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. 

"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. 

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 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 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.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Gender Gaps in Women's Motorsport - includes swearing!

Alrighty folks! Yep, another large gap in posts and another apology due. You may have noticed by now that racing season eats into my personal time quite a lot. For at least two long weekends pretty much every month I'm away, between that I'm working and training pretty much constantly - so the few hours to myself I do get I'm either in bed or sat on the sofa thinking about when I'm going to run out of personal time. It seems like these previous hours are so hard to come by that when I do get them, the last thing I think about doing is blogging - for this I am sorry. Next month I will only be racing locally so I'll finally have plenty of time to relax and talk about all things bi-wheeled. Speaking of which this leads me nicely on to the topic of this weeks post...

The startline of dreams.
Some of you may or may not be aware that we have just come to the end of the 2014 Isle of Man TT races here. This time of year is special for us Manxies, as the Island comes to life with the smell of burning rubber, burgers and stale ale. You'd be hard pressed to find a local that doesn't love it, and even harder pressed to find one that doesn't appreciate motorsport in some form. Personally, I've grown up around motorsport, from it running in the family, to it being ingrained into both my Irish and Manx upbringing. It's something I've always had an interest in and that interest continues to grow. So until now, I'd just accepted it as it is. The top level of all motorsport, especially motorcycle racing, Formula1 and rally, is ordinarily and widely accepted as being a boys club - with women featuring at a fairly unsubstantial level around the lower rungs of the sport. 

There are, of course, a few exceptions to these rules with the likes of Maria Costello, Jenny Tinmouth, Molly Taylor and Ana Carrasco to name a few still strongly flying the flag for engine powered females. However, while I don't want to discourage the excellent example these women are setting, these names are few and far between. The top motorsport streams around the world are multi-billion pound profit making machines, with money even footballers couldn't even sniff at being thrown about left-right and centre. So why have we not more women involved at these levels? Unlike cycling, we are not constrained at a physiological level, yet such an inviting career path seems not to interest the wider market of women.

Unlike cycling, motorsport pays well regardless of gender. While some of the worlds top male cyclists are amongst the best paid sportsmen of all time, women of their equal are still required to work, study and contest for their own sponsorship to pay for their 'profession'. Yet in motorsport this separation does not feature, if you're quick you get paid, that's all that matters. I see this as a wonderful thing. In cycling, we have to put in the same, if not more, work to reach the top - without much of a profit to gain. In motorsport, we could work as hard as our peers and reap the benefits, a shining example to all sports in which women suffer the consequence of their gender. That's not to say we're after the dollars, but those of us that deserve it..well...really fucking deserve it.

Yet my query still remains...where are all these women? Lets revisit my earlier statement on physiological constraints. Lets face it, women (for the most part) are different from guys. We're built to carry babies, hold the fort, our muscle fibres are different, our fat stores work differently. Thus, the way we carry out physical activity differs greatly from the way men do it. That's not to say we're lesser, obviously, but unfortunately history has not served these differences well. In motorsport, especially the likes of rally and lighter motorcycle racing - we aren't bound to these alternate functions. We multitask. We're programmed not to make irrational, risky decisions. Academically  and cognitively there are almost no differences between the sexes. We're more mentally stable. The list goes on...all of these could, and should, benefit activities that involve highly pressured situations such as motorsport.
There's no reason why one day, a women couldn't be up here..

So what's holding us back? Unfortunately, while we as females sport an impressive list of positive traits for all things motorsport, there is an equally long list of traits which, in theory, could prevent us from even entering into a high-pressure, high-risk profession. We don't like risk taking, as the childbearers of our race we're duty bound to hold it together. We're not so great at aggression (though I'd suggest to scientists they try doing some women's cycle racing...I beg to disagree), due to our lack of testosterone. As such, we're capable of more sympathy, empathy and general emotion which may or may not hold us back from riding elbow to elbow with another human at 150+mph, that said, even if we did - genetically speaking we'd probably be pretty badly affected if we were to see an nasty off.

Scientific differences aside - our brains and bodies are actually pretty well equipped for motorsport. We're lighter, we're clever, we've better spatial awareness and memory and we're generally safer to be around. So what's my theory on it?...

I was warned by a few the other day, when suggesting a post on gender gaps in motorsport, to be wary of comparing it to cycling. I'm going to throw that advice right out of the window here and directly compare the two and say that the reason there are sod all women in top level women in motorsport is the exactly the same reason that there were almost no women in top level cycling before the 1970's. I direct your attention to the existence of a woman named Alfonsina Strada - the only women to have completed the Giro D'Italia, back in 1924. Not only did she finish but she finished ahead of men, a lot of whom couldn't cut the mustard and DNF'd the race entirely. She was met, for a brief spell, with substantial media attention and public adoration as a heroine who could change the face of sport for the then pretty well suppressed woman. This didn't last. The performing monkey that was the face of 'women's cycling' was shunned no more than a year later, when she was essentially told that her previous attempt was a one-off for the good of publicity.

