|2015 has seen 21 year old Jessie Walker turn professional, switch teams, move abroad to race, ride a Grand Tour and help a teammate win a world title.It has not all been smooth sailing for Walker though. With high hopes for the season turning professional, Walker was forced to take a temporary step back to domestic racing in Great Britain in the middle of the season, as racing with Matrix in Europe didn’t work out.Though it wasn’t long before she was back competing in Europe again. Racing the biggest race of them all the Giro Rosa, the only women’s Grand Tour. And with just two weeks notice with her new team Servetto Footon.Walker’s first season as a professional came to a successful end as she supported Lizzie Armitstead to the rainbow jersey at the World Championships in Richmond. It was the second time Walker had been part of a winning team at the World Championships, after representing Great Britain in 2012 as a junior when Lucy Garner took out the junior road race.
With a busy second half of the season with high level racing Walker is ready to step up to another level in 2016. With the Giro Rosa her main goal as well as chasing personal results throughout the season.
PelotonWatch: How did you come in to the sport?
Jessie Walker: I started racing as a second year U16 and just competed in a few races but never took it seriously. Then I joined Matrix in 2012 and competed in the full UK racing scene as well as a few UCI 2.2 stage races in France. From these trips abroad I realised I loved stage races and always performed better in the harder races. To finish the year off nicely I was selected for the Junior World Road Race Championships. It was definitely a catalyst to make me want to race professionally long term.
PW: Turned professional in 2015 when Matrix Fitness became a UCI team. How important a step in your career was this for you?
JW: In 2014 I raced the Friends Life Women’s Tour in Britain and realised that I could make the step up to the professional level. From then on it was my mission to get on a UCI team. Luckily for me Matrix turned UCI for 2015 so I made the step up. However it didn’t work out for me so I returned to the UK to race the Tour Series for RST Racing Team. During my month at home I was contacted through Mauro Pizzol from Velosport Montegrappa for an Italian UCI team Servetto Footon. This was the perfect opportunity for me and I am very grateful for their support. This set me up for the rest of the year.
PW: Being on a UCI team presents more opportunities to race internationally. At the start of the year what expectations did you have?
JW: I looked forward to 2015 to gain as much experience as possible. I knew racing a full UCI calendar would be a massive step up for me so I didn’t expect too much from myself. I wanted to race a few World Cups and stage races to see how different the racing was and how much harder it was to be in the mix of it all.
PW: You had the opportunity to race your first World Cup at La Fleche Wallonne how did you find it?
JW: I’m not going to lie it was a massive step up in the level of racing. The terrain made it a very hard race and the speed up the hills was full on. I struggled in the last half and unfortunately got dropped but I loved the course!!
PW: Given only a couple of weeks notice you would ride the Giro Rosa. How did it feel when you were first told and what were your expectations and goals heading in?
JW: Well the main thing I was thinking about was packing to live in Italy. Everything was new to me. I didn’t know anyone from the team, only a few people spoke English, which made the communication quite difficult. Then once I was there it hit me that the following week I would be racing the Giro Rosa. Thinking back now I think it was a good thing I didn’t have much time to think about it. I was just pushed into the deep end and told to swim. My main aim was the feel part of the race and give it my everything. That way I would know where I stood with the worlds best. I really wanted to finish my first grand tour so that in future years I can focus on getting some results.
PW: Finished the Giro 50th overall with 20th your best stage result on the longest stage. What did you learn during the race and happy with how you went?
JW: I learnt every single day and applied it the following day. The first day was a massive shock of how fast the general speed was and especially coming into the finish. I really doubted completing the tour but then focused on each day separately. I’m really pleased with my results for my first Grand Tour.
PW: Selected for World Championships. What was it like being part of team helping Lizzie Armitstead to the world title?
JW: It was an incredible experience as a whole. It was honestly a dream come true to help Lizzie become World Champion. I’ve always looked up to Lizzie as I’ve grown up, so being there when she crowned World Champion was a special moment. Lizzie truly deserves it as she’s dominated the women’s scene for the past few years.
PW: Bring back memories of 2012 when you helped Lucy Garner to the junior world title?
JW: It’s not been bad for me, both times at the World Championships the team has come away with a gold medal. I’ll treasure the memories from both years.
PW: You have re-signed with Servetto Footon for 2016 and will be joined by Abby-Mae Parkinson. Easy decision to make to remain with the team?
JW: It was an easy decision because they’re given me so many opportunities this year in big races. They took the risk and believed in me in the Giro and it paid off. I’m very motivated to improve my performances next year. I’m very happy to have an English teammate Abby Mae. It will make living abroad a little easier and it’s a great opportunity for her too.
PW: What are your goals for 2016 and what sort of races would you like to target?
JW: My main aim will be the Giro Rosa. I absolutely loved that race so I’d be proud to get a good result in that.
PW: Competed in races including the Giro, Trophee d’Or and Tour Cycliste Feminin International de l’Ardeche in the second half of 2015. Do you think having the experience and racing in your legs will be a big help going forward?
JW: I finished the season with a hard block of stage racing and it was a bit too much for me. I think with another winter in my legs and maturity I’ll definitely find the longer blocks of racing more bearable. Also taking everything I’ve learnt in the last few months of the season will help me massively with my 2016 season.
PW: What is the most important thing you have learnt and the biggest challenge you have faced in 2015?
JW: The most important thing I’ve learnt is that things take time. Sometimes it’s very frustrating to not see improvements but it’s all a long term development so I’ve learnt to be patient. The biggest challenge of 2015 would have to be moving abroad to join Servetto Footon but it’s definitely made me a stronger person in more ways than one.
PW: Your parents were cyclists and your brother is a cyclist. How important has it been that your family is involved in the sport?
JW: I love the fact that my family is sporty. It’s a massive help that my dad was a professional as he’s always giving us advise and telling us his stories about his racing days. He knows exactly what I’ve been through as he did it all himself. My mum also raced at a high level and represented GB in a stage race in Japan. Now that my brother Joey is on Great Britain Academy he will be heading out to live in Italy, which is something Dad did at his age, so it’s all looking like exciting times ahead.