Friday, June 21, 2024

Sarah Phillips – Scottish and British Champion in the 90’s

"I never spent any time dwelling on results be they good or bad, I just refocussed on the next challenge."

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HomeInterviewsSarah Phillips - Scottish and British Champion in the 90's

It was that man Harry Tweed who suggested we speak to a lady who was hugely successful in Scotland in the 1990’s until her career was cut short by a horror accident.

She’s Sarah Rowe these days but in the world of cycling she’s remembered as Sarah Phillips; Scottish Champion at 10 and 25 miles in 1988, 1990 and 1991 with Scottish records at 10 miles with 22:43, 25 miles with 57:18 and 50 miles with 2:00:51 achieved during 1990.  

And that’s before we discuss her RTTC successes; RTTC 50 mile Champion in 1992 and runner-up in the 25 mile championship by one second; RTTC 25 mile Champion in 1993; RTTC 10 mile Champion in 1995.

Here’s her tale: 

Sarah Phillips
Sarah Phillips. Photo©Phil O’Connor

How and when did you get into cycling?

“I guess it depends on what you mean by “cycling”. 

“As youngsters my brother and I rode bikes with our parents for family days out. 

“My parents used to ride solo and latterly a tandem for the pure pleasure of pedalling and seeing the countryside.

“We were encouraged to see the bike as a means to enjoy what was around us but we were never forced to do it. 

“My brother and I spent our teenage years at the local riding school obsessed with horses and competing in show jumping events. 

“We used our bikes to get to the stables every day come rain or shine. 

“This was a six mile round trip after school and at weekends which was a means to get to the horses but in hindsight it served as a good base for my future cycling. 

“I did a couple of touring holidays with my parents and went to the CTC Birthday Rides which I loved and became interested in trying a time trial after seeing these at the York Rally. 

“Around this time I was struggling to be competitive in the show jumping arena due to having a horse who insisted on knocking down the last jump. 

“I met friends from school who had become involved in triathlon (canoeing, cycling and running) and were competing in a quadrathlon which required someone to ride a horse for the team. 

“I agreed to do this and went to see what they did for training. 

“I started cycling with them and found that I could keep up with quite a few of them thanks to the years of cycling up to the stables come rain or shine. 

“In the end my horse was lame and I didn’t ever do the team quadrathlon but I was hooked on the training. 

“I continued to dabble with some triathlon and canoeing. One of my friends was Robert Lindsay (son of the famous Sandy Lindsay) who encouraged me to try a 10 mile TT (1985). 

“I reluctantly did this and loved it at the same time as breaking the female club record. 

“The next morning I joined Deeside Thistle CC and that was the start!”

Your RTTC championship wins: 1992 the ’50’ – 1993 the ’25’ – 1995 the ’10’ were there other podiums?

“To be absolutely honest I can’t actually remember. 

“I did get some silver [‘25’] and bronzes as well as the wins mentioned but can’t remember what or when. 

“I also got silver in the BCF 3K Individual Pursuit Champs in 1994.”

I remember a controversy about one of your medals – was it a timekeeping mistake which went against you?

“Again I struggle to remember the details but it was the RTTC ‘25’ Champs and basically I won the event but a week later I had a phone call to say that there had been an error in the timing and that another rider had won the title. 

“It appears that the rider’s husband had got a different time from the timekeeper and queried it and got the result changed. 

“Incredibly bizarre as nothing was said on the day and there were always lots of spectators/fanatics out doing their own timing and nothing was mentioned at the time of the results. 

“It upset a lot of people but it didn’t really bother me as the ride was done and I had moved on to my next target event. 

“I could never be bothered to contest such things – for me it was all about my performance and that was what was of interest to me. 

“I had better things to do with my energy and that was to move on and train for the next race, I never spent any time dwelling on results be they good or bad, I just refocussed on the next challenge. 

“Sometimes on reflection I wish I had taken some time to enjoy the good results but that’s hindsight – or nostalgia – for you.”

Sarah Phillips
Sarah Phillips heading for 6th place in the Individual Pursuit at the 1994 Commonwealth Games. Photo©Phil O’Connor

It was unusual for Scottish girls to go down south back then – how were you accepted?

