Wednesday 15 April 2009

Sheer Grit!

Local cycling buddy Charlie Blackman only started road racing a few years ago, in 2006. I bumped into her at a few road races back then, and we were about the same level in those days - both 3rd category road racers. In fact, I remember her saying to me while in the bunch during a circuit race - "you go in front girl - you're stronger than me!".

I've improved a bit since then - I'm now a 2nd category road racer. But Charlie's progress has been so much more impressive. She worked hard at her training and battled her way through the ranks. She has now joined a select club, being just one of 10 women in the UK to have an Elite road racing licence. Charlie even managed this despite crashing and suffering concussion in her first season, and then a broken collarbone in her second season.

Anyway, I interviewed Charlie earlier this year for the London Cyclesport website, and found her answers very inspiring. It's interesting how reading other people's experiences motivates you into training, and just gives you that extra kick up the backside.


Maria David, LondonCycleSport's women's correspondent, talks to Charlotte Blackman (London Dynamo).

Thanks for doing this interview, Charlie. You have had a phenomenal rise - from newbie 4th cat in 2006, to elite racer in 2008. Congratulations!

You were previously an elite rower. What made you cross over from rowing to cycling?
At the end of 2005 I was struggling to find the time to do anything other than work. I’d just moved house, was organising a wedding and trying to complete my teacher training. I kept getting ill, couldn’t make weight (I was a lightweight rower), got a telling off from my coach at GB trials for only coming 8th (!!!) and decided I’d had enough. I saw cycling as a different, unpressured way of keeping fit and as a change of scene.

What do you attribute your success to?
It’s funny to think that I’m “successful”. I just like riding my bike. I’ve always been sporty: 14 years of ballet, followed by 10 years of rowing. There is no secret: I’m not particularly gifted, I’m just happy putting the hours in. I’ve been brought up with a very strong work ethic. That probably helped.

Do you think coming from a rowing background has helped you in the cycling?
Without doubt. I think the hours I put in dancing taught me discipline but rowing taught me about bloody-minded hard training. Riding in the wind and rain by yourself is very much like being battered about in a single scull on the Thames. I sometimes think that the sculling has left me with far more of a psychological legacy than a physiological one.

You have been spotted at times, training alone on a cold, dull, rainy day. What motivates you to go out riding for hours on a miserable winter’s day?
My coach, Guy Andrew’s advice is “I don’t ride in the wind and rain, but you must!” I quite enjoy the long rides in the cold and I comfort myself with the idea that it’s all “money in the bank”. I also grew up in a mining pit village in county Durham so I’m quite used to wind and rain.

Who are your heroes?
I’m still a big kid in that my mum and dad are my heroes. They’ve both battled the Big C in the last two years and have my utmost love and respect. My sister runs marathons, I think she’s a bit of a hero too. Even when I rowed I think I found normal human beings far more “heroic” than the celebrities. My team mates like Jo Munden, Susannah Osborne and Lisa Scarlett are also my heroes. Jo and Susannah taught me a huge amount about riding my bike and Lisa taught me a great deal about courage!

I remember the photo of you crossing the finish line when you had your first victory in a National Series race at the Sid Standard Memorial RR last year. You looked quite emotional. What was going through your mind at that moment?
The absolute relief of not being caught by the bunch! I was desperate not to be caught. I’d attacked from about 4km out and kept thinking “Charlie! What have you done?”

So last year you raced the Women’s National Team Series as part of the Surrey League team. This year you are racing in a dedicated London Dynamo women’s team. How different will that be for you?
I think it is going to be a very different experience. There are familiar faces on the Dynamo team and there are other experienced riders. It is also good to have young riders like Claire Beaumont and Emma Patterson as they will get so much out of this season and it will be exciting to see how they go. There is already a colossal amount of team spirit and enthusiasm and in that respect we are very like the Surrey League team.

London Dynamo has a sizeable women’s squad. What does the club do to attract so many women? Your club seems to have achieved something that many clubs can only dream of.
There are lots of girls but we are racing across different disciplines. That can be frustrating. (I wanted to hide Jenny Lloyd-Jones’ TT bike last year and just have her come and road race!) But this is also a real strength and it means that there is always a more experienced female rider for them to talk to. We have also run winter skills sessions for the last three years and that’s helped to increase numbers. I think the visibility of the club within SW London helps draw women in and the fact that the club supports us and has a healthy social scene, makes sure that they stay."

And for the 2009 season what are your racing goals?
To have fun and not to fall off the bike!

Do you plan to race in Europe?
I’m going to Belgium in a couple of weeks to race. The very thought of it fills me with a mixture of fear and excitement.

Best of Luck with the coming road racing season.

photos by John Mullineaux at

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