Thursday, 25 April 2013

Omloop Van Borsele - Holland

Last weekend I travelled to Holland for my first international Junior Womens stage race. The race was 3 stages over 3 days, a 13.2 km time trial and 2 72 km road stages. Because it was such a big race all the riders had to enter in teams, unfortunately I didn't have a team to enter with so we wrote to the organiser and he wrote to some dutch teams to ask if they would let me ride with them. Luckily some came back saying they would and I chose to ride with the RWC Ahoy team from Rotterdam.

So me and my mum set off on Thursday to get the ferry from Hull, this bit all went smoothly, the issues started when we got off the ferry in Belgium to get lost almost immediately. The Belgian road signs made things more difficult than they should've been but after a few detours and a tour of a town we didn't need to do we final made it into Holland. The drive seemed much easier after this and we made it to the place we were staying. Just as we were arriving a team car with RWC Ahoy written on it pulled up and I got my first chance to meet the girls I would be riding with for the weekend. They all seemed very nice and invited me to stay in their room with them. This was quite an experience, 6 of us in quite a small room with bunk beds, safe to say there wasn't much floor space.

Once we'd unpacked a bit and had lunch we headed down to the time trial course for a ride round it. It was pan flat, with a good tail wind section but then, obviously, a hard head wind section and some good corners. I was happy with how my bike felt and settled nicely into my tt bars. We rode back to the place we were staying and changed before getting in the van and heading to the start of the TT. I pretty much went straight to warm up because I only had half an hour till my start time. I headed to the start and soon I was at the top of the start ramp ready to go. I had the count down in dutch (vaguely understood) and I was off and immediately being battered by the cross winds, I tried to get the bike into as big a gear I could manage and just hold it. Soon I made the turn into the tail wind section and a quick glance at my garmin showed I was going at nearly 50 km/h, at the top of my junior gears, and I could see the team car behind the girl in front. I found a nice rhythm and held it down the turn before I was into the head wind and just trying to keep a high enough gear turning over. My legs were seriously hurting by now but I could still see the girl in front so I kept pushing. I didn't quite manage to catch her but I finished in a time of 21.02.22, which was 2.24.16 down on the winner who was Nicky Zijlaard, whose team I was on! Nicky was over the moon with her win and it gave me a purpose on the team, I had to help keep the red jersey.

So onto the first road stage and after a mental ride out to the start behind the team car I was feeling a bit nervous. We lined up half an hour before the start but were still nearly at the back of the 92 girls in the race. I then got very confused as a commissar started telling us all to move back and everyone started turning their bikes around, I thought we were starting in the other direction or something but it turned out everyone was checking their gears. So after that and signing on I made it to the start line, quite near the back. I knew I would have to move up on the first bit of wide road before we turned onto the super narrow ones where the crashes would happen. Eventually we were off and almost immediately there was a crash to my left, I just managed to avoid it but had to come almost to a stop and sprint to get going again. This happened a few more times and sometimes I would just have to slam on my brakes for no reason and then go again. It was mental, but eventually it settled down a bit and I tried to move up, the issue was the bunch was covering the width of the road. I decided I had to do something so went up the bit of rough track just off the road, I got a few funny looks but it worked. I just kept trying to move up but always seemed to be nowhere near the front. It was really hard to be near the front and on the right side of the bunch in the cross winds, I often found myself struggling for shelter just getting battered, but we had 3 laps of the same course so I learnt where the wind was coming from in each bit of road and tried to move so i wouldn't be in it but it was really difficult! Coming into the final 2km stretch on the last lap I was way too far back and almost got dropped as the whole bunch strung out but luckily they eased up a bit and I got back on and finished somewhere towards the back of the bunch. Nicky still had the leaders jersey though so we were happy with that.

Think this gives some idea of the size of the bunch
The next day and the last stage, I was determined to do everything better today. So that started with getting to the start earlier, which I did meaning I was on the 2nd row. Going into the first tight corner I was in the top 10 and although I slipped back a bit on the big 40km loop we were doing as we came into the last 3 finishing loops I moved up and helped Nicky chase down some attacks. We were soon on the last lap and the girl who was in 2nd overall, only 14 seconds behind Nicky, had attacked. I did my best to try and pull her back but my legs were just giving in by that point. Luckily Nicky is an insanely strong rider and even though no one wanted to help her she managed to keep the gap down and take the overall win by 1 second. She was overjoyed by this, as was I and the rest of the team. It was a great feeling to know I'd contributed a bit and the whole team had our photos taken with Nicky in her red jersey and it was great!

4th in line with Eline from my team at the front

I ended up in 47th place overall but it didn't really matter, I'd learnt a lot and had a really good time with all the girls on the team. Really wish I could go back every weekend!

The team at the end of the last stage

 On Tuesday I was straight back into the racing at the first ERC Ingliston crit, a 3rd place was all I could manage with my tired legs but I hope they have recovered by Sunday when I've got the next round of the British Series down in Cheshire.

Some more photos from the weekend..

Thanks for reading and thanks to the RWC Ahoy team for looking after me all weekend!

