If 2015 was my first year of being a road cyclist, 2016 has been the year of trying something new. There’s been a whole lot of change in my life; three houses, changing work roles and challenges and relocation back to the South West to the magnificent city of Bristol. Through it all, cycling has been my constant, although it has now come in many different forms.
My year started with a spontaneous purchase in The Gorilla Firm on December 13th 2015. Confident that I was nothing less than besotted with the sport, I wanted to upgrade for the next summer. Going to ask about potential options for the next year with Linds and Justine one wintery afternoon, I had no idea that I’d have the bike of my dreams built up and ready to go less than a week later.
I didn’t really know how good I had it, either. Saving avidly since I was about seventeen for a house deposit, I now had a stash in the bank with no intention to buy in the East Midlands, and having been through a pretty rough patch I justified spending the money on something that made me truly happy. The C60 was conceived; far, far more impressive than my cycling skill could warrant, but something to grow into and certainly built to last.
The difference was remarkable. From my steady entry-level Cannondale Synapse this was a totally different beast, and Enzo the Colnago and I became inseparable. We got to know each other riding the Festive500 on dry roads in Devon, a challenge to ride 500km between Christmas and New Year. Our first trip was a weekend in Barcelona, possibly my favourite city, discovering mountains and beaches with my good friend Rob. Suddenly with Enzo my club riding with the Gorillas improved, not only from riding such a superior steed, but also because the motivation to ride was so much greater. Every weekend we travelled to conquer somewhere new – the Yorkshire Moors, the Lake District, Dartmoor and the Brecon Beacons. Nowhere was beyond reach now.
A week in Spain with twenty or so Gorillas indicated the start of the spring. What happened in the Sierra Nevada was truly transformational. That Vitamin S powered my legs from all the sunshine and somehow I was not only keeping up with the Gorillas but also riding up front with some of the best. I was giving my all and getting so much euphoria in return, confidence boosting, endorphin fuelled euphoria.
It was a time of change in circumstances too. Following a change in role at work I was working more on home territory in the South West. Feeling fit from the training holiday, I nervously entered my first crit race, a women’s E1234 at Westpoint in Exeter. The aim was simply to finish the race, and that I did. The adrenaline at the start line combined with my nerves left me unable to clip in for the first 100 metres or so, and I looked down to see my heart rate at 102% of max! I was incredibly cautious coming into the corners of the square course, braking heavily as the cornering made me anxious. Worried about getting in the way or holding up riders behind me, I moved to the back and after two or three laps was lost well off the back. But I persisted, riding my own race, pushing hard like a TT, gaining a little confidence with each lap and ignoring what I thought the spectators may be thinking. A few of us had fallen off the bunch but were too spread out to help each other, so I crossed the line in the end on my own, chuffed that I had had the courage to give it a go and happy that I hadn’t given up.
After a few awesome days riding at the Forest of Dean, the collection grew with the addition of the Cube Attention hardtail. Mountain biking seemed to be a completely different discipline to road riding but felt so badass! I rapidly improved, tackling the berms and drops on the blue runs at FOD, Haldon and wherever I could find a trail on my travels. It felt good to mix it up a bit.
Moving to Bristol was the single biggest decision I’ve made lately and a pretty big risk. Apart from University which didn’t really count, I hadn’t lived in a city before and didn’t really know if I’d like it at all. But I was glad to be back in the South West, with more hills to go at and more cyclists to meet.
I started ‘club shopping’, trying out North Bristol CC, Bristol Road Club, Bristol South CC, and joining Das Rad Klub for rides. They were all so different, and people from each soon took me under their wings and helped me to get to know the city. I really made an entrance with DRK, turning up to their monthly Full Moon Ride on a Sunday evening after a hilly, wet 80 miler in Wales on Enzo in full Castelli. I was greeted by a group of hipsters on fixies with ripped jeans and backpacks, and I skidded and flew across Millennium Square in the opposite direction to my bike when I saw them, turning too sharply on the slick wet tiles. Nevertheless, they helped me along, chatting all the way in the torrential rain to the pub, and have become some of my best friends in Bristol since.
The city has opened my eyes to so much that I never knew existed in the cycling world. The biggest difference was meeting people of my own age, especially cyclists, having ridden mainly with people twice my age until now. I had an insight into the trendy world of fixed gear and learnt about cyclocross and road races.
