Maddie Leech on fast track to cycling success after Commonwealth Games selection

But that is the accomplishment of Maddie Leech, who at age 19 has not even been cycling for a third of her life.

And yet here she was this week, taking collection of her England vest to represent the host country in the team pursuit on the track and the women’s road race.

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“I can’t quite believe it myself sometimes,” she tells The Yorkshire Post of her meteoric rise to being on a squad alongside the great British Olympian Laura Kenny.

Late starter: Great Britain cycling prospect Maddie Leech of Huddersfield will represent Team England at the Commonwealth Games next month. (Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWPix.com)

It was watching Kenny and her fellow British cyclists at the Rio Olympics of 2016 that piqued Leech’s interest in cycling.

“I just happened to be watching the cycling one day,” says Leech, who was an accomplished gymnast growing up in Lindley, combining with playing netball and football at school.

“I loved gymnastics but it got to the point where it wasn’t fun any more.

“So I knew it was time for me to get involved in sport again and I just thought maybe I’ll try cycling.

Maddie Leech ahead of the UCI 2021 Road World Championships, Flanders (Picture: SWPix.com)

“I had a mountain bike, and my mum found the local Go Ride club and contacted them, so I did a few sessions with them on that mountain bike.

“I managed to borrow a road bike from them to go training on but it must have been three or four months before I got that first road bike.

“For that first year it was one session a week at the local circuit with my Dad, and then when I was about 15 I started riding on my own.”

A coach at her local club Huddersfield Star Wheelers encouraged Leech to try out for the British Cycling pathway programs and from there, despite what appears a relatively quick transition to elite status, she has had to be patient.

Maddie Leech riding with Laura Kenny at the Tissot UCI Track Nations Cup, Round 1: in Glasgow in APril (Picture: SWPix.com)

“There’s not many people who have done the whole pathway but I started on the bottom level, then moved up all the rungs up to junior,” she says.

“There’s also not a lot of riders I’m riding against who started as late as I did; I started at 13, started racing at 14 – compared to a lot of people I’m racing against who started when they were six.”

There must be some natural talent there for Leech to have closed the gap so quickly, that and a strong work ethic.

The secret, though, according to her – and an answer that will encourage other like-minded teenagers looking for a sport to get into – boils down to one simple thing.

Maddie Leech riding with Laura Kenny at the Tissot UCI Track Nations Cup, Round 1: in Glasgow in APril (Picture: SWPix.com)

“It’s pure enjoyment,” beams Leech. “As long as I enjoy something then I will push myself. That’s when I’m at my best. If I’m not having fun then I’ll struggle to give it everything.

“The British squad is a really fun environment to be involved in, makes you want to get better.”

The British Cycling pathway has taken her away from her home in Huddersfield to a new life in Manchester, at the British Cycling academy.

There she trains alongside the likes of Kenny and has even competed with her in the madison at the Track Nations Cup in Glasgow earlier this year.

“They go a lot faster but it’s great to see their line, their speed and their skill,” says Leech of what she has picked up training with the superstars that have made British Cycling the dominant force on the boards over the past two decades.

“Just to see them function, how they race, the difference between what you see on the television and what you see in person is quite noticable. I think I’ve fitted in well. The biggest step up I’ve felt is from juniors to Under-23s, but I missed out on a lot of training and riding due to Covid.”

Not enough that it derailed her ascendance to the Commonwealth Games.

“It was only a goal of mine this year,” she says of the quadrennial event that begins in Birmingham on July 28. “Obviously I knew it was coming up but you don’t know if you’re going to be at that level leading up to it.

“It’s only really the beginning of this year that I started focus on it. At the minute I’m very excited but then tomorrow I’ll be nervous again. It’s a home Games, I want to prove I am worthy of selection.

“Hopefully the experience sets me up for my long-term goal of making it to the Paris Olympics on the track, and hopefully winning there.

“It’s funny when I think back now, the route I used to do from my house in Lindley took me two hours – now that’s my one-hour recovery ride. Funny how times change like that.”

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