Thursday, 22 June 2017

Curlew Cup 2017

Say the words "Curlew Cup" and another two words instantly spring to mind "The Ryals". If you're not familiar with this climb it's pretty infamous among cyclists, a 1.5km ascent with max 22% and average 5% gradients. The course is 3 laps of a 22 mile circuit and this was the second year where the women's race covered the 3 big laps, which also meant 3 ascents of the Ryals.....

The weekend started early on Saturday to travel up North to Stamfordham for a wee recce of the course. My legs hadn't been feeling in the best shape for going into a National Series race so I'm not sure I was in the best mental state feeling pretty tired (sorry for being a grump Simon!!). Thankfully we had one of our sports therapists with us, so seeing Phil for a massage always helps to get my legs in good shape to race the next day.

Being Scottish, tropical temperatures are quite a rare occurrence, but everyone found it really tough racing in the heat! That is by far the best weather I've raced Curlew Cup in, sunshine on tap and very little wind. The first lap was fairly subdued and I think everyone was maybe just thinking about the climb. I was having a bit of a mental battle in the first lap, probably a combination of being tired and not really feeling like I had good legs. There are days when you climb on your bike and instantly feel like your legs are floating (for want of a better word) on the pedals but then there are days when I have to ride into a race and just get through the first hour or so in the hope that my legs will give me a break and come good. Sunday was most definitely the latter!

Trying to hide my pain face up The Ryals...

There is a narrow stretch of road before you turn onto The Ryals, where positioning is key as there are limited places to move up. It was here that Jess, one of Team OnForm's juniors, riding her first National Series race, had a mechanical and was forced to drop back to the car for service. I was a bit further back than I would've liked as we hit the narrow road so gave myself a bit of work to do to move up the bunch before the first ramp on the climb. It's always good to be up near the front for a climb so you give yourself a bit of slipping room and can remain in contention. Cresting the top of the climb there was a bit of a gap to the lead group but as there were a few of us who had been gapped we got back on fairly quickly. Looking round I saw that we still had 6 of our 7 strong team, the mechanical at such a tough part in the race was to be the end of Jess' race. I was just glad to get the first climb out of the way and onto lap 2.

Cycle Team OnForm together in the bunch 

The second lap saw a lot more action than the first. A couple of times small groups went up the road but were pulled back by the bunch. One of our team aims for the day was to follow any moves and get the series leader jersey as Sian was sitting second in the overall standings going into the race. A small but dangerous group got a gap before we hit the narrow road for the second time and maintained this onto the Ryals. The bunch were willing to chase though and they were brought back. Second ascent of the Ryals felt much better than the first, maybe because I knew what to expect (even though I've raced it before I think you sort of block it out). The bunch thinned out this time up and a reduced bunch raced back towards Stamfordham for the third and final lap. By this point I think I'd won the battle with my mental demons and had started to enjoy the race a lot more, probably because my legs had started to come good. I focused on staying up near the front with Sian and Alicia, ready to cover any moves that went up the road. Around half way into the lap Chanel Mason rode off Jen George's wheel. I jumped to follow the move and turning around saw that Hannah Payton and Georgie Panchaud had also come across. Getting straight into a chain gang we quickly got a decent gap. It's always so good in a break where everyone is willing to work to get away and this break worked really well together. By the time we hit the Ryals for the third and final time we had just over 2 minutes on the bunch, with Emily Nelson a lone chaser at 40 seconds. All I could think was "don't get dropped on the climb, don't get dropped on the climb!!".  The last thing I wanted was to get caught by the bunch and all hopes of a good result to be gone. Georgie flew up the climb and rode away from the three of us. As we reached the top the team cars arrived to offer some advice and encouragement. It was then I started to believe that we would stay away for sure! We caught Georgie around 4 miles from the finish, fair play for such a strong ride up that climb! Still working really well together, my next thought was "I can't come 4th...". Pretty quickly we passed the 3km and 2km to go markers and all the while I was trying to stay calm and think tactically. I knew I didn't want to go too early in the sprint but also knew I'd have to be ready to react if one of the others went. As we neared the final slight bend before the finish straight Hannah opened up her sprint. I jumped to get on her wheel and then just sort of kept going, more out of instinct than anything else. I remember thinking "oh it's still quite a sprint to the finish, just hang on, hang on!!".  I think I half expected the others to come past me but when no one did I took the chance to glance back and saw I had a bit of a gap. This was my moment to get both hands in the air and I think I crossed the line with a scream of delight and maybe a bit of disbelief! I'd just won my first National Series race, something I've wanted to do since I raced my first National Series in 2013.  And it was the Curlew Cup of all races! Phil came sprinting over to me and gave me the biggest hug and then it was hugs all round as my team mates and our entourage all arrived in quick succession. That was definitely a very emotional moment and I had this huge cheesy grin on my face, while a few of our team support were a wee bit teary eyed shall we say! Seeing everyone's reaction was such a proud moment too, as it was clear how much the win meant to everyone.

