Sunday, 7 September 2014

It's finished!!!

The season has finally drawn to a close! I have one more local Mountain TT to do and that's it until next year. Phew. I AM KNACKERED. I'm not going to go into too much detail, as I've had a long day and I'm really sleepy, though I do have a couple of fun things to go over.

Thanks to Huw Williams for a season of amazing pics!
I'll start with the positives that I've taken this season - after enduring a rough start to the year following a winter of illness and then road race after road race of struggling to feel comfortable in the bunch, by mid summer I was finally pinging and sticking with the other ladies nicely. Each race I've done I've found another thing has clicked, from it being able to move up and put in little attacks to PBing in my timetrials several times throughout the year. The national 10 was a brilliant event, especially to see where I'm at in comparison to other folks. Lots to take out of it.

It's amazing to finally see my fitness move up a notch, going from finding most things a struggle to finding that I can recover well and dig in when I need and want to. This winter will hopefully go much better than last and through it I will be working on losing that last bit of fat needed to turn myself into a "proper" road racer - still struggling on those climbs a little! I'll also be working on my power, we're  finding that I'm not actually too far off the mark - maybe 10-20 watts more and I'll be a much different rider. I'll be doing more club runs so I don't enter next season with the fear of the bunch looming over me.

There are a few things I'm gutted about, each British Cycling race I've done has been highly competitive and so I've not come out with any points - I don't mind really, but it's always nice isn't it. Slightly gutted that the one race I knew I could do quite well in I was taken down on the first lap! Still paying for that, lovely scars!

TTs have gone really well this year! 
I've got to thank my lovely team Bex and Alex too, although we didn't get to ride together much we still stuck together through the season despite a really rocky start to the year. They're both fantastic riders and I'm sure next year will go very far. You may have even seen Bex at the Ride London, with Marianne Vos on her wheel!! Thanks to Merlin Cycles for sticking by us and providing those lovely bikes - it's been a pleasure and an honour to ride in their kit and race on the Sensa this year.

Next year is already planned and I'm super psyched to say that I'll be joining the 16 strong ladies team at PH-Mas next year! Love this lot, their junior and women's teams are brilliant and they're the friendliest bunch in the peloton by a long shot - it'll be amazing to be able to work with such a large contingent!

So anyway, without further ado - here are my results - I've a couple more events to do so it's not all totally over yet! Oh, I won a TT by the way! Wehey!

Date
Event
Regulator
Cat/Gender
Result
09-Mar
CDNW Saighton
BC
2/3/4
34/45
Mar-14
Roy Killey RR
TLI
ALL
Sick - DNF
13-Apr
Sheffrec RR
BC
2/3/4
26/26
19-Apr
CDNW Southport
BC
2/3/4
23/29
23-Apr
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
27:06:00
30-Apr
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
25:56:00
3-5-May
Bedford 3 Day
BC
E/1/2/3/4
GC 69/72
14-May
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
26:49:00
21-May
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
25:49:00
01-Jun
Doncaster Crit
BC
2/3/4
26/26
11-Jun
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
25:48:00
12-Jun
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
51/56
18-Jun
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
26:02:00
19-Jun
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
54/60
22-Jun
Fred Kelly RR
TLI
ALL
17/18
25-Jun
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
25:22:00
26-Jun
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
48/49
29-Jun
CDNW Pimbo
BC
2/3/4
19/33
03-Jul
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
45/45
09-Jul
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
26:52:00
16-Jul
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
26:19:00
17-Jul
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
51/51
20-Jul
Penrice 25TT
TLI
ALL
1:07:54 1st Lady
23-Jul
Conister 10TT
TLI
ALL
25:59:00
24-Jul
Bikestyle HC
TLI
ALL
35/35
27-Jul
John Hamer RR
TLI
ALL
3/4
30-Jul
2up 10TT
TLI
ALL
24:54:00
17-Aug
Rob Roher 25TT
TLI
ALL
01:08:33
23-Aug
Hinksman Memorial WTS
BC
E/1/2/3/4
33/36
24-Aug
Tickhill GP
BC
3/4
Result unknown
30-Aug
RTTC10 K33/10D
CTT
Women 18+
25:18 59/72
14-Sep
Mountain TT
TLI
ALL
Yet to do

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Bringing sexy back...

