Monday, 10 December 2012

Insanity on a bicycle

Yesterday was the regional cyclocross champs. I removed my light brackets and power meter cables stole some Ksyrium wheels with Dugast tubs from Chris to put on my commute bike and lined up with the best of the region's racers. 30 miutes later and a few laps of "the field of doom" and I was stopped. I barely breathed - how do you cyclo-cross racers do it? Mental.... but awesome!

Next year my mountain biking plans finish earlier I'm gonna get me a proper bike, work on my sprint power and try and be a crosser.

For now I'll have a dabble and take a shower with my helmet and shoes every few weeks.


World Marathon Championships

Prior to leaving England for the World Championships in Ornans France I told various people that I wanted it to rain and for the race to be muddy. My thought process went something like:
- we just did a really muddy ride in Hopton Woods, it was fun and I felt fast,
- if it is a flat out untechnical race I am not going to match up to the Euro speed demons.
Looking out of the window down to the river in Ornans today, 2 days after the race with the river bursting it’s banks I should probably say ‘you’d better be careful what you wish for’. But it turns out my instincts weren’t too far off.
The little town of Ornans is everything you imagine a rural French town to be and our Gite was equally fabulous, very shabby chic. We were staying with Tim Dunford and Ben Thomas (also of the GB team) and my parents who were surprisingly non-plussed at how quickly we turned the pretty tourist accommodation into a workshop and food dispenser.
Thursday before the race:
Chris and I headed up the valley to meet another of my team-mates Catherine Williamson and her husband Rob to recce the last 40km of the course (she had looked at the first 22km the day before and thought this would take us about 3 hours.) It was pretty rainy and after we finally found each other we had already trudged across a few fields, clambered over some electric fences and avoided curious cattle. Another hour of getting blown towards barbed wire fences and trying not to slide off the edge of cliffs and we were definitely wondering what we had let ourselves in for! We made it as far as Cath and Rob’s gite (after 3 hours!) before we called it a day arranging to look at the last section the next day.
I had been reassured by Andy Blair (Aus) that the middle section of the course was ‘technical, committing and in places scary’. By comparison therefore our Friday ride was going to be easy! It certainly wasn’t as bad and Cath, Chris and I traversed the two valleys which completed the ‘course femme’ in a little under 2 hours. We thought we would then ride up into the arena and have a look around. Going up a little road climb I heard a CRUNCH and looked around to see my rear mech, in three pieces in my wheel and my mech hanger bent totally out of shape – uh oh….
I had a mini freak out, but Cath and Chris managed somehow to calm me down and I carried my now un-pushable bike into the arena. No one was able to help me there (Whyte bikes are not very common on the continent) so I started to walk back down the hill to the town bike shop. At that point Tim and Ben turned up and as I explained my predicament Ben told me that his pit crew were coming over from England the next morning and could probably bring me parts from the shop if I wanted. At that moment I could have kissed him!
Rachel Fenton, dressed to impress, and ready to represent Great Britain at the UCI XCM World Championships. 
The day before the race:
My parts were now on the way from England and I decided not to risk riding in the mud again until race day (although my exploded bike made this rather impossible anyway!). We went to sign-on and I suddenly realised I was at the World Championships and I had no idea what I was doing. I joined the queue behind the German Team Manager which transpired to be the shortest queue of 50 riders I have ever seen. Unfortunately I only realised this when he slammed a stack of licences the thickness of two packs of cards down on the desk (lucky Germans)!
The guys from Mountain Trax arrived mid afternoon with a rear mech and hanger taken from one of the shop employees bikes (talk about above and beyond!). Chris set about rebuilding my bike (he is also owed a massive thanks) and we were able to do a short spin on the road to check everything worked – which it did, perfectly. Phew…..
As promised the rain was biblical. I queried my previous desire for a wet race as I looked out into the mist covering the valley, but then distracted myself by putting on my GB kit – a somewhat curious feeling. Chris and I rolled down to the start ready for him to set off just behind the World Championship men and I looked around for Rob who was kindly going to take my bottles and do the mad trek between feed stations (but by bicycle to avoid the queues– sensible man).
I lined up in the back start pen looking down at the number 37 on my board and then those of Gunn Rita Dahle-Flescha and Irena Kalentieva in the 40s thinking ‘what the hell am I doing here?’.We all set off down the fire-road out of town in a big pack. I was somewhere in the middle most of the time but wasn’t particularly comfortable moving forwards in the group as I wanted to do. It was probably a good thing as I heard a bang and spotted Team-mate Cath, Sabine Spitz and others on the floor. I scooted around them and quickly got back onto the pack.
As we hit the first climb we merged with the men who had done another extra loop. At this point everything splintered and riders were sprawled up the hillside. There seemed to be guys and girls all over the trail all fighting for their line. I picked my way through trying to let as many of the male riders through as possible whilst passing the women I needed to. It was super slippy and you had to ride really smoothly.
The first 30km continued like this. There were quite a few people around a few girls and I would pass each other at various points depending upon on strengths – mine seemingly descending down insane muddy chutes and I was thankful that I could only remember one or two dry races from this season! It was still raining and the higher up you were the more fog you were riding in. I abandoned my glasses to the back of my head early on as they were more of a hindrance than a help (surprising given they are prescription!).
After about 30km it got a lot more lonely, and less rainy. You would think this was a good thing, but instead of nice slippy, slidey mud the trails suddenly became covered in sticky, claggy mud. Numerous times I had to stop and clear out my frame and forks, totally paranoid after breaking my mech previously. You looked forward to the spray of lumps of mud from your wheels whilst descending on fire-roads. It was somewhere in this middle section I came across Chris who was working his way through the men’s world champs field we rode together for a few minutes before we hit another climb and he moved off into the distance. Still feeling good and enjoying myself in the ridiculous mud I carried on, pushing hard on the pedals where the trails would allow.
Slip, slide and sometimes ride - the Ornans mudfest.
Slip, slide and sometimes ride – the Ornans mudfest.
By the last 20km I was in my element (apart from the bit across a field made of clay where I momentarily lost it due to not even being able to push my bike). Stomping up the hills and careering down them I have never felt so good. I think I overtook 3 girls, maybe 4 on this section and clearly my tactic of shovelling High 5 gels down my neck every half hour was paying off as they seemed to be fading in comparison and then I hit the last descent. I had been looking forward to this rock strewn gully descent for most of the race. It was something like Cavedale in the peak distract combined with Worry Gill at Dalby and as long as you were able to let go of the brakes and pick your way down it was brilliant fun. At the bottom you simply turned right and you were home back in the arena.
I crossed the line and looked for my folks and my shower bag, no sign. After a half hour wait they turned up apologetic that they had missed me but apparently I had been too fast over the last bit of course that they mistimed it! I heard placing 35 announced as she crossed the line and realised I beat my start number – pretty unexpected! I eventually discovered I was 33rd which given that I was simply hoping not to be last I am pretty pleased with.
I still can’t believe I got to wear GB kit. It was always that thing I said I’d like to do but never believed it would happen! I cannot thank everyone who has supported me this year enough. – AW Cycles, Whyte bikes, High 5, Fizik, Mount Zoom and of course Chris Pedder for fixing my bike and always being awesome and Rob Williamson for handing out bottles to me during the race at the Worlds. Hope to be there again next year!

