Fire staff member wins bronze medal in UCI World Amateur Cycling Championships

A member of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service staff has won a bronze medal representing Team GB in the UCI World Amateur Cycling Championships in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Fiona Prew, who is the Health, Fitness and Wellbeing Specialist at the fire service, has only been cycling since 2013, when a series of injuries forced her to hang up her running shoes.

Undergoing a total of three knee operations and sustaining a significant calf tear led to one of Fiona’s colleagues suggesting she buy a bike.

“I always say, I didn’t choose cycling, it chose me,” Fiona said.

The bike she purchased, a second-hand road bike which cost her £500 was meant to help her maintain her fitness whilst taking a year off running.

But Fiona soon found herself racing accidentally after joining Stone Wheelers cycling club.

And a short time later, after reading an advert in a cycling magazine, Fiona entered the inaugural UK Qualifier for the UCI Amateur World Championships which were held in Denmark in 2015, where she came sixth in the time trial and eighth in the road race.

“Seeing the depth of talent and World champions crowned there really stuck with me,” Fiona said, and by 2016 she had qualified again, this time the Championships were in Australia, where she came an agonising fourth place.

2017 was Fiona’s break-through season, where she was TLI Cycling National ITT Champion and won a silver medal at the UCI World Amateur Championships in France.

However, Fiona suffered a devastating blow to her confidence in April 2018 when she was hit by a car while out cycling.

The crash dislocated and smashed her left shoulder and elbow, broke several ribs, tore ligaments in her knee as well as her abdominal muscles.

“I felt like I shouldn’t complain because so many fire fighters and others I work with have sustained a lot worse than that in the line of duty,” Fiona said.

“It took me till September 2018 to be surgically healed and 18 months of intensive physio but a lot longer to overcome the psychological impact of the crash.”

Fiona spent 2020 trying to regain not only her health and fitness, but to enjoy cycling again.

“There was a silver lining to the covid-19 lockdown for me, because the roads were so quiet, I was able to get back on the bike without being so frightened of being hit by a car again,” she said.

Joining Zwift, a virtual indoor training platform also helped Fiona get back in the saddle.

By summer 2021, Fiona had gained enough confidence to race again, but hadn’t replaced her bike after the crash due to supply chain delays.

She competed in number of races on her old bike, succeeding in gaining a place in the top ten in her first, and making the podium of three out of five others.

When officials announced that the World Championships for 2021 would be moved to October and take place in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Fiona decided to test her mettle and plucked up the courage to compete in the qualifier in August.

Fiona said: “It was the worst road surface imaginable; craters everywhere, big climbs, fast descents and a 600m tunnel, I felt like all my demons were coming back to haunt me.”

Fiona also suffered the loss of a friend in the month before the qualifier, with the competition itself due to be held on the day of his funeral.

“His family told me to go for it, and though it was a tough decision, I felt like I had an extra purpose to ride and that helped me dig-deep on race day,” Fiona said.

“Thanks to his memory, I had the ride of my life to win the qualifier – it was such an emotional day.”

Then, in September, Fiona won the Emergency Services Individual Time Trial Championships on behalf of Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service – the first time the service has ever won the title.

Not only did she win, but she broke the course record in the 12TT on the Saturday and followed this up with a win less than 24 hours later on Sunday.

“That really was the icing on the cake and a massive confidence boost,” Fiona added.

Just 10 days later she flew back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and despite the stormy weather forecast, completed the challenging course in 32:13.

“I thought I had come in fifth, I knew the Swedish rider had overtaken me for gold and then her teammate for silver, and was convinced I wasn’t going to make the podium – my heart sank,” Fiona said.

Then to make matters worse, she was one of a number of riders whose GPS had dropped out in one of the passages of the tunnel.

But after an anxious wait – the head of the jury at the championships said nonchalantly: ‘Yep, that’s a bronze medal – by one minute and seven seconds'.

“I was in shock, an element of relief but definite shock,” Fiona said.
“My lifetime ambition is to be world champion and win the coveted rainbow stripes, so my head is already in ‘operation go faster’ mode ready for next year!” Fiona added.

So how does she manage her full-time role with the fire service and her cycling career?

“It’s like having two full-time jobs at times,” Fiona said.

“I’m generally up at 4.30am, on the bike for 5am, sometimes I use training as an active commute – a four-hour (95 kilometre) round trip, but this is balanced with structured training.

“Then I’ll do a long ride with the club at the weekend – with a stop for coffee and cake of course!”

Cake is also a big part of Fiona’s life as she is known by her colleagues for always bringing in sweet treats, albeit with a healthy twist. She is a reluctant gardener, though that can often prove to be more of a challenge than being on her bike.

She has also recently taken up silver jewellery making – though she admits this has taken a back seat while she has been expressing her pedal power.

“I would say to anyone who is interested in cycling to just give it a go – it’s so inclusive and enjoyable and you’ll never know where your bike can take you until you try!”

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