Ininitially, when I put the idea forwards for my first dhb blog to be all about life after professional cycling, I thought, yep. Definitely! Mainly because when I retired from professional cycling last year, I could have really done with reading a guide on how the hell to move on! I now completely understand why one doesn’t exist and why this column has no answers for doing so, either! Ultimately there are no answers! No correct answers, anyway. We’re all wired up so incredibly different, all at different stages of life, hopes and dreams. And contrary to Molly Mae’s belief, we do not all have the same 24 hours in a day to process life decisions, thoughts and feelings! (I’m still a Molly Mae fan).
But, here is my life after professional cycling…
Sport can be brutal, right? Without going into too much detail and getting myself all wound up, I’ll keep this part short and simple.
I left home when I was 17 to live in Manchester and join the Great Britain cycling track programme. I loved road racing but was sold the Olympic dream and committed to riding in circles. I started to win national and international titles and made selection for every elite Track World Championship since joining the squad (we medalled in three).
After three years, I decided to solely focus on the team pursuit to ensure I made the selection for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
However, the 2020 worlds was my last ever bike race! We finished second, qualified very close to world record pace and I rode all three rounds. I left those championships with high hopes my next race would be at the Olympic Games. Covid happened, I had a knee injury, then I had appendicitis, then I had my appendix removed, and it all went downhill from there.
Throughout all of this, my mental health plummeted. I hit rock bottom when I found out via email, while enjoying a birthday meal, I would not be going to Tokyo.
It felt at the time like the previous five years had been the most painfully wasted emotional rollercoaster ever. And now I was left with nothing at the end of it.
At this point, as I tucked into my birthday sticky toffee pudding while wiping away my Olympic tears, I had no idea what was next.
I felt extremely let down and abandoned by a federation I had given so much to. And that evening I stayed up all night, doing nothing, just awake.
The next day I tried to get on the turbo to complete my scheduled training (no-one prepares you for what to do next) and it lasted roughly two minutes and 30 seconds.
As much as my family loved and supported me regardless of the Olympic Games, I hid from everyone after sending a big message explaining how sorry I was for letting everyone down.
It’s just bike riding Eleanor, get a grip! I told myself this every day. But bike riding was all I knew, I was programmed to pedal, I didn’t have any more tabs (that’s honestly what I thought, and sometimes still do).
Yes, I’ve won national titles, European titles and Track World Cups, I’ve got world championship medals and I’ve worked alongside some of the most decorated athletes in British sport. But will I always have the feeling of failing the big one?
I tried to go straight into road racing. It had always been my dream from, well, day one. Teams wanted me to complete testing for them to see if I was good enough, but at this point, I was struggling to get up and downstairs for cereal never mind emptying myself on the bike.
That’s when I made the decision to stop professional cycling. I realised my relationship with anything other than a bike was non-existent.
My self-worth could not be dependent on a bike race and the amount of weight I lost in my last year of racing was linked with an uncontrollably bad relationship with food and stress.
As I write this, my better half Owain Doull is next to me training on the turbo and we’re watching some racing together on the laptop.
Earlier this year I took on a charity challenge of riding 500 miles in five days and travelled with dhb to Girona for a spring/summer photoshoot.
You’re probably thinking life doesn’t seem much different, right?
I can assure you it is. Life without professional sport is getting a lot easier for me. There will always be aspects I will miss, but thankfully with the support of dhb and Canyon bikes, I’m now riding my bike for the love of riding my bike.
I’m helping try to inspire others to do the same and to reconnect with all the reasons I fell in love with this sport in the first place.
I’m finding time to see family again, have the energy to go and enjoy the world I’m in, meet some new faces and fall in love with new hobbies (check out my baking @phasetwocakes).
I’ve started working with Voxwomen, updating the world with all things women’s cycling, and I’m grateful to have some super exciting opportunities coming up in 2022.
I still don’t have the answers for anyone who has just retired from professional sport, but I think I’m proof that feeling all the emotions is a necessary process.
What I will say is you are more than your sport and bike riding really is, beautiful!
Thank you for reading and I can’t wait to keep you posted on how this new ride develops. Ellie.