As final selection for the Tokyo Olympics nears, Evie Richards is within touching distance of fulfilling a lifelong dream.
The 24-year-old is battling Annie Last and Isla Short for the one ticket Great Britain has in the women’s mountain biking in Japan this summer, but has been dreaming of competing at an Olympics since before she had ever raced a bike.
“I can’t really describe it,” Richards told the PA news agency of what it would mean to compete. “I said I’ll only get a tattoo if I go to an Olympics and my mum said, ‘Right, I’ll get one too’. I think my nan would get one too.
Richards says her competitive spirit goes back to the very beginning – even evident in video footage of egg-and-spoon races at school – but it was the Beijing Games which made Richards fall in love with the Olympics and the idea of competing at one.
To get there, Richards would need a sport, but cycling chose her as much as she chose it.
She was a promising hockey player as a teenager, but after her dad entered her in a local race she found she could compete in mountain bikes without the same feeling of pressure.
Results quickly followed. Within a year of competing in that first regional event, Richards was racing at a junior world championships in Lillehammer, Norway.
No decision is expected from British Cycling coaches until after the next two rounds of the World Cup – this weekend in Albstadt, Germany and next weekend in Novo Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic – but momentum certainly seems to be with Richards.
The Trek-Segafredo rider won her season-opening race in Barcelona, then overcame illness to take 10th place at the Otztaler Mountainbike Festival in Austria, crucially finishing four places ahead of Short as the best British rider.
But Richards knows the job is far from over.
“When friends ask me I still can’t tell any of them if I think I’m going or not,” Richards said. “It’s still very close. I just try to do as well as I can in every race. It’s all I can do.”
Last year, she revealed a five-year battle with RED-S, an energy deficiency order which was born of an eating disorder.
“I always liked being really healthy but I took it to extremes so that it got to be detrimental,” Richards said.
“I got it into my head which foods were good and bad and it turned into an unhealthy obsession that meant I’d severely under-eat when training.”
As a result, Richards said she had only three periods in around five years. Some doctors she consulted said that need not be a concern, but her mother knew better – not having a regular cycle can lead to serious health problems both physical and mental.
Richards went to see sports dietitian Renee McGregor, who specialises in the condition, and has not looked back.
“It’s changed my whole mindset,” she said. “I’m so much happier and love riding my bike.
“It wasn’t just eating I was obsessed with, I cut off my whole life outside of riding, but now I have amazing friends, I love living at home with my family and I’m just a different person.
“I think it’s so good people are speaking out about this because it’s important for younger riders.”