Interview – Jessie Walker’s Ticket to Italy
Part of a cycling family with a rich history in the sport, Jessie Walker recently started riding for an Italian UCI team, Servetto-Footon, in June and has not disappointed in the Giro Rosa, the Women’s Tour of Italy.
Jessie, in her last outing in RST colours, is second in the Women’s Tour Series
It’s been a momentous year for the Yorkshire rider who has had to deal with a lot of change and keep focused to prove to herself and everyone else that she deserves to be racing at that level. It was a funny thing for her to admit to after she’d already done that the year before in the Women’s Tour.
“Before the Women’s Tour last year, I’d never done a .1 UCI race and so didn’t know how I’d do. I didn’t even know if I would be there at the finish never mind in the top 20 which was the target. The race gave me the confidence I can do this as it’s a massive step up to pro racing”.
“I finished the Women’s Tour having never felt so happy! I remember finishing the first day and thinking, this is crazy and beyond anything I have ever experienced. From then on, it’s been my mission to get that feeling again”.
Jessie enjoying the rivalry with Nikki Juniper who won the Women’s Tour Series with Jessie second.
Regaining that feeling though was not easy and her early season in 2015 had not been great in Belgium which is why she left her team to come back to race in Britain to ride in the colours of a brand belonging to the company her father works for, RST. It’s a name famous in motorcycling and represents the clothing they produce for motor cycling, cycling and casual gear.
Jessie’s aim was to get back her confidence and what better way of doing that than to be in the mix at the biggest series of women’s races in the country, the women’s Tour Series. Jessie finished the series on a high, second to a world champion in Dani King and almost clinching the overall after a puncture to series leader Nikki Juniper. Jessie finished second by a single point and admitted that the series did give her a lot of confidence.
“I did this three years ago was getting dropped straight away and have slowly progressed to being in the mix so I enjoyed it a lot”.
But whilst the Tour Series was going on, moves were afoot for Jessie to get back into a UCI team.
“After joining RST, I was intending to focus on the British races and the Tour Series which is the biggest set of races at the time and I wanted to concentrate on that. I was up there consistently so was happy and this offer (to join Servetto-Footon) popped up.”
“I was speaking to a DS at Velosport and he mentioned he had a contact to an Italian pro team who were looking to have a British rider on board and he put us in touch. I then met him at the London Nocturne and it went from there”.
“I’m really excited about racing in Italy as this is something I always wanted to do and didn’t think it would happen so quickly. It’s an amazing opportunity. I didn’t dream it would happen at the start of the year. I just love being abroad”.
Her father Chris, winner of the 1991 Milk Race, had some of his best wins in Italy as a young rider such as Settimana Ciclistica Lombarda and has given Jessie advice on what it’s like to live out there. “I know I need to learn the ropes racing out there which will be hard but it’s the whole lifestyle I’m looking forward to, learning the language and so on” Jessie explained.
With the contract signed, Jessie was then all over the place, going to Italy for her bike and a race and then back home for the road championships before returning for the Women’s Giro, a race she has always looked up to.
“It’s amazing I am getting to do that” she said the day before returning to Italy. “I want to not only finish it but also show my face and try and get a top 20 (which she has). After the Giro, I’ll have a full UCI calendar and will see what happens”.
Prior to the Giro Rosa where the World’s best are racing, Jessie had already had a taste of what it was going to be like doing a UCI 1.1 in Italy. “I flew out there and got my bike and had a bike fit the Italian way which is different to what I am used to! Then it was getting to know the roads near the team house where I am living with a Russian girl, Anna, who speaks English which is really nice.”
“She showed me around and I’m living in quite a big town in Northern Italy which means there is always something going on. At the time of my first race, there was the Women’s Tour and Euros on so the race was missing a lot of the riders who normally do it. But it was still a very hard race!”
“The race started with us rolling out quite steady and then we got to this 5k climb and I knew it would be hard and said to myself ‘just pace yourself’ and then they went and sprinted from the bottom didn’t they!”
Jessie in her new colours for 2015
“I kept that up as long as I could and I was just off the back at the brow of the climb and was chasing them down. It finished at Lake Garda in sunshine so that was a good start to my racing in Italy. It is completely different racing to here where we don’t race over long climbs”.
Climbing is something that any race in Italy generally does and in the Giro Rosa so far, Jessie has had a top 20 (her goal) and also a 30th place. The race though, the longest in the women’s calendar being ten days long is having its effect on Jessie who has had hardly the ideal preparation with some circuit races in Britain!
It is though a development phase for her and so besides being at the sharp end on some stages, Jessie has also experienced what it’s like off the back in a mini gruppetto and also to climb 15k mountains in the Italian heat.
“This year is more about putting a marker down and then concentrating on next year and getting some results” Jessie says.
The Giro Rosa still has three stages to do and once that is over, Jessie says the team will look at her performances and the rest of her season will then be planned. Congrats to Jessie for doing so well after being thrown in at the deep end and we look forward to seeing how she does the rest of the season ….