It’s not just the men’s Pearl Izumi Tour Series which draws to a conclusion this week, as Britain’s leading women battle it out in the final two events of the Matrix Fitness Grand Prix Series in Peterborough and Bath.

The former will be a welcome return to a familiar circuit where previous winners include Eileen Roe and Hannah Barnes, while the double-points finale in Bath will see a new circuit, which includes the city’s famous Royal Crescent.

Leading the way with two rounds to go is Team Giordana Triton’s Nikki Juniper, 11-points clear of Jessie Walker, with Croydon winner Charline Joiner also in close attendance. You can find the full standings here and look ahead to the final two races in this preview video.

Going into the final week, Gordon Wiseman spoke to the 34-year-old from Brentwood, who also leads the Series’ Sprints competition, and has her new-for-2015 team just two points behind leaders Pearl Izumi Sports Tours International team.

“It’s been a really good year for me.  But I recognise that with such a young team I’m really the team ‘mum’ so I’m really enjoying being able to give so much to all our younger riders. I’ve got a really strong endurance background having raced triathlon for ten years and coupled with being the eldest I add something to that side of the team. We’re mainly a development squad and my being there and doing so well lets the younger riders know that they can also give it a go and not be afraid”.

Is that your character, ‘give it a go and don’t be afraid?

“Definitely.  I admit that before a race I get terrible race nerves and can panic.  But once the race has started I just get in there and if I cross the line having given it everything I’ve got then I know I’ve done my best.  I’m my worst critic and if I haven’t given it my all I’ll be the first one to say that”.

There are two rounds of the Matrix Fitness GP Series to go and one of those races is on a circuit in Bath that’s never been used before.  Do you know anything about the Bath circuit?

“I’ve been told it’s got some good cobbles and good climbs so I’m hoping it’s my kind of circuit.  I prefer the racing to be harder than just fast.  If it’s harder it’s actually safer because the field quickly splits up and you’ve got smaller groups to actually race against.  And that’s particular good at the front of the race where I always try to be”.

Are you aware that the last two winners of the Matrix Fitness GP Series have gone on to ride for UCI registered teams?

“I did know that but they’re completely different riders to me” – Eileen Roe (Wiggle-Honda) and Hannah Barnes (UnitedHealthcare).  “I’m an all-rounder and I’m fully aware that I’m kind of near the end of my career and I’m absolutely stoked with what I’ve done and achieved.  But if I can now give something back, perhaps after another couple of years then I’d like to be involved as a team manager or a coach, helping with other riders as they develop then I’d be completely happy.  

“But if the opportunity did come along, I’d have to first have my partner involved in making that decision but you can never say never.  Nick Yarworth is both my partner and coach and he’s played a major part in my success and that of the teams so far.  But I’m not a 19-year-old, I’m 34 so I’d have to see what my situation was first of all.”  

The Matrix Fitness GP start-lists have all had 60 or 70 riders entered this year?

“Oh yeah, that’s unbelievable.  They’ve been massive and tonight’s Nocturne is the same and that’s such a good thing to see.  There’s been different riders at the front of all the races and the different circuits all suit different riders.  I’ve seen the women’s side of the sport grow since I lined up for my first race in 2009 when there were just 9 of us in that race and now there’s 70.  As I say, that’s just unbelievable.”

But the whole appearance of the women’s race scene has changed because now the teams have proper rider support, team vehicles and starting to get the kind of support you’d expect at the top level?

“Yes, there’s definitely more interest being shown by bigger companies as they begin to realise that women’s bike racing is exciting and is a place for them to get involved.  And they can get an awful lot of exposure for a smaller amount than, say, one of the men’s teams.  

“I think part of that is because in bike racing women are used to having to do nearly everything for themselves so when they get the chance to join a team they don’t expect a lot and have been happy to race for just a jersey, a pair of shorts and a little mechanical support.  So for big companies to get involved with a sponsorship deal won’t involve a great deal of money and certainly pocket money compared to the men’s side of the sport so it’s a win-win situation for them.  Now what we need is for such companies to come along and actually get involved.

“But there’s then the importance of women who are involved in the sport to know they’ve got to give something back.  They mustn’t just expect money for everything, go and talk to schools, help out with cycle schemes in the community.  That’s what I do for my job, going into schools, talking at school assemblies.  And getting girls involved at a young age is very important because many still think bike racing is just a man’s sport.  We need to get round that.  

“That’s what the company I work for” – Vandome Cycles of Dagenham – “does.  I’m actually at my happiest not just when I’m racing but also when I go and see some of the younger riders we’ve got involved in the sport race themselves”.

As soon as the Matrix Fitness Grand Prix season finishes we move to the Aviva Women’s Tour.  How big do you think that is in developing the sport in the UK?

“I think that’s hugely important.  They only allow I think it’s 16 UCI teams and only two domestic teams at present and I’d love to ride that myself but our team didn’t get an invite.  But we didn’t have that until very recently and to see that go through the streets of England, that’s brilliant.  And that can only get better.  

“The amount of positive feedback they got was enormous, people saying things like ‘I didn’t know women could race that fast’.  And lots of people say women’s racing is so exciting and I think that’s because we do have that ‘well I might as well give it a go’ attitude.

“If we were to have a GB team in the race this year, you know some riders think just to pull on a GB jersey is everything and it is a goal to aim for but there’s so much more to aim for in cycling.

“And the first thing is just to get on your bike and enjoy it.  If you just focus on getting that jersey and you don’t get it, well…  It’s great to have that dream but also have dreams you can enjoy.”

So where is your focus now, just tonight or on hopefully retaining the overall jersey in the Matrix series?  Where’s your dream?

“Tonight is like a party on a bike, it’s great and I just want to enjoy it and soak it up.  I got the win last year and I know people will expect me to defend it but the result at the end of the night will speak for themselves.  But I’d really love to keep the jersey through to the end of Bath on Thursday night.  And that would also bring the team so much confidence for the future as well”.

Post Interview Note – Following Nikki’s third place in the London Nocturne we weren’t able to catch-up with Juniper, as following a crash she made it to the podium before being escorted away for a Saturday evening in A&E thanks to bad cuts and bruising on her left arm and leg and the after effects of a bad bang to the head.  

Speaking afterwards though the Series leader was upbeat and ready to be back racing.

“I’ve now got to make sure I’m ready for the Matrix race in Peterborough on Tuesday night.  Will I be there?  Of course I will, I’ve got a jersey to defend!”

Thanks to Gordon Wiseman and VeloUK for the quotes.