World championship and Commonwealth Games medal-winning and Olympic cyclist, Racquel Sheath has decided to step away from track cycling as an athlete in the High Performance programme.
Sheath came into the programme at 19 years old, eight years into her journey of being a cyclist and had always planned to retire after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
“I wanted to give my career a sense of urgency, an end date to stay motivated and driven towards,” said Sheath.
With the postponement of the 2020 Olympics, Sheath’s idea of retiring became more set in stone. Having dedicated most of her life to cycling and being an athlete, she said she needed to change her priorities, to focus more on the important relationships in her life, and create a life beyond the sport.
“It’s been a really difficult decision, but I know it’s the right one for me. I have other goals and projects in my life that I want to pursue and now is the right time.”
While Sheath is retiring as an athlete, she will not be moving away from the sport completely, initially providing training support for the squad and working with Cycling New Zealand to become an intern coach with the Grassroots Trust Waikato Bay of Plenty Hub development programme.
“I wanted to leave this sport still loving it, so I was able to give back and use my experience to help others.”
She is also planning to develop her popular nail salon business, Classy Claws and work at Essential Insurances, the family business. Sheath, her partner and their two dogs, plan to remain in Cambridge long term as they own a home there.
Cycling New Zealand women’s endurance coach Ross Machejefski said Sheath would be a loss to the programme.
“Racquel has made a significant contribution to the Vantage women’s track endurance squad both on and off the track since she joined in 2014,” Machejefski said. “She has been an excellent rider not only in the discipline of team pursuit but also as clever bunch rider on the track and the road.
“She has been a fantastic contributor off the bike, but I am sure she will remain close to the girls in the programme to provide her usual element of fun and energy. We will certainly be providing the assistance she wants to transition into coaching where she has all the attributes to be an excellent prospect.”
Cycling New Zealand high performance director, Martin Barras said: “On behalf of all of us in the High Performance programme, I want to thank and congratulate Racquel on her superb performances as a member of our team. She played a major role in our improved excellence. I look forward to her continued engagement in the sport and wish her and Johnathan the best in their new endeavours.”
Sheath, who started in BMX as a five-year-old, moved to road and track from the age of 11, following her cousins into the sport. She moved to Cambridge in 2014, joining the Vantage High Performance squad that year.
Sheath represented New Zealand in multiple World Cups, five World Championships, the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2016 Rio Olympics. She won a bronze medal with the team pursuit at the world championships in Hong Kong in 2017, the Oceania omnium title in the same year, and won a silver medal in the team pursuit at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in 2018.
Sheath also won numerous World Cup medals of all colours across team pursuit, omnium and madison. She competed at the Rio Olympics where New Zealand, finishing fourth in the team pursuit.
She is also a noted road rider, winning the Vantage national criterium title twice in 2016 and 2018. She holds the women’s road race record for the Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge, winning the women’s elite title twice. Most recently, Racquel won the local and prestigious Bev May Women’s Tour in February this year, saying it was an honour to return to her roots.
Sheath said she is indebted to her teammates, family, friends, coaches and sponsors that have contributed to her long and successful career.
“I wouldn’t have made it this far in the cycling without their support.”