Brit talks about her love of racing and the value of happiness
Lizzy Banks doesn’t let the details get in her way of her goals.
No bike? That didn’t stop her from becoming a professional cyclist. Once she sinks her teeth into something, it’s safest to not get in her way.
A friend in 2013 asked Banks if she wanted to do a charity sportif and explained that she could choose between a 100-kilometre or 100-mile course. Naturally, Banks chose the longer distance — even though she didn’t have a bike. “I went on Gumtree, which is like Craigslist, and found a bike locally for £100 and then started doing some training rides. I’d ride like 50 miles. I would completely bonk so badly but I had no idea what it was. I’d run out of energy and then I’d go to a shop and just buy loads of Coke and loads of sweets and a chocolate bar. I’d get halfway back home, then get more sweets and Coke, and then ride and get home.”
The following year, after a bikepacking trip from Dubrovnik to Venice with her partner, she started to ride her bike to get to her medical school placements. “I was always running late so I was always tearing it up. I realised that I was really fast and that I was getting better and going past loads of people so I decided to enter the university hill climb competition. I did it and I came in fifth.” For Banks, after coming fifth in a local competition, she drew what she considered to be the obvious conclusion. “At that point I was like ‘I want to race! I could be the best!’”
Again, there was a detail getting in the way of being the best. “I didn’t know how to race. It’s really complicated even working out how to get a race license from British Cycling. So I spent the winter thinking I really want to race but I don’t know how to do it. I didn’t train. I didn’t even think about training.”
Eventually, she got the paperwork sorted out and started racing in 2015. “I would laugh at my teammates who said they were going on a training ride. I thought, ‘What’s a training ride? Isn’t it just a ride?’ I was so unbelievably green.” Even though she was getting her “head kicked in at the beginning,” she moved up the ranks and “got picked up by a team just before the first national championships. At the end of that year I decided, ‘Ok I want to make it. I want to be a professional. How do I get better?’”
The answer was to invest in a coach. He asked her about her goals and she didn’t hesitate. “I said, ‘I want to go to the Olympics.’” He clearly wasn’t prepared for this response and said, “Ok, um, well…” In the end, Banks didn’t get to the Tokyo Olympics “but that’s only because I landed on my head,” she explains. “I would have gone otherwise.”
When she says she landed on her head, it’s no exaggeration. While racing at Strade Bianche in 2021, Banks suffered a crash that left her severely concussed and forced her to sit out the remainder of the season as she recovered. As is so often the case with recovery, it was not a linear process. This past autumn in particular was a particularly trying time. Banks had recovered by the start of October but needed to look for a new contract after missing the season. Other riders may have taken this as a sign to retire from the sport but anytime Banks asked herself if it was time to call it a day, she had the same thought. “The problem was I kept saying ‘For God’s sake, if only I didn’t want to race so much, it would make my life so much easier. I wouldn’t have this quandary: should I, shouldn’t I?’ The problem is I still really wanted to do it. Now where I am, I totally know that it was the right thing to continue.”
Now that she has signed with EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, Banks reflects on the challenges of 2021 as “a blessing in disguise. I’d had no idea how much the team was stepping up. I really, really like Rachel [Hedderman, General Manager] on a personal level as well. I’d always said if EF sponsored a women’s team, then I wanted to be on it so it’s the perfect opportunity for me. It’s just such a great environment and everyone’s so nice. And I’m so bloody happy!”
Her happiness radiates when Banks talks about the upcoming season. “I’m really just so excited and so content and so happy in this environment. I’ve not actually even met anybody yet but I’m just in such a good place mentally and that is just so important. I’ve always had a positive mental attitude and I’ve always been like ‘crack on, look on the bright side.’ I’ll find a silver lining in anything so I guess that’s what it is really. I’m so happy.”
Banks has some racing goals for 2022 but she’s not prepared to share them just yet. “My main goal is just to be racing again. That’s not really a goal because I’ll get on the start line in February. To be happy and to be healthy and to enjoy it. I do have personal goals for sure but I am really realistic that I don’t know where I will stand when I get back into racing and I don’t know how long it will take for me to get back to what I expect of myself and feeling 100% race fit. I will give everything I can as I always do and I will try my best and push myself to my limit but I really don’t know whether I will be up there and right in front at those races. I’ll do everything I can to get the best possible result and personal race goals will likely come later in the year.”
She does see good reason to be optimistic about how her season will go. “I’m not as tired as I typically have felt after certain training sessions and I think that’s a result of not having the chronic workload that you usually have in the course of the year. My body’s had such good rest that I think I might actually surprise myself with what I’m capable of this year. I can’t overestimate the value of happiness and I’m just so full of excitement. There’s barely a ride that goes past that I don’t think, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m just so looking forward to it!’”
There is one particular goal that the Brit has her eye on and it’s not on the road. “My secret-but-not-that-secret goal is that I want to set the Fastest Known Time on Peak 200, which is a 225-kilometer (140-mile) mountain bike route in the Peak District. There are a certain number of people who’ve done it and completed it and it’s not as yet been completed by a woman as far as I know, but I want to set the Fastest Known Time overall. I think I can.”
There is, of course, one minor detail but it doesn’t concern Banks. “I’ve barely ridden a mountain bike at all and I’ve not done any of that route yet, but I still think I can. I’m convinced that I can do it. I’m absolutely convinced that I can do it. I’m so determined that I don’t see any reason why I can’t do it.
“I just need a mountain bike first.”