What could be the defining moment of Joss Lowden’s career is just days away. On Thursday, the day the 33-year-old has been building up to for years, will finally arrive and women’s cycling may — or may not — have a new Hour Record holder.
The record attempt, which is being supported predominantly by team sponsor Le Col, is deemed the Le Col Hour record. Alongside financial support, Le Col is also using the opportunity to showcase, and test, its latest aerodynamic kit. When we speak, Lowden has just arrived in Grenchen, where she will attempt the record. The Drops-Le Col rider travelled to Switzerland following a successful week in Flanders for the world championships where she placed eighth in the time trial, fifth in the mixed relay, and put in a strong shift on the front for her GB teammates in the road race.
“It was cool. It was a really good week actually,” Lowden says of the experience. “Pretty full-on of course, but such a cool experience, the road race was nuts, the crowds, I've literally never experienced anything like it.’
Given the proximity to the Hour record attempt, placing eighth in the world in the time trial must have given her a confidence boost? “I’m pretty happy with that,” she says. “I think I probably threw away a few places just a few things I messed up, like bad cornering, but I was actually ultimately pleased…certainly for my first World Champs I think it probably was overall pretty good.”
On the afternoon of our conversation, Lowden is battling some pre-race nerves as well as the unexpected arrival of her period, something which she is happy to be open about: “being female, we're affected by hormones, and at the moment it's definitely clouding how I feel about everything,” she says. “But I'm sure that in a couple of days, I'll be feeling a lot more positive so I’m trying not to read too much into it."
Naturally, after a week of racing in Flanders, Lowden is also feeling a certain amount of fatigue, but she is hoping that four days is enough to recover from the effort. “It was ambitious to put it off the back of worlds,” she concedes, “and of course I'm tired and I can feel the effects of a whole week of World Championship racing. But hopefully I've got the form that will see me through Thursday.”
Form is the only thing that Lowden needs to turn up with at the velodrome on Thursday to beat Vittoria Bussi’s 2018 record of 48.0007km. “Absolutely every element of my bike, the equipment I'm riding, the skinsuit from Le Col, everything has been really, really thought out,” she says of the preparation that has been undertaken by those around her. “Which is partly why I get super nervous because it's like everything that's controllable, we've controlled, we've really nailed,” she adds.
Lowden’s partner, Dan Bigham, is renowned in the sport for his aerodynamic engineering skills and has been integral to her record preparation. “Dan's done so much work, WattShop has done a huge amount of work in terms of everything I'm riding and I've just got to execute it,” she says. “And that's the most volatile aspect of the whole performance, that's what's sitting on my shoulders. You're like ‘everybody else has done their job. Can I do mine?’ And that's where the nerves come from.”
“I'm like, ‘what am I nervous about? Is it the pain of the Hour?’ It's not that. I think it's literally just the fear of failure. That's what I get nervous about, especially when you go into something like this, where you've made the statement of ‘I'm going to break the world record.’ It's like this really bold statement. So obviously it's super nerve wracking. Because you think, ‘Can I actually do what I know I've done before?’” She says, referring to the fact that she already unofficially broke Bussi’s record in training earlier this year, covering 48.160km.
If she can overcome her nerves going into the Hour, Lowden is hoping to be able to enjoy the experience. “I'm hoping that I will be able to go into it and feel as excited about it as I have done in all these months leading up to it because I have felt really good about it,” she says. “It's been this really cool project to be working on and to be able to do it with Dan as well. It's been fun. It's been something that we've talked about a lot so I want to be able to really enjoy it.”
In the days leading up to the attempt, Lowden will familiarise herself with the Grenchen track, on which she has never ridden before, “and then I’ll just go through the motions like I do for any other race,” she says. “That's what I'm treating it like. I've got my plan for Thursday, treating it as if I'm doing a time trial at the exact time that I'm starting and treating it like that's my start slot. And so [I will] work out my day, my schedule, my warmup, my nutrition, like I would for a race.”
She is hoping that her nerves will be assuaged by the familiar routine: “As I get closer to it, and I'm kind of hoping that the nerves actually get less and less because the process that we're so used to going through just fits into that sequence.”
Whichever way the record goes, Lowden still has the rest of her road season to see through in the coming weeks. She will race two British-based events, starting with The Women’s Tour from the 4th and finishing with the national championships in mid-October. “A pretty busy few weeks but I'm definitely really looking forward to the Women's Tour because I haven't raced in the UK for a road race in a couple years so it's going to be really cool,” she says. “I hope that the British public can bring it out as much as the Belgians did.”
Lowden has had something of a breakthrough season on the road this year, starting with a standout ride at the Healthy Ageing Tour in March which she backed up with a fifth place at Brabantse Pijl. Then in July, at the UCI 2.2 Tour de Feminin in the Czech Republic, she showed just how honed her time trialling skills are by winning the fourth and final stage from a solo attack by over five minutes — taking the GC by 6:25.
It was a ride that caught the eye of big teams, and, after three seasons riding for the British-based Drops squad, Lowden recently signed a two-year deal with the new Uno-x women’s team — who are hoping to gain WorldTeam status. “I’m pretty excited about that,” Lowden says. “I think the team looks really nice and the girls that have been signed, from what I know of them, are all really lovely girls as well. So I think probably we're going to have good racing and have a nice time as well.”
The team’s General Manager, Jens Haugland, has been open in interviews about the Norwegian squad’s commitment to equality and nurturing a positive team environment above results, which is something Lowden is looking forward to seeing first hand. “I really like what they're doing, the whole ethos about equality,” she says, before qualifying by adding: “Actually, to be honest, it is what it should be. It’s almost like we shouldn't be saying, 'oh, it's so great that they're like this' because actually it should be that this is what teams are like — it should be that they pay equal salaries for men and women. It should be what happens.”
Last time Rouleur spoke to the British rider she was balancing work alongside cycling. Now, thanks to the salary she will receive at Uno-X she will be able to focus full-time on training and racing. “It's a professional contract, and I totally get they want full commitment,” she says. “So that's going to be a pretty novel experience. But I think it should just be a good one. I'm quite intrigued to see what I can do when I'm just really focused on it and not being distracted by work and other stresses.”
Whether she breaks the Hour record on Thursday or not, Lowden’s future in the sport is looking bright.
Joss Lowden's Hour attempt will be broadcast live by Le Col and can be viewed here