Thursday 28 June 2007

Training - it's gotta be done but make it fun !

Following the Dragon Ride, I had my rest and recuperation, did my stretches, got the obligatory pummelling from the sports masseur, so now I'm back in training mode.

I'm not at all scientific about training. I calculated my heart rate zones a few years back, and always went out wearing my heart rate monitor. But nowadays, I'm going all old school and just go by perceived effort and feeling.

It's not that I can't be bothered, it's more about me wanting to enjoy all aspects of my cycling. Getting bogged down in all the minutiae of where my lactate threshold kicks in, or am I at 60% mhr or 75%, takes the fun out of the training. And I'm not convinced that my results were any better for having done that.

I am an amateur cyclist who has a full time job. Cycling is a hobby, so enjoying the riding and the racing is very important. Spending all that time watching graphs and gadgets all in the hope of winning a race is not my thing.

I don't do diets either. How can I enjoy my meal if I'm spending all that time counting calories ?? Fair enough, you may lose the weight eventually, but then you put the weight back on once you stop the regime. I won't count calories. I just eat. As long as there's a healthy balance and there's a good variety of fruit and veg I'm happy. It's not about regimes but just adopting favourable habits.

The same goes for cycling. As long as there's a good balance between the long and short, the fast and the slow, the easy and the intense, I'm content. After that, I work on specific areas depending on my weaknesses and the events coming up.

At the moment, my long rides are at medium/fast pace - a club run or a cyclosportive. I get my short rides in during my 15mile commute. My intense stuff is done at the track cycling meets. With all the criterium races that are on I'm focusing on doing intense efforts. So intervals are on the menu - turbo trainer work (often to the sound of Destiny's Child or Kanye West) and sprint/hill reps around Dulwich Wood. Then for a bit of cross training I do easy runs around South Norwood Lake, and throw in a skipping session.

Clearly variety is key for me, as it keeps me motivated. I aim to do this on a weekly basis, though sometimes things get altered depending on my racing schedule.
This all sounds a bit approximative but it seems to be working for me. As long as there's continuity, it's adapted to my goals, and it motivates me I'm happy.

Tuesday 26 June 2007

Cresting the Bwlch - The Dragon Ride : Part 2

I was glad I'd been able to dispose of my rain coat, as soon afterwards the sun came out and I was tackling the first difficulty of the day, the Bwlch mountain road. It was a long climb by British standards - almost 2 miles, but the gradient was gentle. Across the wide valley you could see exactly where you had to get to.

For some, this was not a welcome sight as they struggled their way up. For others this was a chance to rise to a nice little challenge as they honked out of the saddle on the big ring. At this point I was passed by the young lady in Vlaanderen Capri Sonne sponsored kit that I'd seen at the start. She looked very comfortable and was in a group with some Kenilworth CC riders.
I kept a steady regular pace and rode with some guys from Southampton. They seemed quite impressed to see women riding this section without too much difficulty. We were only 20miles in, so it would've been a bit worrying if I had been struggling !

The descent from the Bwlch was long and sweeping. I really enjoyed it because I could see my line. With a good tuck you could effortlessly roll in excess of 40mph.

We were now into the Rhondda Valley, where we then headed north towards Hirwaun. Before reaching it there was the small matter of crossing Rhigos via another pass that was very similar to the Bwlch. It wasn't as steep, but it was deceptively long. A local man rode alongside me, pacing me up the hill while giving me tips about the course - "this is ok - just save a bit for the climb out of Neath, and also there's a climb just outside Bridgend. Apart from that this is ok really. What you really want is something like the Autumn Epic. That'll get your legs working !" My legs were already working just trying to do the ascent at his pace !

The top of the climb gave great views of the hills and valleys around, including the higher peaks of the Brecon Beacons. We weren't far from the former coal mining areas either. We saw many little villages with the characteristic drab coloured, box shaped miners houses, and old machinery signifying the vestiges of an old colliery town. Very Welsh. I half expected a Harry Seacombe character to come out singing !

At the bottom of the descent, at Hirwaun, came the intersection. I took the left turn direct to Glyn Neath for the short ride. The scenery became more tree lined as we headed back towards the Afan Forest Park, where Him Indoors was mountain-biking.

Along this road I bumped into Leslie from Archer RC. She was having a good ride. We both joked about how we'd chickened out of doing the long route for fear of the rain.

