Wednesday 29 May 2019

My Cycling Year So Far - Tour of Flanders

Belgium Bound

Cyclist central at Oudenaarde
Another high point of my year so far has been my trip to ride the cobbles of the Tour of Flanders. It had been a few years since I last cycled this event. The last time I rode this Spring Classic was in 2007, and had a great time there. I hadn't intended to to leave it this long before going back again.

Since the time when I last rode it, they had moved the start and finish from Ninove to Oudenaarde, and they had reintegrated Koppenberg, which had been removed from the course for refurbishments.

Apart from that, the atmosphere, fanfare and zeal of all the racers was just as present as ever.

Away from industrial Asse and now in Denderleeuw
I travelled to Flanders by Eurostar to Brussels and then cycled from there to Oudenaarde. The route I took was nothing to write home about, as it passed through some industrial areas around Anderlecht and Asse.

It was only after Denderleeuw that the landscape began to look like the pretty Flandrian scenes that we see on television. I guess when you do these types of rides you get to see places as they are - warts and all.

Word on the street - cycling on Belgian roads

The road conditions were okay. Getting out of Brussels was easy enough. Even though there were bike lanes I still needed to be careful as vehicles would still park in the bike lanes. Some of the bike lanes were so narrow that on occasions you were riding in the gutter, so it was better to ride further out from the kerb, in the flow of the traffic and on a decent road surface. You also need to be careful of crossing side roads, and make sure that cars aren't turning across your path.

In short, riding through Brussels was not bad, but it was not this cycling paradise that people claim is so much nicer than riding along streets the UK. People can be too quick to say that cycling in Europe is better than cycling in the UK. My experience is that in all countries you get good bits and not so good bits. You get good drivers and careless drivers everywhere.

Once into the Flandrian countryside I was on trunk roads that had cycle lanes which was great, though bear in mind that on many side roads that were not trunk roads there are no cycle lanes, the roads are not especially wide, so the conditions are no different from riding on a minor road in the UK.

Riding up Koppenberg

Some local riders at Koppenberg
After a pleasant 40 miles I arrived at my lodgings which were just outside Oudenaarde, and around the corner, literally from Koppenberg. That area was quite busy as lots of folks were practicing it ahead of the cyclosportive and before the crowds arrive. It was a good opportunity to chat to various folks - who seemed to have come from everywhere. Of course there were people from the local area, but there were folks from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, even a group from South Africa.

Saturday was the big day, at least for we amateurs, so I rode the three miles from my bed & breakfast to reach central Oudenaarde, from where I began my ride.

As I was a little late getting up, and I knew I would  need to be back in time to see the professional women's team presentations, I decided to do the 74km option. That wasn't an easy ride though, because it still included around 14 bergs. The tough challenges of Paterberg, Oude Kwaremont, and Koppenberg were included, with the latter being tackled barely 10km into the ride.

Koppenberg didn't fail to disappoint, It was a 15-20% gradient, with cobbles everywhere, and crowds of other riders. Being on my cross bike meant that I felt more comfortable in my riding position, and the tyres offered that bit more cushioning - quite important for my 50-year old bones!

For me, it was just important to keep a good core stability, stay relaxed, hold my line, and be ready to shout "on your left/on your right" very assertively.

The tactic almost worked, but then a woman in front of me, who seemed to be riding well, fell over. She was Italian and her cycling buddy had been shouting words of encouragement to her [Dai, dai] and she seemed to be feeding off that, but then suddenly, bang! She hit the deck, and I had no where to go, so had to dismount quickly.

That was a bit annoying as I was near the top, and thought I had conquered the beast. In my bloody mindedness I walked back to almost the bottom of the climb and decided to attempt it again. The area was quite thick with riders and spectators, and a few people offered to give me a push as I remounted my bike. Then they all shouted Allez, Allez as I strained to get up the climb for a second time, through gritted teeth. This time I did it, and felt like I had won the Tour of Flanders!

