Enjoying the Ride: Neah Evans

July 20, 2022

There may be a poorly poodle or an arthritic tortoise still wondering if Neah Evans is ever going to come back to see them. It doesn’t look likely now. 

Evans was working as a veterinary surgeon and cycling primarily for fun in 2017 when she decided to take a brief sabbatical from her job to focus on putting everything into her maiden Commonwealth Games appearance the following year. 

Things went so well for the Aberdeenshire-based cyclist on Gold Coast, however, that she is yet to return to her vocation. 

Evans concedes that she had fairly low expectations when she was first given the opportunity to ride for Team Scotland, believing she was well short of the level required to be an elite athlete. 

Her performances in Australia, however, proved to be life changing as she earned a silver in the scratch race and a bronze in the points race. That gave her the confidence to truly believe she could make a success of cycling – and she returns for her second Games as an Olympic medallist and one of Britain’s leading riders. 

The 31 year-old said: “Going to Gold Coast was definitely a turning point for me in my career. When I first started cycling it was just a bit of fun. 

“Then I got on the Scottish Cycling programme and, at that point, it was about trying to see if they can either get you onto the British Cycling programme or to the Commonwealth Games. For me as an older athlete, it was very much focused on trying to get to the Games. 

“It seemed so far off as I started so far down the pecking order. But that was my aspiration, and I was just working towards it and then I got picked up by British Cycling. That was never how I had expected to get to the Games, through British Cycling. Suddenly there was a different pressure. 

“Before I would have been happy going to Gold Coast and thinking that was going to be the highlight of my career just to be there. Then, all of a sudden, I was thinking about whether it might be possible to medal. And I came away with two. I had known I was physically capable of that but to actually achieve it? I had zero expectations on that front. So that was huge. 

“I thought I was probably going to take a year out from being a vet to do Commie Games. That was the initial process behind it. And five years later I’ve not gone back. 

“I just thought I would take a year out from working to give myself the best possibility to succeed. I was getting funded through British Cycling but I was still so far away from being an elite-level athlete. I was so clueless! It’s only now, looking back, that I realise how little I knew, even at that stage. 

“But winning those medals became the moment when I realised that I wasn’t just trying to get to the Commonwealth Games any more. It was: ‘What’s next? What can the future hold?’ And I started to wonder if the Olympics might be a possibility for me. 

“So Gold Coast was a pivotal point in my career. It was this moment where I started to think: ‘Right, what else can I do?’ And that was pretty cool.” 

Evans had been involved in cycling World Cups prior to 2018 but the multi-sport experience of a Commonwealth Games was a whole new thing entirely. 

She added: “Before Gold Coast I went to the kitting out. And I suddenly realised that the room was filled with other athletes and it wasn’t just cyclists. It was huge and you could see it meant so much to so many people. And everyone had different aspirations. 

“We went to Sydney for a cycling holding camp. It was quite big with all the Scottish cyclists together and the first time I had been riding for Scotland alongside so many others. That was quite fun. For the track events we were in an AirBnB so in our own little bubble and it just felt like a bigger World Cup. Not that strange compared to what I’d done previously. 

“And then everything completely changed. I went into the athletes’ village and just went: ‘Oh wow!’ It went from being in that bubble where you kind of knew everybody to this environment where you were just one of thousands. And that felt very weird. It was almost too much to take in. 

“One of the other fun things to do was to sit in the dining hall – which is huge with so much food – and try to guess what sport some of the others in the room were doing! You had every shape and size of athlete imaginable. And the one common factor was they were really good at their chosen sport.” 

Evans returns for her second Commonwealth Games appearance a far more confident cyclist than the one who tentatively travelled to Gold Coast four year ago. And this time only gold will suffice. 

“My approach now has been looking to see how I can come into these Games giving myself the best chance to go one step higher on the podium than I managed the last time,” she declared. 

“That, in itself, is a big ask. There are a lot of uncertainties in track racing and it can be such a chaotic event. So it will be tough – but that’s a major target for me this year. 

“The track is down in London rather than Birmingham so it’s going to be a very different Commonwealth Games experience. We won’t be in the bubble. But hopefully that might work quite well as we could get people in London who might not have travelled to Birmingham – but who could be enticed out to watch an event on their doorsteps. So I’m hopeful there will be a good atmosphere and a noisy crowd. That’s something we’ve all missed over the last couple of years.” 

Article by Graeme Macpherson 

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