Before I started cycling I was fairly ignorant of gender discrimination issues in modern society, even dismissive. I was part of the group of people who thought feminism meant dungarees (there is nothing wrong with dungarees) and being so anti male it meant boyfriends were an evil not to be thought of. I thought feminism meant a step in the left direction too far, a distance I wasn't willing to go. I worked in an industry dominated by males, and (apologies guys) historically dominated by chauvinists. Those attitudes rubbed off on me, and rather than them making me think, they simply moulded my mind into their way of thinking. How wrong I was. A lot has changed for me since I harboured those uneducated views.

Nowadays, I'm pretty damn proud to be a woman. I'm also pretty damn proud to call myself a feminist. When I go out drinking (all of once a year), I wear trainers, and skirts, and I swear a lot, I like heavy metal, I like boys (just one, actually, and he's WELL fit), and I like boobs, I ride bikes and the only damn person I'm trying to keep up with is myself, but I fucking love it when I beat other people. I work in technology, I like sports and real ale, I wear eyeliner and I don't take any shit off people regardless of their status. I don't slag people off behind their backs and read magazines about how to make my man orgasm like he's never done before. I don't get pissed off about skinnier girls, and I don't get pissed off about girls who are bigger. I giggle like a child at accidental innuendos. I throw massive diva fits at least once a month and I cry at things that aren't even sad. I know how to straighten my own hair, and change a wheel on a car even though I don't even drive. I know how the offside rule works despite the fact that I think footballers are pathetic. I have an outstandingly high capacity to learn and I also frequently forget where I put my house keys. I don't do as I'm told, and like most guys I know I'm pretty well independent. This doesn't make me a rebel, this doesn't make me uncontrollable, this doesn't make me a loose canon. This makes me human. 

Do you read this and wonder why I'm making so many contradictions? Because you shouldn't, because they aren't. If the answer to this is "yeah"  then the only contradiction here is the fact that you think you're not sexist. 

INDISCRIMINATE.
"Woah hold on a minute...I'm offended" - OK OK, before we go any further let me explain sexism to you. Sexism isn't just about being out and out abusive to women, nor is it discriminating against them, or being rude about them. Sexism, to me, is the idea that women are different. "But you are!" Sure, we look different, we act different, but those differences are about as important as the differences between the colour of your underwear and your bosses socks. Do you understand? Those differences do not matter. Do not, ever, expect a female to behave in a certain way, dress in a certain way or speak in a particular way simply because culture has defined your expectations. I will swear, it's not ladylike because being ladylike is no longer important, it's not something that even enters into my mind. Being quiet and dressing nicely got no one anywhere, ever. I'll talk like a "bloke" if I like - because to me, I'm not talking like anyone but a person. I'll wear lipstick whenever I like, not because I'm 'being girly' but because I enjoy wearing it, just like a guy who chooses to do the same. I like dressing up because I like how I look when I do it, not because I'm trying to fit into an expectation or an image. I think I'm hot, I couldn't give two flying bats what you think. 

So what's the beef with cycling? OK, so recently I've seen this spate of people (OK, men) becoming very supportive of women's cycling. Notably, young women's cycling. That's cool. Women's cycling is awesome, the racing is aggressive and deserves an equal chance at popularity compared to the men's sport. 

What's happening at the moment, though, and apologies for the paraphrase, is that these fans of the sport are beginning to 'put the pussy on a pedestal' (that's from a film..). The sport is being separated out to the point that normal cycling fans are actually afraid of getting into the sport for fear of being tarred with this separatists brush. There's nothing wrong with only liking women's cycling, and there's nothing wrong with liking men's cycling, there's also fuck all wrong with liking both at the same time. I don't want my friends to endure judgement from their counterparts because they think liking women's cycling means they are different, or for them to avoid women's cycling simply because the examples they see on the internet are surrounded with an almost one-sided rage. 