This article can also be found here:
and here:

Kielder 50

Friday, 24 August 2012

Sports in school - a personal perspective

I hated sport at school. I can't really run, or catch a ball and I'm quite bookish so I wasn't cool enough to be picked for teams anyway. My reports always read:
Effort - excellent
Achievement - average.

I enjoyed swimming but I think we only did that in year 7- once,  and I did a paper round for years and years on my trusty Dawes racing bike (sadly stolen in Cambridge but that's another story). I just was never any good at the stuff you were meant to be good at.

Despite all of that in 6 weeks time I will be representing my country at the World Marathon Mountain Bike Championships. My school PE teachers would be astounded.

How did this happen? 

Firstly a few people inspired me to try cycling at university, some more to try mountain biking. I was rubbish, but it was sociable and we were all rubbish apart from a few. I realised I liked being out in the countryside on my bicycle, I explored and took my bike on holiday with me. I tried racing, I was still pretty rubbish but the atmosphere was nice at the events so I wanted to get better. I gradually improved, I took it more seriously and here we are 5 years later and by a quirk of the UCI qualification rules I am going to the World Championships, with GB kit in my wardrobe.

How I think sport in school should develop

I often wonder what would have happened if when I was at school some people had come in and allowed us to try cycling as a sport. Or if I had become aware that cycling clubs existed. I certainly always loved to ride my bike. Whatever would have happened to me, the concept of school children being exposed to lots of different sports is a brilliant one. Sports clubs being encouraged form links with schools so that if a child wants to continue outside school they have an idea how to is also a really key development. Unfortunately the School Sports Partnerships that facilitated these links have been closed down by the present government but I hope that sports clubs and national governing bodies for sport will continue to develop these links.

Lizzie Armitstead is someone who benefited from  the fledgling school cycling programme now known as Go-Ride. Through exposure to the GB coaches she has excelled in a sport that she might never have come across otherwise.

Sport can change lives, but not every sport inspires every child. The more different sports a child can try the better in my opinion.

Monday, 6 August 2012

A brief history of GBR19811114

On a baking hot July day in 2008 I raced my first National XC Championships at Crow Hill in the New Forest. It was hot, very hot and to me, at the time based in Cambridge, very hilly. I remember the start being insanely fast and feeling completely like a fish out of water but the atmosphere was really buzzing more like a festival than a bike race. I had no expectations about my result. My coach at the time Jenny Copnall became National Champion for the 5th time. I managed to get one Elite scalp and was the top Expert finisher. Chris had a great Sport race and was 3rd, becoming completely starstuck when he got his trophy from XC legend Barry Clarke.