Winning salute

A couple of interviews and photos later and it was the podium presentation. Standing on the podium it started to sink in that I'd won, it was most definitely one of the proudest moments in my racing career! Then it was champagne spraying time! I think the most nerve wracking bit was hoping I didn't take a photographer or spectator's eye out with the cork! And sorry Hannah for spraying you in the eye!!

Georgie, me and Hannah on the podium

 Champagne spraying time!!

It's probably very clichéd but I'm going to say it anyway, thanks to my team mates and our amazing support crew, you guys are the best and definitely helped make this win possible!

Thanks for reading, over and out (all photo credits: Huw Williams).

Monday, 12 September 2016

Tour de l'Ardeche Feminine

Little over a month ago I'd been starting to wind down my racing and planning some fun rides before having a wee end of season break. It's been quite a full on season at times, but a total blast and so many highlights - but that's a whole other blog in itself!!  Then I received a phone call that was a total curveball. A good curveball may I add - being invited to race the Tour of Ardeche with Racing Chance. After being asked to race with them last year and unfortunately having to turn down the offer, I knew instinctively that I most definitely couldn't pass up the opportunity again!
 Bike and Ventoux (quite apt!!) kit bag all packed ready to head to France

 Another adventure in the Ford EcoSport - its amazing how much kit you can fit in it!
I would have said travelling in the van with no air con may have helped the heat acclimatisation process somewhat, but when you read on it didn't my case anyway!! After a day of travelling we arrived at the campsite, our home for the week. We were staying in little static caravans - small but well equipped with a wee kitchen where porridge was cooked up every morning and it even had a coffee machine! Oh and air con, a necessity!!

Our home for the week at the campsite in Ardeche
So if you haven't guessed by now, the daily temperature was on the warm side. In the mid 30s every day with little breeze to cool things down. I've raced the Tour de Bretagne a couple of times before so have experienced racing in the heat, but the Ardeche was much much hotter. 
Numbers pinned ready for Stage 1
Stage 1 was like a kermesse. 16 laps of a 4.8km circuit and then a 5km section to the finish. The plan was simple, no heroics and try not to lose any time. Thankfully the whole team arrived safely in the bunch gallop to the finish, none of us losing any time. It had been a bit of a shock to the system, not just with the heat but as it was my first UCI race in a while, getting used to the large number of riders in the peloton took a few laps to settle in. Mission accomplished and I was really glad to get the first stage over and prepare for hitting the mountains in Stage 2.....
Stepping out the car at Stage 2 HQ, was like stepping into a furnace! It was hot! We tried to limit the time spent walking around in the sun, save a few trips to the toilet and to take a look at the classic cars that were the race caravan - driving ahead of the race each day. Pretty cool! The stage had a fairly long neutralised section of 5km. Uphill. Then it just carried on uphill for the next 30 or so kilometres....At first the pace wasn't too mental but as we neared the first GPM (queen of the mountains prime) it ramped up a bit. I tried to hang on but found the elastic snapped and I was off the back with a small group. Thankfully I managed to get back up to the front group again to sit in the wheels and try to recover a bit. Struggling with the effort and the heat I ended up in a small group for the remainder of the race. Knowing that there were a lot of hard stages to come, energy conservation was key so just rode within myself. My back had also started to seize up so I was extremely glad to climb off at the end of a long day in the saddle. I'm not sure I've ever suffered quite so much on the bike as I did that day so it was a mental battle as much as a physical one to just keep turning the pedals and count down the kilometres to the finish. Then the rehydrating and refuelling process began as Mont Ventoux awaited us on Stage 3.....
The race caravan - some cool wee cars!

