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Jenny Holl – “I want to come out of the Games with a medal!” 

Continuing our series of interviews with Scottish Cycling selections for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next month – but with the track events held in London on the Lee Valley ‘Pringle’ Olympic velodrome – we spoke to para tandem pilot, Jenny Holl.

She was formerly a successful solo rider on road and track but has transitioned to the para tandem with no little success. 

If you’re my age you remember fondly those big tandem battles at the Worlds in the 70’s between the East and West Germans – great racing. 

The basics first please, Jenny – how old are you, where are you from and how did you get into the sport?

“I’m 22 years-old, from Blair Drummond near Stirling and I got into cycling through my local club, Stirling Bicycle Club.”

Jenny Holl riding an Omnium event for Stirling BC in 2015. Photo©supplied

And which of the British Cycling programmes are you on?

“I was with the Academy but have moved over to para cycling.”

Leafy Blair Drummond to smoky Manchester, a bit of a contrast?

“It was a change of pace, that’s for sure but I’ve been here five years now and am used to it.”  

Riding with Lauren Dolan (r), Jenny Holl takes a handsling in the European Madison Championships in 2016. Photo©iamtrackcycling

Remind us of some of your individual achievements on the track please.

“I took bronze in the European junior Scratch Race and Madison in 2017.

“In 2018 I took silver in the European u23 Team Pursuit.

“In 2019 it was silver in the European Games Team Pursuit in Minsk – that was a special one.

“In 2020 gold in the British Team Pursuit, silver in the Points Race, bronze in the Scratch; and most recently it was silver in the British Points Race behind Neah Evans.” 

[Jenny has also competed in tough continental road events such as the SPAR Flanders Diamond Tour, Omloop van Borsele and Nokere Koerse, ed.]

Jenny Holl (r) celebrates Team Pursuit Silver at the 2018 u23 European Championships. Photo©supplied

Why transition to para cycling?

“Typically, the British Cycling Academy is a three year programme and to move on they require you to meet certain performance targets; I met most of them, but not all.

“The tandem had been mentioned to me before and so I decided to get involved.” 

They’re big beasts to get used to.

“You could probably say I still am getting used to them!

“I had my first rides on it in March 2012 and then a few sessions with Libby Clegg – who I’ll be riding the Games with – and then two weekends on the track with Sophie Unwin who I pilot when in GB colours.

“Sophie lives in Devon though so we have training camps at Newport track in Wales which is more or less ‘half way’ between Devon and Manchester for the two of us.”

Jenny Holl and Sophie Unwin heading for 4th place in their first World Championships together in 2021. Photo©supplied

Tandems are quite rare birds these days, who builds them for you?

“We have three of them, a road tandem, a time trial machine and a track one.

“The two for the road are made by the French company, ‘Cyfac’ and are nice machines – the track one is a United Kingdom Institute of Sport machine.” 

[Nestled away in France’s Loire Valley, Francis Quillon founded Cyfac after he started building bikes in 1982 for various shops with their own branding attached to his creations. 

In 1987 Francis was asked by the professional team Super U to produce their frames for its riders. 

Famous competitors such as Cyril Guimard, Laurent Fignon, Charly Mottet and Marc Madiot all rode Cyfac frames to victory. 

Little known of course, as the frames had Raleigh stickers on them to mask the true source of their origin, ed.]

It must take a wee while to build an understanding with your partner?

“Definitely, but I was lucky with Sophie she was new to it too so in terms of tactics in the road race she was happy to leave tactics to me meaning there was no conflict about how we should race.”

Tell us about your tandem palmarès.

“In 2021 at the UCI Para-cycling Road World Cup, Ostend in Belgium we took bronze in the Time Trial and bronze in the Road Race.

“And in the UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships, Cascais in Portugal we won gold in the Road Race; we’d finished fourth in the Time Trial so went into the Road Race with no real expectations but came away with the win.

“In Tokyo at the Olympics we were fifth in both the Road Time Trial and Kilometre Time Trial on the velodrome.

“We took the bronze medal in the Pursuit on the track and silver in the Road Race – that was a very hard day with the heat and humidity.” 

That’s some spread of events, from Kilometre to Road Race.

“It’s difficult to prepare for them all, a Kilometre is a long ways from a 92 kilometre hilly Road Race.” 

Jenny Holl and Sophie Unwin achieved fifth place in the Kilo at the Olympics last year. Photo©supplied

Which events will you be riding at the Games?

“The Kilometre and the Sprint, the latter is new to me so it’s going to be exciting – but Libby is a sprinter.

“There are no road events for us at the Games.”

Have you raced on Lee Valley before?

“Yes, but only on a solo machine – but I’m at home on 250 metre tracks; my ‘home’ track is Manchester and I’m familiar with both Newport and Glasgow.

“I remember Lee Valley was very fast.” 

What are the fields like for your events?

“There are six slots available, Scotland will field two crews, England one, Wales one and I believe that an Australian pair met the qualifying standard at their Nationals.”

What’s the itinerary between now and the Games?

“I have some solo road racing coming up, including the road Nationals in Scotland and then some track sessions.”

Jenny Holl will be riding the tandem at the Commonwealth Games with Libby Clegg. Photo©supplied

Your ambitions for the Games?

“Nothing specific but I want to come out of them with a medal!”  

As with all of the track squad, we wish Jenny and Libby every success on the Lee Valley boards.

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