Flora Perkins: From the Hell of the North to the exam hall

The 18-year-old talks finishing Paris-Roubaix ahead of finishing her high school exams.

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For most teenagers, the task of completing end-of-school exams alone is more than enough work. Flora Perkins, however, is preparing for hers while competing in some of the biggest one-day races in cycling.

In her first season as a professional with Le Col-Wahoo, the 18-year-old took on the second edition of Paris Roubaix Femmes – her first WorldTour race – and made it to the Roubaix velodrome.

While standing at the side of the track gathering herself between sips of cold Fanta, Perkins summed up the general sense of all who had made it into the velodrome: “It was hard but I’m here,” she said, flecks of dust and mud blending in with the freckles on her face.

“The plan was for me to, in the local laps, try and get in the early break, and so I could hit the cobbles first, but that didn’t really go to plan,” she recalled. When the break of four went up the road she wanted to be up there but wasn’t in the right position.

“I was too far back and then you’re just trying to get out any way you can. And then once I did, like it was just I was in that middle space where you can’t quite bridge.” 

After being reeled back in by the bunch, Perkins turned her attention to helping her teammates, ‘Tata’ (Portuguese champion Maria Martins) and ‘Majo’ (Marjolien van’t Geloof). “We did that okay, but it could have been better and could have been worse,” she said.

In the end, her teammates suffered the same fate that many others did during the Hell of the North and had to fight back through crashes and mechanicals.

“From there on in it was like there’s no tactics, you just ride,” Perkins said. “I was really quite good early on, like making my way through the cars, I got up to a group, and then I decked it and then you just lose all of all that hard work. And from there, it’s just kind of fighting to the end, I came down another time because you just get tired and then you lose concentration.”

The British rider’s parents and sibling travelled to the race to support her, with her older brother even helping the team out.

“I think he quite enjoyed that,” she said.

Could she hear them cheering?

“I could pick out English voices but other than that not really. I mean I saw my parents on the first sector because I was still thinking clearly but from there on in your have no idea.” 

Understandably, after the race, her immediate thoughts were of getting herself clean after a dry and dusty race complete with crashes.

“A shower would be good. I just had two Fantas and that was nice but yes, a shower would be good,” Perkins said with a smirk.

Once the Roubaix dirt was washed off, however, it was on to La Flèche Wallonne with Liège-Bastogne-Liège to follow, “and then I’m back to school next week.”

Perkins is studying for her A-Levels, the final qualifications of 16-18 further education in the UK. Her first exam will be Sociology on May 23.

“I don’t think it will feel like normality because it’s A levels so it’s not quite normal school, so I’ll be in and out for exams, but I can see the end now,” she said. “I think I’ve got a month left in school.”

The lifestyle of a pro cyclist may have what seems like a lot of downtime but with travelling and training, as well as preparing to race, it isn’t easy to balance other pursuits. Perkins, however, said she has been “trying to squeeze in revision while I’ve been out here in Belgium.”

Explaining her cycling lifestyle to her classmates is sometimes tricky.

“I think when you put stuff on Instagram people are like ‘ooh’,” she said. “I put something saying I was doing Paris-Roubaix and then my friend messaged me like, ‘Wow, you’re going to Paris,’ and I was like, ‘No’. But the excitement is there, I think they think it’s cool. Yeah. They do get it.”

Perkins has even tried to include them and show them what, exactly, it is that she gets up to at weekends sometimes.

“I took a couple of classmates to The Champions League,” she said. “And they were like, ‘Wow, it’s Laura Kenny,’ like she’s doing an interview with something and then, pointing out Katie [Archibald] but also Tata rode in it and I was like, ‘Yeah, she’s gonna be my teammate next year,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh wow, Flora’.”

“So I think they do get it to a certain extent, they’re excited about it so that’s nice.”

Luckily, the images that come from Paris-Roubaix tend to do a good job of illustrating exactly how grueling the race is. With that in mind, does Perkins want to put herself through the Hell of the North again next year?

“Maybe ask me at a later date,” she said. “Hard to know without perspective, but I’m not against it. I’ll put it that way.”

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.