Mandy Bishop brought her old training diary along to this interview and, while there was sometimes a detailed memory of a particular race or training ride, the entry for September 4, 1982 remains gloriously short. ‘World Championships. First.’
“And, look, the ‘first’ is in red,” she says, smiling at how her 20-year-old self must have changed pens to enter those five historic letters.
There was naturally rather more to a story which underlines just how different British sport was before lottery funding and which also remains unique in British cycling ahead of Lizzie Deignan’s attempt on Saturday to also become world champion on home roads.
After being introduced to cycling by her parents, Bishop (née Jones) joined her local club in Rochdale and really began training seriously when her boyfriend Ian Greenhalgh, himself then a professional, became her coach. “Ian’s attitude was that you train harder and do more than everyone else,” she says. “I just went out riding with him: three to five hours a day. He never let up on me.” There was no possibility of funding - the British team’s kit often even had to be returned - but Bishop had the resolve and ambition to train full-time while on the dole in the years before the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of a home World Championships. “It was my choice to say I’m not going to work and we lived on very little,” she says. “Lots of fruit and vegetables. Made it all ourselves. We had no money. My mum and dad helped with petrol and entry fees.”
Greenhalgh had discovered the benefits of interval training and so, two or three afternoons a week on top of other longer and steadier rides, would take out a motorbike and have Bishop race behind him in the slipstream at over 30mph. “The lampposts were used as markers,” she recalls. “So I’d come out from behind and try to hold the pace for one, two and then three lampposts.” Jones arrived for the women’s track pursuit in Leicester believing that a rare World Championship ‘double’ was possible - she had broken the world 5,000m record earlier in the year - but was fatigued after mistiming her last motorbike session. The unintended consequence was that she would then actually peak the following week at Goodwood, which staged all of the road races on a course that took in both the motor racing circuit and some of the local roads.
“I was flying,” she says. Bishop also read the race brilliantly, following an attack by the Italian great Maria Canins, who would go on to win the women’s Tour de France twice, before breaking away on a downhill section and then effectively time-trialling the last six miles to victory. “I looked around, there was a gap and I just went,” she says. “People were screaming and shouting - ‘They’re behind you!’ - it was like a pantomime. My legs killing. It was only on the last bend to the finish that I thought, ‘I’ve got this’.” Bishop recalls her television interview with Hugh Porter being partially interrupted by her mum simply shouting ‘Mandy!’ when she saw her world champion daughter and then having nothing to change into before cycling back to the team hotel complete with her new rainbow jersey, medal and “maybe a GB jacket over the top”.
The men’s race had started by this time. “I was looking at the helicopter and knew where the race was so that I could pull in at the right times but there was this policeman. He had his hand up, telling me to stop and get off the road," she says.
“All the people behind him were shouting, ‘Mandy, Mandy! You can’t stop her, she’s the world champion’.” With the medal and rainbow jersey for proof, a police escort was eventually arranged and she arrived back at the hotel, still in her race gear, some three hours after crossing the line. Bishop’s first reaction to winning, however, would prove instructive.
“In the interview straight after with Hugh, I said: ‘I’ll have a year off.’ The aim had always been, ‘let’s try and win the worlds in the UK. Home crowd, home roads.’ It was the focal point. What we didn’t think about was what happens if you win. My head had fallen off big time.” It was a time when the best British women were lucky to have even a mechanic helping them at an international race and simply trained independently, finding ways to finance their own equipment, travel, training and living costs. Bishop thinks now that she could have continued and won another world title with more support but even the prospect of the Olympics in 1984 could not motivate her. “I could not have coped with it this year - my mind was not in the right gear,” she wrote in her diary.
Bishop still remained good enough to finish her career with 19 national titles but, after an operation near her calf in 1986, a return to form in 1991 potentially ahead of the Barcelona Olympics was derailed by a serious back injury that would end her career. She can still recall literally finishing one training ride by crawling through the front door.
Now 57, Bishop later began running and completed mountain marathons with husband Nigel, a former Milk Race rider with whom she now runs Fawkes Cycles in Oldham, and they have never stopped cycling for pleasure. She will also be in Harrogate to see the women’s race. “It’s a beautiful course out through the Dales but I think they will find it very tough - none of it’s flat,” she says, before smiling at the prospect of rain. “Lizzie [Deignan] was born down the road - she will like it if the weather is horrible.”