WILL DRESS HOW I LIKE.
If you're male or female, and you're a fan of women's cycling - do what you can to help. Helping is not abusing people for not doing everything they can to make the sport accessible to you. Helping is not becoming a groupie for 16 year old girls, yeah, that's just weird to be honest. Helping is being open minded and treating the sport as equal to the men's. And yeah, before you say "oh yeah women's sport is different because it's cleaner and fairer" - get this, women dope too, women cheat too, it's sport, it happens, wise up.

Us ladies would like a domestic scene similar to the guys, it's a while before that happens, but it's getting there. Not all of us are pros, not all of us are even 2nd cats. Not all of us are going to be in the Olympics any time soon and not all of us have 100% of our time to dedicate to riding a bike. That doesn't mean we're any more or less deserving of support or encouragement to someone like Lizzie Armitstead, or Katie Archibald, or whoever. Helping the women's domestic scene isn't idolising one team over another. It's not publicly sexualising the best looking riders (yeah, fucking quit it, you know who you are, it's embarrassing). It's watching bike races, it's talking about bike races, it's about not ostracising people who just bloody enjoy bike racing - be it men's or women's. It's not giving high profile women abuse for not entering races when they're working their socks off. It's about treating all women, indiscriminate of age or ability, the same - because you know what? We all work just as hard as each other to do what we do. 

Sometimes I feel sad about it, because I look at my friends who are into men's domestic racing and there is no inequality, there's just lads who like bike racing. Whether you're a staigaire for a small Belgian  team or you're name's Dean Downing, it doesn't seem to matter for the fans, it's just bike racing. That's how it should be.

So what I plead for, to all of you who are doing a brilliant job of supporting the women's sport, please just sometimes take a step back and look at it more broadly. Don't be creepy, don't be over the top, just be a fan. Love the sport itself, and love the fact that everyone does things in their own way. 

We work tirelessly hard to race bikes, we aren't here to satisfy anyone but ourselves in doing so. Remember that. It's cycling, it's not a showpony. 





Saturday, 19 July 2014

Reasons to be cheerful!

Howdy folks! My last post was a bit miserable wasn't it? OK maybe not totally but since then I've actually had quite a good time. While there are, always, things for me to work on, there are equally plenty of things to be cheerful about.

My last race in the UK, and only one until August, was the brilliant CDNW ladies race at Pimbo near Liverpool. This course is great for a broad range of riders as it's not technical and while there's a small drag to the start/finish it's essentially flat and fast. This suits me down to the ground, while I don't mind a technically challenging course as I know I can handle my bike quite well, I'm no climber so a fast course was a welcome change.

Pic by Nicky Hartle :) 
Frustrated with previous efforts I went into this race with a brand new mindset. Mostly down to a pep talk from the great Heather Bamforth, I decided to leave my lack of confidence on the boat and began this journey with a much brighter outlook. It certainly paid off. Confident me made sure she started at the front of the startline along side some ladies who's wheels I'd be hoping to eye up throughout the race. From the off the usual ladies set the pace, with a preem (or prime, essentially an intermediate sprint for prizes) every 5th lap (of 20 total) - keeping the pace easy to scope out, quick every first, quick every fourth and steady between.

Not only was I finding it more than comfortable in the bunch, confident me found herself experimenting. Let's face it, the races I'm doing in the UK have pretty large fields and often feature national level riders, they aren't going to allow me to achieve many British Cycling points, so let's just sack it off altogether. I don't want to "play it safe"...I really don't want to sit in for over an hour watching the same wheel over and over again.... I want to race. Luckily, as my timetrials have been paying off and my steady power is pretty good right now, I was able to move up many times without needing to follow anyone - the first time I tried this I took myself by surprise "I'm on the front!"....holy crap!