Very soon, at Neath, the road rose up in front of us. I didn't get the chance to read the sign board showing the gradient statistics, but I knew it was steep. Honking out of the saddle arduously as the sweat rolled into my eyes, I was determined to keep up a decent momentum. After a kilometre the road levelled off. There was now just the Bwlch to look forward to again ! Leslie and her group were probably still tackling their way out of Neath so I would have to either find another group, or fight the next beast on my own !

Cresting the Bwlch was not as straight forward as the first time around. I was beginning to feel it in my legs, and it was more a case of just twiddling in a low gear, and taking care not to get cramp. I'd ridden mainly in groups so as to keep up a good pace and hopefully finish in under 5hrs 30. But now I was getting to that graveyard period where the open valley was looking bleak, as a few spots of rain began to fall, and all the groups seemed to be moving slower. Everyone seemed to be suffering from the "twice up the Bwlch" syndrome. This was more about enduring it than enjoying it.

Once over that climb, there was then a long fast ride back to Bridgend. It wasn't plain sailing though. A stiff climb through some scrubland just outside Bridgend took us by surprise, and I really had to dig deep to maintain some speed. Also a number of sets of traffic lights stopped me in my tracks, which was really annoying. Many riders just rode through them.

The dual carriageway back to the event HQ became a de facto racing track with a bunch of 20 riders all sprinting hard as we neared the finish line. Funnily enough the person driving the pace was not some big male sprinter, but a mere slip of a girl in Specialized sponsored kit ! I just clung on. This was about giving my best effort, rather than winning any prizes. I rolled over the line in 5hrs 35mins for the 135km course. It turns out that the woman I'd seen at the start of the ride in Vlaanderen Capri-Sonne kit was international track cyclist Emma Davies-Jones. She'd done it in 5hrs 7mins. I was pleased to have finished within half an hour of her !

At the finish line my reward was a burger and a can of Coke from Him Indoors. It was nice to see familiar faces there - Sue and Justin who had done the ride on a tandem, Leslie from Archer, Sara my team mate from Pearsons, the Addiscombe CC contingent. I also saw De Ver's Maurice (Mo) Burton. Now around 50 years old, the ex pro still did an impressive 6hrs 19 for the full 200km distance.

This event made for a good day out - if I'm to do this race again they would need to run the cyclosportive on roads that don't have so many traffic lights, and probably with more interesting climbs. We will wait to see what the UCI Golden Bike verdict is.

Still, the rain stayed away. And that's always a bonus in Wales !

Monday 25 June 2007

Cresting the Bwlch - The Dragon Ride : Part 1

The Dragon ride had been touted as the premier cyclosportive event in the UK. The organisers had aspirations of this event being included as the UK edition of the UCI Golden Bike series. This would give it international status and also denote the high standard of the cyclosportive in terms of the course, organisation and location.

This was probably why the event filled its 2300 places very quickly. Luckily, I managed to get a last minute place when someone dropped out. So on Saturday we zoomed up the M4 to Bridgend for the event that was taking place on Sunday 24th.

The race day weather forecast was grim. Showers and strong winds were on the agenda. So not fancying 200km of riding in the wet, I opted for the shorter 135km route. I had originally intended getting to HQ at 8am for an early start. However, given that it was raining I had a more leisurely breakfast and didn't leave the hotel until 8.45. By the time I reached HQ the start gantry was deserted, save for a handful of start marshalls. The music echoing around the car park reflected the emptiness of the environment. But hey, I wouldn't be subjected to hanging around for half an hour before moving off - as was the case for the majority of other competitors ! I could just start my ride immediately - and the rain had stopped too.

I began the cycle ride along the lonely dual carriageway out of Bridgend, my raincoat zipped right up to shield against the wind and the expectant rain. A couple of women set off just ahead of me. They said hello to me while we were waiting at the traffic lights. I wasn't ready to ride with them at that stage. One of them was in Vlaanderen Capri-Sonne sponsored kit and I figured they might be a bit strong for me. I wasn't warmed up, so couldn't ride at their speed as they powered up the road. Also, this road towards Port Talbot was slightly uphill, and already at this early stage I was sweating, even though I wasn't riding especially fast. I began to wish I'd left my coat at the hotel.