The transfer to the start of Stage 3 was fairly long so it was an earlier departure and also earlier start time for the race. Thankfully the race started fairly steady, maybe with what lay ahead (Ventoux!!). However the first climb proved to be a bit of a stinger and with no real effort in my legs, it felt harder than it maybe should have. This turned out to be the stage that I (unintentionally) decided to play "how many times can I get dropped in the convoy and get back on". The key thing if this happens is not to panic!! I learnt that after a few attempts at getting back on and also advice from Alan and Ian in the team car to "ride the convoy, don't panic, just ride the cars". After playing this game maybe 3 or 4 times I finally managed to use the cars to get myself back up to the bunch. Riding behind one car, taking some shelter to recover and then moving up to the next one, repeating the process until the bunch was in touching distance and I just had to move up beyond the comm car. This had burnt more than a few matches in the process so I was really glad to get back into the shelter of the bunch, especially as the start of Ventoux was only 5 or 6km away. Thankfully it was mostly a straight, flat road so sitting in the bunch was possible without too much effort and I could take on some fluid and fuel and pour a bottle over my neck and back to cool down a bit. Thanks to Ian and Alan as well for doing the water honours from the car window! 
Riding along the road we caught our first glimpse of Ventoux, in all its ominous yet epic glory! I just willed my legs to get me up there. As the road kicked upwards, the pace in the bunch did the same. I knew from past experience that trying to match this and put myself in the red would be a bad idea so I just tapped out my own rhythm and ended up in a smaller group. As the climb continued I just kept on tapping out a steady rhythm and found I'd ridden off on my own. Riders who had dropped off the main bunch served as carrots to bridge to and definitely helped keep the motivation on what was a hard, relentless slog. From what I'd been told, once you reached Chalet Reynard, the worst of the climb was over...Chalet Reynard was 12km into the climb and an average of something like 8-10%. The crowds had gathered there though so it was a bit of a goosebumps moment hearing all the cheers of support and seeing big posters of famous cyclists at the side of the road. Also pretty much the whole way up the climb are the names of cycling heroes painted on the tarmac. It's pretty cool to think you're racing up a climb that so many icons of the sport have raced up in the past and a great privilege to be racing the first women's race to finish at the summit of Ventoux! The gradient did relent slightly after passing the Chalet but was still 5-8% for the last 6km. The final 3km seeming like forever as you could see the road stretching up to the top that seemed within touching distance.....Crowds had gathered to line the last 100m in the finishing straight and provided a much needed boost to reach the finish line. Aiden our swanny extraordinaire met each of us as we finished with a can of Coke that tasted amazing (I don't even like Coke...) and water before directing us to the team van. Despite not really being up there at the sharp end of the race, it was still a proud moment to finish the stage and be part of the first women's cycling race to finish at the summit of Ventoux!
The only photo I've seen of me at Ardeche (probably a good thing!!) - having just crossed the finish line at the summit of Ventoux 
As we drove to the start of Stage 4, with feel good tunes the playlist of choice for the journey, I felt a bit more optimistic about the day ahead, despite it being dubbed the Queen stage. At 127km and 2700m of climbing there were 4 categorised climbs (Cat 1, Cat 2, HC, Cat 1) plus the uncategorised climbs that really sting the legs when you're not expecting them! However when we reached the start, a wave of fatigue and nerves hit me and I was really struggling to regain any sort of motivation. My back and body were aching and I hadn't even turned the pedals....Needless to say things didn't really get any better. The race started at a pretty nippy pace. The first sprint came after only 6km so teams were drilling it from the gun to set up their riders in contention for the sprints competition. As well as this, the two riders lying in 2nd and 3rd on GC attacked from the gun so it was a fast and furious start to say the least. I just really really wanted to make it through the stage but as I struggled to hold onto the bunch this was becoming less and less of a reality. After only 5 or 6 kilometres I was back in the convoy, struggling to retain composure as it sunk in that this was going to be a long lonely day in the saddle but also fighting the thought of pulling out completely. I absolutely hate quitting and rarely pull out of a race, but my body was having other ideas and I wasn't sure how much longer I could take the pain. I knew Aiden would be at the first feed at around 38km at the top of the first climb so I set myself that as a target to reach. As the team car passed me I think I was close to hysterical (sorry Alan and Ian) partly due to the pain and partly the sheer disappointment at going out the back so early on. It was becoming ever more the reality that I wouldn't be able to finish the stage. It was a long lonely ride, as much a mental battle as a physical one. This definitely topped it as the most I've suffered in a race. The 10km climb seemed to take an eternity and I knew that because I was so far behind there was no chance of Aiden still being at the feed because he needed to get to the next feed zone. Still hoping he might be there, my heart sort of sank when there was no sign of the van. The finish was just a few kilometres down the road.  The race passed through it and then did a loop before climbing back up to cross in the opposite direction at the end of the stage. This was where my first Tour of Ardeche was to end. I rolled up to a marshall and signalled I was pulling out. It took a couple of times of him asking me if I was finished before I could answer him, still contemplating in my dazed state whether I could continue...absolutely gutted that I was a DNF, but also just so relieved that the suffering was over. I climbed off my bike, sort of crumpled to the ground and jut sat there in a daze. It's all a bit hazy but I remember the medics were there in what only seemed like seconds before they fed me a bit of sugar cube (not the most pleasant thing...) and did some tests. I was put on a stretcher and into an ambulance. Apparently I slept the entire 40 minute journey to the hospital - I do say I can sleep pretty much anywhere and any chance to catch an extra few zzzs!!  
The results of the blood test was rhabdomyolysis - I knew of this from my old job where a rugby player got it from a hard tackling training session.  I was told I needed to stay in hospital for 12-24 hours on a drip to receive fluids. That night Alan and Amy came to see me with my race bag and phone. All I can say is I'm so glad I put my wash bag in with my race stuff so I had my toothbrush! It's so hard to make calls to people close to you to tell them you're in hospital and not worry them, sorry Mum and Dad and co! 
To cut a long story short and without wanting to turn this into a tale of oh woe is me, the 12-24 hour stay turned into 2 days in hospital. It felt like a lot longer but I guess my petit peu en Français got some practice and the French doctors were brilliant! Also the kindness from Claude, one of the race organisers, and his niece and her family was amazing! If you read this Claude, Hélène and family - thank you so much for everything you did for me those few days, you were all unbelievably kind and I will never forget it!! 
So as I'm writing this I'm currently resting up, feeling pretty wiped out but being very well looked after by Clover, Sam and Luella before I feel well enough to drive back up to Scotland. It's been a challenging few months but another story to add to the collection I guess. If there's one piece of advice I can offer, if you're ever racing overseas travel insurance is an absolute must!!! It would have been an even more expensive and stressful experience without it. 
Assuming the horizontal position as part of my recovery - ably assisted by my buddy Soo 
So that was my first Tour of Ardeche. Not really the way I wanted it to go, or the nicest way to end what's been an amazing season but all just part of the highs and lows of cycling. Time for some rest now and then bounce back into winter training next month.  
Would just like to take this opportunity to say the biggest thank you to Ford UK and Team Ford EcoBoost for the amazing support this year. It's been absolutely brilliant racing for the team and I can't wait to see what the future holds!
Thanks for reading, 