I finished in 10th place.


In 2009 it could not have been more different. We were in Innerleithen Scotland, there was mud, lots of mud and some proper hills! I hitched a lift up with the AW Cycles team from Reading - making what would have been a lonely and long drive much more bearable. The only worry I had was when Simon Ernest got a bit crazy behind the wheel on the winding Scottish roads. The course was hard, up a big climb and then down the otherside, and the start/finish field for the XC (the DH was held at the same venue) was nasty and lumpy. The atmosphere could not have been more different from 2008 and us XC racers felt like we were insignificant compared to the DHers in the next field. I didn't even make it around the first lap as a pucture at the top of the descent made me realise I needed to practice using a CO2 canister.



This National Championships is not one that sticks in my memory. I was having a bad year - working for British Cycling and racing just didn't work for me. The race was at Pippingford SE of London and was another hot one. For the second year I punctured - only this time I was able to fix it and get back on the bike. I was never really in the race, but the course was such great fun that I kept riding round and chucking myself down the fun descents.

I finished in 9th place.


Another year another National Championships this time in Richmond, Yorkshire. 2011 was the year I remembered why I race bikes after a bit of time in the wilderness. Racing for AW Cycles it was great to be part of a successful and friendly team. The course in Richmond was very varied and really challenging. One steep ferny descent which I slid down on my bum a number of times really sticks in my mind. The conditions were changing all the time and an ever present layer of mud kept things slippy. Having been living up in Scotland though I was more prepared for muddy conditions than I would have been for dry. I felt really strong and had a good battle with a number of riders. When the heavens opened on my final lap and the course became a river I think I enjoyed it even more!

I finished in 10th place.


And so we get to this year. In the tradition of alternating conditions it was baking (particularly unusual for this year) and I was very worried about dehydrating. The race was down in the South again at the Wasing Estate near Reading. The course was pretty much flat with only a few short, sprint hills. This year I felt more competitive than I ever have and my race was a great battle with a couple of girls that I have been racing for years. I don't think it is my result of the year but as ever the AW Cycles team spirit was bubbling over. We all had good rides, notably Simon Ernest who won the gold in the Masters 35-39 age category.

I finished in 10th place!

So... 5 years, 5 races, 3 x 10th places, one 9th place (which was actually my worst result) and a DNF. The National Championships is, for most people, the event of the year. Every year I have competed there have been more racers and more competitive fields. My continual 10th placing despite improvements in my abilities just shows how strong women's XC racing is becoming in the UK. Long may it continue....

Monday, 2 July 2012

Southern XC Frith Hill

Well doesn't time fly? It seems like only yesterday that I was going to the first Southern XC race of the year and I've just got back from the last. It has been a somewhat compressed regional XC racing season but its been awesome and leaves me nice and free to fit in all the other adventures I have left for this year.

This week we were at Frith Hill - again a return to a venue from the early days of my racing career. I definitely spectated here before I raced. The course basically consisted of lots of bits of very tight and twisty single track with some short, sharp (and oxygen dept enducing) climbs. It would be easy to get wrapped around a tree and equally easy to end up off track having missed a tight corner.

There were four elites for this round, myself, Jo Munden (Peal Heaven), Natasha Barry (WXC World Racing) and Ruby Miller (Torq Performance). I knew I had a chance of doing well in the race but there was also the series at stake in this, the final round. I was in the hunt for the series win - if Jo won, I had to come no lower than 3rd. I went off hard up the first bank, I wanted to be first into the singletrack so I could set my own pace through the trees. Managing this, I looked back to see I had a little gap ahead of Natasha and Jo.

Start-line chit chat

About a third of the way through lap 1, still with a little gap, I felt something hitting my leg - my tyre was spraying me with sealant. I slowed down for a few seconds in the hope it would seal. This appeared to work (much to my relief - I don't much like dealing with punctures) and I now had added incentive to increase the gap between me and Jo who I could see just behind. I now needed enough time to fix a puncture if required.  Chris now tells me I have twice the recommended amount of Stans in my tyres as I am "utterly useless at dealing with these things".

Thankfully it was not required and although I could see Jo for most of the race, with the gap changing size depending on where we were on the course and our relative strengths, by lap 3 I managed to get her out of sight. I wasn't content with this though and when told I had a minute's gap by Chris I replied "it's not enough" knowing how strong Jo can be at the end of a race. When I did eventually cross the line after an hour and a half I was incredibly pleased and even managed my first (very small and tentative) two armed salute (although no one has this recorded on camera). And so it was, 10 months after my first SXC series win North of the Border I managed a second, 500 miles further south.
And I'm done!

