Emma Pooley says it's 'nuts' she gets more prize money from triathlon 'hobby' than pro cycling
Olympic medallist and ex-world champion is combining major bike races with triathlons this year
Olympic medallist and former world time trial champion Emma Pooley says that her “hobby” of competing in triathlons is bringing her more money than her chosen sport. Given her palmarès, it’s a revelation that also underlines the huge gap in earning power between men’s and women’s professional cycling.
Pooley, who took Olympic silver in the time trial in Beijing in 2008 and won the rainbow jersey in that discipline two years later, has won races including the overall in the Grande Boucle Féminine – the women’s version of the Tour de France – and the Tour de l’Aude, as well as several World Cup one day races.
But she told BBC Sport’s Ollie Williams that a third-place finish last February in a half-distance Ironman triathlon event in the Philippines had brought her more prize money than winning any of those races did.
The 31-year-old, who won a blue for cross-country running and triathlon as an undergraduate at Cambridge before switching to cycling, says she isn’t motivated by money. However, the situation still strikes her as “nuts.”
"I don't do it for the prize money. I love sport," she said. "And if you'd like to print this I'd be very grateful, because I keep getting accused of being a whinger.
"I'm not trying to be whingy. I love sport and I know it's a privilege to do it, and that's why I do it - I've got the opportunity and I'm very grateful for it.
"But, occasionally, it seems strange when the prize money for coming third at a triathlon in the Philippines is more than the prize money I've ever won in a bike race. That's nuts to me."
Nor is it just in triathlon that she has won prize money exceeding that from any bike race she has won – last year, she won the Lausanne Marathon in Switzerland.
She won’t be returning to that event in 2014, saying: "No marathon running this year. I love running, but a marathon really takes it out of you for a long time."
Pooley is based in Switzeland and last year completed her PhD in Zurich in geotechnical engineering, taking time out of professional cycling as she finished her studies.
In November, she signed for Lotto-Belisol ladies – this week, she will be racing the Flèche Wallonne, which she won in 2010, as well as Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
It’s an unusual arrangement, with Pooley targeting specific major races such as the Giro Rosa in Italy, and the Belgian team letting her compete in those more lucrative triathlons including, in August, the tough Embrunman race in the Swiss Alps.
Speaking of the Flèche Wallonne, she said: "It's very up and down, narrow roads, twisty and technical. It's a stressful race.
"It suits me and it's a big one to win, especially as I'm on a Belgian team."
Pooley is one of the driving forces behind the campaign for equality in cycling, and together with Marianne Vos, Kathryn Bertine and triathlete Chrissie Wellington last year co-founded Le Tour Entier, which calls, among other things, for a women’s Tour de France.
While ASO, which organises the men’s event, hasn’t gone that far yet, it is putting on a women’s one-day race, La Course, which will see the world’s top female riders battle it out on the Champs-Elysées on the final day of the Tour.
"My dream for women's cycling is for there to be a similar level of racing available as there is for men - having a one-day race at every Tour is not the same thing. It's a great start, but there is more to be done."
Pooley is a member of the UCI’s women's cycling commission set up by Brian Cookson after he was elected president last September, but doesn’t see her future as lying in sporting politics.
"I didn't intend to become political," she explained. "It's just that people ask for my opinion and I give it. I don't have some burning desire to be the head of some federation or something.
"A lot of women get out of cycling administration, and team administration, because they're so fed up of it by the end - of making no money and of being seen as second best. And I think I don't want to carry on in the sport and be bitter about it.
She added: "I don't know if anyone would employ me. I think I'm seem as some kind of weirdo, radical feminist.
“I get the impression I'm really quite unpopular in some parts. So I don't know if I'd necessarily find a job."
Meanwhile, besides the potential earnings from triathlons, now she has a doctorate to her name, Pooley is looking to secure some income in that specialisation.
"I've got a perfectly serviceable degree, so I'm going to try to get some part-time work in engineering this year and next year,” she said. “I need to pay the bills."