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Millie: Car Park Rides to European Races

Despite competing in national and international competitions across Europe in recent years, Millie Couzens was a latecomer to competitive cycling. But her cycling career has gradually progressed in recent years and she is now part of Team GB and elite Belgian Cyclocross team, IKO-Crelan. Millie talks to Alex Waite how she slowly engaged with the sport, why she loves the social aspect of cycling and two professional cyclists that she aspires to be like in the future.

"When I was younger I did quite a lot of different sports and changed between them .”

After her first experience riding for a local club at the age of 12, Couzens has always taken enjoyment from the sport. However, cycling was not a hobby that immediately grabbed her attention as she changed between different sports regularly in her early teen years. She has big plans to progress with her cycling career in the future, after her immediate focus – to achieve well in her A-Levels. 

A Slow Start With Cycling

Couzens began her cycling journey at local Oxfordshire club Bicester Millenium at the age of 12. She admits it was not her favoured sport at the time and it was more of a Saturday morning hobby. But there was always something drawing her back to the bike after she tried different sports.

“I started when I was about 12, so quite late compared to lots of people I race and train with now, who have been riding since they were way younger. But there was a local club near me called Bicester Millennium , which I started going to some sessions round the car park with my brother on a mountain bike as something to do on a Saturday.

“Then I started gymnastics so I moved away from cycling but then I realised that I preferred cycling to gymnastics so I swapped back again. When I was younger I did quite a lot of different sports and changed between them and then from then on just progressively did more and more.”

Switching back to cycling was a move that shaped Couzens future and passion. She went on to join a local race club, where she began to cycle in a more competitive environment and developed her love of one cycling form in particular – cyclocross. 

 

“Eventually I moved to Zappy’s – a race club, based in Oxford. I did a bit of road and cyclocross mainly to start with then starting training more and racing more and meeting more people then moved to PH-Mas, where I started racing cyclocross a bit more seriously and completely focussed on cycling. “I started competing nationally with PH-Mas, which was really cool and last year I was approached approached by a Belgian Cyclocross team called IKO-Crelan so this was my first cross season with them which unfortunately I didn’t get to race but that’s been really exciting to be part of something bigger abroad.”

It was a journey Couzens never expected to happen and her achievement and engagement with cycling has simply grown from a love of sport; cycling just happened to be the one she enjoyed most. “When I was younger, I knew I wanted to do some kind of sport, but I wasn’t sure what sport so I just did every sport and I started enjoying cycling so I just kept going with it but I never thought I would be at this level in cycling – it kind of just happened.”

Sociable Cycling With Friends and Team GB

Although Couzens route into cycling was unplanned on those Saturday mornings practicing in a car park, the 17-year old now races to a high standard. Couzens has become part of Team GB’s track endurance junior academy programme. While she enjoys the demands of training with Team GB, Couzens also takes great enjoyment from more leisurely rides with her friends. The social aspect of cycling is a big element for Couzens and she has made friends from all around the world through competitive cycling. 

“I’ve got a coach from the GB cycling team so all of my training is planned ahead but within that I have quite a few rides where it’s just a three hour ride where it’s just riding for leisure and I meet up with my friends and we’ll ride together and I really enjoy that and it’s nice to have a bit of a break from doing intervals as well but I do also enjoy the harder sessions too.

“The people you meet are great. I’ve made so many of my closest friends through cycling and people all over the countries and in different countries. You’re all going through a similar experience. I think it definitely helps bring you closer and it makes it more enjoyable as well, when you’re riding with people you enjoy riding with.” The social aspect also played a part in Couzens’ favourite tournament experience to-date – the European Youth Olympic Festival – that took place in 2019 in Baku, Azerbaijan

“One of the highlights would be when I went to the European Youth Olympic Festival  two years ago in Baku, which felt quite far away so that was exciting. The whole experience of being in the athlete’s village, competing over the week and training and being with the whole of Team GB was a really good experience.”

Lucinda Brand and Marianne Vos Can Do it All!

Although Couzens excels in cyclo-cross, she also competes in road racing events and has recently started track races too. As a result, the up and coming cyclist takes inspiration from Dutch cycling stars Lucinda Brand and Marianne Vos.

“I like cyclists who are combining multiple disciplines because that’s what I want to do so someone like Lucinda Brand at the moment is quite a big inspiration of mine because she’s a big cyclocross rider but she’s also riding on the road as well. Marianna Vos in the past has done a similar thing has definitely inspired me to realise that you can keep doing both and be successful in both at the same time.”

While Couzens has set herself big targets in her cycling career, she is trying not to get carried away and plans to focus on her school work before committing to a career in cycling. But turning professional and cycling for a living is her ultimate goal. 

“I want to balance cycling with doing well at school and after that I’d really like to ride full-time and sign a professional contract with a team and be riding professionally on the road at cyclocross but I’m not sure what team I’d like to be with.”

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