Jo Munden came in behind me, followed by Ruby Miller who apparently got her head around the trees by the 3rd lap (great to see her back racing again after a few years off the main scene). We just had a slight shuffle for the series podium, swapping Ruby for Natasha on the bottom step. It's been a good battle between myself, Jo and her throughout the series!
 Caption competition time!
As usual I then settled in for the rest of the day spectating for the rest of the races, handing out a few bottles and catching up with old friends and new. My day was firmly rounded off in style by Chris who had an absolute smasher of a ride to get his best ever expert result - 5th. It was great fun watching the guys get rained on (apparently in rained during our race too - I didn't notice!).

Many thanks to the guys at Southern XC - a great series. Next year will come round before we know it!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Champs fortnight

Alongside a report deadline at work I have also been getting used to racing on my new (although not so new now) Whyte bike. First up was the Southern Champs at Wasing where I lined up agaist Sally Bigham (Topeak Ergon) and many of the usual racers. I managed to get off the startline fastest but was soon overtaken as we headed up the fireroad climb at the start of the lap. The course was quite varied including a steep, sandy chute and the usual woody singletrack. My legs were not at their best however and my seatpost slipped part way through and I had no way of putting it up I eventually finished after a quick 1 hour 30 minute race in 3rd position behind Sally in first place and Jo Munden () in second both clearly stronger than me on the day.

The racing was really secondary to the socialising however and it was lovely to catch up with all our friends and hang out in the feed zone creche. Chris had a storming ride to finish 8th in the Expert men and Simon Ernest finished 3rd in the Master Men.

Second up was the rather longer National Marathon Championship race in Selkirk in the Scottish Borders. Doing a few more marathon races this year I was keen to try and get a good result here. Particularly since this was to be the first single loop marathon championship in Britain - EVER! I had planned my nutrition carefully and made sure the bike was set-up correctly (thanks to Andew Cockburn and Chris) especially after the seat-post issue of the preceding week. We travelled up the day before and stayed in an apartment in Innerleithen so we were able to do a quick loop on the Innterleithen 7 Stanes trails as a shake down ride - what a shake down ride!

Race morning arrived sunny but chilly. After a bit of a warm up and a chat with Scottish friends we hadn't seen since 2011 we lined up ready for the rider briefing. We were rather randomly girdded - possibly on whether the organisers had heard of us at all since Jane Nuessli, the no 1 ranked marathon racer in the world, and Tim Dunford also with World Marathon ranking points were not gridded! I was on the third row - but since the start was to be neutral for several miles it was not really going to be an issue.

As the whistle blew everyone jossled for position and we charged up the road. I was quiet comfortable in the bunch but some people wanted to be right up the front and charged past on the other side of the road. As we hit the first fire-road climb my HR was already pretty high so I decided to settle in and ride at my sustainable race pace. All was going well until unfortunately my sadlebag undid itself on the first long bumpy descent scattering my tube, multi-tool and tyre levers on the trail. I had no idea this had happened but one of the other girls around me let me know my car key (attached to the bag) was hanging out and I ought to sort it out. I stopped quickly did up the saddle bag again and carried on knowing I could not afford to puncture now!

A couple of girls had passed me whilst I sorted this out and entering the first bit of singletrack it was clear to me I was able to ride it faster than them. I politely asked itf I could pass as I usually do but I was given no room. I understand this and never expect anyone to let me pass, just request space where possible. Clearly one of the girls took offense at this however and was rather rude to me on the next climb. In race mode I saw red and answered back angry that I was being accused of being aggressive when I was simply doing what is normal practice in XC races - in hindsight it wasn't worth it and I apologise to everyone who had to listen!

The next section was a rather boggy mess which we had to run through and then a nasty climb up to the first of a number of trig points. I was still feeling pretty good, eating every 30 minutes and drinking when I remembered. The next couple of hours is rather a blur but I remember the descents were all really good fun, especially those which were muddy and required 'letting the bike go where it wanted'. I started to cramp after about 3 and half hours which given how much I had eaten and drink I was rather disapointed I still had the issue. For some reason I decided that to get rid of it I should eat a High % zero tablet raw (anyone tempted by this - its not recommended). This sort of worked but it was better when I put some in my water at the next feed!

The climb up to the top of Minch Moor (sp?) was really good - switch backed all the way. I was struggling a bit by this point and still getting cramp butI knew it was basically the last climb (thanks to the man that told me this). This was followed by a great bermed descent where I really noticed the maneuverability of my Whyte 20C. Clearly tired by now I managed to flip myself over the bars into a big muddy puddle towards the bottom of the descent just before feed zone 4. I was absolutely soaked. No problems with the bike however so on I went. A bit further on I saw the distinctive green Assos kit of Verity Appleyard behind me - no time to relax then. I went absolutely as hard as I could for the remaining 45 minutes of riding.