I was relieved when the road dipped slightly downhill - if only just to allow me to cool down a little. Suddenly a group of 10 riders passed me. Not wanting to miss my opportunity to be in a group I jumped in with them. We continued down the road at a steady 20miles an hour. I was still quite hot, but was keen to stay with the group, just so I could stand half a chance of getting through the ride quickly. We passed a number of other late starters, including the two strong women who'd dropped me a few minutes earlier !

Soon, we were in the Afan area, near where Him Indoors and I had been the previous day. It was nice to be on familiar terrain. While pulling up at the traffic lights I noticed a driver wave at me. Lo and behold it was Him Indoors, who was on his way to the mountain bike centre at Afan Argoed. "Shall I take your coat ?" He asked. This was a God send for me. Without replying I just threw it off anyway, wished him a good ride and was off on my way.

This stoppage made me lose the group I was with, but I didn't mind because my little foray with them had brought me up past numerous riders along the road, so I knew it wouldn't be long before I would come across other groups. I now stood a chance of finishing the ride in reasonable time and hopefully before the rain.

Friday 22 June 2007

Happiness is.......Hillingdon !

So I rolled into Hillingdon Cycle Circuit the day before yesterday for the women's fortnightly Team Quest race. These 40km criterium races had quite humble beginnings when they started in 2003. They would be held on a Friday evening - just when elite racers were saving their energy for the weekend races, when other racers were recovering from the rigours of their week - or quite simply when us mortals were savouring our well earned pint ! If 10 women turned out to race it was considered a record. Generally the numbers would be around 6 or 7.

With the racing now being on Wednesday evenings and with women's racing have developed significantly in the last couple of years, numbers racing have swollen, and the quality of the racing is definitely higher. Generally the women who race there are the regulars of the racing scene at national as well as local level.

At the sign on desk I didn't feel on top of the world. I had an even bigger heartsink feeling as I saw the steady stream of riders signing in - all stronger than me !
The rainy weather forecast had kept the number of women down to 18. As British Cycling points were available down to 15th place I figured that if I could finish no worse than 4th last I’d get something. But from the start sheet I couldn’t find 3 women that would definitely be slower than me ! They were mainly seasoned racers there – Louise Mahe (Cycles Dauphin), Jeanette Caldicott (Team Luciano) a few Agisko Viner women, Nikki Wheeler (Team Velocity). I only really stood a chance against Liz Rice (London Phoenix) who I’ve beaten in the past, and possibly Jayne Wadsworth (De Laune) who is a good cyclosportive rider, but was brand new to road racing.

When the race started I was quickly dropped after I failed to get into my cleats quick enough. I ended up working with Liz Rice and a girl who I didn’t recognise
(wearing No.3). We worked hard together, sharing the work on a very windy back strait. Then Liz got dropped. Suddenly out of the blue Jayne Wadsworth caught us. She’d also been dropped at the start, but had clung onto the concurrently running male vets race to get back up to us. We then worked together as a new group of 3. As we went along No.3 was shouting to us to dig in, and was giving encouragement.

We managed to catch a couple more women who’d been dropped off the main group – Jo Foster (Twickenham CC) and a girl from Welwyn Wheelers, so our group grew to 5. We all shared the work on the windy bits. About 2 thirds of the way through Jo went off the front. We thought she was chasing down the vets who had just passed us. None of us went with her because we believed she would soon be on her own again in the wind and we’d catch her. In fact, the group just ahead of us was not the vets race but the main bunch in our race ! A lap later the remaining 4 of us got back into the main bunch. So basically, the 5 of us had been riding faster than the 12 woman group ahead !!

Because it was so windy along the back strait, no-one in the main group had wanted to do any work. They couldn’t get organised at all. At times the pace was really pedestrian – which was good for me as it gave me time to recover. Even when we had 5 laps to go, still no one was willing to do anything. Half hearted attempts to break were made but it came to nothing.

Along the back strait during the final lap I could really sense the lull before the storm – Louise Mahe was eyeing Jeanette Caldicott, who was looking at Nikki Wheeler. Jane Kilmartin (Rapha-Condor) was in turn watching over the 3 of the women. Everyone was waiting to see who would go first. Then Louise kicked straight after the last bend and it all kicked off. So it all came down to doing a long one from the bottom bend out of the saddle all the way to the finish line. I had been on the outside (where I felt safer) and used my novice track rider skills to get on the drops and follow Nikki Wheeler as far and as fast I could chase her, my lungs bursting, and breathing through my ears.

