Friday 28 March 2008

Be Inspired !

The world track championships are on at the Manchester velodrome this week. It's so great to have such championship events taking place in the UK. It's a shame that work and London life stops me from being able to make the trip up North to get a ring-side seat.

But thanks to the powers of (and the current interest by) terrestrial TV I have been able to follow the events.

It's all been very exciting watching the heart-stopping, and sometimes hair-raising races unfold, resulting in Great Britain's medal tally steadily creeping up. We still have one day's racing left but the GB team has already amassed more medals than their record haul of 7 last year in Mallorca.

One victory that I was particularly delighted over was that of our women's pursuit team. Wendy Houvenhagel, Rebecca Romero and Joanna Rowsell powered their way to a gold medal in the ride-off against the Ukrainian trio.

These women are all riders that I have ridden against over the last few years. In particular, Jo Rowsell. I remember her when she first came onto the scene in 2004while still at school, riding for Sutton Cycling Club. At that time she was doing cyclo cross - and was quite good at it. She quickly moved on to doing track and road events, and was pretty useful in those disciplines too. We got used to seeing her, accompanied by her dad and her brother (who also races) at the various local races around South London.
The early successes she was having then meant that it wasn't surprising when she was placed on the GB talent team squad. But with these schemes one is never sure who will actually make it big and who will fall through the net. Talent team riders are good, but not all of them win races. Not all of them make it through the ranks.

But Jo (on the right of the picture) has grown from strength to strength and consistently excelled in her races. Many of us watched her in awe last season as she gave the 3rd and 4th category men a run for their money at the weekly Crystal Palace races.
And in the women's races she wasn't afraid to get on the front and do her bit. She certainly isn't a negative rider !
And now that she has come of age I am very pleased to see that she is a World Champion - well done Jo !

Another rider that I am pleased for is Emma Pooley. I met her in 2005 at a women's national team series race - The Sid Standard Memorial, in Nottingham. Our Addiscombe Cycling Club team was short on riders so myself and friend/team-mate Tamar were looking around hoping to find people to guest ride for our team. We bumped into two young women - Bryn and Emma, who'd driven up from Cambridge on spec, in a hope of getting a last minute place in the race. We immediately offered them Addiscombe CC shirts to don and welcomed them onto our team.

I vaguely knew Bryn as she'd raced the previous season. I was confident that she'd hold her own in a road race. I didn't know Emma at all, and had no idea of her form. She told me she was completely off form as she'd hardly done any road racing and would give it a go for a bit of fun in between triathloning. Tamar and I were just happy to have a full team and with riders who were pleasant people.

During the race a breakaway group formed, which included golden girl Wendy Houvenhagel, local heroine Janet Birkmyre, a few of the mighty Team Luciano riders and none other than this young Emma Pooley ! She eventually managed a top 20 place in a race that had almost 70 riders and some of the top riders in the country. Not bad for someone who was just dabbling in road racing for fun on no training ! (The Addiscombe Cycling Club team did well out of her result too. So our day didn't end too badly either !)

Three years on and Emma, having graduated from Cambridge is now a full time road racer in the Specialized Designs for Women team. She has represented Great Britain in a number of races, including the World Championships. Then last week she recorded an amazing achievement when she won the 2nd round of the Women's World Cup race held in Italy (Trofeo Alfredo Binda), having managed to drop her fellow riders (including National Champion, Nicole Cooke). Excellent work.

Seeing the names of people you race against (or even with!) up in lights is such an inspiration. Women's road races in the UK tend to mix all categories together, so we get to see these riders when racing regularly. We also know that for many of them it's not always plain sailing. There are set backs - crashes, injuries, illness, a tough routine to follow, logistics, funding issues, selection/non-selection etc. But they persevere and gain successes such those just described.

Granted, Jo and Emma may well have special talents for cycling that I and my cycling buddies don't have. But just seeing what they achieve makes me want to emulate them a little - it won't get me snapped up in any talent team, but I know it will be a positive step for my cycling. In my book they are definitely an inspiration.

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Cycle Racing Season - Take 2 !

Change of plan - the script didn't quite suit me. Too much to live up to, and not enough material to work with - especially with the death of my main number - the supporting players just wouldn't have been able to cut it either.

I couldn't play out the scenes with the right level of sincerity and warmth, when I had a bunged up chest and a blocked nose.