 Informed on crossing the line that I had finished second I was very pleased - although you wouldn't have known it at the time since in my delerium all I could talk about was my lost bike computer which had fallen off on the last descent (thank you to Steve Penny who returned it to me the following week). I also realised later when I went to wash my face that I had gel and mud everywhere - it was not a good look. A few minutes to compose myself again and have a wash down and we stepped onto the podium. This was the first time for me on an elite national championship podium and an amazing feeling after nearly 5 hours of racing.

Congratulations to Jane Nuessli (BMC- Fisher) was the deserved winner of the stripey jersey for 2012 and Verity Appleyard ( who took bronze. Thanks to everyone who has supported me especially Whyte for the awesome bike!

Do unto others...

I try to be mindful of fellow travellers. Cyclists when I am in the car and pedestrians and other cyclists when I am on the bike. It seems to me that most other people move around the world in a completely selfish bubble.

Yesterday I spoke to the mother who walks through the Greenwich foot tunnel every morning to take her child to school. In the lift she thanked people who walked their bike through the tunnel. Why did she feel the need to do this? Because on previous occasions she has had to shelter against the wall of the tunnel whilst cyclists zip past at speeds of around 25 miles an hour. Think how terrifying this must be?! The vision of a mother sheltering her small baby's head made me think again and I now walk rather than cycling slowly, even though in my cyclng shoes I do sometimes slip on the wet floor. Other people just don't seem to notice this. In theory cycling is not allowed in the foot tunnel and in my opinion it shouldn't need to be banned. I can however see, given the complete unawareness of most cyclists, barriers/tight chicanes being erected to make them get off their bikes and walk simply to protect the pedestrians.

In the same way I have had numerous brushes with cars where drivers seem to think it is ok to zip past me at speed with very little space between us. Do they not understand I cannot always go in a straight line, or that their presence itself causes my bike to change direction? The interaction between cyclists and car drivers is well documented and a topic of much current discussion. But the question remains, how can we make drivers aware of how their behaviour effects our cycling? If cyclists are not even aware of their effect on pedestrians what hope do we have of changing the behaviour of car drivers?

Please be careful out there however you travel and think about those more vulnerable people around you. If cyclists gave way for pedestrians; motor cyclists for cyclists and pedestrians; and cars for motor bikes, cycles and pedestrians then surely we would all be much better off?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Last Sunday I did the thing you're not supposed to do - ride a new bike for the first time in a race. I had no issues at all - here's how I did it....

a) You will need - allen keys, tape measure and plumb-bob (or computer mouse as alternative).

b) Measure on old bike which has comfortable set-up:
1- Saddle to middle of BB.
2 - Distance between vertical drop from nose of saddle to centre of BB.
3 -  Nose of saddle to middle of bars. Done by letting string of plumb-bob hang under weight vertically down (as shown in second picture) and measuring horizontal distance between string and centre of BB.
4 - Top of stem to middle of front wheel.

 c) Replicate these measurements as closely as possible on the new bike by changing the seatpost height, saddle fore and aft position and stem position/length. (In my experience the saddle position relative to the bottom bracket is more important than you would think. I've felt like I'm pedalling a recumbant before when I've been sitting too far back.)

d) Change angle/position of controls to suit your hand size and preferences.

Now for the finishing touches:

Can't ride without a bottle cage - thanks Mt Zoom for this lovely Ti number

Kit for frame protection includes bar tape to wrap chain stays, IPA to wipe the frame clean before sticking biketape in vulnerable places.

Vulnerable places include cranks, bottom of frame, and areas where cables rest on the frame.

 Ready to go race.....

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Return to Pippingford - Southern XC Round 2

The last 2 races I did at Pippingford did not really show me at my best! They coincided with my discovery that working in your hobby seriously detracts from that hobby and the Pippingford hills are pretty unforgiving if you are not on top form. Last weekend we returned to the scene of some of my slowest races ever for round 3 of Rachel vs Pippingford and I had a new bike to play with too.

The weather had been pretty damp for the few days prior to the race so we knew it was going to be a bit muddy but when we pre-rode in the morning it was way more slippy than I was expecting. Now I do like sliding around on muddy courses but quite a few sections of this course were unrideable entirely. Time to get the running legs/sliding ass ready.

On the (very loud) gun I missed my pedal and was a bit slow getting going. I had to move up and past Emma Bradley (Cotic/AQR Holidays) and then up to Natasha Barry's (WXC World Racing) wheel. Through the first section of slippy single track we moved pretty tentatively and then Natasha slid out on the roots around the base of a tree and I was able to pass. I shouted out to see if she was ok. Hearing she was I pushed on.

Ready to race!

For the rest of the race I simply tried to stay on my bike. This was not actually that easy since most of the course was clay based and very slippy. There were two sections where it was simply quicker and easier to run and another grassy bit which became increasingly hard work as people went wider and wider to try and get a dry line. Chris told me I had a good gap as I went through onto my third lap so I just kept plugging away as best I could.