It was a fast finish for us all. For my efforts I gained 8th place. I was really pleased because I’d been thinking 15th would be an achievement. I must have beaten some fast girls in the process too. I was so happy to have finished in the top 10 out of a quality field, so hadn't paid attention to who won. I believe it was Emma Patterson (AgiskoViner).

I am really glad to have raced in the small group with No.3 and Jayne Wadsworth. No. 3 had really encouraged us to keep going. It had been hard for us, but we all chipped in and had shared the work to get back in the race. Unfortunately No. 3 got cramp so was unable to contest the sprint. Jayne didn’t contest the sprint because she doesn’t do sprinting ! She was happy with the race though. Jo from Twickenham finished in seventh place, and she seemed pleased with her race too.

Thanks to this Hillingdon race I am now half way to gaining my 2nd category licence. That makes me happy. Hopefully I will have more races like this !

Tuesday 19 June 2007

Cubans and Cycling

At the Cuban Carnival the other day I was very impressed at how Cubans had turned up for the event dressed to the nines all ready to do some serious salsa dancing. And they weren't short of partners ! Cubans take their dancing seriously.
Being at the carnival took me back to when I was in Cuba almost 10 years ago.

I have great memories of the place - strolling down Havana's Malecon in the hot afternoon sun and contemplating the calm sea; sipping Mojito to the sound of Ruben Gonzalez in Old Havana; travelling in an ox and cart with the locals through the dusty streets of Santa Clara, and cycling through the countryside around the World Heritage site of Trinidad.

Cycling is another activity that Cubans take seriously. Fuel shortages and a lack of spare parts means that motorised vehicles gives way to widespread bicycle transport - almost as much as in China. In fact many bicycles are from there since 2 million of them were imported from China in the early nineties. People ride with such skill as they carry almost anything on a bike. Including their families !

Their elite riders are pretty adept as well - especially the women track cyclists. At the World Track Cycling Championships this year Yumari Gonzalez took gold in the scratch race, and Lisandra Guerra (left) took silver in the 500m time trial. Yoanka Gonzalez (right) is currently the UCI world number 1 points race track rider.

So, it's not just about salsa - it's also about the bike !

Monday 18 June 2007

Weekend Round-Up

My weekend was fairly fun-packed. The sight and sound of the heavy showers early on Saturday morning put me off making the journey to the MOD Chertsey - especially knowing that I was going to have to face a soaking just riding over to the event. Instead I caught up on my house-hold chores before tackling an interval session on the turbo trainer.

The weather was much better on Sunday so I made the journey down to Thruxton (near Andover) to do Susie's Circuit Race. I like doing this one because although it's billed as a women-only event, you actually race with the 4th category men. This way, you get the full benefit of the 40-strong peloton. Then you get a placing out of the women that were there. It's harder work if they set-off just a small group of women together.

The race was crash free (for once !) and went ok - except that I was slow to get out of the saddle for the sprint, and ended up off the back in the closing stages of the race. I managed 7th out of 9 women starters. Not that pretty a result, but I still earned some British Cycling points. My total tally is now in double figures, and I have already exceeded last year's score. That's progress !

So it was a good excuse to celebrate my small success with merrymaking at the Cuban Carnival held at Southwark Park - replenished my glucose stores with jerk chicken and rice (not entirely cuban), rehydrated with beer (slightly cuban), and used what energy I had left for salsa dancing (very cuban) - or at least my version of it !

Another person who may have a reason to celebrate this weekend is Frenchman Christophe Moreau (Ag2R), who won the Daphine Libere Criterium. This race, which crosses the French alps, is seen as a dress rehearsal for the Tour de France. The results a rider obtains in this race is a reflection of what they are likely to get in "La Grande Boucle". Could this be a good omen for Monsieur Moreau ? There hasn't been a Frenchman win the Tour de France since Bernard Hinault in 1985. Now wouldn't that be a coup ??

Londoner, and Olympic track medallist Bradley Wiggins (Cofidis) finished 95th in this race (out of 149 starters). What's more significant is that he won the prologue. So there's every reason for I and loads of other cycling aficionados to be out in Hyde Park on 7th July to watch what could be a historic moment for British Cycling.

