Laura Kenny receives mentoring from Ennis-Hill before return at worlds

William Fotheringham at Manchester Velodrome
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Laura Kenny celebrates her gold in the Women’s British National Omnium Championships at Derby last Saturday on her return to cycling after giving birth. </span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Alex Whitehead/</span>
Laura Kenny celebrates her gold in the Women’s British National Omnium Championships at Derby last Saturday on her return to cycling after giving birth. Photograph: Alex Whitehead/

The multiple Olympic champion Laura Kenny has received mentoring from the retired champion heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill as she has built up to a return to competition since the birth of her and husband Jason’s first child, Albert, in August. “She’s been there on the other end of the phone and that’s been great,” Kenny said, “because my body has gone through something it has never gone through before and you don’t really know how you’re going to feel.” Kenny said “just to take it slowly” was the best advice she has received.

“The thing that was key was just forgetting about how I felt before and not rushing straight back to those numbers I had before,” she added. “Our programme is very power-based. Everything we do is recorded and I could see power on a daily basis and it’s just about forgetting about that because I was chasing numbers that were pre-Rio [2016] and I’m not even there now. I couldn’t expect to be there straightaway. You’ll get these feelings, it’s hard initially but, once you settle into it, it comes back quick.”

Kenny won a total of four gold medals at the London and Rio Olympics and is set to make her international return to racing next week at the world track championships at Apeldoorn in the Netherlands, the track where she first broke through back in 2010. To date she has only a handful of track training sessions; her comeback was initially planned for August’s European championships in Glasgow but, according to the GB performance director, Stephen Park, she is “ahead of expectations”.

The 25-year-old from Hertfordshire has not competed since Rio, and has no international qualifying points for individual events so cannot race the multi-event omnium, in which she has won two Olympic golds. Instead she is hoping for a slot in the team pursuit, contested on Wednesday and Thursday. Jason, the other half of Great Britain’s golden cycling couple, has emerged from a year’s retirement and will ride in the team sprint.

The pair’s simultaneous return to competition with a six-month old baby has presented the Great Britain team with something of a challenge, albeit one that appears to have been happily embraced. In the Netherlands they will stay in their own apartment away from the team hotel – as they both pointed out they and young Albert will have considerably more paraphernalia with them – and their parents will be on hand to assist with child care.

Laura Kenny is not the first world-class cyclist to return to racing after becoming a mother – the paralympian Dame Sarah Storey is the most notable recent example – but she conceded she had had a few nervous moments. “Being a mum was what I most wanted and initially I didn’t think about it. It’s only once you start riding again that you realise how far away you are, especially when you leave it at an Olympic Games. The difference in your form is absolutely huge.

“It was only the first couple of months that I was panicking I would never get the form back, they were really quite hard. My sister came over when Albie was a month old, she was on the cross-trainer, I was on the turbo trainer and she said, ‘are you doing an effort?’ I said ‘yeah’, she said ‘remember, this is the hardest day’, and it was true, that day was horrendous, but it’s got easier since. Every day I started to feel more like my old self.”

It was not until her coach, Paul Manning, threw Kenny into a training session with her team pursuit squad early in January that she was certain of her fitness. “He asked me to do an effort, I wanted to lay off the back [of the group] but he said, ‘if not now, when?’ I just went and did it, I got round and that got me going.”

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