Friday, 3 June 2016

Peloton Brief

After a long and agonising wait it was finally time for me to pin a number on my jersey. I had been watching my team from afar over the most exciting time of the season so to be able to finally be joining them for the remaining part of the Spring was super exciting. Being on the sidelines whilst your team is racing is one of the hardest feelings. Whilst being immensely proud of all their successes, there is always the twinge of jealousy.

When an injury takes you away from the sport for eight months you can get out of practice with packing, at least that was the case with me. I was going away for a mere nine days but you could have mistaken it for a trip around the world I made such an ordeal of it. I put the variety of races and weather down to the drama I made of the situation. 

The first race to kick off my 2016 season was a typical Dutch race with dykes, lot of corners, small roads and lots of wind. As we were sat on the start line I could see the black cloud looming. It wasn't until two minutes before the flag dropped that the heavens opened making the neutral section even more chaotic than usual. I spent the majority of the race in the gutter fighting the wind not letting it be the victor. It was a cruel snap back into the reality of racing but it was great to be back in the chaos of the peloton. 

My second and most daunting race was Fl├Ęche Wallone. A hard course that took us through the rolling terrain of the beautiful Ardenne’s. The weather was just beautiful which made a great day for all spectators, for the riders, it was still painful. 

Up next was my first time trial of the season. The last time trial I did was part of the USA Pro Challenge at an unbearable 10,000 feet, so I wasn't dreading this one nearly as much as I should have been. It was the first time I had ridden the Canyon Speedmax CF SLX time trial bike and I loved it. I am looking forward to many more painful KM’s together. 

Mum and Dad had missed me racing just as much as I had so they made the short trip over the English channel to, Borsele to come and give me some extra encouragement over the weekend, which I loved. Having your family there watching is special. Races are so far away, and schedules are often not decided too far in advance, so it’s a rare opportunity, and one I always treasure. There were narrow roads, wind, and rain. All the typical characteristics to make it a gruelling race. You couldn’t loose your concentration otherwise you would find yourself the wrong side of the split and out of contention. By the time I crossed the line I was exhausted.

The final race had a little bit of everything. Small roads, steep climbs, echelon’s with a cobbled finish. This was my fifth race over nine days and I was starting to get back into the swing of what race days can throw at you. I was feeling a lot more confident in my recovery and my training over the last few months. There is still a way to go before I am back to my previous fitness but I am happy with my progress.

Over the long weekend of racing the team secured two wins and a second place and to be part of that was, special. It is a long season with plenty more races for me to test myself and progress me further.

Pro Cycling Diary - May

As I write this I am flying at 36,000 feet, in the clouds, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean heading home after the Women’s Tour of California. California is one of the most beautiful races on the World Tour calendar. Starting in Lake Tahoe, heading south to Folsom, Santa Rosa and the coast before finishing in Sacramento.

Lake Tahoe is a wonderful place. Our first stage took us on the 115km loop around the Lake. With stunning scenery and beautiful views it was hard to not appreciate how spoilt we are. Unfortunately you don’t get to enjoy the breathtaking views as you are racing past. At 6,500 feet you are more concentrated on absorbing as much oxygen as you can and bypass the beauty. 

Folsom isn't as spectacular so you don't mind that all your focus is taken on not loosing your team mates wheel. This team Time trail was different to normal in the fact it was on road bikes. It brought a different dimension to the race. It was the first time I had raced a team time trial with Canyon/SRAM and I was excited to learn from the current worlds best. 

Even though we get to go to all these amazing places we don’t get to explore them nearly as much as we would like too. I have an extensive list that keeps getting longer of places that I would love to go back and visit. The pacific coast highway was added to that list after we briefly raced along the beautiful coast road in stage three from Santa Rosa to Santa Rosa. 

Our tour finished in the city of Sacramento along with the men. We took on twenty laps of the three kilometre circuit that the mens race would be finalised. Racing along side the mens race means extra crowds and that was undeniable when we passed the wall of noise each time we crossed the start/finish line.