So how is that comparable to now? Well, as we all know now, women's cycling - since around the 1980's has been undergoing periods of drastic change - most recently being the most significant. Since the 2012 Olympics women's professional cycling has been conquering every aspect of the sport at a fair old rate of knots. The reason for these changes is because of cultural changes, nothing more and nothing less. It's culture that prevented women's cycling from flourishing, male representatives of the sport dismissing the top level athletes due to archaic notions that they're not quick enough and don't provide entertainment value. It's all well and good (it's really not, that's sarcasm) when you have one or two women feature in a male dominated sport - these are the performing monkeys of their profession. But, when you have an army of determined athletes knocking down the doors of officials to ensure their futures are sealed with equality...well, that's when shit gets serious.

Conquer the road! 
So why is this culture still prevalent in motorsport? Just as the electric motorcycles built by geniuses with top speeds of 170mph are still laughed at by spectators in the TT, as are women with aspirations of podium spots. They're still met with the "there there dear" attitude of post war gentry. It's not our minds that stop us from doing well, its the culture that's been enforced upon us. We've been tricked into believing we're just not good enough to compete with the men. Just as we were in cycling, and football and countless other sports, hell we were even tricked into believing we weren't worthy of voting once. So with this I bring good news - just as it has been with cycling, women's motorsport can change. It can improve. What we need is something big, something like the Olympics, something that made all those women think "huh, I could really do bloody well at this". The more women that wake up and realise they're no different, that they're capable,
that they're quick - the better.

I fucking love motorsport, as I do cycling, and I'm female. There's nothing weird about that. The next person to smirk at my talk of cylinders, sprockets, speeds or take a long look in your mirror and ask yourself exactly what it is that makes you such a damn expert.

If you want to do something, for fucks sake let gender be the last thing that gets in your way.

If you want proof, here's proof enough;

Monday, 12 May 2014

Team Bike Review - and an apology!

First thing's first - I'm sorry! It's been what, two months since I last posted? That's pretty poor show, I don't really have any excuse other than my life has literally been non stop since my first race. Between training like a maniac, racing and working the only down time I've had has been spent firmly with my feet (and fingers) in the up position.

This bike even looks like it means business. 
So what's been going on? I've been racing a ton, way more than last year, both on the Island and in the UK. My results? Not as good as I'd have hoped so far, my TT has been brilliant, but this first season of 'proper' road racing (proper distances, against the big girls!) is proving difficult for me. I've found out my strengths, and I've realised what I need to work on - my tactical know-how needs to improve as does my confidence within the bunch. My fitness, on the other hand, is bang on target which is great. I've done a stage race with the team (the epic Bedford 3 Day) which I'll write up about soon too. We're now entering criterium season, one of my strong points, so hopefully I can come back with better news really soon.

Today I'm going to tell you all about the steed I'm continuing my journey on this season, the beautiful Sensa Guilia kindly provided to me by Merlin Cycles (

I received this beauty in the post a couple of months ago, in a huge box. As I unwrapped her I realised this was a very special bike. Her matt black and white colour scheme ooze quality, attention to detail and style. Her oversized downtube and even more pronounced chainstays scream furiously at me like no other bike I've seen. This is a machine designed for racing, for attacking. Yes, this bike is a 'she' - unlike my others - she carries an elegant charm, curves in all the right places and the sort of voluptuousness you'd expect if bicycles could perform burlesque.

I currently have two road bikes of my own, a Kuota Kharma - an aero frame, designed to go well on the flat, and the Trek Madone 4.7 - designed to get as much power from my legs to the wheels as possible without compromising comfort, a good climber and out and out all rounder. The Sensa, however, appears in design to take into consideration all of this, without sacrificing weight or build quality. The carbon seems well woven, it feels of a standard not unlike my partners' S-Works Tarmac SL4. Most impressively for it's price point is it's weight, it exceeds my Madone in weight saving using the same bars and wheels by a quick judgement.

Tasteful design &superior tubing
I've raced on this bike a lot since it arrived, and in comparison to racing on the aerofoiled Kutoa it's a dream. It's steering is incredibly responsive, something some people may find a little discomforting (some may find it twitchy) - but it's worth noting I have my stem "well slammed" which will make for a twitchier ride overall - for most riders this probably wouldn't be an issue. On the flat this bike embraces the power you put through it, with a nice fat BB86 to maximise the effort you put through on each pedal stroke. As someone more suited to sustained high intensity efforts this bike really does it's job. When riding it simply feels as if the bike is waiting for you to jump, and when you do it's not difficult to maintain that power.

