Hayley Simmonds: PhD and British time trial champion - but not at Rio

Hayley Simmonds
Hayley Simmonds broke the British record for the 50-mile time trial by more than four minutes earlier this year

British Cycling is basking in the glory of Olympic success, and rightly so, but the talent on show in Rio was just the tip of the iceberg.

Hayley Simmonds would have been a certainty for the majority of countries which lined up on the beach-side start line in Rio, but missed out on selection for the British squad.

Instead she watched Chris Froome, Lizzie Armitstead and Emma Pooley go for gold from the UK, despite starting 2016 by setting national records in 10, 25 and 50-mile races.

News of her missing out on selection, behind Pooley, came just a few days after her second National Time Trial triumph.

"The emotions for me around Olympic non-selection were quite high, especially given that I found out just after the British time trial," the 28-year-old from Redditch told BBC Sport before the start of the Olympics.

"I had a week of big highs and massive lows, it's only now I can feel a bit more at ease with it, happier within myself I guess and can start to look forward to new goals.

"It's a massive push for the next four years. I am relatively new to the sport, I've only really been doing it for four years, one Olympic cycle, so it gives me the motivation to improve for Tokyo and hopefully be there in a situation where I could potentially get a medal in the time trial."

Pooley, the 2010 time trial world champion, only recently returned to cycling after competing in triathlons and mountain runs, but filled the solitary Team GB time trial slot in Rio.

Before selection she finished fourth at the British Time Trial Championships which Simmonds won, and came 14th in Rio, two minutes and five seconds behind winner Kristin Armstrong.

Simmonds tweet
Simmonds will use the selection snub as motivation to build towards Tokyo 2020

The beginning of 2016 has not simply been a time of sporting success, and selection disappointment, for Simmonds. She also completed her Doctorate in Experimental Chemistry at the University of Cambridge.

Few people cycle professionally, few people complete a PhD, even fewer have combined the two.

"It was difficult to fit in as much training as was ideal around the PhD," Simmonds said. "My poor PhD supervisor didn't know what he was letting himself in for.

"I would normally get up early, do a session on the turbo trainer, then shower, have breakfast, get into the lab, work in the lab until 17:00 or 17:30 BST, come home to do another hour or hour and a half on the turbo trainer and then go to bed and repeat.

"There were a lot of hours spent on a turbo trainer in darkness in the mornings and the evenings," she added. "In the winter, the weekends were basically the only times I managed to get out on the road and do long rides.

"In the summer it was a little bit easier because if I got into work a bit earlier and maybe left a little bit earlier then I could often get in a couple of hours on the road bike in the evening."

Hayley Simmonds
Simmonds competed in the 2015 World Championship time trial and road race, which was won by her team-mate Lizzie Armitstead

Simmonds initially rowed at university, taking part in the 2009 reserve crew Boat Race, before switching to cycling in 2011 following a year away from sport which she spent concentrating on her studies.

Her now fiancé suggested the switch, and using knowledge gained from a youth spent cycling proposed initial training sessions.

"As I got better and better it was obvious that the sessions he was setting me were working, so he started writing me out a full training plan and he still coaches me to this day," Simmonds said.

2012 was a breakthrough year for Simmonds on the bike, and also the year she started her PhD. It was the first year she took part in the national cycling time trials, finishing eighth in the 10-mile race and ninth over 25 miles.

She subsequently finished fourth in both of the 2013 editions, before winning the 10 and 50 mile races the following year, as well as finishing second in the 25.

In 2015 she won her first national time trial title and had a number of strong performances at international level races, earning herself a call-up to Great Britain's World Championship squad.

In Richmond, Virginia, she competed in the road race supporting eventual winner Lizzie Armitstead, as well as the time trial. This rise in form eventually secured her a professional contract with the UnitedHealthcare Cycling Team in the United States, where she rode for the opening months of this year.

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Simmonds' coach and fiancé had been preparing Simmonds to reach a peak level of performance in time for Rio

Simmonds, putting the disappointment of Rio behind her, is now targeting a spot in the British squad for the World Championships which will take place in Qatar in October.

"I have to get selected for that so I am looking at things I can do in the run-up to help with my selection," she said.

"I have more domestic time trials on the calendar during August and in September hopefully I will have more international racing."

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