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Rugby World Champion joins Appenninica MTB Stage Race

Any rugby fans out there? The rider that we present today is a great example of drive in life and in sports. Sophie Hemming is a retired international rugby player from England. Her team became World Champion in 2014 and in her career she had 6 Six Nations wins (5 as Grand Slams). She took up mountain biking in 2015 and placed very well at the national elite level.

She has something very interesting to tell us about her transition from rugby to MTB. We are thrilled to have her and her strong teammate, Melanie Alexander.

– What has rugby taught you that you brought into mountain biking? They are two different sports in many ways…

Although rugby is a very different sport to mountain biking, it has taught me many transferrable attributes! I used to play prop, which tends to attract bigger, stronger, power athletes who are perhaps not best known for their endurance! During my career, I was told many times that I was too small to play prop and that I would never play for England. This instilled a fiery determination to do everything I could to succeed in my goals, a love of challenges and a work ethic that I will no doubt need to get to the start line, and hopefully the finish line, of The Appenninica. During my rugby career, I had to follow a very strict training program, alongside working as a full time vet. As a result, I had to become very disciplined, organised and determined to get my training done. This has definitely helped me in biking too – especially now I am having to juggle this between nappy changes and feeding a baby!

Rugby has also taught me how to control my fear when faced with challenges, as a result I tend to approach technical sections like roots, drops and steep descents, rationally.

There are some skills that I have been able to adapt from my rugby playing days too. When running with the ball and the opposition were trying to tackle me, I was taught to focus on the other side of my opponent. I think that this has helped me in mountain biking, as when I am riding a technical descent, I try to focus on the other side of an obstacle, and this helps me to ride over it, hopefully avoiding any crashes! In the event of crashing (which I confess I have had plenty of!), rugby has also taught me how to fall – as fortunately I used to fall many more times in a game than I do in a mountain bike ride! Learning how to fall is perhaps more important in mountain biking than in rugby – as landing on trees and rocks tends to hurt a lot more than falling on the ground or on people…

– What prompted you in going for Appenninica next Summer?

Following the birth of my first baby in October, and the all clear from my Doctor, I’ve relished being back on the bike! I’ve been determined to ramp up the training with a view to returning to racing, although I confess that I had completely underestimated the toll that having a baby would have. Having managed to fit in a good block of base training despite the endless nappy changes and inevitable sleep deprivation, I have been searching for a big challenge to target in the summer. My search came across The Appenninica – and I was immediately impressed and excited by this new stage race. The trails look incredible in an area with amazing scenery, great food and fantastic friendly people. I am excited to be racing and supporting The Appenninica in the inaugural edition.

– Tell us about your team. Do you have a team name yet?

I am racing with seasoned XC racer Mel Alexander as Team BW Cycling. Mel and I have raced against each other in many cross country races and two stage races. We have had plans to enter a stage race together for a couple of years, and I’m really excited to be taking part in The Appenninica with her. Mel will bring a great deal of experience to our team, having raced in numerous stage races over the years. She is a great technical rider and I’ll have to work hard for my little legs to keep up with her on the climbs!

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