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Leah Dixon cycling for Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm

Leah Dixon - A meteoric rise

  • 10 min read

Leah Dixon may only have started cycling two years ago but since driving an all-day breakaway on the opening stage of this year’s Women’s Tour de Yorkshire, she's fast becoming the worst kept secret in women’s cycling.

It’s early evening on a humid Thursday in August when Leah Dixon answers our phone call. She’s about to begin a turbo session but generously agrees to talk. After a day at work as a procurement manager for a national retail chain (“I take care of the fixtures and fittings: everything you see in the shop, except for the stock”), her day as an athlete is about to begin. It’s 7.30pm.

There is little glamour in domestic cycling, but it is rich in opportunities to create memories that will last a lifetime, and holds the promise of greater things to come. Dixon, enjoying a breakthrough season in the debut campaign of the Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm squad, has already delivered a performance to compare to any this season on British roads, and describes in level-headed terms an ambition to race in the UCI Women’s WorldTour, should her meteoric rise continue. 

Dixon only began competitive cycling two years ago; a surprising revelation, given the standard she has already achieved. The speed of her progress is underpinned by greater experience of the athlete’s life; its rhythms and routines, sacrifices and demands. Dixon was a middle-distance runner, and a good one - a Welsh national champion, no less - until repeated injury forced her from the sport.

She began a comeback of sorts by training for a marathon, but further injury (shin splints) led her, indirectly, to the bike, initially as a means of maintaining fitness. Fate intervened when she noticed an advert for a taster session with Wolverhampton Wheelers at Aldersley Velodrome. The rest is a remarkably brief history. 

Dixon’s rise doesn’t even span her two years as a racing cyclist. She readily admits that last season, her first as a competitive rider, racing with Cycle Team OnForm, she had no greater ambition than to survive. (“I spent all of last year riding at the back,” she says, laughing. “I wouldn’t have known if a break had gone, let alone been in it.”) This season, the results of a consistent winter have been apparent from the first race on the National Road Series calendar. 
 
Leah Dixon, Brother UK cyclist interviewed after a race

The power of momentum

Dixon announced her presence on the national stage with a performance of strength, power and maturity at the Klondike GP. Describing the events of a windy day in Saltburn, four months later, she still sounds surprised. A day begun with no expectations of the podium ended with third place behind winner Anna Henderson, her team-mate, and runner-up Jos Lowden (Brother UK-FusionRT).

She describes savage climbs and big crowds; two features of a wild day in Cleveland likely to have impressed themselves on the memory of anyone present. Dixon has additional reasons for recalling the details, however: the Klondike GP set in train a season in which she has continued to gather momentum.

“We all want success for the team. While you can’t have an individual result in every race, you can have a team result. That has led to different individuals performing well.”

“On the run into the finish, [team-mate] Anna Henderson and Jos Lowden (Brother UK-FusionRT) were away, and there might have been a group of about 10 of us following. Even at that point, I had no plans to sprint for third. I was trying to lead out Becks Durrell, but I came around the final corner and no one came past me.”

Months after a brilliant start to a breakthrough campaign, Dixon still cannot keep the surprise from her voice. The impressive start made by Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm to British Cycling’s flagship series for women’s road racing triggered a period of dominance that has given Simon Howes’ squad an unassailable lead. Dixon attests to the power of momentum; the reinforcement of belief among a group of individuals that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

“Everyone gets on really well. We like and respect and support each other. Simon has done a brilliant job, and Paul Freeman too, in creating that team ethos. We all want success for the team. While you can’t have an individual result in every race, you can have a team result. That has led to different individuals performing well.”

Modesty prevents her from offering her own performances as evidence, but one need only consider her increasingly polished palmares. This year Dixon has recorded overall victory at the Alexandra Tour of the Reservoir, sealed by victory on the second stage, a place on the podium at the South Coast Classic, and a top-ten finish at the Curlew Cup, in addition to her podium at the Klondike GP.

She is living proof of the talent pipeline built by team manager Howes from a not-so-secret source labelled Cycle Team OnForm; a development outfit for men and women, senior and junior. Last year, Dixon raced in OnForm’s harlequin colours, and has taken a significant step forwards since staking a place on Howes’ new, elite women’s team. 

Leah Dixon sits on bike in Brother UK cycling kit

A poorly kept secret

A concurrent programme of external recruitment has seen Howes supplement the talent sourced in-house with some of the strongest and most established riders in domestic women’s cycling; a description that fits Rebecca Durrell, to name only the team’s highest-profile signing, to a tee.

