Joss Lowden started her 2021 season by unofficially breaking the Hour record. A simulation attempt in February saw the Drops-Le Col s/b Tempur rider cover 48.160km. That’s 153m further than current record holder, Vittoria Bussi.
Having laid the foundations for her official Hour attempt later this year, Lowden then took to the road and had an impressive start to her season, coming 11th overall at Festival Elsy Jacobs, and 5th at Brabantse Pijl. After ending her Classics campaign in April, however, the 33-year-old began to suffer a knee injury.
“I sort of hacked my body together for Liege-Bastogne-Liege and just got around but not in the best shape. So then after that I had quite a few weeks off, just to get rid of this knee injury,” she said when we spoke to her via Zoom from her home near the Peak District a few weeks ago. “I'm starting to try and get fit again. It sounds ridiculous, but I actually just wasn't even fit enough to train so I had to come back really steadily and just ride.”
A week after we spoke to her, Lowden would travel to Brest for La Course. “Hopefully it's not going to be too bad at La Course,” she told us. “It has been quite a long time since I raced...I'm far from [the] top of my fitness. But then I never was going to be at this time of year anyway, because I was always going to have a bit of a break just because of the way the season went. It sounds ridiculous, but I'm a lot better than I was a week ago. So that's one thing.”
Joss Lowden at La Course, after our interview. Photo: RhodePhoto/Le Col
Despite her difficult return from injury, Lowden ended up performing exceptionally well in France. It was a lumpy course which featured four ascents of the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups. She finished 23rd in a stacked field of WorldTour riders.
In fact, perhaps it was just as well that Lowden’s injury forced her to take a break after the Classics: she’s been in incredible form since her return to racing. After La Course she and her teammates headed to the Czech Republic for the 2.2 Tour de Feminin between the 8th-11th July.
It’s a race that overlapped with the Giro d’Italia Donne which Lowden would have liked to do. “[it’s a] shame not to do that one. Obviously, It's like a really big, really cool race with lots of stages,” she said. “But maybe just looking at the team as well, and the riders that we've got, maybe we will do well in Czech Republic, and maybe it's a good alternative.”
Lowden was right, as a couple of weeks after our interview, Drops ended up dominating the Czech race. It suited a rider like Joss as a climber and time trial specialist. She finished second in the ITT and won the queen stage, taking the overall classification by over 6 minutes. Her Drops teammates worked perfectly to defend her position on GC.
As for the rest of this year, “It's all go, go go,” Lowden told us. “We've got lots of plans with things like Euros and Worlds and the Hour, The Women's Tour, it kind of gets really busy at the back end.”
Lowden also made the cut as travelling reserve for the Olympics, so we may see her leap into action in the next few weeks in Tokyo.
Photo: RhodePhoto/Le Col
The looming prospect at the end of Lowden’s season is her official Hour Record attempt, although she said that she has “not really done an awful lot of prep or thinking about it since... I did that practice run on it,” adding, “I haven't been on the track since February. I haven't done any testing.”
While Lowden herself might have put the attempt out of her mind for now “because there are so many things before that”, her team, sponsors, and aerodynamicist partner, Dan Bigham, have been planning and tinkering. “I know that Le Col has done a huge amount in terms of development of the suits, like the skinsuit, and the kit and stuff like that,” she said. “And then Dan and WattShop, have done a lot of development in terms of the equipment I'm going to ride. So things like cranks, extensions, all those bits and pieces actually are all coming along really well.”
The team’s clothing sponsor, Lowden said, have been instrumental to organising the attempt. “In terms of the planning for it, again, Le Col is completely taking the reins on it, which is awesome,” she said. “I can't quite believe how supportive they've been of it. Not just in terms of backing me to do it, but just everything supporting around it like the skinsuit development, the organising of it, the planning and just kind of taking on, because there is so much planning involved in the UCI world record.”
Bussi took her record in 2018 at the high altitude Aguascalientes velodrome in Mexico where the current men’s record was also claimed by Victor Campenaerts in 2019. Ideally, Lowden says, her Hour would also take place at altitude, “I would like to be going to Mexico, to Aguascalientes, or to go to Cochabamba in Bolivia to go and do it at altitude because when you run the numbers, the difference in how far you can go is really quite huge,” she said. “But it's just not feasible at the moment. Partly because of Covid, and travel, and cost and logistics also. I don't want to have another trip that I failed to be able to go on.”
With travel further afield off the cards, Lowden and her team explored their options within Europe before finally settling on the Velodrome Suisse in Grenchen, Switzerland. “Different tracks are fast or slow, basically, for various different reasons that you can either explain or not explain,” said Lowden. “And we looked at which ones would be good. Manchester is actually a pretty fast track, Odense in Denmark was an option as well.”
It helps that the Velodrome Suisse is home to Tissot Timing which the UCI mandate for use during record attempts, “so it was partly that, logistically, it just made everything a lot more straightforward because there's some certain things that were already taken care of,” said Lowden. “It's a pretty fast track, and they've been really helpful and supportive in organising it. So I guess it just ticked lots of boxes.”
Lowden hopes that her record attempt might spur further interest among the women’s peloton to tackle the Hour, “One of the reasons why I'm doing it is because I think it's really good for women's sport to do something that it's so big in the men's side, but doesn't have like a big track record of women attempting it,” she said. “And I kind of hope that by me doing it, it will just rally up some interest and get other women doing it.”
At 33, Lowden is showing no sign of slowing down, and while it’s common for female pros to continue well into their 30s, for Lowden, that was never on the cards. “I was always really set on this being my last season,” she said. “But then I suppose 2020 happened. And this year, it's just, it's really good. I like what's going on with the team. And when I look at the calendar for next year. And you see things like the Tour de France Femmes in there, and then you've got Commonwealth games. And I just think that I am not in a position to stop riding yet really.”
Photo: RhodePhoto/Le Col
Having entered the sport in her late twenties after pursuing a career, Lowden has a pragmatic approach to how much she is willing to let cycling dictate the direction of her life. “You get to that certain age where you start thinking you've got to start a family or something at some point,” she said. “And that's definitely on the cards, and I don't think it should be a topic that we don't talk about either.”
Since signing for Drops-Le Col s/b Tempur, Lowden has continued to balance two careers with the kind of drive that is inherent in many athletes. “I've always really tried to be really positive about juggling the two and having them both working alongside each other. And a lot of the time, it works really well,” she said.
Photo: RhodePhoto/Le Col
“I think it is really good to have the two and I'm really pleased that I had the career, first of all, and I can sort of scale it back and then go back to it. But I do sometimes wonder what it would be like if I just rode full time, I probably would be bored. And I'd probably go and find myself some project to do. I coach a few riders, I'd probably end up coaching more because I'd be like, ‘I've got more free time’ and then I'd end up working a load.”
For now, Lowden will continue to juggle her two careers. Whenever she chooses to call time on cycling, though, if she pulls off her Hour Record in October she will leave a lasting mark on the sport.