Now for the crux, the climbs. Most people who know me know I'm not a great climber, especially not when it comes to climbing in races. This bike makes light work of this problem. I've found myself actually needing to move up during climbs since using this bike. It wants to carry me forward like a chariot in a bustling amphitheatre.

My favourite bit - power-hungry super fat chainstays!!
A point of note with the Sensa frames is they usually run a size smaller due to their slightly alternative geometry, they have fairly 'stout' triangles; which I have actually found to make for a very comfortable ride (especially on rough Manx and Yorkshire roads!). In a racing frame I find this quite refreshing - I'm by no means a thoroughbred skinnyminnie road racer so to keep my legs, and bum, happy in a 2-3 hour RR is quite the feat! Usually due to my long leg length I would ride a 52 (small) size frame but in the case of the Sensa I'm fitted to a 50, which actually fits just like a 52 - it's also worth noting for smaller folks that this is actually the smallest frame size they do for the Guilia, some of our team-mates have had to look at different brands and bike-models due to this. If you're concerned about sizing I would give the lovely sales staff at Merlin a call, as the sole distributor for these bikes in the UK they're more than qualified to advise on what's right for you and Sensa provide many other models, not just the Guilia.

Possibly the best thing about this bike is it's price point, the cost of their racing spec (Ultegra mechanical 6800) is less than £1,600 - over £400 less than my Madone of the same spec. This is an unbelievable price for a bike of this kind, it has been designed with speed and sprinting in mind, it's not a bike to go out on a Sunday sportive every now and again, this little baby want's to be ridden hard and fast and it's not going to let you off lightly if you don't. The Guilia comes in several other options including Dura Ace and Ultegra Di2.

It's worth mentioning that the stock wheels provided make great training wheels but you may want to look at an upgrade if you're planning on using this bike for serious business.

All in all I'm absolutely gobsmacked by the quality of this bicycle, for a lesser known Dutch brand Sensa have really surpassed my expectations. If you're looking at getting in to road racing, or even upgrading an older carbon frame, then this would be a perfect bike to look at, for the budget you can't go wrong. The bike looks, feels and rides like a steed of twice it's price.

If you're interested, check out the range of Sensa bikes in stock at Merlin here (I'd also suggest for you Triathlete and TT afficionados to check out their range of extremely sexy TT bikes):

Sunday, 16 March 2014

One down...


I know, I know, better late than never. The race was last Sunday. So here it is, first one of the year out of the way, those unnecessary nerves and worries can sleep until next year;

Travelling from the Isle of Man with a fairly hefty rucksack and a bike to anywhere in the UK is no mean feat, I thought I'd nailed this process fairly well after living in London and travelling back frequently to see my family and friends. To be fair, although it's knackering, and expensive, sitting on a boat for 5 hours and changing train three times whilst walking 5 miles to get to your hotel before a race... it's all completely worth it knowing that in less than 24 hours you'll be sat on the start line alongside 50 odd other women ready to experience the greatest feeling on earth.

My travels began eventfully, chatting to a (presumably) student with a mountain bike from the boat all the way to the train station, then very stupidly "allowing" Merseyside Police to "mark" my beautiful new frame with an unjust amount of blue plastic compound. Come on guys, I live on the Isle of Man, I have insurance....why do you have to do this to me!? Anyway, that's a story all on it's own so I'll crack on with the interesting bits....

New pals! :)
Fastforward to Chester, one day later. We were blessed with beautiful weather, even on arrival at 8am I had my knees out, basking in the 16 degree treat that was tropical Saighton. I have to say, the ladies 'up north' are a friendly bunch, chatting to a few strangers put my nervous mind at ease as I realised that the peloton would be welcoming plenty of new racers, even newer than I. I'd caught up with brand new mate Elisa and we decided on trying to work a bit together, as neither of our teams would be represented as a group it was nice to be able to share something with another rider. We lined up together, and the group rolled out behind the neutral service car onto the course. Keeping my coaches advice firmly at the front of my mind "stay in the top 15" I ensured my position was good enough not to be too shocked once the service car sped off. To be honest it wasn't really worth trying to prepare myself for this, once the car had gone, the next few minutes was a lot of internal screaming and remembering what racing felt like. "Oh crap" and "it burns!" mainly.

I soon settled back into the rhythm of things, happily sticking to the top 15 or so of the bunch as instructed. Attacks came and were snubbed out as quickly as they appeared. The pace was impressively high and it's testament to the incredible capabilities of female riders at all levels of the field. However, it was clear from even one lap in that a lot of the riders around me might be new to the game and unfortunately a little bit of unnecessary argy bargy was beginning to form. While aggressive riding can be an important part of road racing, it's not really OK to try and slip into gaps that aren't there... not least elbow your way into them, especially on tight open roads. 2.5 laps in this unfortunately culminated in Heather Bamforth (our league organiser and all round superhero) being taken out.

