Dame Sarah Storey: “the normal of last year may not return for some time”

Jul 30, 2020, 11:54 AM

In what should have been the lead-up to the Tokyo Paralympic Games the multiple UCI World Champion and Paralympic gold medalist on both road and track Dame Sarah Storey reflects on 2020’s challenges, and her expectations for the coming year. We start with her reaction to the postponement of the Summer Paralympics. 

“When I heard the Games were postponed I was pleased to hear it hadn’t been a straight cancellation. There’s so many aspects of a Games to consider so it’s a huge thing to see moved, everything got changed pretty quickly – and now it’s a waiting game to see when it’s safe to travel and race again.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic was emerging, Dame Sarah was at the 2020 UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships, where she won the individual pursuit, the Scratch Race and the Omnium, in which she recorded the best time in the 200 metre time trial.

“The lockdown in Wuhan started just before the Track Worlds and there was a significant shift in cleaning in our hotel while we were in Canada,” she reveals. “I think the world changed during that week and the story of the virus spread. I had a normal road camp in Lanzarote immediately after the Worlds – Italy started to see a significant number of cases and it was then that I realised the normal of last year may not return for some time.”

Dame Sarah believes that the experience of taking time away from international competition to have children helped her adapt.

“My husband [Barney Storey] is a former tandem pilot and having his perspective has been invaluable. Racing changes have needed alternative thinking but as road is my main form of racing I’ve been able to race online to fill a gap and add intensity.

In the UK we were initially only allowed to leave the house for exercise once a day, so if I did two sessions, one was on the turbo. I often did turbo anyway so I could use my exercise slot to take the children on a walk. I think road racers like me have probably had the least number of changes to their training and we were fortunate to have good weather.

“It is strange not having any race plans on the calendar but having focused on different things whilst I was pregnant is helping me now too.” 

Looking forward, there is still uncertainty...

 We have a new plan to finish qualifying as the points from the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships of 2020 are transferred to two UCI Para-cycling Road World Cups in 2021. It’s not clear whether I need to race them to score more points so my decision will be based on the performance benefit in the long term. I’m keeping an open mind about what 2021 will look like and have rearranged my training camps as these for me are a key component of building towards a major event. I’ve always been a training animal so that helps in this situation a lot!” 

As a mentor and leader with Storey Racing

“Everyone I work with has responded differently but in Storey Racing we brought the team together with a new focus very early on and made use of online racing to continue working together. I think looking at the individual is crucial; some have needed a complete break whilst others have flourished... Everyone has built a new level of resilience and this will certainly stand them in good stead when racing resumes.

“It’s a privilege to help someone and if they’re better able to problem solve and find a solution that helps them overcome something then it’s an honour to have contributed. Sometimes people just need someone to listen and reflect, whilst others need a set plan, so I’ve done both for other riders during the pandemic.

“We nurture a close team anyway, so the riders were quick to adapt. They are a positive bunch who all get on well which means they can support each other too. Online racing at the Women’s Tour was something everyone could follow and now we’re trying to find ways of using social media to continue momentum.”

Effects on the para-cycling community and beyond

“Some athletes have returned to work in their profession, be that medical or public service of another kind, and in my case I’ve been working to enable walking and cycling to take the strain of a reduced capacity on public transport, as part of my role as Active Travel Commissioner of the Sheffield City Region. It’s been good to see many countries look to unlock the universal benefits of having more people walk and cycle. 


“Obviously some athletes have been affected by their teams needing to reduce wage bills and disabled athletes may have had more to consider if they are also in a vulnerable category.

“Female athletes have appeared to be a lower priority in some sports too and it would be good to see the return of sport as an opportunity to address the pre-pandemic inequalities.” 

How can cyclists use 2020’s experiences to pursue the Storey Racing ethos of #BestVersionOfYou?

“Throughout the pandemic, focusing on your own performance and what you can control has been key. Those who have done that are already benefiting from our team ethos.”