Tour de Yorkshire: School's out for Sophie Thackray as she targets biggest test

Top climb: Sophie Thackray training up the Cow and Calf.  Picture: Bruce RollinsonTop climb: Sophie Thackray training up the Cow and Calf.  Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Top climb: Sophie Thackray training up the Cow and Calf. Picture: Bruce Rollinson
Friday afternoons for Sophie Thackray usually centre around a psychology lesson.

The 18-year-old, from Eldwick near Bingley, sits at her desk, her head buried in books, studying for her A-levels at Ilkley Grammar School.

In that she is just like any other teenager working towards the completion of their education.

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But this Friday her appearance at Ilkley Grammar School will be slightly different for on that day, instead of being cooped up inside a classroom, Thackray will be racing past it as part of the biggest women’s cycle race in the world.

When she is not studying Thackray is one of the rising stars of British cycling and her appearance in the Asda Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race for the second successive year is validation of that promise.

“The race comes right past the front gates of my school,” says Thackray as if barely comprehending the fact. “They’re shutting the school for the day – which I think is probably wise.

“Everyone at the school knows I’ll be in the race because I did it last year, so hopefully they’ll come out and support me.

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“It’s a huge deal for the school to have the race come so close.”

Just as it is a huge deal for Thackray, who cites her debut in last year’s Tour de Yorkshire women’s race as the highlight of her career.

Thackray has been around cycling all her life. Her father Rob was a successful bike rider, her brothers ride, as do members of her extended family.

“It provides me with a great network of support,” she says as she continues to plot her own development in the sport.

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A cyclo-cross rider at heart, Thackray – like many budding professionals – divides her time across multiple biking pursuits with her road ambitions matched by those of her Manchester-based team NCC Group-Kuota-Torelli, with whom she is in her second season and for whom she will ride in this year’s Tour de Yorkshire.

A specialised climber – “living around here what option do you have?” – she hopes the ride up the famous Cow and Calf that overlooks her school towards the end of the second and final stage of the two-day women’s race will play right into her hands.

“I’m very familiar with the Cow and Calf,” she says. “I ride it regularly, often times straight from school and out on a training ride up it.”

She hopes to put that local knowledge to good use by getting among the big names of the professional women’s peloton and making her presence felt, particularly after experiencing the novelty factor 12 months ago, when she admits the moment almost got the better of her.

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“I was placed on the front row and it was unlike anything I had ever done before,” reflects the amateur cyclist.

“Growing up as a budding cyclist it was never something I dared dream I’d be able to do, but women’s racing, thanks to the Tour de Yorkshire, is catching up and that was a real honour.

“I was the second youngest in the race and it was a huge step up on anything I’d done before. So getting round safely was an accomplishment in itself and I was quite pleased to come home in 60th place.

“Last year I was young and nervous and a little worried about being there. This year I’m more prepared, I know what to expect. I’ve improved as a rider and hopefully I’ll be a bit more competitive.”

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A novice she may have been last year, but, as with the rest of the field, she was a mere spectator as cycling superstar Lizzie Deignan sped off to victory.

Sadly for Thackray, and the crowds, this year there will be no Deignan in the women’s race due to her being pregnant.

Nevertheless she remains a role model to many. “Lizzie is a huge figure in women’s cycling,” says Thackray. “Over the last few years my friends and I would go to races like Ilkley and Otley, compete in our events and then go and have our picture taken with Lizzie before her race.

“So, for me to be stood on the same start line as her at the Tour de Yorkshire last year was surreal. We exchanged a quick glance and then she turned back to focus on the race.

“I think I sat there staring at her for a while, taking it all in. I wasn’t the only one.”

On Friday, as the peloton races past the front gates of her school, Thackray hopes all eyes will be on her.

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