The Rapha Cycle club in San Francisco had organised a group ride leaving the cafe on the Monday morning so we stayed an extra day and joined them. They were appreciative of us joining them but I was more than grateful to be there. We were shown round the beautiful roads of San Francisco by cyclists who are just as passionate about road riding as we are. 

This was my second time participating in this race and I enjoy it more and more each year. With extra and different stages being added I am already looking forward to next years addition. 

Monday, 18 April 2016

Peloton Brief - Metal Sticks

When you were at school, crutches would be captivating, if anyone came into school with a set of crutches there would be an immediate line formed all waiting to have a go. Yes, I was amongst the ones allured by the strange looking metal sticks. However, after 5 months having to use the retched things, even the sight of them give’s me a abhorrent feeling. So when I was told that I was able to swap the crutches for my bike I was more than happy. From getting the new’s that I was finally fixed to pedaling was maybe….a couple of minutes. It was only for a slender 10 minutes but that was all I needed to feel content. 

I should probably give you an explanation to why I got to enjoy the fun of crutches. Back in August, 2015 during the USA Pro Challenge I crashed and broke the Talus bone in my ankle. It’s a complicated bone and includes far to many important elements in order for the ankle to work so it wasn't an injury I was willing to rush.

I have now been training for three months and they have flown by, if only they had gone this fast when I was ‘with’ cast. I rode inside for the first three weeks before venturing out onto the road. I saw a lot of progress very quickly over the first six weeks which was encouraging. Of course there are still improvements but they are not as pronounced as they were at the beginning. 

I am now able to train like I was prior to the injury and include effort's and climb's that a month ago wouldn't have been possible. The most challenging part has been the many hours of physiotherapy and swimming sessions, educating the right side of my body and right ankle to work again. Turn’s out that when the ankle joint has been stuck in one position for 21 weeks it can be pretty stubborn when it has to start working again.

People might see it as strange but I am happy that I have been able to go through something so significant. The adventure and freedom that cycling give’s you is something I will never take for granted again. I knew coming back from injury was going to be difficult but I haven't wavered with motivation, it has given me a bigger fire in my belly. 

I get to join my Canyon-SRAM team mates for the first time this weekend (16th April). Lining up on the start line having been away from racing for over 8 months is making me a little anxious but I am super excited. Here’s hoping it goes well and I don't get to much of a shock!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Pro Cycling Dairy - April

As a Cyclist the ‘season’, roughly February through to late September, involves a great deal of time on the road. Jumping from hotel to hotel, it is very easy to start longing for your own bed. However in complete contrast to this lifestyle, I have spent the previous two months entirely in one place. Having travelled near non stop to races for almost as long as I can remember, I started to get itchy feet simply being at home.

Luckily I had a good excuse this week to get on the move again: Tao, my boyfriend, was celebrating his 21st whilst at a race in the Treviso region of Italy. So Anna (Tao’s Mum) and I booked up to head to the land of pizza and pasta for 5 days, catching two races and the all important birthday! 

I had been in Italy for a whole 10 minutes and already greeted the lady at the Airport cafe with a very English ‘Hola’, immediately apologising and correcting myself to ‘Ciao’. Cleverly I then followed this up with a ‘Gracias’ as she handed over my lunch. I walked away red faced and chuckling to myself. It not being the first time I had forgotten to shift my brain post flight. Like most people, my vocabulary for most countries stretches from Hello to thank you and then concludes with good-bye. The struggle comes when trying to remember what country I am in at the time.

As I sat in the Cafe, I listened to all the different languages being spoken around the airport. I enjoy the many confused looks whilst peering up at the departure board, the taxi drivers flapping signs with hastily scrawled names in the air and the families greeting each other at the arrivals gate. Having a job where you are constantly around different languages and cultures, I think you grow an appreciation for the nuances of these places, how they operate and what to expect.

This year my team has six different ways of saying hello, thank you and goodbye. It is truly an international dinner table which means the conversations are always interesting. One example would be a sponsor asking me if I was married, due to us Brits wearing wedding rings on the opposite hands to them.

So with our racing calendar taking us all over the world, and my brilliant team mates to enjoy it with, I don't think I’ll be getting itchy feet again anytime soon!