Another reason for me to be at Hyde Park that weekend is to do the Tour de France women's support criterium race on the 8th July. Now if Bradley could win the prologue and I could win the women's race that would be a dream ! Ok, I'd be happy with one out of two of those scenarios. Somehow, I know which one of them is much more likely to happen !

Thursday 14 June 2007

So much riding, so little time !

In the last week I've done two track sessions, two track leagues, a criterium race, a turbo trainer session, plus about 150 miles of commuting by bicycle and a bit of running. My legs are beginning to feel it. It's not helped by my less than regular stretching sessions either.
I'm hoping to do some derny paced riding this evening at the velodrome, race at the MOD Chertsey on Saturday, and then on Sunday either race at Thruxton or do an unofficial London to Brighton (and back) ride.
Just the thought of this will make my legs scream !

It's that time of year when there are so many bike events taking place, and I want to take part. The sun's out, it's warm, the nights are long. So why not make the most of it.

Talking to a guy I met from Denmark, last year he asked - how many times a year they have races in London ? How would I know ?? In London and the South East, especially in the summer you could race every day of the week if you wanted. From track racing, crit racing, Surrey League races and time trials there's so much going on that you wonder how you can fit all in ! And of course there's all the off-road/mountain biking stuff too.

It's funny how when I meet people from other parts of the UK, especially up North they almost want to feel sorry for Londoners - "it must be tough for you guys - where can you ride a bike in London ?" In fact with all the events that are going on I feel lucky to be in London. The South East has at least as many, if not more events taking place than in other regions. And they are within easy reach of home. Our region was the only one to hold a women-only road race championships.
It is a shame that we lost the facility at Eastway last year. But it still has not curbed racing activity. Maybe it's the Tour de France effect making more people want to take to get into the whole competitive cycling aspect.

As for the racing season, just like with climate change, everything seems to be merging into one ! The road racing season used to begin in March and finish in late September. Now the season has been stretched, with it starting in early February and finishing in late October. In fact there is even a road racing league that takes place through the winter months. As long as people turn up to race the organisers see no reason not to hold the event. And the riders turn up en masse every Saturday, come rain or shine ! Even the London cyclo cross league is now starting a week earlier, in mid September just to fit in the additional rounds. So for folks like myself, who like doing both road racing and cyclo cross it really becomes a juggling act. So much riding, so little time !

In terms of bike rides and club runs, living at Crystal Palace I have easy access to Kent and Surrey. I can head down Anerley Hill, and 6 miles later I am at the beginning of the North Downs in Kent. A little to the west are the Surrey Hills with famous climbs like Box Hill and Leith Hill. Great cycling country - especially if you want to test yourself ! For more clement stuff there are the lanes going South West, towards Kingston, along the river Thames and out towards Windsor.

So with all that's going on it's difficult for me, during a sunny weekend or evening to opt to stay at home. I'm happier on a bike. I just need to decide which bike I use, what I do with it, and try not to overdo it !

Sunday 10 June 2007

Fear and Loathing in Brentwood

I made it down to the start line at Brentwood high street - something which is an achievement in itself for me. Women's National Series cycle races are quite scary affairs. Just looking at the list of names on the start sheet is enough to make me quiver, wonder what I've done, and ask for my money back !

It was a warm day, The sun was out, and this was only going to last for an hour at most so I knew the pain would be only short lived. I hadn't done any of the Hillingdon women's races, or the Crystal Palace circuit races at all this year. The last criterium race I'd done was at the WCRA circuit races at Milton Keynes in February. Many of the girls from there would have raced an awful lot since then. And there was I, hoping I could mix it with a peloton containing the UK's elite riders at this round of of the Women's National Series. Oh well, I'd paid my money and made my choice. If nothing else this would give me an idea of how much work I needed to do, as well as a good hard interval session. Hey, when else would I get the chance to tear around an Essex town centre on my bike ?? I was going to savour the moment !

My aim had been to get as near as possible to the front of the field on the start line, so that I would not be at the back of the pack once the gun went off. I knew I wouldn't be able to stay with the group for the duration, but at least I would get the chance to see a little of the peloton if I wasn't tagging on at the back. Unfortunately that plan was foiled - I arrived at the line 10 minutes before the start to find all the women (just 25 of them) had had the same idea as me - except they'd arrived there 10 minutes before me ! So I was relegated from the start. Not wanting to compromise myself further, I removed one of my drinks bottles from my bike. Even in the hot humid conditions most girls only had one small drinks bottle for the hour long race. A few lean, mean types had no drink at all. They definitely meant business.