Feeling old after Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg

This gave me the confidence to cope with the other bergs to come. Our route didn't include Geraadsbergen or Kapelmuur/Mur de Gramont, but we had enough to be getting on with. Oude Kwaremont was not so steep, but it went on for a long time, and the cobbles seemed sharper and disordered compared with other bergs, so it was a bumpier ride. It was definitely the area to be though, as a spectator as there was loads of pumping music, and a massive beer tent of the same name, and loads of people who seemed to already be on the way to getting drunk.

A word of warning - the descent from Kwaremont is lovely and fast, but then you round the right-hand corner and you are met with this steep cobbled uphill. That was Paterberg. I could have stayed on the bike, and quickly tried to find my low gear, on the hill, but I didn't have the legs to cope with the change of gear. So I just dismounted and manually changed gear in order to comfortably tackle the ascent. Once again, it was a case of being mindful of the folks who were dismounting on the hill once they ran out of gears, as well as those who chose to walk in the middle of the road. This climb felt as steep as Koppenberg, but was not long. However, I still felt quite tired after the previous exertions, so it was harder work for me.

Feeling happy after riding Paterberg (and Oude Kwarement too)
It was a relief to have been able to do those tough three bergs, as well as the other ones. I just had to put my head down and hurry back over the remaining 15 or so miles to get to the finish line. My lack of fitness began to show, and I felt quite tired. A few people past me, and I wanted to jump on their wheels, but I didn't have the strength to hold their wheels. So I just rode back at my own pace.

It was just great to see the finish line, knowing that I still had the ability to ride even the tough bergs.

A good day out in Flanders

Flanders is a great place to be when the bike races are on. At the lovely place where I stayed, Enjoy B&B Today, there was a group of Irish guys, and some Italians from Turin as well. Around Oudenaarde and the surrounding area there were also lots of people from the UK, and I recognised jerseys from local clubs like Kingston Wheelers and Dulwich Paragon. There was a large contingent from my club, Penge CC, though I travelled separately from them. It was good to bump into Dougie Fox and other riders from Crawley Wheelers. I don't get to talk to them much when I'm in London - so it was just ironic that it took a cycling event abroad to get us to sit down and have a chat with them over a beer! But that's what the Tour of Flanders does.

Feed station at Ronse, where you bump into people you know

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Thursday 23 May 2019

52 Cycling Voices - 23: Yewande Adesida

I first met Yewande at the London Nocturne about two years ago when she took part in the fixed gear race. She was riding for Velociposse at the time, and was enjoying her new adventure in cycle racing. Yewande has really made progress in her short time in cycle racing - taking a bronze medal at the sprint race at the British Universities and College Sports (BUCS)  track championships, competing in the National Track Cycling Championships. In between all that, she even found time to do some modelling for some big-name cycling brands after a recommendation from Ayesha McGowan, bike racer from across the pond.

Yewande Adesida, aged 25

From: London

Occupation: PhD Student at Imperial College, London

(Photo by SRAM)

I got into cycling properly when I stopped rowing about three years ago and then I thought about which sport to get into.  

I had been a rower for about six years and gone as far as I could, so wanted to find a sport that I was better suited to. 

I chose cycling. It wasn't completely new to me as it was part of my cross training when I was rowing, so I had done bits of it here and there.

I always knew I wanted to do track cycling so I worked on getting my accreditation at Herne Hill and the Lee Valley velodrome.  

There wasn't anyone in particular who inspired me to do more serious cycling. I always just knew that I wanted to compete and race so it was just about me getting to that point where I could do that. 

I took my time about which club to join. Then me and a friend heard about a women's racing team called Velociposse, which was looking for riders, so joined that one. They were very friendly and wanted to encourage more women into cycling. My team mate Eeva Sarlin was quite enthusiastic and encouraged me to have a go at fixed-gear racing. 

At the London Nocturne in 2017
The 2017 London Nocturne was my first crit race on a fixed-gear bike. I was a bit scared as there were a lot of sharp turns. 