I’ve been so incredibly lucky to explore some amazing places this summer. It started with the Peaks Sportive, taking a place last minute from my good cycling friend Craig who had to go into hospital. Never wanting to pass up an opportunity, I drove up after moving out of Stamford and stayed overnight wildcamping in the Peak District the night before, alone in the coldest pop-up tent imaginable and cooking my morning oats before the sportive on my little stove with an incredible sunrise. It was a phenomenal day, starting off riding with the rugby legend Martin Johnson who I ‘chicked’ on the first climb and then sailed into the distance as we reached a flat and he put the power down. I met so many incredible people that day and impressed myself with my riding across the tough 70 miles of climbs. After a horrible experience getting up Winnat’s Pass the year before, I had vowed to never ride it again, but with stronger legs, a better bike and closed roads, I sailed up in comparison.
The PROPS Sportive was the next event soon after moving to Bristol, a fantastic opportunity to get to know some of the best Welsh roads within cycling distance of home in the Wye Valley and Brecon Beacons including the spectacular Gospel Pass, and I clocked up my longest ride yet at 122 miles, frustratingly close to a 200km randonée.
Many more exploratory rides made the most of the beautiful summer weather, clocking the longer ones up to 100 milers to contribute to my 20 century target for the Yearly Century Challenge. As I travelled across the UK with work I’d ride out in the evenings, discovering local roads from Brighton to Cornwall and ticking off more of the 100 Climbs. The most spectacular was the Devil’s Staircase in the Abergwesyn Valley, Powys – a road that every rider must experience.
I had decided by now that Bristol Road Club would be my choice for club riding, with a regular Saturday ride. They rode brilliantly as a group and I was picking up a lot by riding with very experienced riders and ex-racers. It didn’t take much to persuade me to try the BSCC 8 mile TT at Chew Valley one evening, which by surprise I really enjoyed. Unfortunately being the last in the series, I will have to wait until next year to have another go.
By July it was time for another adventure and with a week of holiday to take and no plans or people to share it with, I booked two ferries and set off on Katherines Grand Depart. I rode to Portsmouth to sail to Normandy to watch the Grand Depart of the Tour de France and now can really appreciate why people are so hooked on following the race every single year. The atmosphere was electric, in every tour town decorations filled the shop windows, with bunting and painted bikes colouring the streets. Everyone that you spoke to was excited and passionate about the sport, whether they were a cyclist themselves or not. Having caught the first and second stages, I headed West to Brittany, touring solo along the North coastline, down to Quimper and then to Roscoff and back from Plymouth to Exeter crossing Dartmoor to complete my 700 mile, 10 day trip.
One of the best opportunities that I seized in Bristol was the Rapha Women’s 100. My friend Izzy was organising the ride, sponsored by Rapha, encouraging women all over the world to get together and ride 100km that day in July. On our jaunt through the Mendips I met so many like-minded women from Bristol that I’m sure I will go on to spend many hours in the saddle with.
One of those women was Hannah, a roadie and time trial specialist. She was lovely and we instantly hit it off, but I didn’t anticipate her turning around the following day and asking if I wanted to go to the Pyrenees with a group of her friends for a cycling holiday. I don’t think she anticipated me immediately saying yes.
The Pyrenees turned out to be one of the best weeks of my life. Bar the two days in James’ van driving down through France and back; we spent every day riding the Cols made famous by the Tour de France and the Vuelta. The six of us, Hannah and her boyfriend James, DRK’s Will and Jon and BSCC clubman Mark, worked well together, although of different strengths, to conquer the climbs and beast the descents. It was just breathtaking.
The Col D’Aubisque was a particularly memorable climb, for the sheer difficulty of it. At 16km long in the scorching heat of the mid-thirties and after a rather heavy lunch break and with 40 miles and one Col already in our legs, it was enough to test even the fittest of us. It was made all the more special the following day as we watched the pros ride it as the Vuelta Queen Stage finish – what a buzz.
Our last climb of the week was the Tourmalet. We were all eagerly anticipating the 20km with a mix of excitement and nerves at what was set to be the hardest climb of the week. Super climbers Jon and Will soon went off the front, Mark midfield, with James, Hannah and I bringing up the back. It was the most spectacular road twisting up through the mountains, passing many cyclists of different nationalities as we climbed. With 4km to go I was told by that my Devonian friend, Pyrenees cycle guide and coach Nigel was waiting for me at the top, and with that I gave everything that I had left and powered on up to the summit. Riding to meet me and telling me to ‘get out of the red’ for the last 200 metres was a welcome relief as the Tourmalet took one final blow to sap the last of my energy and leave me close to collapse.
The most exhilarating and enjoyable event of 2015, my first cycling year, had been the Prudential London100. I’d been not only thrilled to complete it, but at an average moving speed of18.5mph, I was shocked and overjoyed. Getting a place on the ballot this year, I knew I had to try and beat that time. It was a completely different race for me, not stopping for food at all but rather pushing and pushing constantly as a race rather than riding more casually to take it all in, my usual tactic. Underestimating my fuel needs, I felt exhausted 60 miles in but managed to push on rather painfully to finish marginally over 5 hours, averaging 19.9mph – phew.
