To celebrate International Women’s Day, I caught up with Reilly Ambassador Petra Wiltshire hot on the heels of her UCI Gran Fondo World Championship qualifier in Dubai.
Former Pro & World Champion mountain bike racer Petra went out to UAE at the end of last year to help develop mountain biking in a country already mad on road cycling. I speak to her from Abu Dhabi “a hotbed of cycling” thanks to a decent level of investment from the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, himself a keen cyclist. “There’s a performance centre, 100s of kilometres of smooth roads, plus mountain bike trails and a velodrome on the cards. They are looking to become a key destination for pro cyclists and ultimately a world centre for cycling,” she tells me.
Petra grew up in an ultra-sporty and competitive family; her Dad was a motor racing driver and her mum a professional horse rider. “Even mowing the lawn became a race in our house.” She was a hyperactive child eager to try her hand at any sport but settled on hockey playing junior and then national league.
Rehab for a knee injury got her on a bike and she took to it straight away. “I loved it from the off. I played with cars and horses on the farm at home, so I was always chasing speed.” She started racing MTB downhill and in a very short time she was winning races. At one race Olympic hockey goalkeeper Ian Taylor, now retired and working for Giant Bikes, saw her and offered her sponsorship which was the start of her professional career. This led to numerous National, European and International downhill mountain bike racing wins including three UCI Downhill MTB Masters World Champion jerseys.
“I just love racing,” she says. “I love being in an environment with all these people doing the same thing and I always want to push hard for myself.” It was this love of racing (and maybe her fancy new Reilly Fusion) that led her to qualify for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships happening this August in Glasgow.
“I didn’t expect to qualify,” she says. “I had no idea. I got into a fast group and then I cracked on and caught up another group and then caught up another group. I then got up with the Danish team and hooked up with them and it wasn’t until I got to the finish line I thought ‘bloody hell that was a lot better than I thought.’ The frustrating thing is that I could have gone faster. After the race we decided to go to the bar and we sat in the sun with a load of beers as we weren’t expecting medals and all of a sudden I’m being called up to the podium.” Together with her qualifying time she got the silver medal. “I’m hoping to ride myself into some sort of fitness in time for Glasgow. I will do some high-end fast stuff before August,” she says. “At the moment, I am just getting the mileage in. Mileage doesn’t scare me; I can do the distances; it’s just riding the distance fast! I’m not even built to ride on the road. I’m built like a brick house and I’m definitely not a roadie so I’ll just go as fast as I can come August,” she muses.
The World Championships in Scotland is an added bonus as her key focus for 2023 is Badlands, billed as the wildest bikepacking off-road challenge in Europe. It’s an 800km unsupported race across Spain which is known to be brutal. Petra will tackle this on her Reilly Gradient T47.
UCI Cycling World Championships 3-13 August 2023 Scotland