From races to new beginnings: Imogen Cotter on her retirement and future aspirations

By We Love Cycling

Imogen Cotter, a name synonymous with resilience and triumph in Irish cycling, has recently announced her retirement from professional cycling. After years of thrilling races and notable achievements, the Škoda ambassador is ready to embark on new adventures beyond the competitive circuit.

In this candid Q&A, she reflects on her journey, the reasons behind her decision to retire, and her exciting plans for the future.

Imogen, you’ve had such a successful career as a professional cyclist. What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment or proudest moment?

 My biggest accomplishment is winning the National Championships in 2021 – I will never forget the feeling of crossing the finish line and realising that I had achieved my biggest dream! I would say that the thing in cycling that I am most proud of is all the work it took for me to achieve that dream. Like any athlete knows, it’s not an overnight success story; it takes years of dedicated work and monotonous sessions repeated week on week. My national champion jersey is just the physical embodiment of that hard work and the journey it took to get there.

Looking back on your cycling career, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them?

 Without doubt, my biggest challenge in cycling came in 2022 when I was hit by a car while out training. It was in my inaugural year as a professional cyclist, and I was the reigning national champion. It felt like every possibility was at my fingertips, and I couldn’t wait to get started. Man plans, God laughs! I was three weeks into my professional career when a van driving on the wrong side of the road hit me head-on. I was incredibly lucky to survive and to have very manageable long-lasting consequences of the crash.

I was also very lucky to have a great community of people around me. I had five surgeries in 2022 and fought back tooth and nail to get back on the bike. In May 2022, I did my first bike ride outdoors again, and in September 2022, eight months after a near-death experience, I pinned a number on again for the first time. I am so incredibly proud of how I overcame this. I focused on what I could control each day and made sure that I did it to the best of my ability – whether that was attempting to climb the stairs or brush my hair for the first time, or whether it was heading out for a 100km cycle, I made sure I tackled them both with the same dedication and willpower!

Of course, there were other obstacles in my cycling career, such as crashes, non-selection for races, and the stress of contracts, but these all pale in comparison to the fight back to racing again in 2022.

What led you to the decision to retire from professional cycling?

After suffering from the impacts of the accident in 2022, I focused myself 150% on getting back on the bike and becoming as physically fit again as possible – which I did! I set new personal bests across all my power targets, but this sheer focus solely on my physical recovery meant that I was neglecting my mental recovery.

 Going through a near-death experience was truly terrifying and can often lead to PTSD. In January of this year, once my physical recovery was more or less complete, I began to understand how much I was struggling mentally. It was coming up to the anniversary of the crash, and I was having really debilitating flashbacks when on the bike and when racing.

 I started EMDR therapy in February of this year and gave myself the time and space to truly process what I had been through in the past two years. Once I slowed down and began to listen to my body, I realised the high stress levels associated with racing were making me feel significantly worse. The loud noises, the hectic peloton, the crashes, and the anticipation of crashes – this was all triggering my PTSD. I initially decided to take a break from racing, but the more time went on, the more I concluded that I didn’t feel the pull to go back to the peloton. My body felt at peace after fighting for two years, and I wanted to keep it that way.

I still absolutely love riding my bike, and without the competitive element of the peloton, I am hoping to pursue that joy even more!

 Can you tell us more about your future plans? How do you see yourself transitioning from cycling to these new endeavours?

 During my initial break from racing, I began to explore other ways of moving my body that didn’t spike my anxiety. I used to be a runner before I started cycling, so I naturally began to explore this again. My knee was injured quite badly in my crash in 2022, and I have had two major surgeries on my knee, so I was very unsure and curious as to whether I would ever be able to run again. The journey of exploration into running again has been a really fun one! I also picked up swimming again – I used to swim throughout my teens, and being in the pool feels like a really safe environment for me in comparison to cycling. So, combining all three sports, I have decided to give triathlons a shot! I have signed up to an Ironman 70.3 in October and have hired a coach to help me target this race.

On the career side of things, I have made no secret of the fact that I am eager to get into media and presenting, whether in front of the camera or behind the scenes. I am really open to new opportunities that come my way and excited to see what I can achieve in this realm. I am also a passionate road safety advocate and was able to tell my story as part of a recent Škoda and RSA safety appeal. I am also getting the opportunity to talk on panels or go to companies to speak to employees about the importance of road safety. I feel so grateful to have built a following that allows me to use my recovery story for good.

 As you retire from professional cycling, what advice would you give to up-and-coming cyclists in Ireland who aspire to follow in your footsteps?

 My advice to young cyclists in Ireland is to grab every opportunity that is given to you with open hands and an open mind! I would recommend starting with some local races in Ireland and building up your experience here at home. I would also say to throw yourself into any experiences that come your way, even if you might not necessarily feel ready.

Sometimes it’s better to just take a leap of faith, even if it might scare you a bit. There were a lot of things in my cycling career that I didn’t feel 100% ready for, but I knew if I threw myself in at the deep end, it could lead to something brilliant. Sink or Swim, Win or Learn!

Imogen Cotter’s transition from professional cycling to new pursuits is a powerful story of resilience, adaptability and the courage to embrace change. You can keep up with Imogen by following her on Instagram here!