And as for directors that put so much rigidity on the set, how can I play out the scenes with any form of fluidity ?

(I'm talking about the target of gaining 160 points for a 1st cat licence when half our races just got wiped off the calendar, with the remaining options for women's races being miles away - not always feeling on form due to illness - being part of a team that was overly regimented, and not feeling like I could get properly involved.)

So the set's been changed !

The script is better - I only need to gain half as many BC points as were originally planned. My main number will now be the proposed women's races at Crystal Palace every Tuesday. Supporting players will be races at Thruxton and the Women's Team Series races, plus some time trials and cyclosportives. I now feel healthy, enthusiastic and ready to engage in the racing scene. And, I now have a new club to race for - Dulwich Paragon (with Surrey League for the Women's Team Series). These are two teams that I'm very happy to be involved in, especially as there's a more relaxed ambiance and I feel happier.

So now I should be able to play out a much better role in the cycle racing scene. It will certainly be an improvement on what I've been doing, but don't hold your breath for any awards - yet !

Aaac-tion !

Tuesday 25 March 2008

I'm Dreaming of a White......Easter - er not really !!

Crikey - my trip to the French Alps in February wasn't anything as cold as this Easter weekend in London !

Dunsfold Aerodrome. Sunday @ 8.45am. As we stood huddled under the Evans Cycles marquee sheltering from the blizzard, awaiting the commissaire's decision various thoughts passed through my mind - "I'm so bl**dy freezing - what the hell am I doing here - we must be mad. But then so is the weather - Why all this snow in London in late March ??"

The forecasts for Easter weekend had never been great, so I hadn't exactly been expecting a heat wave. But a bit of cold, wind and rain while cycling never did me any harm. It certainly never stopped organisers from cancelling bike races.

I'd done a very pleasant, if not a little crisp ride around the Kent hills on Good Friday. We'd even managed to get dry sun-kissed rides in between the hailstones on Easter Saturday during the Brighton Mitre Hilly 10 mile time trial. I was even awarded wine and an Easter egg for my effort !

So, it was with the same optimism that I'd set off to ride the Surrey League Easter road race at Dunsfold.
Sadly, for the first time in my 4-year amateur road racing career the event was cancelled. There were other races that fell under the same fate. A couple of the stages in the Surrey League Easter 3-day event - other circuit races in the London area, plus even some time trials in Eastern England.

The full moon works in mysterious ways - an early Easter, weird precipitation, and bike races being cancelled !!

More snow for Easter Monday meant my training ride was put off and I went round the house being full of unused energy, acting frustrated and grumpy.

Today I rode my morning commute like a woman possessed. I caught up with a roadie at Wimbledon and we ended up doing a 2-up time trial all the way to Hammersmith. I got there in record time ! Sadly, I won't get any British Cycling points for that !

Now last year the weather was glorious in March, but then we had a lousy summer. This March has been lousy - we may be in for a glorious summer. Well, that wouldn't be a bad pay-back at all. We live in hope.

Monday 17 March 2008

Weekend Round-Up......Sunshine and Rain


These races are always a good season opener. Run on a handicap basis where the fast group (scratch group) have to catch the slower groups for one lap these races have proven to be a good test of where you are compared with your peers. They show how fast you can ride compared with others in your handicap group, and even those in other groups, should the groups end up merging during the race (which often happens). Unfortunately, the results don't really illustrate much.

With the "slow" group sometimes consisting of youths who have never raced on the road, but spent most of their winter on the track, it kind of gives a false impression of what the level of speed will be. So the scratch group can have a hard time catching the slower groups.

Saturday was the third and final round of these starter races. So luckily these type of anomalies were largely ironed out.
We started the race in glorious sunshine and that was how it continued throughout - which is always a bonus at this time of year. I started in the middle group. Things went well for a time, until the scratch group caught us - typically, just when I was finishing a big turn on the front and up the steepeest part of the drag. They shot past out our group out of the blue, and I was too out of breath to react. A few women in my group, mainly the rested ones managed to jump in with the fast girls. I just stayed where I was and worked with my reduced group until we were caught again. This time I was more ready for them and we managed a bunch sprint for the line. Not sure who won, but I suspect it was one of a sizable clutch of frisky youth riders. (Shouldn't she have been at home revising for her GCSE's ??)


Well, what can I say : Wet, wet, wet - oh and maybe wind, wet, wind, wind, wet wet !