Pro Cycling Dairy - March

Easy days are always welcomed with open arms in my training schedule. Last week my boyfriend Tao’s easy day coincided with mine so we rolled out together.  Like most ‘recovery days’, we stopped at a cafe in a small Catalan village for breakfast. It’s one we ride through often, but had never ventured in to any further than the main road. Coming in to a beautiful small square, we were spoilt for choice. Which cafe would we like to spend our lazy Friday morning at? In the end we decided both! First being for the savoury choice of a Bocadillo El Camino. As we walked in, there were two old men having a coffee along side a bottle of red wine (it was 10am), the perfect metaphor for the relaxed village scene perhaps? The second cafe was for the sugar hit before we slowly pedalled our way home. Total ride time 2 hours, Elapsed time? 4 hours.

Once home we spend the afternoon wondering around the cobbled streets of Girona, steadily making our way through the ‘things to do’ list that had accumulated over the past few days. We have our own names for a number of the shops here. Mainly due to my inability to remember the real, sometimes confusing, Catalan names. 

The ‘Coconut shop’, more commonly known as A la Menuda is one of our most visited shops. They sell delicious desiccated Coconut (hence the name), nuts, dried fruit and oats. You name it, they have it. Then there is our favourite shop, known to most as Colmado L’estuca. We joke that the owners have almost taken the roles of our Girona parents we see them so much. Conversation is limited due to the language barrier but we always feel very welcomed each time we walk in. And they have the best produce in town.

Once home I normally have plenty of extravagant ideas for ride food to make for the upcoming days, or a crazy recipe I want to make for dinner. Unfortunately I take the term ‘easy day’ to the extreme, so it can be dangerous when my bum hits the sofa. My legs seemingly losing the ability to lift me from it’s comfy depths. More often than not, no baking has happened and dinner isn’t quite as extravagant as I had earlier planned.

Before heading to bed I have a quick look over my training diary, seeing what my coach has in store for the next week’s training. And seemingly just like that, the day is over - recovery done, time to train again!

Pro Cycling Diary - February

I didn't really want my first ProCycling diary to be about my ankle, but then I had the realisation I could get all the explaining out the way, focusing on future adventures in my upcoming entries. 

So for the those of you that haven't already read about it: back in August during the inaugural Women’s USA Pro Challenge I broke my ankle. As I later learnt, after my first consultation with the specialist’s, the Talus is a tricky bone to break.

It was a silly and utterly avoidable crash, but one that would leave it’s mark definitively on my season. In the aftermath, it took a while to get used to my lack of independence and mobility. I’m pretty stubborn when it comes to accepting help, especially when it’s teammates having to run around for me.

My Mum and Dad had also already booked a two week road-trip culminating at the World Championships in Richmond. It is rare I get to spend quality time with my parents. So after hearing I wouldn't require surgery, I decided instead of flying back to England, that I would hang out for three weeks in America awaiting their arrival. We managed to take in five states during a day and the entire ‘Blue Ridge Parkway’!

Fastforward a few months and my new team for 2016, Team Canyon-SRAM, were holding their training camp in early December. By this point I was more than ready to become a bike rider again. I had set my heart on joining an easy cafe ride or Zwift session with my teammates, but ultimately that wasn't to be. I see myself as a glass half full kind of person, positive and optimistic. So going in to each CT scan in the months prior, I would always have some hope and excitement, keeping the belief that I would walk crutch free out of the hospital that day. Unfortunately in the end it took five months and five scans for that to become a reality, but eventually, I got there.

I have gained a whole new appreciation of what bike racing really means to me over this period. In the past I would sometimes question whether I truly loved Cycling or simply the glamour of it all. That doubt has now been firmly removed from my mind. Putting my leg over my bike for the first time a few days ago was a very special moment and one I will never forget.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

El Salvador - the Stage Race

The first stage was a 4km prologue which I thought was going to be relatively flat but once we had arrived at the start I soon realised that wasn't the case. It was a shame the course was hillier than originally thought, I was hoping to get a good time and start the week off with a good result but that’s bike racing and you have to go with the flow. The course however was ideal for Sharon and for a long time she was leading until the last few riders went off. She finished 3rd which put her into a great position going into day 2.

