The other girls helped me a lot and I tried to follow them in the bunch to learn about positioning. I really enjoyed the racing; it was very windy and very aggressive too.”
Not unlike the chaingangs I added?
“The racing in Holland was actually very much like the chaingang” Jessie agreed. “The chain gang we ride with goes down long straight roads and it’s very windy and that was like Holland. Echelons and so on. Having done the chaingang rides did help me there because I knew how to race it.”
If anyone has seen the chaingang in South Yorkshire will know how much it resembles a race at times!
Jessie trains on the Saturday run with the likes of the Downing Brothers (Dean and Russell), Graham Briggs and the regulars on the chain gang. It starts off steady says Jessie and gives her a three hour ride including some sprint practice against the best in the business. That’s some serious hours which will hold her in good stead later on in the season.
“Some days we also do rides in Derbyshire to get some hills to help improve our strength and in the week I go on a spin trainer to work on my speed. I also did the track league (Manchester) and that was good for leg speed”.
No doubt all that work will help her on the team training camps and when it comes to the women’s races to come in 2012. If ever anyone was surrounded by experienced people its Jessie. Her mum was a top women’s rider, her team is packed with top female riders and then there’s her dad and ‘big brother’ Russell (Downing) and so many others keen to see her do well. With all that backing, the young lady from the Walker family is sure to set her own mark on the sport.
Good luck to Jessie