Recruited from Storey Racing, and previously a rider for Drops, newly-crowned British circuit race champion Durrell has become even stronger since joining Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm, and has won or finished in the top five in almost every race she’s started this season. Dixon has paid close attention to her more accomplished team-mate.

Dixon’s talent is not in dispute and, since driving an all-day breakaway on the opening stage of this year’s Women’s Tour de Yorkshire, is fast becoming the worst kept secret in women’s cycling.

“I’ve learned a lot from Becks this season. She’s always calm, reads the race really well, and always knows what to do. We’ve been quite dominant as a team, and so it’s been a steep learning curve for me, still being so new to racing. If I’m unsure about what to do in a race, I always turn to Becks.”

Dixon is also able to call upon the experience of boyfriend Jacob Tipper, who races on the road with Ribble Pro Cycling and on the track with Huub-Wattbike. His advice prevents her from “meltdown”, Dixon laughs, and while road racing is a shared interest, she has no desire to transfer her talent to the track. “I’m scared of the banking and the general lack of brakes,” she jokes, revealing that she rode in the bottom group in her few track league appearances last winter.

Her talent on the road however is not in dispute and, since driving an all-day breakaway on the opening stage of this year’s Women’s Tour de Yorkshire, is fast becoming the worst kept secret in women’s cycling. Dixon played a central part in a stage-defining, two-woman escape, initiated by Bigla’s Lizzie Banks, formerly of Brother UK-FusionRT.

Leah Dixon, cyclist, pre-race in Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm kit

An unforgettable day

What unfolded over the next three hours provided the material for an unforgettable day of racing, one which saw the British pair draw unqualified support from the thousands who lined the 132km route from Barnsley to Bedale, and from the millions more watching at home, bellowing at their television screens.

The pair stayed clear until the first of two laps of the world championship circuit in Harrogate, when they were joined by three other riders. Strengthened by the presence of fresh legs, Dixon’s group held off a rampaging peloton of UCI Women’s WorldTour heavyweights until just 3km to go.

Driving rain did not weary them, and only the combined might of a world-class field driven by former World Champion Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) could bring them to heal. Millions of viewers watching television coverage of the race voted Dixon the most combative rider, concluding a highly successful stage in which team-mate Henderson finished eighth in a bunch kick contested by the world’s best sprinters. Mission(s) accomplished.

“It wasn’t necessarily planned, but it was definitely a goal. We had a team chat the night before and decided that the goals for the day were to get somebody in a break, if there was one, and to get a top 10 finish, which Anna [Henderson] delivered,” Dixon recalls.

“It was a great stage. The support we got from the roadside was massive, despite the fact that it rained for quite a lot of it. It helped massively, especially when people shouted our names as we rode through the towns and villages,” she recalls.

“On the finishing circuit in Harrogate, the crowds were huge. I never expected to make it that far. When the kilometres were ticking down, I started to get a bit excited. Even now, I look back and think, ‘Maybe I should have made one last attack towards the end’. Who knows what could have happened?”

Leah Dixon of Brother UK-Tifosi p/b OnForm cycling

Determination and resolve

Dixon surely cannot have regrets after such a magnificent ride. It is a measure of her ambition however that she allows herself to think that a prize greater even than the combativity award might have been within her grasp, even against such accomplished opposition. She does not rule out one day joining them, either.

A step from a Brother UK-supported domestic women’s team to the professional ranks is not unprecedented. Banks, her breakaway confederate in Yorkshire, is living proof; so too is Banks’ Bigla team-mate Sophie Wright, who last year raced for Team Torelli-Brother UK.

“All of this has happened pretty quickly for me, but if it became a possibility, it would be great to join a UCI team and race in the Women’s WorldTour.”

Modest to a fault and genuinely surprised by the speed of her progress, Dixon is not looking too far ahead, but neither does she rule out one day joining those who are not forced to rely on a day job to support their racing.

“Two years ago, when I went to Aldersley Velodrome with Wolverhampton Whelers, I didn’t expect this to happen. But if it became a possibility, it would be great to join a UCI team and race in the Women’s WorldTour.”

We conclude the conversation by apologising for having intruded so long upon her training time. Dixon is pleasant, engaging and intelligent; a graduate of Cardiff University and a regular reader. Her determination to succeed, as clear in her resolution to cycle on the spot on a sultry summer’s evening as in any race, should take her far. 

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