I eventually crossed the line in 2 hours and 18 minutes - the whole thing was rather reminiscent of some of the Scottish races I did last year both in conditions and in length.

Work on the victory salute required!

After a bit of food from the very tasty concession I then had the pleasure of watching Tim Dunford (Cannondale) and Chris ride to storming results in the Elite (2nd place for Tim) and Expert (10th for Chris respectively). Clearly multiple 6 hour rides in France last week was good for both of them. It was also lovely to catch up with Eric Lejeune an ex colleague from my days at BC and have a good old gossip.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

A race of two halves - Roc Laissagais UCI World Series Marathon

As the dust settles on my suitcase and we eagerly hunt the internet for photos I thought it a good idea to pen a few thoughts on my first ‘proper’ European Marathon MTB racing experience. I put the word proper in inverted commas because I have done a marathon abroad before, once, in Gran Canaria and sprained my ankle in the process. I finished but it wasn’t so much a race as a battle for survival. I have also ridden one of the now named CRC Marathon Series events in the UK, however these are not races and won’t ever be until the law is changed in the UK to allow mountain bikes the same access to bridleways for racing as horses!
Going into the Roc Laissagais in the Aveyron region of France, one of the UCI Marathon Series events in 2012, I was therefore feeling quite apprehensive. We decided to make a week’s holiday of it along with Tim Dunford of the Cannondale team so we drove down on Wednesday before the Sunday race. We spent a happy few days pottering about on bicycles and in my case trying not to overdo it whilst riding with the boys in the days before the race. The weather was variable, cold but dry, until Saturday when the heavens opened and I hid indoors apart from a brief hour on the trails. The rest of the time I spent worrying about what I was going to wear for a wet, cold race from the rather poor selection of kit I had packed! By Sunday (thankfully) the rain had passed over and we awoke to an overcast but cold morning. Rethinking my attire again we headed over to the cattle market in the town of Laissagais to get ready to race. [As an aside apparently the weekly cattle market here is the biggest in France - according to the owner of the Gite we stayed in. I’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions on whether this differs significantly from hundreds of mountain bikers!]
I was slightly disappointed with the number of women lining up given the status of the event – 19 seemed not to justify the effort the organisers and the UCI had made to get this event and the World Marathon Series off the ground. That said the field looked very strong and there were a number of national champions and obviously well experienced marathon racers in the line-up. So, this small but perfectly formed bunch was arranged by the commissaries and, at 9am, with the cloud still hanging ominously overhead, we set off up the trail.
 I had a good start and was in the pack. This is rather a new experience for me given the lack of close pack racing in my background and I found it amazing how little effort you had to put in to stay there. We then began to climb and on a corner I made my first mistake. Thinking everyone was missing a trick by taking a wide line on the corner I went up the inside, only to end up in a big rut which brought me to a complete standstill. I took rather too long by my liking to get going again and was now hanging off the back of the pack.
We then went into the most horrendous part of the course. It would probably have been unridable in its sandy, rutty nastiness, without the rain of the previous day, but was definitely not rideable now. I found myself struggling to walk up the hill as fast as the girls around me and was frustrated at losing more ground. Coming down the next descent, probably still a bit annoyed at myself I somehow came off my bike and had now lost sight of the girls I was chasing! My wheel had been knocked out of position by the impact and now wouldn’t straighten – double argh. A big wrench on the bars got it close to straight and I got going again.
At this point I gave myself a stern talking to, and hit the next climb. The first 25km seemed to last forever. I had a real low just before the women turned off at this point and was crawling up the hills at a snail’s pace. All the boys who were staying in our Gite passed me at or around this point and were very encouraging – thanks to all of them for that especially Chris who attempted to give me a tow. After he passed I had another internal talking to,  a top-up of water in my remaining bottle (my second must have come off in the crash earlier) and a gel at which point everything seemed to get much better.
I ended up riding with a couple of girls, each of us taking turns on the front. I have never worked with someone in a race before, since women’s racing tends to be a lonely, time-trial-like affair most of the time and it was a real pleasure to have company, even with a language barrier. Before long a polish girl and I had pulled away from the third girl on a rocky climb and as we continued up she also moved away from me. But then we started to go down. This was such fun descent, twisting and turning between trees, there were some little jumps and some bermed corners; almost instantly I was back on her wheel. Ok, I said, now I remember what this feels like. We hit a muddy climb and both jumped off but I realised I could ride it. On my bike again I started to get a gap, a bit excited I carried on. On the next descent I decided I needed to maximise my advantage and went hell for leather. Now I really was having fun....
I hit a fireroad and went right, it seemed to make sense, but there was no course marking. Turning around I saw the Polish girl had done the same. As we went back around the corner we saw where we should have gone. Rather annoyingly the girl who had been behind us saw our mistake and managed to go the correct way. The missed trail was another great muddy descent though followed by a ‘Paris-Roubaix’ style set of cobbles. My confidence had fully returned and I took back both places and hit the next climb.
For the rest of the race I felt really good. My legs felt strong, despite a bit of cramp, and I was riding well. I crossed the finish line in 4 hours 33 minutes and in 11th place.
I am very pleased. It is an OK result, but more than that I know I can do better and I can overcome feeling really horrid in the middle of the race. I know what to do differently - eat more and earlier; make sure I have two bottles firmly fixed to my bike even after crashes; carry some electrolyte tabs in the back pocket for emergency cramp prevention (the feed zones only had water which is was ok for most of the rest of the field who had support crews out on the course handing up bottles and food to them). Most importantly though I am confident I can do this kind of event now, rather than just thinking I could and even better I can be strong in the latter parts of the race. Going forwards I just need to make sure I give myself the best chance in the first half of the event.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Southern XC round 1