Monday, 11 July 2016

Beginner's guide to the Tour Series...

Right now I'm assuming the horizontal position in line with the "why stand if you can sit, why sit if you can lie down" mantra that's quite popular with cyclists... 

Last month we had a pretty full on race block with 8 races in 15 days. Yes 5 of these were under an hour duration but at "eyeballs out" intensity they do take a lot out of you! June is Tour Series month and up to now I'd never ridden a Tour Series race and only every raced one crit before. So when I lined up on the start in Motherwell, safe to say I was more than a bit nervous!! The atmosphere was buzzing though and it was like no race I'd ever experienced before. Music pumping from speakers on the start/finish line, commentator getting the crowd fired up and riders packed in on the start line waiting for the clock to tick down. My Mum and Dad had traveled down for the race and I really love it when they come to watch.  I could see them smiling and clapping on the boarding in time with the music and that helped me to relax a wee bit and maybe try to look forward to what was to come....

Team Ford EcoBoost presentation for Round 1 of the Tour Series in Motherwell, trying my best to smile even through the nerves....

Getting a good start in crit racing is key! It's fast and furious right from the gun and you need to be up there at the front. The flag drops and everyone surges forward trying to get the best line possible into the first corner. I wasn't too badly positioned and just focused on going as hard as I could, hold the wheel in front and move up. There were a couple of quite fast corners on the circuit and not being the most confident cornerer (apologies for any made up words here!) I was slipping back and then having to put in big efforts to get back to the front bunch. Yo-yo-ing around like this in a race is not energy efficient at all and it only took a couple of laps before my legs had blown and my lungs were burning. As riders behind passed me I wasn't able to get on their wheel and was completely gutted as I saw the head of the race cruise on ahead.  I ended up in a smaller group and just tried to stay at the front and work on my cornering technique. I'd said before the race that I just didn't want to get lapped but when the inevitable happened and the small breakaway group caught and lapped us, my heart kind of just sank. In crit races, lapped riders are usually pulled from the race with 3 laps to go. I contested our wee bunch sprint and then made my way back to the pits to see how the finale of the race unfolded. As a rider you hate to see crashes in races, but there was quite a bad one just after the corner turning on to the finishing straight. Mel came down hard, but is thankfully on the mend now and we all wish her well and hope to see her back real soon!

I felt like I had let the team down at Motherwell, but after some positive chats with a few good people whose opinions really matter to me, I turned around my thinking into really working on getting better at crit racing.  As is only fair, while the team wanted to put in the strongest possible line up, they also wanted to give everyone a chance to ride what would be their "local" Tour Series race.  Next up in the series was Redditch, where I went along as support crew.  As a rider you don't often get the chance to see things from the other side, so it was a fairly new experience to me.  I tried to be as helpful as I could without being too intrusive as everyone on the team has their own preparation routine before a race.  Standing in the pits has to be verging on as nerve wracking as racing itself, in a different kind of way!  You feel all the emotions of being a rider but stood on the sidelines you know that you are not able to do anything.  To say I enjoyed it would be a bit far from the truth.  It wasn't a terrible experience but I did witness a crash and Nikki having to get a bike change and then chase back on to a very fast moving bunch.  How she did that I will never know, but it was an incredible effort to get back up there!  I ended up a wee bit hoarse afterwards from shouting each and every lap, especially when Charlotte attacked off the front and got away solo and each time Nikki came round having closed the gap significantly more each time!  I think after that night I knew for sure that I much prefer being on the bike racing but it just gave me even greater respect for our support crew who do it race in, race out!