Finally, just before 2pm the Commissaire explained proceedings to us. Standing at the back, I couldn't really hear what he was saying - something to do with primes, I think. That wouldn't concern me ! A minute later the race began. Oh no, trouble - a couple of women in front of me struggled to get into their cleats. They faffed around. Guess who was stuck behind them ? So all I could do was wait and watch the group disppear down the road before I'd even started pedalling ! I might as well have not bothered to start. I did anyway, but I knew I was not going to have a race.

The best I got was a bit of a spa-ing match with the woman from Twickenham CC who'd had problems with her cleats. Then she dropped out. I got lapped by the bunch after about 15minutes. I picked up pace and tried to latch on, but I lost them on the chicane. They absolutely tore round the bends. It was quite impressive to see. There was a crash on one of the 180 degree bends - fortunately, nothing serious.

Later a gruppetto containing strong local riders lapped me, but this time I was able to sit in with them. Probably if I'd started off ok in the first place I would have formed a group with them earlier. I felt more comfortable riding around with them, and being in a group made me feel like a credible road racer, rather than a joker. But we were all lapped later on, and were eventually asked to stop after 45 minutes. The race was won by 17 year old Alice Monger-Godfrey of Glendene CC. Shouldn't she have been at home revising for her GCSE's ??

It wasn't my finest hour by any means. I did manage to get in lots of cornering and sprinting practice, so it wasn't a wasted afternoon. But it would've been nicer to have done it as part of a bunch. This was meant to be a road race not a time trial !
It was a tough lesson in criterium racing, but at least I now know what I have to aim for.

Thursday 7 June 2007

Up and Running (even Cycling) at Herne Hill

The track is in full flow now. I've actually managed 2 sessions on the trot at Herne Hill Velodrome. It's terrible how you go one day and then the next day it's off due to the rain. But I actually managed to go yesterday evening for the Wednesday Track League, and today for the Derny paced riding session. Fingers crossed the weather will be ok for me to go on Saturday.

It's nice to have a bit of continuity in my training sessions too. Once you've got the habit of going it just becomes a reflex, rather than a slog to get over the inertia and mentally psyche yourself up about going. The VCL coaches now know my name and say "how are you" rather than just a simple, "can I help you". And when I leave it's "See you Saturday" or "See you next week".

If only this could all be matched by half decent efforts on my bike ! I can feel myself improving, little by little. I'm getting used to using the banking to control my speed. I have even managed to ride out of the saddle. But I am still p1ss poor ! I still need to learn to sprint, get closer to the derny, feel comfortable near other riders, and get nearer the front, rather than dangling off the back and getting dropped all the time. Hopefully things'll get better.

Hanna from Agisko Viner was at the track again yesterday, as was Tamar from Addiscombe CC. We were of similar ability, though Tamar's time trialling skills meant she had a slight edge over the other two of us. Hanna was good at giving me encouragement and tips. She's really kind. Funnily enough, even though I was the weakest rider, I still didn't get the Lanterne Rouge. It went to Tamar as she slowed up at the finish line during the 20km scratch race. I was so bad I couldn't even make a decent job of coming last !

At today's derny session I rode better, even if I was a little tired. Derny paced riding is fun. Riding behind a big bloke on a small motorbike and watching his ass for half an hour may not sound that exciting, but it's actually quite fun ! It's safe, as these people have an idea of how to pace the ride and how far they can push it to make your ride faster. They keep a regular speed so you're not accelerating and then suddenly having to slow down. Apparently if your front wheel hits the derny it just bounces gently off the mud guard of the motorbike without any further incident. I can't say I'm confident enough to test out that theory though ! I hope that by just turning up regularly I WILL get better. It's all money in the bank for future races. Who knows - this might have even helped me for Sunday's crit at Brentwood. And boy, will I need all the help I can get for that event !

Sunday 3 June 2007

Ah, A Race in the Sun

My friend Sophie (on the right) came 3rd

I think I'm on a roll now - I did a race last Thursday after work, and then another one yesterday, two days later - the women's South East road racing championships.

