Eyes on Gibraltar Games debut
Tom Innes meets Island cyclist Emily Bridson - a teenager holding both national and international goals
As the calendar ticked past the one-year-to-go mark in the build-up to the next NatWest Island Games, Emily Bridson had more reason than most to be looking ahead to July 2019.
The JCG student, one of Jersey’s most promising young cyclists, was 27 days short of her 16th birthday at the cut-off point for Gotland 2017 and therefore ineligible to compete in the biennial Games. Now she has her sights firmly set on Gibraltar.
Now 17 and having just finished her penultimate year at JCG, Bridson is midway through a busy summer of competition which has covered a range of different events in the UK and Europe. She hopes her performances will be enough to earn selection as one of the cycling team when Team Jersey is selected this November.
It wouldn’t be the first Island Games that Emily had been involved in, as she gained first-hand experience of the atmosphere when Jersey hosted the event in 2015 and she was one of the young assistants helping with the medal ceremonies, handing out the popular Indigo mascots to athletes who’d achieved podium finishes in their disciplines.
‘It was really exciting to see the Games at first-hand and see the cyclists competing on one of my favourite circuits,’ she said. The circuit concerned is the Town Criterium loop in St Helier, one that she has ridden in junior competitions.
A lot of Bridson’s training takes place around the track at Les Quennevais, although she also gets out on the roads and ranks the Corbière loop – one of the iconic back-drops from Jersey 2015 – as her favourite road route on the Island.
The cycling all-rounder’s versatility stems from a move from her native Isle of Man to Jersey at the age of 12 with her family – parents Chris and Joanne and older sister Shannon. She had previously been a BMX cyclist and represented Great Britain at the BMX World Championships in 2012, but the lack of a circuit in Jersey meant a switch of focus to other disciplines – track, road and mountain biking.
Last year was one of achievement, in spite of a busy academic programme that included 11 GCSEs at A* or A grade. Bridson competed in four inter-regional competitions, encompassing both road and mountain biking, as part of a teenage team – the only cyclist to earn selection for all four events.
This year she has enjoyed success as part of her UK-based team Admiral Liv AWOL in the OVO Energy Tour Series, finishing ahead of a number of elite women competitors in the series finale in Salisbury, and experiencing UCI events in Holland and Belgium. The two Dutch events didn’t go according to plan, marred by crashes and mechanicals, but in the Brabantse Pijl race in Flanders she finished ninth in the junior race.
A busy summer continued with the Malvern Classic Downhill, UK Gravity Enduro and the Scarborough leg of the National Junior Road Series; still to come are the National Mountain Bike Championships, back to Holland for the Junior Tour of Assen, the North-West Junior Tour and the Cyclo-cross nationals.
All this off-Island competition means travel is both costly and logistically challenging. Almost all trips involve packing a vehicle and putting it on a ferry to England; it’s not just bikes and tools, but auxiliary items, as anyone who’s tried fitting a pressure washer – used for mountain bike events – into an overhead locker will vouch. Occasionally Bridson can take advantage of a network of family and friends in England with room to store kit, which enables her to fly with minimal luggage.
There is sponsorship – both at team level through HSBC’s support of the Jersey Cycling Association Youth Academy and through a range of individual supporters – but it’s still a big financial and personal commitment.
Cycling and schoolwork take up the majority of her time and invariably means a bit less time for other teenage pursuits – even more so from September when she’ll be Deputy Head Girl at JCG.
‘I’ve got a group of friends who I spend time with when I’m here, but it’s usually during the week rather than nights out at the weekend,’ she said.
It’s not just being away that curtails the social life, there’s also a fairly strict dietary regime arranged with Jersey-based nutrition expert Kit Chamier.
‘It’s probably just as well that I cycle, or I’d be the size of a house,’ she added. ‘Most things are fairly controlled, although I am occasionally allowed a pizza or other bad stuff.’
A few weeks after former England cricketer Lydia Greenway told the JEP about the steep rise in profile and media coverage for her sport, it was heartening to hear a female athlete at the opposite end of her career talk about the positive effect of this.
‘Women’s cycling has come on a long way and there are lots of events such as the [OVO Energy] Women’s Tour and plenty of TV coverage – it’s really on the up,’ Bridson said.
The achievements of British male cyclists is equally inspirational, dating back to London 2012 and Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win in the same year, and the Islander even enjoyed a ride-out with one of the best-known British cyclists last year.
‘I was back in the Isle of Man for Christmas and out riding with a friend when [IoM native] Mark Cavendish and some others came alongside and we were riding together – it was quite relaxed, and no sprinting!’
Bridson will be back in the Isle of Man for a well-earned family holiday later in the summer, but then it’ll be back to Jersey for further training and more trips to races as she homes in on her Island Games goal for 2019.