The second day was horrible, one of the worse days on the bike in a long time.There was a hard climb about an hour in that completely shattered the field and there were groups everywhere. The terrain for the next 30km was rolling and had some real hard hills that zapped the legs. Finally we reached the flat highway but that was no easier thanks to a head wind. It was only me and Lauren at this point so we were pretty tired and for sure fed up and just wanted the finish to hurry up. A group of around 20 caught us about 20km from the finish so we just rolled through with them. It all shattered again going up the finishing climb and I was left on my own slogging away. We lost a lot of time but thankfully made the time cut so were able to fight another day. 

Day 3 was a pretty straight forward day. The last 25km was up hill so it was Laurens, Ruths and mine job to keep the race under control and fast all the way to the bottom of the climb, where we would swing off and leave it to the climbers to race it to the finish. The finishing town was very crazy with people and cars everywhere which I did not enjoy. We took it steady especially after a drunk man walked in front of us and threw his hat into the bunch. Once we crossed the line we headed back to the car were we got the news that the helicopter that had been following the race had crashed and there had been a fatality, this was awful news to hear and it made it even harder that it was a really close friend to the all the guys from radio Femenina that had been helping us over the stage race. News then came in later that night that another victim had died.

The morning of the race we were told that the first climb and descent was going to be neutralised to show respect and for the safety of the riders. The race stopped at the bottom of the climb for 5 minutes so we replaced old bottles and prepared for the official start. It started right at the bottom of a 10km climb which wasn't great but my legs were starting to come round after a couple of days of struggling and I made it over the top not to far off the back of the bunch. I was with a group of about 8 and we all worked really well together and made it back to the front bunch. I went straight to the front and did what I could for the girls, fetching bottles and keeping the tempo reasonably high on the front. I have been getting nose bleeds recently and unfortunately got one half way down a descent which wasn't ideal and I resembled the look of someone that had just had a fight…and lost. I went back to the car and cleaned myself up and quickly got back to the job in hand. I got gapped on the last climb and finished 6minutes down on the winner but was still happy with how it went and pleased my legs were starting to come good. 

Today was the day that I had been dreading. The stage was only 46km long but went up a volcano. The climb was after 30km and then it went up for 16km to the finish. From the gun it was fast and Rusvelo were keen to keep it that way all the way to the bottom of the climb, which we were fine with because that was our plan as well, just meant we didn't have to sit on the front and drill it, they did instead. We covered the first 30km in 42minutes which was quick. Mara had been looking forward to this day for a very long time and she couldn’t wait to put the hurt on. Katie attacked at the bottom and when she got brought back Sharon counter attacked it and rode solo for about a kilometer before she was brought back. Mara waited a little and then went. By the top of the climb she had put almost 3 minutes into the rest of the competitors and was now comfortably in the leaders jersey. I got the good news about 5km from the summit and was thrilled for her. 

The last day was the only flat day of the whole 9 days so I was pretty excited to get on the start line. Before we could even think about the finish we had to defend the jersey. Its always cool riding on the front as a team but riding on the front, as a team, with the yellow jersey is awesome!!! A lot of riders wanted to get away so we didn't have an easy ride and were kept on our toes. 2 riders got away and went up the road but we kept it under control and knew that the numbers were in our favour and with 2 riders being chased by 4 of us it was going to be hard for them to stay away. Unfortunately the stage was 4km shorter than we had anticipated and the first sign we saw was the 3k to go. Everyone then got very twitchy. After all their awesome work the UHC girls peeled off and I used the wheels and made sure I was in a good position and didn't drop back to far. After so many hilly stages all the sprinters were keen to get a good result as was I. I was in a good position and sprinted with about 150m. It was a slight up hill finish so didn't want to go to early. I crossed the line in 3rd about 100m shy of the 2 escapees which was very frustrating but I was happy to get on the podium, in fact even finishing in the front bunch was an achievement. 

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone at Radio Feminina that helped us out for the 2 weeks. From the airport pick up, taking us to dinner, driving us to and from races they were awesome and we really appreciated it. 

Now 2 weeks in Asheville before heading over to the west coast in just under 2 weeks for Redlands  5 day stage race.