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. 

El Salvador- 1 days

Cycling has taken me many places, El Salvador is one of those places.

I was looking forward to racing with the team for 9 days (3 one days and a 6 day stage race) these races were a great opportunity for us to ride with each other and to also get some valuable UCI points. Having already looked at the race bible I already knew the stages weren't going to be for me. Most days finished on top of a climb that was at least 10km long or more. Mara Abbott, arguably the best climber in the woman’s peloton Sharon Laws and Katie Hall are the climbers and  between them they were going to own the climbs. 

After looking at the profile the night before, the first day was realistically the only chase I was going to have of getting a victory. This is what we thought anyway, far from it. The race started off pretty steady. It just followed a rolling, very wide 3 lane motorway which made it easy to control on the front. About 20km there was a touch of wheels at the front which took most of the field down and 2/3 of the UHC girls. Unfortunately Lauren went down hard and abandoned. Ruth and I stayed up right and neutralised the front so the stragglers could get back on. I was having a horrid day and got gapped on a climb. Even if i was having an amazing day I wouldn't of been anywhere near the front at the finish. The profile seemed to make the stage a lot flatter than we had anticipated. After climbing 15km and then dropping down into the finishing village I was way down on the winning time and pretty disappointed with how I had gone but hearing Mara and Sharon had got a 3rd and 4th was great. 

Day 2 was a climbers day. Lauren was still sore from her crash so she took it easy and rested. We still had 8 days of racing so there was no point in pushing it. Ruth and I had been given instructions to keep the bunch together and look after Mara, Sharon and Katie. I liked this idea. It was going to be fun riding in a different role and not just sitting in waiting until the last 200m to show my face. The bunch was all still together at the bottom of the final climb and there was nothing more we could do so we jumped in the truck. It was amazing to watch Mara do her thing. I had never seen anyone make climbing a 15km climb look so elegant and graceful. To finish off a great day Sharon came in 3rd.

Last of the 3 days also finished on top of a climb so we used the same tactics as the previous day, keep the climbers safe and don't let any breaks go up the road. Lauren was back so we had a team captain to call the shots. It felt amazing to ride the front and be in control. It was extremely hot and humid so I went back to the car a couple of times so get bottles for everyone. About 50km in the attacks at rated coming so we were on our toes and had to make sure we didn't let a group to big get away. Mara’s climbing ability is exceptional so we knew we didn't have to panic to much if a small group of non climbers went up the road but we didn't want to be to lenient. With 5km to go from the bottom of the climb 2 riders went up the road and we just held them at about 10 seconds. There was a tight right hand bend with gravel just at the bottom of the climb and a couple of riders went down but fortunately non of ours. Early on into the climb I lost the group along with Ruth and Lauren so we just rode steady to the finish. Its rubbish never knowing how the race unfolded but by the founds of it Katie had a great ride and set up a podium finish for Mara. 

We then had 2 days off racing before the 6 day stage race begun. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

San Luis

The season started early with my first race mid January in Argentina. However it didn't feel like January it felt more like mid July with temperatures reaching highs of 40degrees.

I was really looking forward to the race and finally being able to ride with my new UHC team mates. We were going into the race hoping for some good results and UCI points but also getting used to riding as a team and practising lead outs etc. We arrived on the 10th which gave us 4 days to acclimatise to the heat and also ride the 44hour travel out of our legs.


The first stage was a flat stage with 2 intimidate sprints. We decided that I would go for them but without any help from the team just so we could save everything for the finish. The first intimidate sprint came 5k after they had originally said so we weren't ready for it. I started the sprint to early and got rolled by one of the Cubans which was annoying. After the sprint it took me along time to recover and I told the girls that I wasn't going to go for the 2nd and put everything into the finish.

The pace was slow going into the last 10km so we decided to take the front early. The team rolled through steady with me on the back just so we didn't get involved with all the hussle and bussle of the bunch and stay out of trouble. About 5km to go it started to get very messy and a lot of teams especially the Cubans wanted in on our train. Instead of using energy to fight them off we let them in which helped just so there were more wheels to use and more shelter. Alison ended up on the front earlier than we wanted but did an awesome job. She must of done an 800metre pull before Alexis came through with 500m to go. She brought 3 Cubans with her but I just stayed on their wheels. You could see the finish about 600m from the line so I just focused on the markers and not the finish, just so I didn't go to early and die 50m from the line. I tried to leave it as late as I could and with the Cubans not wanting to take it up I went with 150m to go and just dug in. The feeling when I crossed the line was amazing, was so happy to get the first win for the team. All winter I was nervous about not carrying the same form I had during 2013 so it was a huge relief to cross the line first.


The stage had a 5k climb right from the start which was not good, for me anyway. Our first aim was to get Sharon and Mara away on the climb and hopefully stay away with the rolling terrain that was apparently the stage. This was not the case and as we drove the course into the town the terrain was far from lumpy. It was pan flat which kind of ruined the original plan so we decided that we would try the attack on the climb and see what happened. If it was all still together with 5 km to go we would go for the lead out and hopefully get stage number 2, easy. I made it over the top of the climb but had lost some time on the bunch, I panicked which was the wrong thing to do and went way to deep into a corner and went straight on. I got straight back on but with one pedal stroke I knew something wasn't right looked down and saw a huge gash in my knee. This was the race over and I rolled down the hill to the finish and got straight into the medial van.

With so many people at home watching the live stream the last thing I wanted was for them to see me climbing into the first aid van but they all saw it and I had a lot of worried messages from everyone. Mum and dad were especially worried, they know me more than anyone and if I've climbed off then it's pretty bad. I went straight to hospital and they stitched my knee straight away. They were unsure on whether to stitch my hip but I decided for them and we left it. I didn't want my crash to ruin the girls tour so I am pleased they were quick so Tavis the soigneur and I were back in time to get to the finish for when the girls came in. I am not someone that takes abandoning a race easily so it was very hard decision but I had to think long term and with it only being January I have plenty more races in 2014 to come.

The team have been great. They are all running round me and making a fuss which I hate but I am so grateful and will be on the sidelines doing as much as I can to help. Not a lot with only one working leg.

Even though the tour ended prematurely for me it was still a great experience and I was overwhelmed with all the congratulations from everyone back home. Even being miles away they are all so supportive.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The beginning of the Bluetrain

After such a successful and enjoyable season with MG Maxifuel I was sad to be leaving but there was no way I could turn down such a great opportunity that UnitedHealthcare pro cycling would bring. Ever since signing the contract there has been endless amount’s of exciting things happening. Having emails sent through with pictures of the new WillierTrestina race bikes, race schedules etc. When I got the email through about flying to Arizona for the first UHC training camp I was pretty excited. I couldn't wait to get there and meet all my team mates and staff. The team booked me a flight a day earlier than everyone else so I would have a head start on getting over the travel and jet lag.
When I arrived in Arizona I was a little taken back with how professional the team was. I felt very privileged to be there and to be part of the blue train. With there being over 50 riders and staff I was a little overwhelmed and had no idea how I was going to remember everyone's name but by the end of the week I had got my head round it. With the men having so much success in 2013 it was great riding with them and they were all so friendly and welcoming. 

FasterAZ, was a great facility where all 35 of the UHC riders got bike fits and wind tunnel testing. It was a great set up and they worked non-stop to make sure that all riders were seen to and hopefully we can repay them with some good results.

I for one cannot wait to get on my bike, race and hopefully win with the UHC girls

Bring on 2014