With new sponsors confirmed and a new team line up currently in France training together for the first time, Matrix Vulpine team rider Jessie Walker tells us about her route into pro cycling.
I've been asked the question many times "So how did you get into cycling?" Those people that know my dad will think it makes sense. He was a pro so his kids will be too. But even though cycling was a massive part of my dad's life he never pressured me or my brother Joey into it. In fact I think he really played it down and the more I get involved in the 'cycling world' the more I realise how good my dad was.
Jessie's dad Chris Walker – the Professional Cycling Associations "Rider of the Year" 1990
I've always been a sporty person as my parents are very active so I've been brought up always doing exercise. I can't thank my parents enough for bringing me up that way as now I live a healthy lifestyle and spend my time doing something I love. It all started as soon as I could walk – I learnt to ride a bike too!
The weekends would consist of mountain bike rides finishing with a sprint to the car. My dad would always let me win but at the time I actually thought he was trying. How naive. Then I lost interest when I joined secondary school.
Chris Walker rode for Banana/Falcon during 1990 and 1991
My brother was the first one to decide he wanted to race. He was inspired by Russ Downing winning Lincoln GP. Russ is a close friend to my dad so we have grown up with him and he's like a brother to us. Hearing the crowds cheer Russ on was crazy. After that Joey wanted a road bike. My dad was straight on it and bought him a bike the next day. Soon after that he was racing as an U12 at a local circuit (Richard Dunn) in Bradford. I just thought cycling racing was for boys so I was surprised to see some girls racing there too. After watching a few of his races I was keen to try it too. Unfortunately my first race was at the end of the racing season so I had to wait until the following year to race again.
Family bike ride in 2004
In my first year racing I was a 2nd year U16. It's funny thinking back; I had no idea what I was doing or who I was racing against but all the other kids took it so seriously. I was pleased with myself just for finishing the races. At the end of the year I had improved loads and got selected to represent Yorkshire in the UK School Games. I surprised myself coming 4th in a bunch sprint with Lucy Garner winning. That was a lot of fun and made me realise that this was something I wanted to do. The following year was a massive step up to racing as a junior. This is the phase where a lot of girls are lost in the sport. There is no gradual move to junior racing, it is straight to racing with the elite women. I competed in the national series and the tour series. I remember looking up to the Horizon Fitness team which is quite funny as the next year I was part of that team.
2012 I joined Matrix Fitness Racing Team. I can't thank Stefan Wyman (our team manager) enough as I wouldn't be where am I today if it wasn't for the team. Just being in a professional team environment helped me out massively compared to racing as an individual. I raced abroad for the first time with the team and with the GB junior squad. Then to finish off the year nicely I was selected to represent Great Britain at the Junior World Road Race Championships. Lucy Garner won again there. Still to this day this was one of the best experiences I've had.
Jessie and her dad with Russ Downing in 2005
At the end of 2013 I had to come to a decision; university or gap year? I had the grades to get into uni but my heart was in cycling. I found it so difficult to juggle training and studying while I was doing my A Levels and the bike always came second. I wanted a chance to just give cycling all my effort and see where it got me, then I could always go back to education if I wanted. Having time to concentrate on my cycling has made a massive difference and I've noticed the improvement in my performances in this years racing. 2014 has been a good year. I'm really pleased with my results in races like the Women's Tour, Nationals and Tour de Bretagne. I stepped it up from the previous year and I'm now ready to do the same for the 2015 season.
I am very lucky to have a family that understands the situation I am in and supports me 100%. I definitely wouldn't be able to do it with out them. It's hard in women's cycling to get to the point where you are financially comfortable so having my parents backing me helps a lot. I think they just love the fact that me and my brother are healthy active people and it's something that they are interested in too. My dad retired from cycling in 2000 and got a 'real job'. With me and Joey racing it has got him involved with the sport again and back with his old friends which is nice. I love hearing all the stories of racing back in the 80's and 90's.
So next year will be a big year. I am staying with Matrix Vulpine but the team will be turning professional. From my performances this year I have shown that I suit the harder races so racing abroad will be just what I need and will be a great opportunity for me to step it up. I love racing at a high level but some sacrifices have to be made too. I don't see my friends as much as I'd like to. There are that many races on the calendar now that I'm always away or need some time to just relax. I always make it up to them though and at the end of the season go wild for a few weeks. It's nice to live like a 'normal' person for a bit, mainly because it makes me realise how much I love racing and the world around it. Being involved in cycling has already brought me some amazing experiences. I can't wait for what else is yet to come.