Doing a "swanny" role at Redditch (Photo credit: Andy Whitehouse)

There were four more rounds in the Tour Series - Stoke, Stevenage, Croydon and Portsmouth and it was really great to be able to race them all and get more experience of crit racing.  Each race I was able to work on my weaknesses - getting a fast start and digging in with the eyeballs out effort (even though I was a little bit sick in my mouth in one race and felt my lungs were going to explode out of my chest pretty much most of the time).  It really helped me to follow some good wheels in the corners and improve my technique and confidence.  I won't give an in-depth account of each race but thought I'd just highlight a few of the memories I have from each one:

Stoke: After Motherwell I never thought I would be able to say I had fun in a crit race but at Stoke it was like I'd turned a corner (yes there are a few corners to negotiate in a crit...) and can honestly say I had so much fun.  No I wasn't up there at the head of the race but I just felt so much better on the bike, taking the corners at speed and staying up the front.

 Actually managing a wee smile before the race....

Cooling down after Stoke, apologies for the cheek!  Bit of a contrast to how I must have looked after Motherwell....

Stevenage: I finished in the bunch with my best result of the Tour Series.  This wasn't a technical circuit at all, but it was fast!  In bike racing you should never give up, especially in a crit when you never know what is going to happen.  So after being in a group just off the back of the main bunch, we eventually caught back on to the front group and were in the mix for the bunch sprint at the end of the race.

Croydon: Another step up in my crit racing learning curve.  After Stevenage the night before my legs weren't really feeling the freshest..... Everyone was feeling the same though I think.  I couldn't quite hold on to the front group as attacks went off very early on and my legs had other ideas, but I worked in a group of 5 or 6 just behind the main bunch and didn't get lapped!!  Oh and again I had fun.  This was also a great night for the team too!

Portsmouth: the down side to bike racing.  That night my legs were feeling great and I really thought I could have helped out the team.  Unfortunately there was a crash just behind me and a rider behind rode into my rear mech.  At first I thought (hoped...) it was just the chain had come off but the rear mech was pretty mangled and there was no way the bike was rideable.  So I got in a bit of early cyclocross practice and had a wee jog back to the pits (if you've ever tried to run in cleats you'll know this is easier said than done!!).  I got on the spare bike and smashed out some of the frustration into the pedals.  After a few laps of riding solo, the front of the race caught me so I just stayed at the back of the bunch not wanting to interfere with the race.  Three laps to go and I was pulled, race over, a night of lows for me but highs for the team with Nikki and Charlotte on the podium for second and third overall so that made up for my personal disappointment!

 The lonely walk/jog back to the pits after the mechanical.

On the spare bike (thank you Echelon Cycles) channeling my frustration...

And there it is my first ever Tour Series.  I feel like a completely different bike rider to the one who lined up on the start line in Motherwell.  I love a challenge and this is certainly that!  Next year the aim is to be up there in the mix putting everything I've learned this year into practice!

Thanks for reading,


Friday, 11 March 2016

And that was winter training

It's been 3 months since my last blog and time has just flown by! They say time flies when you're having fun and for the most part I definitely am having fun as I love riding my bike, the places it takes me and the people I meet along the way. But (there's always a but after all!) winter training isn't always miles of smiles...

Those weeks just before and after Christmas with the storms (cue gale force winds and torrential rain) weren't too conducive to happy bike riding, not to mention the devastation the flooding caused so close to home. It was absolutely tragic for so many people! I distinctly remember 2 days in a row when it was absolutely chucking it down outside and no chance of it ever letting up. So a mere mile or so down the road and I was soaked. A few hours later I returned doing my best impression of a drookit rat and spent the next while trying to regain the feeling in my extremeties. Repeat the above for the next day. When the third day arrived and conditions had gotten inexplicably worse, with many of my training roads under water, I couldn't take another soaking. So turbo training it was. My coach has a saying "race in the rain, train in the rain". I do agree with this (don't tell him I said so!) but there comes a point where braving the elements becomes silly if its as wild, wet and windy as it was then. To some extent the suffering in the cold and wet toughens you up. Apparently there's no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choice....

Winter training in Scotland at its best!...

Thanks to Santa (aka Mum and Dad) I did manage to escape the Scottish winter and have a week training in Tenerife in January. This was such a good week! While my family were there to chill out, I was off to get some warm weather miles in. Riding in temperatures of low to mid 20 degrees every day with very little wind and not a thermal baselayer in sight was delightful! This was my first time in Tenerife and I soon discovered that riding there was either up or down. I laugh when I think of the first day, just an easy "acclimatisation" ride turned into over 2000m of climbing and a final ascent that almost made me cry! I did bump into Ashleigh, Andy and Sarah on the descent and laughed about how unexpectedly savage that climb was! Safe to say after 6 days of riding my legs were suitably mashed and ready to head home for a rest! I'm actually sitting writing this blog on the plane headed back to Tenerife and can't wait!!

