Mandy Bishop will make an ‘emotional’ first return to West Sussex at Vélo South – almost four decades since she was crowned World Road cycling champion on her last visit.
Mandy, now 56, and husband Nigel, will be among 15,000 riders of all abilities taking on the 100-mile closed-road sportive, which starts and finishes at Goodwood, on Sunday, September 23.
The inaugural Vélo South will be Mandy’s first visit to the region in any capacity, since becoming the darling of a euphoric West Sussex crowd at the UCI Road World Championships in 1982.
Competing under maiden name ‘Jones’, Mandy, just 20, struck gold for Great Britain in the women’s road race at Goodwood – the last UK venue to host the event.
Vélo South will make those unforgettable memories even more vivid for Mandy, as the scene of her greatest cycling victory is central to this year’s picturesque route, while the event also takes place almost 36 years to the day.
Just like the course on September 5, 1982, the Vélo South route features the Goodwood Motor Circuit and Kennel Hill, which hosted the start and finish line at the UCI Road World Championships.
As US and Tour de France legend, Greg LeMond, finished second in the men’s event, Mandy booked her place in the pantheon of British cycling legends by attacking the strongest riders in the sport on the final of four, closed-road, eight-mile laps, winning by ten seconds.
“I’m really looking forward to Vélo South, going back to the scene of my greatest achievement and sharing that experience with my husband, who I wasn’t with at the time,” said Mandy, who runs Fawkes Cycles, an Oldham-based cycling mail order business, with Nigel.
“It was 36 years ago – it’s scary how time flies. Over the years, you think it would be nice to go back, so when I heard about Vélo South, I jumped at the chance.
“The main reason I’ve never been back to Goodwood, or West Sussex, to relive those memories is that it would have been strange cycling the 1982 course again when there’s no-one around.
“With Velo South, there’s going to be a fantastic atmosphere, which will make cycling around the lanes where I won really special.
“It will be quite emotional. It will bring back loads of great memories, and I’m also looking forward to the gorgeous scenery of the whole route.”
Although all general entry places for Vélo South have sold out, West Sussex residents who missed out can still join Mandy after being offered a second chance to ride, with organisers creating a limited number of places for participants who live on or near the route. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your details to find out more.
Vélo South is expected to raise a substantial amount for both local and national charities and prospective participants can also enter through one of the event’s Lead Charity Partners – British Heart Foundation, Alzheimer’s Society, Age UK and Restart Rugby – or via the Vélo South Business 100 challenge, which offers VIP networking opportunities and training events for corporate teams.
With around 1,700m of climbing, Vélo South is relatively challenging, but the beauty of the route, including the rolling hills of the South Downs National Park, and support from local communities, will make for an unforgettable day of closed-road riding.
What really stood out during the greatest day of Mandy’s cycling career were the West Sussex crowds that cheered her on, and she is hoping the 15,000 Vélo South cyclists receive similar levels of backing across the entire route, as they pedal through the pain barrier.
“When I started the last climb up to the finish line, all the people were shouting my name and letting me know where the other riders were – the crowd was unbelievable,” added Mandy, who was forced to retire from cycling after damaging a spinal disc while training for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
“It gave me a fantastic lift, especially as my legs were about to explode. The crowds kept me going.
“Some people even camped out overnight to make sure they had the best spot to watch the race, including my parents, who kept them entertained. There’s a great photo of them jiving in a local pub the night before!
“I’d encourage West Sussex people to come out and support the riders, as cycling 100 miles is really tough. When they see all the different ability levels taking part, it may encourage some to get on a bike themselves. Cycling is not just about keeping fit, it’s also really social and a great way to make new friends.
“Closed-road events are fantastic, as cyclists can relax so much more without having to worry about traffic. Unless they enter races, it’s an experience people will never have. For some, it will feel like they’re on the Tour de France.”
Mandy became only the second British woman to win the world championship and the feat has only been repeated twice, by Nicole Cooke in 2008 and Lizzie Deignan (née Armistead) in 2015. Her gold medal sits proudly in a frame on the bedroom wall.
So did West Sussex stage the greatest day of her life?
Getting married and the births of my two children are the most special, but it was certainly the best sporting day of my life,” added Mandy, who recently celebrated her 25th wedding anniversary with Nigel, a former GB amateur road race cyclist and Milk Race leader, having worn the yellow jersey at the 1989 event.
“But as far as absolute and utter euphoria, then yes. Preparing for (and winning) an event is not an instant thing. There’s the build-up – years and years of training. Things can go wrong, you need lady luck on your side and for everything to go to plan on the day, including not being ill. That’s why, when that all comes together and you win, it’s such a brilliant feeling.
“I was among the favourites in 1982 in the sense that I won bronze at the world championships in Sallanches, France, two years earlier. But I rode awfully in the world individual pursuit event in Leicester the week before. Because of that, expectations were lower, but I was still the Great Britain team leader, so I was in with a chance.”
One thing’s for certain – Mandy is going to have to ride a lot further to cross the Vélo South finish line than she did in 1982!
“The distance women were allowed to race was far less than it is now,” admitted the Littleborough resident, who rides socially with the ABC Centreville Cycling Club, Manchester.
“I don’t think the four laps of the course totalled much more than 36 miles.
“I haven’t ridden 100 miles in a long time – at least five or six years. I’m desperately trying to get into some form of fitness, having had tendonitis in my arms throughout the winner, which kept me off my bike.”
Mandy’s 1982 memories are also certain to come flooding back next year, when the UCI Road World Championships return to the UK for the first time since Goodwood hosted her triumph: “It’ll be fantastic to see the worlds return to Britain – I’ll certainly be going to Harrogate to watch them!”
For more information about Vélo South, please visit: www.velosouth.com