Women’s Cycling Interview: Team Director Rachel Heal
Following a successful pro career that included representing Great Britain at the 2004 Olympic Games, Rachel Heal moved to the driver’s seat of the team car as a directeur sportif. She currently leads the American-based women’s squad of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team.
Name: Rachel Heal
Hometown: Chester, United Kingdom
Residence: Asheville, North Carolina
Work: Director for UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team
What are some of your earliest memories about bikes? What brought you to the sport of cycling?
I remember learning to ride a bike; I lived on a small and friendly street where the “first bike” was passed from family to family, often painted a new color for each new child that got it. I think it was blue when I had it and red for my sister. For me a bike was a mode of transport, a way to get to school and to see friends, and later to get to university. I didn’t start racing a bike until I was 25, and I’m not sure I even knew bike races existed until not much before that.
What do you love about bike racing? What is it about bike racing that motivates you to put in all the hard work and endure the suffering that goes along with it?
The competition! I am, and always have been, very competitive. I will admit: when I raced I only trained because I had to in order to be successful, not because I enjoyed riding a bike. If I could have just raced and not trained, I would have done it. Now I enjoy getting out on the bike — as long as the weather is good! If it’s raining, I won’t ride.
Where do you enjoy riding your bike the most?
My current residence of Asheville has to be one of my favorite places, there are so many great rides there; the roads are quiet and the scenery is amazing. My favorite rides all still involve a lot of climbing (there aren’t many flat roads around Asheville), although they’re a lot slower now than they used to be!
What advice would you give an aspiring cyclist?
Enjoy the ride! You have to love what you’re doing. It’s too hard if you don’t. Focus on the good stuff, what you have, and what you get to do, not what you don’t. And learn to work hard when you’re on the bike and relax when you’re not. My first coach taught me that good recovery is as important as good training.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start racing? What advice do you give to women who are new to riding a bike?
The advice is the same for both: give it a go. You never know if you’re going to like it until you try. Don’t be intimidated; remember, everyone has to start somewhere.
What is your biggest cycling goal?
To direct a team at the Tour de France
What cycling accomplishment are you most proud of?
As a rider, representing Great Britain at the Olympic Games and winning a medal at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
As a director, probably the 41 wins we got with Colavita in 2011. I can’t take credit for directing all of them, much as I might try. Adrian Hedderman (our team mechanic) directed at some races when we split the team to do two races at the same time. We had an amazing team that year, and set the bar pretty high for what you can achieve with teamwork and confidence in each other.
Other than race results, what kind of impression do you want to leave on the world of cycling?
As a director, I guess I’d like to be known for bringing a team together to really work as a team, and helping riders achieve their potential.
What is your favorite non-cycling activity?
Does drinking coffee count as an activity? I love cooking, and enjoy spending time making meals and baking when I’m at home. On the more active side, I enjoy hiking, and would love to go skiing in the winter (I’ve only been twice, but scared myself and loved it at the same time).
What do you do in your downtime?
Drink coffee, cook and sleep. I don’t ever seem to have enough downtime to get much else done.
What kind of offseason vacations do you take?
The last couple of years it’s been beach vacations, although it has to be at a place with stuff to do –watersports, etc. — as I get bored with sunbathing very quickly.
If you weren’t a cyclist, what would you be doing?
Before I became a cyclist I was an engineer, so that’s a possibility, but I think I’ve found my perfect job as a directeur sportif.
What non-cycling athletes or teams do you root for?
The England rugby team, which can mean interesting times in the house at Six Nations time, as my fiancée Adrian is proudly Irish and just as much of a rugby fan as I am.
What’s your favorite movie/book/song/dance move?
I watch TV shows much more than movies; anything by Aaron Sorkin: “The West Wing”, “Newsroom”, those kinds of things are my favorite. As a kid I was a huge bookworm. I used to read with a torch under the covers, but now I don’t seem to have time to read. When I do, biographies are my favorite, and I did read the Hunger Games earlier this year, which I couldn’t put down. My favorite song is “Proud” by Heather Small. I can’t listen to it without it giving me goose bumps. It’s the track the BBC used to use during their Olympic coverage, and I used it for motivation warming up.
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