Worth the climb for this view at Masca (even though I did cry a little bit inside when I looked up and saw it!). 

After a few weeks back home I then headed south of the border to spend a week training with Nikki in Essex and pick up my team car from Ford at the same time. 

Nikki and I "modelling" my new car! Thank you @forduk ☺️

This was a brilliant, hard week of training and just so good to have Nikki for a training partner and quality banter! Best way to get acquainted with my new EcoSport, drive 500 odd miles back to Aberdeen. The car is ace, but it was still a long drive and I was really glad to get home to my bed! Travelling long distances is all part of being a bike rider and especially living in Aberdeen when you're really far from everywhere! I don't mind the travel too much though as I have my many playlists, get to ride my bike all over the country and beyond and love where I live so it's all worth it. 

A few days later and my recovery week was spoiled by injury. Even light spinning on the turbo flared things up. This was so frustrating and I was kicking myself a wee bit as it probably could have been prevented...But if any good came of it then I've most definitely learned from it and the rest probably did me good! So after missing a fair bit of training and building things up in "baby steps", things gradually improved and I was eventually back on the bike. Albeit with a lot of help from James my physio, his elbows, cups and needles!

Well I think that's me up to date with life this winter. It definitely doesn't feel like winter today, sitting eating breakfast al fresco in sunny Tenerife!

Breakfast al fresco at my apartment. 

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, 12 December 2015

Winter's here!

I've been meaning to write a blog for a wee while now without knowing exactly what to say or write about. So in the end I've decided to just start typing and see what happens, wish me luck!! Or maybe it should be me wishing you luck if you're about to read this....

My last blog was on the Ladies Tour of Norway. One of the definite highlights of the season! Unfortunately I'll always remember this race alongside an extremely tough time in my personal life. Ultimately it was this that led to me finishing my season earlier than anticipated and the really hard decision to withdraw from Ras na mBan, a race I absolutely love! The best way to describe it is I'd just lost my mojo a bit, kind of run out of oomph. So instead I just had a bit of fun for my last few races, went into them with no pressure, raced on instinct and it worked out pretty well with 3 wins from 3. Nice to end the season on a high and maybe go some way to restoring my mojo! I'll never forget riding back to race HQ after taking the win in the Feewside  Women's road race to see my auntie and uncle there to support me, it was the best surprise ever!!! Thank you B & A, in so many ways!

Taking the win in the Feewside Women's RR. 

So then it was time for some end of season recovery. Something that surprised me this year was that I was actually looking forward to racking my bike for a while, taking the chance to get my head together and let my body recover. Don't get me wrong, after a few weeks of very little peddling I was starting to go a bit stir crazy but now that winter training is in full swing I'm glad I took the rest! You're always going to lose a bit of fitness during your off season break but it's not like starting from scratch no matter how much your head tries to convince you it is during that time off the bike!

After previous winters of not really seeming to get it totally right on the clothing front, this winter I decided to sort that and invest in a decent wind/waterproof jacket and gloves. Cue toasty rides and no more grim days in the saddle wishing I was anywhere but out in the freezing rain, sleet, snow and wind, result! Am I painting a nice picture of winter training in the North East of Scotland??...

To save turning this post into a total waffle, I think that's a good a place as any to stop. Before I say cheerio though just want to say a few big thank yous to some people: my family for always being there no matter what and supporting me through all these life "adventures". My friends for always making me smile and for just being able to pick up where we left off no matter how long it is since we last spoke. My coach for all his continued support, sometimes I think he deserves a medal! Dave Brown ( for helping me believe and bring out the Honey Badger! 

Last but not least Phil Weaver and IKON-Mazda team for such an ace season, it was a blast racing for the team!

One of my favourite photos with the team apart from KB being AWOL when it was taken (Photo credit: Huw Williams). 

I'll not leave it so long before my next update...

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Ladies Tour of Norway Stage 1

Sitting in Oslo airport waiting for my flight home it's a good time to reflect on the past few days racing the Ladies Tour of Norway. What an ace experience, I've learnt so much and definitely gained confidence racing at this level with some of the best riders in the world!

First things first I need to say some big thank yous to the people who made the trip possible. The Racing Chance Foundation, a charity supporting women's cycling and providing opportunities for women to race across all levels of the sport. Heather Bamforth. Rene Groot. Alan Gornall and Steev Davidson for being the team's most excellent support crew. I really tried my best to keep Steev busy, thanks guys! The Fred Whitton Foundation. Thank you all!