Monday, 8 April 2013

City of Perth GP

This weekend was the first round of the British Womens Road Race Series which took place up in Perthshire, so not too far to travel which was nice!
Accomodation and meals for the race were provided at Strathallan School so I headed up there on Friday night. Dinner was served in the large dinning hall and I made sure to eat at much as I could because I knew I had a hard day of racing ahead of me on Saturday. The tour consisted of 3 stages over 2 days. First off on Saturday morning there was a road stage, relatively short at 10 laps of a 6.6km circuit. Then on Saturday evening there was a very short TT around the grounds of the school. The final stage was a crit in the centre of Perth on the Sunday morning.

I had been up to the road race course a few times before the race so knew what to expect, there was a climb, which was steep in parts and then it flattened out a bit before climbing a bit more and then heading downwards on a long, straight descent. I was worried about the hill, before the race I was just hoping to stick in for 5 laps at the most.

We all lined up and there was a short neutralised section before we were set off racing on the descent, I tried to move up but was having a bit of an issue changing gear because my hands were so cold I actually couldn't push the lever properly! I eventually got it to work and managed to move up before the first accent of the hill, I managed to hold my position quite well and as we came over the top I was thinking "1 down 9 to go." and straight away I was focussing on moving up the bunch again on the descent. It was the easiest place to move up so I decided to make a bit more of an effort there rather than the flat bit before the hill which was very open with strong cross winds at points which was making it difficult. I made it up the hill the next few laps but soon the attacks started to come, I managed alright just keeping to my favourite line on the left and climbing as fast as I could which kept me up there. At one point I hit a bit of a bad spot and found myself right at the back of the bunch at the top of the climb, luckily I had started at the front or I would have been out the back. It was quite difficult to make sure I was getting enough water into me as well as trying to go as fast as I could down the descent on my junior gears and move up the bunch, but soon enough we were on the last lap. I was expecting it all to kick off on the last lap up the hill and just be flat out to the finish but in the end 2 girls from the Breast Cancer Care Team attacked and were let away and the bunch didn't respond too much up the hill so I managed to hang in. The finish was down at the bottom of the descent so it was a very, very nervous, fast and scary run down the hill. We hit the flat at about 750m to the line and I couldn't see a way round the wall of riders in front of me, I was worried about being boxed in and knew I had to commit to one side of the bunch and try and find a way out. I went left and managed to get into a gap and then a big space opened up on my left and Hannah Barnes, who was in front of me, went for the sprint through it. I tried to follow her but unfortunately didn't quite have the legs so got on some other wheels and finished 6th in the sprint, so 8th overall as the 2 girls out front had stayed away with Anne Ewing taking the win. I was really happy with this as it was my highest finish in a British Series race ever, but it was straight back to the room for a quick shower and as much recovery as possible before my time trial came round.

The TT course was really narrow, tight and technical and should have suited me perfectly but I didn't get myself round it enough times beforehand and could have gone round the corners faster. The start was straight up into a short but steep hill and I felt I could have got a bit more out there as well so all in all wasn't 100% happy with my ride, but I definitely need to practise my time trials anyway. I was quite worried about seeing the results because I thought I'd lost a lot of time but in the end it wasn't too bad, I was equal 16th on the stage which dropped me to 13th on the general classification.

Going into the crit I was hoping to maybe get into the top 10 but wasn't really sure how it would go. It turned out to be a horrible day, there was actually snow before the start and sleet/ rain throughout the race. It was very cold and this made the already technical course even harder. There were manhole covers and white lines all over the place which were just treacherous if hit. I was again having issues with my gears because my hands were so cold but this time they didn't warm up for the whole race. The total length was 50 minutes plus 5 laps and I can honestly say it was one of the hardest crit I think I've ever done. I literally couldn't relax for a second because I had to think so hard about every corner, about actually being able to change gear and break and get the right line and get on the wheels coming out the corner. It was really mentally tiring as well as being physically really hard and fast too. I kept up the front as much as possible, my legs weren't feeling great and I seemed to forget how to go round corners for the first half of the race but that improved and I was in a good position for the last few laps. I managed to move up a few places coming round the last few corners and couldn't quite come past the girl in front of me going up the finishing straight but finished in 6th place. I was really, really happy with that, again a best at a British Series. But I wasn't sure what it had done to the GC because I had no idea how many people were in the front group or anything. It turns out the race had split up quite a bit and due to this and some crashes (I hope everyone involved in crashes over the weekend is alright) I had moved into the top 10 on GC and actually finished 7th. Super happy with this result and hope I can maintain this kind of level of racing throughout the season!

Don't think this photo quite shows how cold and wet the crit was!

Full results for the weekends racing are here:
Congrats to Anne for a great win!

I'd like to say thanks to everyone in ERC who was out in Mallorca with me a week before the race, I think riding with you guys really made a difference and definitely helped me get the results I got so thanks for an awesome week with a great group of people!

Also to the Tri Centre who for all their help getting my new Scott Foil 15 bike with Bontrager Aura 5 wheels set up in time for the race, it felt amazing so thanks very much to the guys at the shop for sorting it out for me, really appreciate it!

Thanks for reading, next British Series is Cheshire Classic in 3 weeks time and I'm looking forward to seeing how I can get on!