“I suspect there will have been some riders/husbands/parents who would rather I hadn’t got involved but equally there were others who gave me a lot of support and encouragement. 

“I became very friendly with Marie Purvis (Isle Of Man), Clare Greenwood (Wales) and Kim Staff and rode many events with them as team mates.”

You were on the British Road Race Championships podium twice: second in ’92 and third in ’93 – what are your memories of those races?

“The ride in 1992 was an important step forward for me as up until then I had been seen by many as purely a “tester”. 

“The course finished on a hill which suited me and I finished in second place ahead of three of the other riders who were subsequently selected to represent GB in the Barcelona Olympics. 

“I can’t remember the 1993 event but I do remember one year having two separate punctures and spending the whole race chasing and ending up catching the group on the last hill and still finishing on the podium.”

Remind us of your Scottish titles, which one(s) gave you most satisfaction?

“I can’t remember the Scottish titles but I know I broke some records, won the 10 and 25 ml TT Champs, and the BAR a few times. 

“The most satisfying was beating the hour for 25 miles in Dundee. 

“This wasn’t a championship event but an evening TT on the fast Dundee to Perth dual carriageway. 

“I was the first female to go under 60 minutes with a time of 59:49 and I also broke Beryl Burton’s all comer record that she did when she was in Scotland. 

“This meant a lot to me as it was still regarded as the blue riband event.”

Sarah Phillips
Sarah Phillips won the National 10 Mile TT Championships. Photo©Cycling Weekly

You rode the Commonwealth Games in 1994, how did that go?

“I had quite a bad winter in 1993 with illness and my preparation didn’t go to plan. 

“The course didn’t suit me in the heat either but it was a great experience with a fab team. 

“I was the only Scottish female cyclist and shared accommodation with the bowling team. 

“Their day consisted of coffee, a bit of practice, gin and a few cigarettes – I would be doing turbo whilst they sat and smoked on the patio! 

“Kenny and Roddy Riddle were also on the Scottish team and they looked after me like their sister – I had known them for years from going to many North of Scotland events and they always looked out for me – I am forever grateful to them. 

“I also had the opportunity to ride the 3K Individual Pursuit and finished 6th. I had never raced in a track bunch race before but was entered as a last minute entry for the Points Race… I finished 6th in this and loved it and came home wanting to do more track but this was before Manchester had the first indoor velodrome.”

And the Olympic Games in 1996, what are your memories of that?

“It was an amazing experience but I found it very difficult to stay focused for the whole time that we were away – there was 16 days between the RR and TT. 

“We had a holding camp in Tallahassee which did give the option to get away from the athletes village when the sickness bug was rife. 

“However, being away from the rest of the team made it hard to focus. 

“Unfortunately the women’s road race was held in horrible conditions and there were multiple crashes in the bunch due to the greasy city roads. 

“However, I managed to avoid them and had a pretty decent race. 

“The TT wasn’t the best course for me and I was still very weak from being ill just several days before (the bug had caught up with me). 

“One of the great memories I have is of spending time with fellow Scots out there: Graeme OBree, Brian Smith and I met up and spent some time with Rita and John Montgomery and Liz and Tom Clark. 

“That was very special as Rita, John, Liz and Tom had always been so encouraging and supportive during my racing years.”

Sarah Phillips
Sarah Phillips made the cover of ‘The Comic’ with her 25 Mile TT Championship. Photo©Cycling Weekly

What was your favourite discipline – time trials, road or track?

“Initially I just wanted to ride TTs. 

“However, once I tried RR I loved them. 

“I found it hard to avoid the accumulative fatigue associated with the 10 day and two week stage races (Tour de France Feminin and Tour of EEC) but I loved the five or seven stage events in Belgium, France etc. 

“I enjoyed the little track I did. 

“Whilst I was out in Atlanta (1996 Olympics) after the RR I decided that I would make the Individual Pursuit my main focus for the next games in Sydney in 2000 as the RR was such a lottery. 

“Wit