I got dropped, but then I did what I could to try and get ahead of the group I was with. The race was interrupted due to crash and I also ended up hitting the barriers. I was okay, and am still really glad I did it, as the support from the other racers was great.

I raced for Velociposse until November last year, then joined a team called SES Racing, a mixed team that focuses on track sprinting and being competitive.

With them I went to the National Track Championships in Manchester at the start of this year, doing the sprint race and the keirin. Competing at the National Velodrome in Manchester for the first time was a really good experience and I really enjoyed it. It was also really tiring. I had never raced a keirin indoors before so it was nice to do well in that event and work on that for next year. All round I had a really good experience.

I finished 10th overall in the Keirin. I was not expecting that at all, as I had raced four times, when normally I would only race twice, so it was really good.

I had done the individual sprint, which I normally do. I’ve raced that in competitions before, and I equalled my personal best in the flying 200m and came 13th overall and was able to qualify for the match sprinting, even though I knew that that would be a tough.

I was probably a lot more nervous for the sprint because I had expectations for how I wanted to do, but I was less nervous for the Keirin because I was going into it to learn and have fun.

Yewande does some road racing too
I had been pretty nervous about racing at the Nationals with the top riders, but the people with me from my new club were really supportive, and really helpful. I don’t think I was as freaked out by the whole situation as I would have been this time last year. I have been working on my confidence, and my thoughts going into races in the past couple of months, and that has definitely helped.

I saw a sports psychologist that was available to me through university so I would go for a session every few weeks and it’s been really helpful so far.

My goals this year are to focus on sprinting and see what happens. The BUCS is my main target but I'm hoping to do well at the National Sprinters League too over the next few months. 

Before, I had been doing endurance races, but now I’m going to stick to sprint events. I will probably race on the road, but not as much as last year.

My season so far has been pretty quiet compared to last year because I've only been doing sprint events and I also had a hip injury. It was actually quite good to have a break from racing and focus on the rehabilitation stuff, but I'm back to full training now, which is good.

Things are quite busy these days because I juggle my cycle racing and training with coaching, as well as studying for a PhD in wearable technology in rowing. 

Living in West London means it takes a while to travel across London with my track bike to get to the Lee Valley Velopark in Stratford, but I am very motivated.

My most memorable day on a bike was probably last July when I won my first crit last year at a Full Gas summer series crit on the road circuit at Lee Valley. 

I had been racing for over a year and the closest I had come to winning was getting second place in a crit. The previous month I did a race at Cyclopark, Gravesend, and had been about to win it, but then I crashed and ended up in a ditch. So winning the Full Gas crit was a great feeling. 

When cycling, I never go out without Jelly Babies. I really like them. I think they’re not too sugary - or at least they don’t taste too sugary - so they are quite easy to like, and being quite soft they are easy to eat.

I think the British Cycling #OneInAMillion campaign is a good way of trying to increase the numbers of women doing cycling because it’s a great confidence booster and also a way to keep fit, and explore cycling. I definitely see the benefits of the campaign. If more people can experience cycling then it’s great.

Yewande (second row, right) with some women of colour who cycle
I think the Women of Colour cycling group set up by Jools Walker and Jenni Gwiadowski has been quite encouraging so far, too. At the first meet-up I’d never seen so many women of colour before, so it was nice to know that they existed. 

I think it sends out a really good message that there are other women of colour in the sport, and women of colour should not be afraid of getting into cycling because it shows that we exist. The group creates a positive environment for people to grow in the sport.

I have hardly seen other women like me doing cycle racing, and often I am the only woman of colour at a race. It was similar with rowing too. I used to feel uncomfortable about it, but I don't think about it so much now. Hopefully there will be more women of colour racing.

Getting to model for SRAM and Rapha was a real shock, but a pleasant one - especially with SRAM as I didn't expect to be featured. It was great to be involved with both campaigns and work with talented and enthusiastic people, and most importantly be a part of creating more representation in the bike industry - there have been lots of positive responses. 
Modelling for Rapha (Photo by Rapha)
It's hard to feel a part of a sport when you don't see people that look like you on a start line, in social media or in advertising, so to work with brands that are working to change this was such a great opportunity.

