Cottenham the venue for Victoria Pendleton’s first competitive ride

pendleton08:19 Friday 27th November 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: Let’s talk about an event that’s happening this weekend. The double Olympic gold medal winning cyclist Victoria Pendleton is preparing to make her competitive horse racing debut, just nine months after first climbing into the saddle. She’s set to take part in the Cambridge University United Hunts Club point-to-point at Cottenham, which is just outside of Cambridge on Sunday. Point-to-point is a form of amateur horse racing over fences. Victoria is taking part in the Switching Saddles Challenge, with the aim of transforming from a complete novice to riding at the world’s most prestigious jumps racing fixture, the Cheltenham Festival in March of next year. Well earlier I spoke to James Crispe, who is a racing commentator with the International Racing Bureau based in Newmarket, about her competitive point-to-point debut, and the differences between riding a bike and a horse.
JAMES CRISPE: I actually got the chance to meet Victoria a couple of weeks ago. I went to the trainer Alan Hill’s yard, where Victoria has been riding out for the last eight months or so, and got to meet her. She’s throwing herself into this Challenge through her sponsors Betfair. It’s called the Switching Saddles Challenge, where she is going from being a complete novice rider. She had her very first horse riding lesson in February, and now she’s riding in point-to-points. And the plan is for her to ride in the Cheltenham Festival in the Foxhunter Chase, which is the most prestigious race open to point-to-pointers in this country, in March. She said she’s always loved horses. She says that if it was left to her she would have been riding horses earlier, but because she comes from a bike riding family, when she was nagging her parents as a little girl for a pony, they said no no no, don’t have a pony. They’ve got a brain and you have to muck them out, whereas a cycle you’ve got some chance of controlling it, and it’s much less bother for you. So here’s a bike instead.
CHRIS MANN: Of course she’s as fit as a fiddle one would imagine as a dual Olympic gold medal winning cyclist. But as you say, going from riding an inanimate object to an animal is a very different thing. And anyone who’s ridden knows the horse is in charge.
JAMES CRISPE: Yes, she’s made this point. She said that her bike, when she was riding on the track, was absolutely millimetre perfect. The set up was absolutely identical every time she got on it. Whereas every horse is different, and every horse is slightly different every day you ride it. Just because you’ve ridden a horse one day, it’s behaviour may be slightly different the next day. So yes, there are huge changes. But she seems incredibly enthusiastic, there’s no doubt. She says that although she’s been sponsored to do this Challenge, she’s so enamoured by it, she said she’s never been happier in her life, and she says even once the Challenge is over in March she will definitely continue to ride in point-to-points.
CHRIS MANN: Now point-to-point is tough. The races are long, the conditions can be quite heavy, and there’s regular jumps. Evaluate how much of a task she’s set herself.
JAMES CRISPE: She has set herself a pretty stiff task. I alluded earlier in our conversation to the fact that this is one of the most dangerous sports in the country. Now Victoria is very used to having crashes. You could look her up on Youtube, Victoria Pendleton crash, and you can see her skidding down a velodrome, I think it’s somewhere in Australia, her having tangled with her great rival Anna Meares. And she’s got all the skin taken off one side of her, and bits of her Lycra have been torn. She’s tough in that way. But of course it’s much more of an endurance sport, because races tend to last for six minutes or more. So it’s much more of an endurance sport than what Victoria is used to. And just having the pure fitness, which shouldn’t be a problem for her, to still be helping your horse rather than hindering your horse after you’ve jumped the last eighteen or twenty obstacles, and the driving it up the run-in to try and win in a tight finish. That is a very different challenge to sprinting all out on a bike for ten or fifteen seconds.
CHRIS MANN: That’s James Crispe the racing commentator with the International Racing Bureau, talking about that race, the first point-to-point of the season. It’s at Cottenham near Cambridge on Sunday. First race at 12 and she’s in it.