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Neah Evans, the Aberdeenshire cyclist chasing Olympic glory in Tokyo

Neah Evans after taking gold at the European Track Cycling Championships last year in Bulgaria.
Neah Evans after taking gold at the European Track Cycling Championships last year in Bulgaria.

For Neah Evans, Olympic glory would add to her already strong reputation as one of the most prolific track cyclists in the world.

On Monday morning UK time, Evans will be part of a rapid-fire quest to secure gold in the women’s team pursuit in Tokyo, alongside fellow Scot Katie Archibald, Elinor Barker, Josie Knight and Laura Kenny.

Setting targets of gold medals and world records is not arrogance for this team. It is a sign of the excellence which they expect to be judged by.

The quintet delivered four golds between them at the European Track Cycling Championships in Bulgaria at the end of last year, narrowly missing out on a world record in the team pursuit. Evans added another medal in the individual pursuit, which is not an Olympic event.

Archibald, Kenny and Barker are reigning champions in this event, having won gold alongside Joanna Rowsell in Rio. Evans and Knight are the two additions to a winning formula that has shown no signs of being altered.

Hailing from Cuminestown, a village outside Turriff in Aberdeenshire, Evans comes from a sporting background. Her mother Ros competed at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo in cross-country skiing, was a national orienteering champion and represented Great Britain at the World Orienteering Championships.

Neah Evans with her silver and bronze medals from the Commonwealth Games in 2018.
Neah Evans with her silver and bronze medals from the Commonwealth Games in 2018.

Her daughter’s background was in fell-running before injuries prompted her to change track. She worked as a veterinary surgeon before moving into cycling as a full-time athlete in 2017.

Evans made waves at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 under the Team Scotland banner. A silver in the 10km scratch race and bronze in the 25km points race showcased her ability not just to compete but to succeed at the highest level. Ever the competitor, she also doubled up and entered in the women’s road race and time trial.

Ironically, the two riders in front of her in the points race were Archibald and Barker – representing Wales – who she now joins forces with in the Izu Velodrome.

The heats for the team pursuit are scheduled for 7:54am UK time on Monday, with the semi-finals and medal races all being wrapped up by 10am on Tuesday. The quick turnaround in races mean there is little margin for error or time to dwell on what could be improved. The hard work has already been done.

Evans has more than earned her place at the top end of a notoriously intense, challenging sport. Performance levels put her up there among the best in the world and give her a huge chance of bringing further medals back to Aberdeenshire.

She spoke last month about the challenges faced not only to get to this point but to once the team got to Japan. Mandatory quarantine and regular Covid-testing gave every athlete the chance of competing but as has been seen, it is not totally fool-proof.

For many, whole careers have been geared up for this moment. The chance to reach your peak in front of the watching world.

The delay of a year for these Games taking place – with some arguing they should not have taken place at all due to Covid concerns – has seen some athletes miss out on the chance to compete, with changing circumstances in their own lives making it impossible.

But for some, like Evans, it has given an extra year’s preparation time. She spent lockdown last year at her parents’ farm with her fiancé Jonathan Wale, able to utilise the winding backroads of the north-east as ample training circuits.

The road she has taken to the top has been a long one but the ultimate destination is within sight.

 

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