From Tennis to Cycling: My lockdown story

Olivia French

Hi! It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog and so much has changed.  If you want to read my pre-Covid blog about life as a student-athlete click here.

Covid has affected us all in different ways and I consider myself to be incredibly lucky that myself and all my family and friends have managed to stay healthy or overcome the illness. In the grand scheme of things, when the world was thrust into the depths of the first lockdown, tennis not being allowed wasn’t exactly the biggest sacrifice. However, as someone whose life had mainly revolved around the sport for the last 10 or so years, it left a big hole that needed to be filled. 

Training through lockdowns

The natural choice would have been running, and lots of my tennis friends did just that and have achieved some awesome things! However, I could only manage a 5k or two a week as I was nursing an Achilles injury from earlier in the season so when my dad asked me to go out on a bike ride with him, I thought I might as well give it a go!

Throughout the lockdown, I grew in confidence on two wheels and quickly became hooked. Summer 2020 was the first in a long time where I didn’t spend all of it competing so I had time to go on some cool adventures, including the Outer Hebrides and Britain’s highest paved road in the lake district!

Back at university in September, I joined Durham University Cycling Club (DUCC) – check out their Instagram, and managed to get out on a few group rides. Tennis-wise, we, unfortunately, didn’t have any league matches but just squeezed in individual national qualifiers before we were into another lockdown. 5/6 of us qualified for national finals later this summer which was a great result for the club!

At this point, I started receiving coaching for cycling from Phill Smith (university team coach) and followed my first structured programme. This included a personalised strength and conditioning and programme and the online uni fitness classes which you can read about in my other blog here.


In April I did my first duathlon; it was close to home and a great introduction to racing as it was a such friendly atmosphere. I won my age group and came in as 2nd woman overall!

I absolutely loved the feeling of racing.  I have always struggled with anxiety in tennis which has the unfortunate side-effect of making your play ‘tight’- it can become a difficult problem to break.  I quickly realised in the few races I’ve done that while I still get those same anxieties, they disappear as soon as I get going and it doesn’t affect my race – bonus!

A week later I went to a Yorkshire Duathlon which was an age-group GB team qualifier for the world championships in Australia 2020. I was not expecting to be in the mix for qualifying for this, I just wanted the experience of being in a big event and to enjoy racing, so it was a shock when my brother checked the results and said I’d qualified – no idea how I’m going to get on in Oz!


This year Skoda DSI Cycling Academy conducted trials for their academy run by Dame Sarah Storey at the Olympic Park in London. I was delighted to get an invite to the trial and a trip to the Olympic Park to break up revision for the looming exams.

The day itself was intense; indoor WattBike testing first followed by outdoor circuit tests. I loved every minute and came away buzzing from the totally new experience.

Later that week, during an exam, I received a phone call telling me I had been selected! Safe to say I found it hard to concentrate for the rest of the 24 hours but glad I managed to get it submitted in the end.

For more information about the academy, click here.

Future plans

I have just finished my exams and things are starting to calm down. My sporting focus now is very much cycling heavy with tennis in between. I look forward to continuing to play for DU women’s 1s next year and in county week over summer; the rest of the time will be spent racing with my Skoda teammates and trying to learn as much about racing as possible.

If you are thinking about getting involved in cycling at Durham, definitely do it! Even through COVID, without actually getting to meet a lot of club members, I have really felt welcomed into the club despite knowing virtually nothing about cycling! Thanks to everyone at DUCC who has towed me round rides, given me advice and genuinely just answered a lot of my stupid questions!

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions please do get in touch, follow me via any of the following:

Instagram: @livfrenchie

Twitter: @livfrenchie

FacebookOlivia French

Last year I also did a day in the life of which you can check out here.

I will be doing another one of these soon so stay tuned to see how COVID and cycling has changed my day to day!

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About Olivia’s story here

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Olivia French

Hi! My name is Olivia and I am a 3rd year studying Maths. When I started at Durham in 2019 I played tennis but since lockdown, I have switched sports to cycling and I love it! You can read more of my story in other blogs I have written and

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