While the vortex of the race took its turn and I was once again moving up, throughout the  40 mile race I decided to play.. I'm never going to get away on a course like this but damnit I might as well try. Between myself and a few other brilliant women, we attempted more than just a few attacks between the preem laps. I felt AMAZING. By the end I had made the decision to attempt to go on the penultimate corner. This worked for all of about 5 seconds, I looked behind as I started to watch my numbers rise to almost 400 watts on the power metre, I'd got a couple of metres, I looked again, there's one of the sprinters on my back, again and we're joined by a stringing peloton we turn the final corner, I push and push and then boom - I watch the sprint flow past me as my legs continue a momentum which couldn't quite carry up to a sprint. Ouch.

Pic by Nicky Hartle :)
"Don't give up" - I spot a couple of the others just pushing to the line, I put my head down and chew my stem. As Sarah and Dan from prowomenscycling.com once said, it was a big old "stompetystompetystomp" until I saw my wheel inch ahead of the one alongside me. Throwing my bike to the line I felt exhilarated. My first proper race, not only sticking with the bunch but playing the game and holding my own. I was later thanked for the lead out - while it wasn't really my aim, I'm pretty chuffed...in a perfect world that's my ideal job. My final efforts paid off as it also got me down to 19th place, my first UK top 20 of the year. Smiles all round and a huge hug to Mrs Bamforth who'd given me the nudge I needed to sort my head out.

It's surprising how much of road racing is, in fact, all in the head. Timetrialling is a very black and white sport - you go as fast as you can and hope for the best. Road racing, while you obviously need to be fit and able to recover from big efforts over and over again, is very much about confidence. It's almost like a game of poker. You could be the best in the world at riding a bike, but if you crack under the pressure you might as well go home. So what's my ethos now? I'm no longer scared of the bunch (OK maybe the sprinters), I know I'm to pull my socks up and I know I've the endurance to get me through those efforts.

My next two UK RR's are both short circuits again, perfect for me. This time I'm going to still attempt to put in some attacks, but this time I'll approach them a little more intelligently. No more gung-ho, this time I'll do what I can to beat the sprinters and if I can't...well, I won't be trying to lead them out unless they're wearing the same jersey as me!

What a huge step. After a year and a half of being confused as to why my abilities weren't showing on the road despite all the hard work, it's finally starting to click. I'm learning and I'm really, genuinely loving it.

Impending plans for the rest of the year include a few more timetrials, recently my times have been slipping but I'm putting this down to being quite tired. Mentally speaking I'm pretty exhausted, and looking forward to a break in September. I've a few local road races to look forward to but the two circuits in August are the focus at the moment. Following this we're edging closer to the end of the season and I'm already eyeing up a mountain bike so I can continue racing over the winter.

As Gok Wan once said... "it's all about the confidence". He wasn't wrong. Thanks, as always, to Merlin Cycles for the beautiful new kit and also the wonderful Sensa which - by the way - corners like an absolute badass!



Friday, 27 June 2014

The story so far...

I suppose I should probably update you all on how my racing season is going, shouldn't I?

We're pretty much halfway through the season and I've lost count of how many races I've done, both locally and in the UK. So far the road season has been a steep, and exhausting learning curve for me.

I'll start with the positives, which so far have been my timetrials. Like last year, I've PBd pretty much every time and managed to get my time down to a 25.22 (my first 10 mile TT was around a 29 last year on a similar course) - my hope is to at least manage a short 25 or even (in a perfect world!) a 24 by the end of the year. I've yet to race a 25 mile this year but there are two coming up, my goal for these is to go under 1.07 so fingers crossed! At the Bedford 3 Day my best stage was in the ITT where I managed a pretty decent result, upping my GC position with the placing.