I hadn't been sure as to whether or not to do this one, so hadn't entered in advance. When the day came I realised there was no reason for me not to do it. Being a relatively local race at Ellens Green, near Horsham, I wouldn't have any difficulties getting there - especially as it was starting at 1.30pm. As this is just a south east and central race then it wouldn't be a massive intimidating field, given that a number of hard core girl racers wouldn't make the trip down if they were ineligible for the championships. The Kingston Phoenix girls that I know and get on with, were organising the race, and I wanted to support their event. And on top of that, it was a beautiful day with lots of warm sunshine. Really no excuse for me to duck out of this one.

Of all the regional championships taking place around the UK this weekend, the South East is the only region to stage a women's
championship. So it was a case of use or lose it.

I rolled into the HQ at the same time as many others who arrived by car. My friend Sophie, who races for Rapha Condor arrived at the same time too. She'd ridden from Islington to Waterloo, caught a train to Slinfold, and cycled the last bit to Ellens Green. I had ridden from Crystal Palace to East Croydon, caught the train to Horsham and cycled the last bit to Ellens Green. Great minds think alike ! It was good to see most of the who's who of SE cycling at the race - some of whom I'd not seen all year, others, like Lisa from TriSport News, who I'd seen just two days before at Brooklands.

The race got underway in the Saturday afternoon sunshine. The pace was lively from the off. As usual, I made the mistake of starting at the back of the pack. Although I was able to keep up with the peloton, which was doing around 24mph, I felt very uncomfortable in the group. Being at the back, and on a circuit that I didn't know made me feel nervous as I didn't know what was coming next. The road twisted and turned, and on some sections there were pot-holes, gravel sections and dead animals to dodge - and coming cars. As people attacked on the hill, I was the last to react, and was caught up behind weaker climbers, but couldn't get past them safely. And on top of all of that, my my road cleats were worn and was worried about my feet slipping out of the pedal.

By the end of the first six-mile lap, I felt so stressed out that I was ready to dnf. I slowed right down and let the peloton go. At that point Jake, from Kingston Phoenix slowed up as well. She was feeling dizzy and needed to recuperate. Great I had an excuse to ride at an easier pace ! We then worked together and caught up with Jen, her club-mate. It turned out we were all abit rusty on the old road racing, and had been a little anxious about the race.

So we managed to keep each other company, working together along the course. We were even slowing down to wait for each other at the top of the climbs ! There was almost a club run feel to it ! With all the time that we were losing on the main group, we'd thought we'd be pulled out on the 6th and penultimate, or at least be lapped by the leaders.

However, on the 5th lap we actually picked up speed and began racing. We managed to catch Lisa (TriSport News) who had been dropped by the main group. According to the marshalls our little gruppetto must have been riding at the same speed as the peloton, as the time gap between us and them remained constant. We therefore didn't get lapped, so ended up doing the 7 laps - much to the chagrin of the Phoenix girls, who were really feeling the effects.

We did a very quick final lap - about 24mph, and I even managed a sprint for the line. But just when I thought I'd win the group sprint my foot fell out of it's cleat, and while struggling to get my foot back in the pedal Jake shot past me. Well, being married to one of the fastest sprinters in the region comes in handy I suppose !

The main race was won by Jo from VC Meudon. My friend Sophie came 3rd. She wasn't too pleased to have been passed by a girl who'd done no work at all on the front. Sophie had made a number of attacks, but nobody would go with her, so she was just reeled back in by the peloton. She feels women's racing in England is always negative. That's why she races in Belgium and Italy, where everyone likes to attack all the time. That's why no one wanted to work with Sophie when she attacked, knowing
she's got all that international experience !

I was pleased with my race, even if I hadn't raced it seriously. It's what I needed though. Something to do tranquilly and to just ease myself back into the swing of things and build up my confidence.
The great thing about turning up at these events is that you end up hooking up with others and making arrangements to train/race again together. Myself and the Kingston Phoenix girls have arranged to do the Surrey League handicap at Kitsmead Lane on Thursday. Also Charlotte from London Dynamo has invited me to train with their group at Richmond Park, so as I get used to the bunch riding at speed thing.

I need the practice : next women's event is the Brentwood Town Centre crit next Sunday. It'll be fast and furious, and no one will be doing any favours there !