Ffion James is someone who thrives on achievement but manages to stay down to earth. I’ve followed her for her cyclo-cross achievements; cycling at the lead of the National pack takes quite some commitment, so I nearly fell off my comfy chair when she let drop that her weekdays were taken up with Chemistry study at the one and only Cambridge University! High achievement is in the blood it seems, with one of her sisters (Rachel James) a para-cycling pilot World Champion, another (Becky James) an Olympic track cycling silver medallist and the other (Meg James) 2017 Downhill Junior World Champion, maybe being good at stuff is easy for the James’. I dug deep to find out what sets them apart as a family and what sets Ffion apart from her siblings...what I uncovered was that there is no mold. Sparky and individual, FFion James is riding her own path.

“I didn’t actually come from a cycling family, even though we all now cycle. Mum and Dad weren’t into it, it was just that they took us to some fun club sessions for kids and we all took to it. They ended up joining us.” Explains Ffion. Although, as a younger one, Ffion was kind of passed the baton by looking up to her older siblings, Becky being the keenest of them all and persuading the rest to join her. By then, cycling was the sport that they did, so she didn’t question it.

The great thing about cycling is that no matter who you are, you can find an aspect of it that suits your personality. Growing up, Ffion tried all the disciplines including track cycling, the discipline where her sister had so much success. She told us about the moment when Becky won Silver at the Rio Olympics in 2016, describing how the family couldn’t have been more proud knowing exactly how much she had put in to get there “You don’t know how much someone puts into it unless you see it first hand.” However, despite the fact that Ffion is undoubtedly inspired by her big sister, she says “it’s important not to compare. We’re different people with different interests and careers….and body shapes...I tried the track, obviously, but I am tall and lean and really, I like being outdoors.” These differences are also what led Meg James to take up downhill “it just suited her, she’s always been the mad one!” Says Ffion. And this variety within one sport is how the James Sisters have all found their own legs.

So Cross-country MTB (XC) and Cyclo-cross it is for Ffion, a love of the outdoors and hardship. I wonder what the cyclo-cross community is like at a place like Cambridge Uni? “Actually there are lots of cyclists here, some even do a bit of cyclo-cross.” Ffion is part of the University Cycling Club which organises club rides and inter collegiate racing. But it’s her Dad who is her main travel companion. He’s in Wales (Abergavenny) and often they will meet somewhere en route and travel to races together, beit York, the Midlands or even Belgium. You could not find a more supportive Dad and Ffion even admits to feeling a little bit guilty about it at times. But I have met Mr James and there is no doubt in my mind that he loves it every bit as much as she does, he is involved and proud. And this pride is split equally amongst all his children, what I don’t understand is how he splits his time between them all. But, as I have found out, time management isn’t a problem in la famille James.

Chemistry is a hard subject. Cambridge is a tough uni. Cyclo-cross is a brutal sport. None make light work of their prisoners. Ffion enjoys creating a tight and organised schedule though, and this is the solution to making it all work. Plus, she cheekily quips “it’s a good excuse, if things aren’t going well at racing...I have my studies. If my studies are slacking...the racing is there.”

It’s not just a desire to do it all that pushed Ffion to take on so much, it’s also her experience of watching her older sisters battle the world of being a pro rider. “I’d love to ride as a full time pro one day” explains Ffion “But anything can happen.” She refers to the time Becky had a knee injury one year before the Rio Olympics, putting her out for a while. Luckily she managed to come back from it, but having seen it, Ffion appreciates how precarious a pro’s career can be and calculated that her degree is a decent back-up plan.

Ffion has achieved a few cycling dreams already. As a junior she won the Junior National Cyclocross Championships in Derby, whilst at the same time placing third in the Elite race behind Helen Wyman and Nikki Brammier. This season she finished in the number one spot of the Cyclo-cross Elite National Trophy, something that she has been chasing for a few years now. And she has raced overseas several times, representing GB in the U23 Cyclocross World Championships in Luxembourg a few years ago, lining up on the start line in-front of literally thousands of cheering fans and competing against her idols and heros. But something tells me, there is more to come.

"I’ll be racing on the road, MTB and even doing some TTs over the summer this year. One of my aims will be the National MTB Championships in July, where I hope to podium as a first year Elite rider. After racing on the road and MTB through the summer I’ll be looking ahead and preparing for next year’s cross season - it comes around very quickly!"


PICS: Andy Whitehouse

WORDS: Anna Glowinski