I was determined to make the journey down the M3 to this race. I'd paid my money and I wasn't going to let a bit of rain get in the way. Anyway, I've raced in the pouring the rain before - at Hillingon, in the lanes in Surrey, and Kent. What difference would there be. Well, actually the difference was that those races took place in July and August. This was March, with 30mph winds sweeping across the aerodrome !!
Even getting out of my car in the car park had been a job. I simply resigned myself to the fact that this would be a wet one and got on with things. Ok, so I was going to have to wear some of my after race wear during the race just to be sure of keeping warm, and eat some of my after race food as well. But hey, I'd deal with those consequences after.
Needless to say the field was drammatically down compared to last week's. Actually the total number was down, probably by 60%, but the women's field had stayed the same - 10 just like last week.

The race began very tentatively, with people taking it easy on the wet corners. After a couple of laps people became more daring and the pace picked up. I and a group of others got dropped when we went up the drag into the head wind. We worked together for a time, but then as things were just too gusty for me I was off the back of this gruppetto. I had thought I could sit up and wait for the people behind me so I could work with them. But there was no one else - just an old guy came past. I was sure there'd been others. Had they dropped out ? We did some turns together. After one big turn I'd done into the wind, I swung off hoping for him to come through, but there was no body there. Riders were rapidly disappearing away. Hey, ho - I then just soldiered on round the course on my own. The rain wasn't too bad at this point. What had earlier been torrential rain, had just reduced to steadily pouring rain. The wind was ever present though, and a couple of gusts nearly took me down.

Fortunately, with all the casualties that were steadily crawling back off the circuit during the course of the race, the commissaire reduced the number of laps and brought the race to a premature end. I was pretty relieved too as I was getting sick of my feet squelching about in my shoes.

The results show that I came 7th - which means 3 of the 10 girls dropped out - including some pretty speedy riders. I think half of the men's field dropped out too. I may have been dropped, but I am just glad that I got through the race, and also I know that I will be able to get through these conditions in the future - hopefully this won't happen for a while. It's a shame I haven't entered the Tour of Flanders. This would have been ideal preparation !

Monday 10 March 2008

And we're off ! (But where's the power ?)

My racing season has started - only just.

After my false start last week, when a fallen tree prevented me from racing at Milton Keynes, I got away on the second attempt when I raced at Thruxton yesterday.

I remember my first ever visit to Thruxton last year had been a real miserable experience. The drab surroundings of this aerodrome and racing circuit. The lack of anything vaguely scenic on this windswept plain - just the sight of the odd light aircraft droning above, and the first aid car on standby in case of an accident. (It was amply used when there were 2 crashes during the hour-long race.) I was so rigid with cold, that I couldn't bring myself to get out of my top coat to do the warm up. The sight of Nikki Wheeler (I-Team) and Jenny Lloyd Jones (London Dynamo) spinning madly away on their turbo trainers didn't make me relish what could be "hard core" competition. Feeling pent up with anxiety, I ducked out of the race, preferring to watch from the sidelines while Fred made his valiant efforts. I felt ashamed to have been such a big girl's blouse that day and resolved to return to Thruxton the very next week.

I have since been back there on a number of occasions, and have even learned to know and love this circuit. And it's not always bleak. The sun actually shines sometimes !

So when I arrived at the circuit yesterday I was looking forward to events. However, the race was not all that good for me. The first race of the season is always a good test to see where you are. For me, it was quite clear. I was at the back ! It wasn't going to be a massive surprise though. I had endurance, and even a bit of speed, but I hadn't got round to working on my power yet. And it was telling ! Various attacks were made out of corners and into the cross wind, and my lack of power was quite apparent. The large peloton meant that I should have been shielded from the wind, but in fact I found myself drifting to the side in order to avoid getting caught up in a possible crash. Of course that led to me being unsheltered, and needing to use even more power to keep up with the bunch. But I didn't have enough of the strong stuff so I got dropped. Hey ho ! I wasn't too ashamed of my effort, as there were others in the same position as me. In fact I wasn't at the very back. There were 11 women who started the race. I finished 10th, so I think I may have even earned one British Cycling point. How about that !

So now I am aware of this weakness I shall do as the text books say and train to it. Next weekend will see another round at Thruxton, plus a race at Milton Keynes Bowl on Saturday. Hopefully I'll make a slightly better account of myself.