Now the XC season has begun in earnest. Last weekend was the first of the regional series races which for me this year are the southerns.
Still on the old faithful whitey (my tired but comfortable kinesis) my first spin around the course was cold and misty - not what I had anticipated from reading the weather forecast. The course was, on first impressions, very boring. 'What is all this going up and down fields?' I said to myself as I suddenly plummeted down a steep descent, skidded my back wheel around a loose corner and then struggled up a slippy, flinty climb (see team-mate Simon's blog on to see how I described it to him after the finish). By the end of the lap I was grinning like an idiot.

I had no idea how the race would go. I was quite tired being in the middle of a big training block and had compounded the matter by being doored by a taxi whilst cycling hard to try and not miss my train for Henley (I missed it but thats another drama). So as we went off into the first section of singletrack I was simply pleased to be in the front group.

I passed Jo Munden (Pedal Heaven) when her bike (and the mud) disagreed with her on where they should go and clung to the back wheels of Mel Alexander (Cardif Jif) and Alice Barnes (Twenty3C-Orbea). I couldn't hang on up the steep climbs so had to let them go, but towards the end of lap1 passed Mel who had punctured. Chasing a single rider who I could see in the distance I made the most of my familiarity of with mud (thanks Scottish XC) and closed the gap a bit but then began to feel my legs fading. As I was tiring the mud was getting more sticky and draggy (see Steve James' blog for a good description) and the combination was lethal! By lap 4 - BOOM that was me in survival mode.

Mel had passed me back by this point - an impressive show of strength especially given she then had chain issues and had to pass again to take the win. Alice had broken her chain but still took the Junior win. So I crossed the line in 2nd place, very happy and with nothing left in the legs.

Its nice to be able to feel competitive. After a few years in the wilderness it feels even better. What pushes you forward as a rider varies so much from person to person. But for me it has been about learning to love riding my bike again after working in the industry left me disillusioned, about hard work, a happy headspace and the people who support me (thanks Chris and coach Simon).

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Start as you mean to go on....

Sunday 26th February was my first race of the MTB season - the Gorrick Spring Series 2nd round. The new bikes have not yet arrived so was on my old faithful Kinesis newly refurbished with a little help from SIP events and Chris. Still being car-free (fingers crossed for a few more weeks only) I had to get the train out to the venue. This was surprisingly easy - cycle to Waterloo, get on train, travel for an hour, get off train, cycle 3.5 miles. I only came unstuck when on the side of a fast dual carriageway I was unable to find the venue. This is annoying in a car, and more annoying on a bike (and time consuming). In the end I went for the get into the woods and head in the general direction of the event and ask people tactic. This worked! Eventually!

Signing on I didn't recognise many of the names on the list but having been north of the border for a a season this was hardly surprising. I did however see Jo Munden riding around and knew it was going to be a tough one as she is a very strong rider.

A blow of the whistle and we were off... very slowly.... all of us had fallen foul of the downhill to the start and were in too big a gear. But the start was also downhill so after a pedal turn or two we were up to speed and hurtling towards the first loose corner. Gingerly making my way around and sprinting out I glanced back to see I had a good few metres already. Blimey! Head down and go time then.

Head down and go!

The course was really good, lots of short sharp climbs, loose descents, one unbelieveable bugger of a hill that I even saw top men walking up and an absolutely smashing bermed descent down the other side. It was a good thing, I realised on my last lap, that I was always behind someone going slightly slower than I would have on that descent and not able to pass because I might have done myself some damage it was so much fun! Most of the race I was riding with the middle of the sport male pack until Jo Munden managed to catch me on the 3rd lap. She made a really good pass so I just sat on her wheel and had a bit of a breather whilst working out when I could attack again. She then told me she was racing sport due to a recent injury. So we had a nice chat and rode through to her finish and for me to head out for the last time. Grabbing my final bottle from Simon (Ernest who had been kind enough to come and help me out with baby in tow) I was feeling rather good again and having had one person catch me wasn't keen for another to do the same. Head back down again then.
Thanks to the pit crew

It was not a worry in the end however and when I crossed the line I had a good gap over second and third. To say I was chuffed is an understatement. This was my first MTB win since I promoted myself to elite and although only early season and a local race it is confidence inspiring to get a win under your belt.