I don't know who took this, it was sent
to me on twitter! sorry/credits! 
It was at this point I decided to change the outcome of my race. Happy in the knowledge that I was comfortable with the front half of the pack, and that my fitness has developed nicely despite a pretty horrendous winter of illness and setbacks following last years long season, I got off my bike as the peloton passed me and ran back to where Heather lay, shouting for help. It's not nice to hear a fellow rider come down, ever, but when it's a bad one it's just unbearable. While normally I'd carry on, knowing this was Heather, and knowing what she's done to ensure we are all able to race these amazing events, and knowing that it was a bad one from the sounds of it, it seemed like the most sensible decision to make. Luckily as I got to Heather the commisaires car also pulled up to the rescue and so I hopped back on my steed and began plodding out a hearty rhythm to the end.

A few folks have since given me a bit of stick for stopping. Which is fine, I can understand that. But what you have to understand is that in some circumstances, it is OK to make sacrifices for the good of the people around you. Good sportsmanship is as important to me as doing the best I can.

In the end, I came a relatively modest 34th out of 45. After timetrialling the final two laps, picking up a friendly Manchester Wheelers rider along the way. I rolled in to the finish of my first race of the season feeling satisfied and eager to continue. I'm unbelievably happy with where my fitness is at, all considering, and it can only bode well for the coming months. Onwards and upwards.

So there you have it, one down, a fair few more to go! 

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Here we go again...

I need to air something today, it's a bit of a plea in a way....

Firstly, for those of you that don't already know, I'll be riding for Merlin Cycles ( this year. Originally, in September, I received a touching email from our DS and Team Manager Steve, accepting my application to join the team, then known as Team CTC. Since then lots has happened and the team are now being supported by the awesome Merlin, an online store you really should check out some time! I can't really say much more than that at the moment however I will say that I am eternally grateful for this chance, and my team mates are awesome!

Unfortunately, it's come to light that some some folks have been of the impression I'm not deserving of a ride this year, for one reason or another, it would seem that these people have been quite vocal in this opinion behind my back despite the fact that they don't actually know me, or my palmares, very well. I suppose this is inevitable if you're a bit out there like myself. So for those who might think that it's OK to judge others before themselves, I would just like to set the record straight once and for all, as I'm a bit tired of these so-called politics, it's not something I'm interested in, I just want to ride my bike;

As of this weekend I've been riding a bike for two years. As of this weekend I'll have been racing for one of those years. During the summer of last year I sent out my CV to numerous teams, hoping that one might give me a chance. Not once on this CV or in my communication with teams did I fabricate results, power outputs or experience. I received positive answers from three team managers, unfortunately two teams folded (a big loss in the ladies domestic scene!) but the first, and most positive, of those was from the team I am now a part of. I have been given a chance to develop as a rider by a team who's ethos is firmly set in helping women of all ages and levels to grow in the sport. It is my teams belief in both my enthusiasm and the potential they think I have that has allowed them to accept me as a representative. Following this, it is of no other persons business whether or not I'm "good enough" - that is for my legs, my DS and my coach alone to decide throughout the season...

As such, if you don't want to listen to the things I have to say about cycling, my team or anything else, then you aren't being held at gunpoint to listen. Essentially "if you don't like it, you know what to do about it".

SO, if it's quite alright with those of you who feel it necessary to belittle others who simply strive to do what they adore, I'd like to crack on with my season now. If I could do so without your hassle that would be excellent, you do not know me, the people you talk about me behind my back to do not know me either, I am not your business. Ride your own race, don't bring down mine.

Me in March 2012..
Anyway, now that's dealt with it's time to get down to business. I'm racing this weekend! I cannot believe it's been a year already since I was a nervous wreck on the startline at the Kent Cyclopark, waiting to get dropped in my first ever race. I've learnt a lot since then and I'm very lucky this weekend to have the chance to race against almost 70, yes SEVENTY, women in the brilliantly organised CDNW women's league. Thank you so much to Heather Bamforth who has worked so hard to generate a series this popular, it is testament to the willingness and true enthusiasm in women's sport. So off I trot to pack and make my last minute preparations, I can't wait. I shall leave you with this, a picture of me in March 2012, a full time smoker and around a size 16 and getting my first ever power test (my FTP then was 191) - and a picture of me that my other half took recently, skipping up a climb as if I had no tar in my lungs at all....
Me a few weeks back...

Have a great weekend all, I'll let you know how it goes on my return from Chester!