I was meeting the team at Oslo airport to make the 2 hour drive to Halden, near the Norwegian-Swedish border, where race HQ was. Thankfully the hotel were very nice and provided dinner at 10:30pm, despite us being a couple of hours later than expected! Then it was straight to bed, leaving bike building til the morning. 

The stunning view outside our hotel front door in Halden. 

Saturday morning. Breakfast eaten, bikes built, numbers pinned and bags packed we headed off to the race start, which was a 30 minute drive away. It was hot! Coming from Scotland where anything in double figures constitutes a warm day, racing in the mid to high 20s was going to be a bit of a shock to the system...It was also pretty windy and Alan advised us before the start that the wind would likely play a part so positioning would be key!

The Racing Chance Foundation team lineup. 

On the start line for Stage 1. 

What surprised me most was the leisurely pace that the race started off at once the flag dropped. However never again will I say "I think this is the calm before the storm" because lo and behold almost as soon as those words had left my lips, everything went a little bit crazy! There was a special sprint at 20km, the border sprint, for the first crossing of the Norwegian-Swedish border. Attacks went in contesting the sprint but there was no let up. It just continued on to the first GPM (mountain points) at 32km. I found myself chasing wheels desperately trying to hold on as it strung out up the climb. Gaps opened up and I ended up in a small group chasing the main bunch up the road. Thankfully most riders in the group were willing to work so we formed an organised chase, riding through and off in pursuit of the bunch. The team cars then started to pass and I started to think "no this can't be it, we can't be dropped not even half way into the race!".  Cycling is a mental battle as well as a physical one so you can never let your mind tell you it's over, never give up! We kept riding and soon reached the back of the convoy. Only for the commissaire to pull several of the cars over and a rider almost went into the back of one! There was then another gap to close up to the next lot of cars. Some more chasing. I couldn't understand why half the cars had been pulled out, but later learned that there was a big enough group of us to ride back to the bunch that we weren't going to get assistance from the cars. As soon as we made it back to the bunch, I rode right towards the front for safety. So if the pace was to kick off again at least I'd have some slipping room and wouldn't be punted off the back! Thankfully things had calmed down a bit but not for long...

Rene had made us stickers for our top tubes that detailed where all the sprints and GPMs were, thanks Rene! So the pace ramped up again as we neared the first sprint. Having the effort of the last chase in my legs I desperately tried to hold the wheels. A lot of precious matches were being burned! 

Come the next GPM I got myself into a much better position before we hit the climb, so I had that bit of slipping room. This time the pace up the climb was much more controlled with one of the big teams sitting on the front dictating the pace. 

As it was so hot, drinking was crucial especially if you wanted to remain in some sort of hydrated state for the following day! I'd finished one bottle and sensing a lull in the bunch I drifted to the back and stuck my hand in the air holding my bottle. This lets the commissaire know to radio your team car up so you can get a fresh bottle. I checked with my team mates around me to see if they needed but they were ok so no sticking bottles down the back of my jersey this time. I just hoped that the pace would stay as it was and not suddenly ramp up as I was just off the back at the car. However a few other riders had also decided it was a good time to get bottles, including some from the bigger teams so I knew it would stay fairly controlled.

The last sprint points were to be contested when we hit the finishing circuit. The road back towards Halden, the town where the finish was, was very exposed with a pretty savage crosswind. The pace ramped up and the bunch was strung out in the gutter. I just focused on holding the wheel in front and hoped that I didn't have to close any gaps if someone in front dropped a wheel. 

Riding the finishing circuit pavé. 

The finishing circuit was quite technical with hairpin bends, sharp corners and cobbles. We arrived part way round the circuit with the last sprint prime over the finish line where it was then 3 full laps of the circuit to go. Small gaps were opening up and I managed to catch a group of 3 or 4 riders just in front. We were working well together but just couldn't quite close to the lead group up the road. We kept riding though, to limit the time gap going into stage 2. The circuit was actually quite fun! A bit like a crit at the end of a long race but it definitely helped to improve my cornering. It was take a corner at speed with the correct line or get dropped! I think it's safe to say that I was very glad to hear the bell for the last lap and then cross the finish line. 114km in the legs, pretty knackered but having learned loads, it was time to recover and focus on stage 2 the next morning. 

Team debrief after Stage 1. 

Monday, 13 April 2015

Alexandra Tour of the Reservoir

This weekend saw the first round of the Women's National Series, the Alexandra Tour of the Reservoir 2-day in Northumberland.  I'd missed this race last year with racing Energiewacht Tour so was really looking forward to it as the parcours were far more appealing than racing in the gutter on the flat roads in Holland!