Me feeling very proud of my Merlin Cycles team kit and bike!
One of the reasons my timetrials might be going so well is perhaps the fact that I've discovered how much confidence I lack when riding in a group. I began the season at the Saighton circuit riding one of the fantastic women's 2/3/4 CDNW races organised by Heather Bamforth. We all know how this went, the first half of it being absolutely spot on, no real qualms about group riding then. So what's happened? To tell you the truth I have absolutely no idea.

Comparatively my power and fitness are at the best they've ever been. I've learnt a lot about group dynamics and even more about holding position and even attacking, what I can't explain is why sometimes - I just fill up with this ridiculous lack of confidence, and feel myself consciously slipping through the back of the bunch to let myself timetrial to the end. I can't get my head around why this happens.

Don't get me wrong, I've had some alright results this season, considering it's my first full on in your face no messing about year of racing. But like any sportsperson will tell you after not achieving what they'd hoped for, I sort of expected more from myself. Knowing my strength on the bike, it's frustrating that this "fear" is stopping me from doing well at the sort of races I've been training really hard for.

After several conversations with my coach about why this is happening we concluded that it's a mixture of factors. We're doing the right training at the moment. Despite a frustrating winter marred with illness and fatigue I'm actually quite fit and my numbers are looking pretty damn sweet. I'm getting enough racing in to bring on that extra edge. Regardless of all of this there's something we can't hide from at the moment. A lot of people question why some cyclists are better than others at certain things, why is Cav a good sprinter? Froome a good climber? You only need to glance at these guys to understand what it is that makes those skills work in them. When you're new to cycling you harbour dreams of grandiose, imagining yourself to be sprinting to the line or crossing a hilltop finish with hands raised in epic glory. When you're new, you want to be everything you can. Well, it's been a couple of years or so now and I'm not really new any more. I've finally started to understand what it is I'm easily able to do, and what I'm not. II'm certainly no mountain goat, while still carrying some wobbly reminders of days gone by, I've always had fairly muscular legs and a bit of a pot-belly.
On my way to a new PB - great photo by Kevin Kissack

"I think you're a tester." - that's the coaches conclusion, that's also the word they give people who specialise in timetrialling. To be honest, I sort of know that's the case. I'm more comfortable scrunching myself up over the hoods with my head down, stomping on the pedals for hours on end without even a thought to the pain that I'm in... than I am stop/starting in the middle of a group of people who may or may not ride into me at any given moment. In road races, I've found even my own ability to chase back onto lost groups pretty impressive...this is great, obviously but there's a but.... The issue with my ability in this type of riding is that due to the fact that I'm still building fitness from absolutely nowhere, rather than using those skills to go off the front, it's being used to chase back to the back....this is not where we want to be. At all.

So where do we go from here? It's not the end of the world. Most of the great testers I know of are ridiculously good road racers, they have a canny ability not to get tired at the front, and then smash the field to pieces with 10 miles to go. My Merlin Cycles team mate Bex is a shining example of the sort of rider I aspire to become, a phenomenal tester and she uses those skills to her advantage in every race. Fabian Cancellara and Joanna Rowsell are yet more of the heroes I aspire to. So here's the plan, we're going to continue working on both my strengths, whilst honing on those things I'm a bit more rubbish at - such as climbing and working in a pack (which as the year goes by is definitely improving race by race!). Eventually my strength will go from being back of the pack hanging on power, to I'm going to eat the front of this group for breakfast with a lap to go power.

Sometimes it gets me down that I'm not getting the results I'd hoped for, especially when I'm currently sacrificing so much to do this. I can't remember the last time I could sit down and empty my head of cycling. It's genuinely exhausting. But at the same time it's really awesome to finally know and understand what sort of rider I am. Now I can look forward and really start to work on things properly. We now have a clear set of goals for the future, this is exciting! I just have to focus, keep my chin up and as my esteemed teammate Bex once said "keep chipping away" - for now I'll just keep pedaling and one day, no matter how long that takes, it'll come good.