Thanks to Simon, Mel and baby D for the support, Joolze Dymond for cheering like a mad thing and all the guys for chatting to me and making it a sociable race! Until the next one...

Thursday, 16 February 2012

From A to B

Moving from Fife to London and going from unemployed to employed I expected to ride my bike a lot less. As it turns out the complete opposite is true.

I had already started a much more time efficient but intensive training regime in 2011 which although involving a significant amount of time on the turbo had resulted in a big improvement to my fitness. This has continued in 2012 and so my training time, apart from the odd weekend ride being slightly shorter, is about the same.

The major difference is commuting. I now commute to work by bicycle around 3 times a week. Currently this takes me around 30 minutes each way. Changing office next week this will increase to around 45 minutes but I imagine I will be no less inclined to get on the bike. I have come to love cycle commuting. My other options are the bus (taking over an hour) or the train and tube (taking around 45 minutes). Neither of these is very pleasant - lots of people, travel sickness (my new nemesis) and the only reason I bother at all is because I cannot cycle every day and not overtrain. If I wasn't a racer I probably would commute every day by bike.

I could now bore you stupid with the vexations of buses, taxis and cars, lack of showers and bike parking at the office (thankfully it is much better at the new one) and cycle commuting doesn't really save time, because you have to change and shower etc. on top of the riding time. But that bit of time at the beginning and end of the day where it is just me, the bike and my thoughts along with awe inspiring views down the River Thames is really rather life affirming.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012


Probably bad form to do a cyclo-cross season round up without havin written about a single race, but I think I've got some pretty good excuses. Moved house in October and started a new job which involves exams (at this point in time I have done 5 out of 16) so it's been busy! Fully settled into our small but perfectly formed flat, with nothing to do at work at the moment I have now run out excuses not to get up-to-date on the race blog front (plus I have discovered a way around the internet blog restrictions whilst at work!).

My first cyclo-cross race of the 2011-12 season was the 3 peaks race in Yorkshire. I previously wrote about our training for this and probably how on my last attempt I took 6 hours and vowed never to do it again. Given the terrain where we were living in Scotland I felt I had a much better chance at being able to survive this year and put some effort into getting used to carrying the cross bike on my shoulder up steep climbs. This did help me a lot, there was nothing in the event in 2011 that I found horrendous, but it turns out I am still just too slow at walking/running to have any chance at being in the top women's group. Add to this a face plant onto a rock slab on the descent of Whernside, and a slipped gear cable (which I should have stopped to fix in hindsight) and you end up with a disappointing race time and position. This is officially not an event for the girl who hated sport at school because all sport involved running!!

Rather bad self portrait!
Not long after this I moved myself down to London to start my new job and try to find a flat for Chris and I to live in. Fortunately my facial bruising cleared just before I arrived at work and they as yet have no idea how nutty I am! My next cyclo-cross race was the Knog Muddy Hell event organised by Rollapaluza at Herne Hill. Despite the fact that I was sleeping on people's sofas and only riding my bike to and from college across central London I just had to give this one a try. It has become and iconic event combining night-time racing and fancy dress. I cobbled together a Where's Wally outfit from Save the Children in Greenwich, dug out my slightly rubbish commuting lights and lined up to race. It was great fun (although I am still convinced the up ramp of the bridge that was installed should have been less steep) and it turns out Where's Wally is a good fancy dress! I think my hectic life caught up with me however and I decided to stop racing with a bit of asthma niggle.

Herne Hill turns out to have been my race venue of choice however (it helps that we now live a short cycle ride away). Since the end of October I have raced there twice more once for a London League race and once for the New Year's Day Madison in a team with Chris. The league race was muddy fun and was enhanced by my winning the women's event. Chris and I dragged Paul Davis of SIP Events fame along as well which always leads to lots of giggling. Again there was a great atmosphere and the organisers - ViCious Velo gave everyone wrapped Christmas presents as prizes. Great prizes at that. I now wear my warm cycling cap all the time.

The New Year's Day Madison has to be the best event yet. It was a bit of a last minute decision to race and Chris and I decided to go out and do a couple of hours on the road beforehand - just to warm up. We freewheeled down the hill to the velodrome again and tried to work out how exactly this madison thing was going to work. It sounded complicated but John M manages to make everyone act sensibly so there were really no issues. I somehow slashed my leg on a bramble riding around the course so the photos make me look like a right chopper with blood streaming down my leg! We had a few hilarious change overs one of which is captured on video.
So thats my cross season, over for another year. Next season I am going to do the whole series (I say this every year!).
Some dodgy madison skills on display

As usual - 'race face'