But the best part of the London100 was not achieving my goal but the chaps I met along the way. The Ripcor lads stood out as my heroes of the day – I rode with them intermittently, young Ant, superstrong Chris at the front, the gentleman Greengrass and a fourth, quieter member riding as a team. Not sure about where I’d left them, I waited at the finish line in front of Buckingham Palace and sure enough was soon joined by the triumphant four. Not only did we enjoy beers together celebrating our racing victory, but went on to ride together the following weekend in London, visiting the numerous cycling establishments watching the Olympic Road Race. That’s the best part of sportive riding for me – it’s the new friends from all over the country that you connect with.
The last cycling event of the summer season was the Women’s Rapha Prestige in London – a 100 mile team event like no other. The four of us Great Western Radonneurs rode out of London (slightly sketchy) and into the hills of Hertfordshire, taking in not only lanes but also a flying lap at a velodrome and many a gravel off road track. It was a truly awesome day and we even won ‘Best Hashtaggers‘, landing each of us with a handy leather wallet.
Autumn was the time of year for trying new things. Having settled into my new city home, it was now time to see what all the hype was with the start of the hill climb and cyclocross seasons.
I’m going to be honest – trying cyclocross was initially a ploy to justify getting a new bike, a CX, tourer and winter roadie in one. Rather than launching straight into buying a CX bike before at least giving it a go, I turned up to Netham Park in Bristol one Sunday late morning to give it a go. I was incredibly nervous and a little out of place on my chunky hardtail MTB, but got stuck in nevertheless, being lapped and lapped by the seniors, vets and women. The growing spectator crowds were cheering me on and despite my heart feeling like it was about to burst out of my chest, I conquered the course, soon crossing the line to finish my first ever cyclocross race and well and truly catch the bug. A shiny new cyclocross bike and six races later, a nasty mechanical has put the end to my winter season as well as the bike – I had never anticipated it being such an expensive discipline, but 100% worth it for all the mud, fun and new friends made along the way.
Despite the initial dread when I first started riding, I’ve grown to love hills, especially particularly challenging ones and ticking Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Climbs. So when a few friends mentioned entering some local hill climb races, I thought ‘why not?‘ First up was the University of Bristol’s Belmont Hill, followed by Bristol South CC’s Burrington Combe in the Mendips. On both occasions I came pretty much last, and at this point in the year, combined with my poor results in the cyclocross races, I started to become disheartened. Thank you to those lovely people around me that helped me to see that you’ve got to be a beginner before you get great; and that simply entering and having the courage to start racing is awesome enough. Once I’d learnt this, I started to really enjoy the CX races, and I’m sure I’ve been improving ever since.
A lot has changed this Autumn in terms of my life circumstances. I’ve been blessed to meet someone very influential in my life who’s helped me see that the most important challenge in my life right now shouldn’t be some crazy cycling challenge, but to get better in terms of my eating. The recovery has been remarkable (and of course ongoing) and has had such a huge and positive effect on all aspects of my life. Thank you.
October yielded a few free days at late notice, and feeling inspired after the Womens Adventure Expo, I headed to circumnavigate the Isle of Wight. An unexpected and hugely enjoyable three one-hundred mile days to that gorgeous island and back, adding a few notches to the Yearly Century Challenge.
Almost by accident, I seem to have collected all of the awesome cycling girls that I’ve met in my short time in Bristol into some sort of group, the BBB’s (don’t ask). I’m delighted to have met so many of you with similar and diverse interests and ambitions, and bringing everyone together has been a real pleasure. Plenty in the pipeline here.
But 2016 isn’t over yet?!
There’s still a few century rides to tick off to meet my 2016 target of 20 and coincidentally the Rapha Festive500 between Christmas Eve and New Year. Some long, chilly rides back in Devon ahead.
I’ve also decided to take the plunge and follow my dreams of working in the field that I am most passionate about. Leaving the agriculture industry and my team was a tough decision, but I am looking forward to travelling less and having more stability in my life. There’s hugely exiting times ahead in 2017, accompanied by another radical change in lifestyle, here’s hoping for the better…
My eternal gratitude to all of the wonderful people that I have met this year, clubs that have welcomed me and friends that have guided me. It’s been incredibly tough, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
The Gorilla Firm – Cyclists Against Humanity – Exeter Wheelers – Okehampton CC – Bristol Road Club – Bristol South CC – Das Rad Klub – Beers, Gears and Engineers – BBBs – Ripcor & too many more to mention.