I would encourage more women to get into cycling because it’s great for boosting your confidence, learning a new skill, meeting different people, and getting to explore different places that you might not have gone to otherwise. And you get to eat lots of cake!


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Ayesha McGowan

Jenni Gwiadowski

Giorgia Bronzini

Geraldine Glowinski

Wednesday 15 May 2019

My Cycling Year So Far - Cyclocross

Gee, I can't believe it's May already. Time marches on so fast, I barely know where I am!

Massive apologies for the silence on these airwaves. I was too busy riding my bike! Talking of which, here's a bit about what I've been up to.

In January I took part in the National Cyclocross Championships, vets race. I wouldn't normally do a race at such a high level, but I just couldn't pass on the opportunity given that it was taking place locally at the Cyclopark near Gravesend, Kent.

Now that I am well and truly a vet, I don't have to worry myself racing with the elite racers though, knowing that at least if I get lapped I won't be pulled out of the race. Having said that, I did have a moment in the race where I really wanted the commissaire to tell me my race was over - instead he told me I had another lap to go - much to my despair and my screeching legs!

The course was harder than I have ever raced on. It was a real assault course of a lap, with a flyover, steep drop-offs in rapid succession, steep off-cambers, steps, thick sand, a steep descent onto the tarmac and a fast bit of tarmac up to the finish line. That was the best bit!

The flyover at the Cyclopark for the National Cyclocross Championships
For once I had the time to get myself properly organised and go to the venue the day before race to do the course recon and pick what my racing lines would be. It went well, even if I did feel pretty pooped after three laps.

But when race morning came, all the nerves set in and I was falling all over the place during the warm-up lap. By the time I was on the start line, I was covered in mud from the times I had fallen over during the warm-up lap! On one of my crashes on an off-camber I tangled with a young girl who was also warming up. I felt bad about that, as she looked as if she was going to cry.

When I got back on my bike I noticed that my handlebars were bent, and also my derailleur was locked into one gear. I feared I would have to race the course on a single-speed bike! Luckily, I was able to get help from a mechanic in the pits, who was working for the Jewson team. That was so nice.

I also went through a freaky moment of feeling like I couldn't ride and wondered how I was going to get around the course without trashing myself, or my bike even more. As I had arrived at Cyclopark in good time I was able to practice the tricky off-camber section several times.

A guy from the Velobants team who had seen me struggling came over and gave me tips on how to ride that section. Silly me, I had also forgotten to let air out of my tyres. Because I had cycled on the road to the train station at Bromley South, and then again from Meopham to the venue I had high pressures in my tyres and forgot to deflate them when I was warming up.

Suzi Wise and myself, so relieved that we got round the race okay
 Once I reduced the tyre pressures by half, everything came together and I felt so much happier riding the tricky sections.

I probably rode my best cyclocross race in a while, and really felt emboldened to ride like I had nothing to lose - even if I still took a couple of tumbles.

It was great to have Fran from Velovixen, and who also rides for Velobants, cheering me on. In fact there were a lot of people around the course cheering us on - more than we ever normally get. I even ended up in a dual with a Twickenham racer.

Then the next day I watched how it was done when the elite women raced, and I managed to see number one cyclocross racer Helen Wyman fly up the hills that I could only walk up during my race. She came third in this race, though seemed in good spirits, chatting to all her fans. It was a great weekend of cyclocross, and I actually feel like training properly for the nationals for next year.

The elites showing us how it's done on that hill - Helen Wyman (right)

That has been one of my memorable experiences on the bike this year. I have had others, such as my ride at the Tour of Flanders and a riding into France and the Paris suburbs. We have also just had the Tour de Yorkshire and I managed to ride stage 3, from Bridlington to Scarborough, which was lovely and tough in equal measures! More on that in later posts.

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