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Emma Pooley: When being world champion doesn’t pay

Emma Pooley can win the world’s biggest bike races, but she cannot make the numbers add up.

As a road cyclist, the 31-year-old has a world title and Olympic silver medalto her name. She is one of the world’s pre-eminent time-trial specialists.

Has that earned enough to put food on the table? Yes. After almost a decade in cycling, has she saved any money worth talking about? Not really.

Pooley long ago accepted the financial realities of her sport, a world away from the men’s equivalent. However, nagging reminders are never far off.

Before concentrating on cycling, Pooley had been a triathlete, taking up the sport when she left Norwich to study at Cambridge. Now she has returned to the swim, bike and run as a “hobby” – except her hobby seems more lucrative than the day job.

In February, she came third at a half-Ironman triathlon of middling repute in the Philippines. That result earned her more prize money than any of the dozens of bike races she has won.

“I don’t do it for the prize money. I love sport,” insists the 2010 world champion. “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.”

The same thing happened last year. Pooley entered the Lausanne Marathon in Switzerland, won it, and pocketed a small four-figure sum. The prize for a single run was more than any bike race had ever stumped up.

Only three years of her life – the three leading up to London 2012, where she came sixth in the time trial – have been spent as a full-time bike rider. Before that, she worked to make ends meet.

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