Lizzy Bennett, Drops Cycling. Photo: Breakaway Digital
Lizzy Bennett burst onto the scene in 2019 with victory at the Curlew Cup, narrowly pipping new Drops Cycling teammate April Tacey to the line. Already a member of the Welsh U23 programme, Drops Cycling further capitalised on Lizzy's talent by offering her a Stagiaire contract for the remaining part of the 2019 season. Lizzy was unfortunate to be caught up in a crash at the conclusion of the Prudential Ride London Classique but her strong performances earned her a full contract with the team for 2020.
In this Q&A, Lizzy talks about her route into cycling and how self-belief plays a big part in her success on the road. She also speaks candidly about how a cycling career is full of uncertainty, where riders have to balance their ambitions with the reality of earning enough to survive. Sadly for some riders, the money runs out before the passion and the talent does.
Lizzy's hunger for more success is obvious and is mirrored by the ambitions of Drops Cycling's Team Director, Bob Varney, who has been vocal about their desire to step up to the Women's WorldTour.
2021 could be a very exciting year for both.
TGC: Tell us about your route into cycling Lizzy?
LB: I started cycling from a young age. My Dad cycled, so I picked it up from there. I did a bit of everything road, track and cyclocross. I first joined Cardiff JIF and at that time, I was only one of a few youngest in the club but since then the youth element of the club has flourished over the years. I’m very fortunate to have Newport Velodrome on my doorstep, where there would be weekly sessions for youths organised by Welsh Cycling and also I would get stuck into the Welshcyclo cross league every winter growing up. It was a great bit of fun and something to look forward to on the weekends.
"Every year, I’ve improved little by little but last year the results went through the roof compared to my expectations."
TGC: When did you start to believe there was a serious future in the sport for you?
LB: I started to believe there was a serious future in the sport for me last year in 2019. Every year, I’ve improved little by little but last year the results went through the roof compared to my expectations resulting in a breakthrough year on the British scene in 2019. I don’t think many people would have known my name before that. My attention is now turned to the European scene and hopefully I can make a name for myself there.
TGC: Describe the experience of being a stagiaire at Drops in 2019?
LB: The stagiaire for Drops came about a bit unexpectedly. I was first in contact with Bob Varney around the time of the Tour Series. He congratulated me on my ride in one of the rounds of the Tour Series. It all started from there and from then we kept in contact. It wasn’t until my win at the Curlew Cup, he then offered me a stagiaire contact. I raced Ride London Classique for the team, which I was unfortunately brought down in the big crash at the finish and Tour of Scotland which I didn’t have much luck with due to several mechanicals. Just getting a taste of the different level and type of racing, it made me hungry for more.
Putting in the hard work. Photo: Breakaway Digital
"I kept believing in my ability, and race after race the results kept coming. I think having confidence in myself worked wonders for me."
TGC: What was your mindset going into that season?
LB: I joined the Welsh U23 programme in the Winter of 2018 and decided to join a brand new team called Velo Performance run by Iuri Jorge for the 2019 season. The team was awesome and I can’t thank them enough for the support. The mindset going into the 2019 season was to improve and build on what I had achieved the previous years. I had set goals for the year, but as the season progressed I kept exceeding them. This was something I definitely wasn’t used to. Getting the first result last year was the hardest but as the season went on, I kept believing in my ability, and race after race the results kept coming. I think having confidence in myself worked wonders for me.
TGC: Can you describe the emotions of being awarded a contract at Drops for 2020?
LB: I knew getting the stagiaire contract for the team wasn’t a clear ticket for 2020. Bob wanted to see what I was like as a person and as a rider. Obviously I didn’t disappoint as he awarded me a contract for 2020. It was an awesome feeling. I couldn’t wait to step up a level and have a full season doing UCI racing and hopefully repay the faith back to Bob.
TGC: How have you approached the new COVID landscape? Have you embraced Zwift or avoided it like the plague?
LB: Unfortunately, the past few months haven’t been great to me. I’ve had a knee injury, which I picked up at the end of February when the racing was about to stop. It was really hard, trying to get my knee sorted due to lot thing’s being shut due to COVID or things being moved online. It’s been a tough period, but I’ve tried to keep a positive outlook as much as I can. Having the knee injury at this moment of time has meant I haven’t missed out on any racing. It would have been mentally harder if I had been missing out. I’ve been back training now for two months and everything is moving in the right direction with no knee issues. I think it could have been very easy for me to lose focus during this tough period, but the untimely break has given me even more added motivation to reach my goals and it’s taught me how much I love cycling.
Lizzy fuelling the engine. Photo: Breakaway Digital
"Many riders on continental teams who don’t have a good alternative income or opportunities to progress within the industry tend to revaluate their cycling career prospects."
TGC: Cycling’s finances as a whole often seem precarious, would you say this affects you and other riders when you think about your career in the sport?
LB: This affects a lot of riders and teams in the UK. Many contracts for riders are on a yearly basis because teams are not able to secure long term sponsorship deals. In the past few years we’ve seen many great teams fold due to this. Many of the teams in the UK will be able to cover all of your expenses, however the vast majority can’t pay an actual wage. From my experience, many riders on continental teams who don’t have a good alternative income or opportunities to progress within the industry tend to revaluate their cycling career prospects because they aren’t able to make a good enough living from the sport and want some financial security for the future.
TGC: I know from speaking to British male Continental riders that very few of them receive a wage. Is this similar in the women’s Peloton below World Tour level? How do riders keep their dreams alive?
LB: The majority of rider’s that aren’t at a Pro-Conti or World Tour level will have a job of some sort or a personal sponsorship deal. Very few teams pay their riders. Luckily, I’m in a very fortunate place to be part of the Welsh U23 programme, which provides coaching, support from Sport Wales and some financial support. I’m currently living at home with my parents, so that takes a lot of the financial stress off me, which I’m very grateful for. For the past 2 years, I have had a part time job alongside my cycling. It was difficult to juggle time off for racing and the odd training camp as the company would want sufficient notice which wasn’t always possible due to the uncertainty of when I would race next and the hectic racing schedule.
Lizzy with an exciting future ahead of her. Photo: Breakaway Digital
"So, why do the majority of us go through this hardship? I guess it’s because we love the sport."
TGC: What was the part time job you were doing?
LB: I was working at Sainsburys a few days a week, then worked overtime when I could. I started working there as soon as I left school and only stopped in October last year. It was contracted hours, which was quite awkward at times, however the regular income was needed to fund the cycling. Even though I joined the Welsh U23 programme in the Winter of 2018, I still opted to work during the 2019 season. If there was an option to earn more money, why not? Once last year's season was over, I decided to leave the job, as mentally it made me so drained. One of my contracted days of work, for example, was a Saturday. Back in August last year, I had the option of doing my usual six hour shift or racing Ride London Classique. I chose the latter! Although I would always prioritise cycling over the job, it was very stressful negotiating the time off.
TGC: It must be a major challenge trying to train like a professional whilst also requiring additional income to make that possible.
LB: It’s difficult to find a company that will embrace your cycling ambitions against their own goals. There is often a major disconnect between earning money from a regular job often requiring little skill, and from trying to earn money from a cycling career which requires a huge amount of dedication and time. It would be easier and less stressful to give up your ambitions and take a regular job that has financial security. So why do the majority of us go through this hardship? I guess it’s because we love the sport.
The GC would like to thank Lizzy for sharing her insights and experiences as a rider.
We wish her and Drops Cycling every success for the future. If you would like to know more about the race team please visit their website dropscycling.com
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