Stage 1 was a kermesse style race, 10 laps of a 3km circuit.  It went off from the gun!  As soon as the flag dropped it was strung out and I was immediately in the red trying to move up the bunch and get into a safer position before we hit the circuit.  First time over the damn wall, fighting the crosswind and onto the descent dodging the potholes before bearing right over a little bridge, then a rider in front slid out on the corner.  I managed to dodge round but found myself chasing and the pace was so high that the leaders were soon riding away.  No one was really willing to chase as several teams had riders up the road so the group I was in stayed mostly together for the remaining laps (give or take a mechanical here or puncture there) and an hour later it was over.  Corrine had a great ride and finished 4th!  The short stage meant plenty of time for recovery (a 2 hour nap for me) and focus on Stage 2, a 90km road race consisting of 4 laps round the Derwent Reservoir.

We woke up to a dry, but cold Sunday morning.  When a man walked past at sign on cheerfully saying "have a good race, hope you get it finished before the snow comes", I thought he was just having a bit of light-hearted banter.  Oh how wrong I was....

Before I go on to describe the attritional Stage 2, there's a wee anecdotal clip to share.  The relevance of this will become clear as you read on, but makes me laugh at the random things that pop into my head at times!

The start of the race followed the same route as the previous day, but wasn't quite as manic.  Either that or I was more prepared and made it my sole focus to stay near the front of the bunch, especially as we went into the grounds of the Reservoir as the first testing climb was not long after and positioning would be key if you didn't want to get shelled early on!  I'm not quite sure when the rain started, or the snow, but I think this race is up there as one of the hardest races I've ever done, purely for the brutal conditions!!!  I thought racing in 37 degrees heat in France was bad.  This was the polar opposite (pardon the pun!) and most definitely worse!!  The pace was high in the first lap and the bunch had thinned out by the time we started the second lap.  There were a few attacks but nothing was really sticking until Joanna Rowsell's attack, that was to prove the race winning move.  Nikki Juniper jumped away and bridged solo to Jo and the two of them stayed away for the rest of the race, big kudos to both!!  As we descended from the village of Edmundbyers there was a big crash that took out about half the bunch.  I'd been playing it a bit canny on this descent each time.  It wasn't massively technical but it was wet and I knew that I could move up again as we turned left into the grounds of the Reservoir.  This meant that I saw the crash unfold before me and very luckily managed to avoid coming down in the mass of bodies and bikes strewn across the road.  The sound of carbon and bodies hitting tarmac is pretty horrendous and you just have to block out the screams from fellow riders.  As hard and unethical as it sounds, you just have to ride away.  All I remember seeing is a white bike flying up in the air and instinctively following the wheel in front as we dodged past it and began the chase to the riders up the road who had been ahead of the crash.  It took a pretty big effort and used up a few more beans than I would've liked to catch the group in front and I owe a big thanks to my team mate Bex for helping me out in the chase!  

As we rode along the top of the Reservoir in the most exposed section of the course the cold really started to sink in and I realised just how wet and absolutely freezing it was.  I think it had even started to snow at this point.  Sometimes in a race, I can be quite oblivious to the rain, but not then.  I remember looking down at my hand after struggling to feel my right shifter and seeing my fingers all curled up.  See the relevance of the clip above now!  At least those 5 seconds of thinking I had a claw hand to rival Jim Carey's took my mind off the searing cold.  Every time I tried to change gear all I succeeded in doing was pulling on the brake as I couldn't feel anything at all.  I came up with a bit of an unorthodox way of changing gear, but needs must, and I knew that if I could just make it to the final lap then it would be ok as there was no way I was getting that far and not finishing.  So that's when it became a psychological battle as well as a physical one to keep turning the pedals and remain focused when the cold just sapped every bit of energy you had.

Conditions were "challenging" to say the least... (Photo credit: Huw Williams).

The pace going up the climb on the last lap split the group and 4 or 5 riders opened up a gap.  This shift in pace actually helped bring some of the feeling back into my fingers, but also the burning pain you get with the return of sensation after being numbed by the cold.  The 3 km to go sign was the most welcome sight all day as we started the last descent from Edmundbyers.  With less than 1 km to go I decided to have a wee lie down on the bridge before the final climb up to the damn wall where the finish line was.  I think I just came into the corner a bit too hot, saw the wall coming at me too quick and with the cold and wet combo didn't manage to brake in time.  I hit the curb and blew my tire.  A get down so close to the finish was less than ideal but at least I didn't take anyone else down with me.  The Aprire/HSS Hire team car very kindly stopped and was met by me saying on repeat "I want to finish, I want to finish".  So they changed my front wheel, helped me get my shoe back on and I was able to ride the 500m or so up the hill to cross the finish line.

I won't dwell on the aftermath, it wasn't pleasant and I don't think I've ever been that cold in my entire life!  I think the entire peloton would agree, and a big thank you to the medical staff, team support crews and race helpers for coming to the rescue of so many hypothermic riders!  Respect to all the riders who raced in those conditions and thanks to my team mates and Phil for a great memorable weekend of racing!  Onto the next one!

Thanks for reading,