While the rising mountain bike star was battling it out for Great Britain’s only spot in the women’s race, she told her family she would get a tattoo if she was selected, and her mom said she would do the same.
After months of hard work, Richards got the news in June that she would be heading to the Olympic Games to compete in the cross-country mountain bike event. Now Richards plans to follow through on her promise. The only problem is they’re both terrified of needles.
“Me and my mum had already been planning it, and I really do think if I get one she will also get one too,” Richards told VeloNews. “No one in our family has a tattoo. So yeah, I just think it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, just to remind me of being able to achieve my goal. I would love to get one of the rings on me, it would feel very special.
“We’re both scared of needles. So, I think we’re probably pathetic in that sense but yeah, I definitely think she would get one. She’s so patriotic about being British and she loves the Olympics more than anyone in the world. I think she just feels so proud.”
Richards’ family are her biggest fans, and she gets a lot of moral support from them when she’s at races. Reading notes from her mother is part of her meticulous race day rituals that help her get mentally ready for the fight ahead.
“The last thing I always do is read a card that my mum sends me. That always happens before I race anything. Normally it stays in my back pocket as well when I’m racing,” said Richards.
“She’s amazing, she sends me a new card for every race. I always like I’m always looking through my suitcase trying to find it as well, she always hides one. I’m very lucky to have her sending me a card to every race.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Richards will not have her family with her in Izu on Tuesday, but she knows that they, and their neighbors, will be screaming for her in front of the television.
“I think they’ll have a big party in the garden. I have all my grandparents and all the village around. And yeah, I’m sure they’ll have an amazing time watching it together,” she said.
Punchy racing and calming nerves
With little else to do while out in Japan, the riders have had plenty of chances to scope out the course. It is the same route that the male riders battled it out on, which saw Richards’ teammate Tom Pidcock storm to victory while pre-race favorite Mathieu van der Poel came unstuck on a steep rock jump.
Richards has raced on it before and she’s looking forward to getting out there again to race.
“I actually went to the test event before COVID happened, in 2019, and it’s a really technical course, it is quite manmade, with a lot of features,” she said. “There’s a huge drop and lots of technical aspects of the course and it’s got some steep, punchy climbs. It’s very hard and very jaw-dropping almost. That’s why I’ve been working hard at home to try and get my technical abilities up, but I think it’ll be a really fun, exciting course. And I think the heat will make it super hard as well.”
The 24-year-old Richards made her name as a future star on the cyclocross and mountain bike circuits over the last five years. She is a two-time under 23 world champion in cyclocross, and was a silver medalist in the junior cross-country mountain bike race at the 2015 worlds, while she has multiple national titles in both disciplines.
She had a major breakthrough at the elite level in mountain biking in 2020 when she took her first world cup victory at the Nové Město World Cup short track event last September, beating Pauline Ferrand-Prévot in a dramatic sprint. She did it again just a few days later in the back-to-back contest, and finished in the top 10 in both Olympic-distance events.
This season, she has gone up a level again and sits fourth in the world standings but it hasn’t been easy with COVID-19 playing havoc with the season.
“COVID has made it hard to like really take a step up,” she said. “Normally we would race a bit more at the start of the season and use that to judge where we are. This year with COVID, we haven’t been able to get out to those races. So, then you’re relying on turning up to the World Cup to be in a race-fit state when you haven’t actually managed to get to any of the races yet.
“I’ve trained really hard this winter, I’ve done everything I can do. So yeah, I think I’m in a good state going forward into the Olympics. I always train as hard as I can, so I’m just trusting what I’ve done, and it will be enough to get me like a good result,” Richards said.
The disruptive nature of COVID-19 restrictions has also had an effect on Richards’ confidence at times and she needed some guiding words from her family ahead of the Leogang World Cup at the start of June.
In the end, it proved to be a hugely confidence-building race as she rode to sixth place on the hilly course.
“I never feel super confident. I’ve never watched a race and be like, ‘oh my god, I’m going do amazing.’ It’s not really in my nature,” Richards said. “I really struggled in that race last year and my first race of the season in Albstadt I struggled with the elevation and the climbing in the heat. That race had quite a similar course so I had kind of written myself off,” said Richards.
“I needed my sister and my mum just to give me a bit of confidence, but I was just super pleased with how it went. Now I do think I can take confidence in that. I think it’s quite easy to remember like a bad result, but I think after having quite a few good results, now I can actually take confidence, like in my ability.”