My first National Trophy and my first wooden spoon (which I’m classing as a win!)

I’ve been doing cyclocross now for around 5 years, with a year’s break during the forgettable 2020. What started out as a medium for winter fitness training, very much as a powerful triathlete with zero bike handling skills, has over the years slowly become a more competitive affair. With all the guff life has thrown at me in the last 18 months, my power has actually gone down significantly. But having been out more with the Velobants crew on gravel rides (which may or may not involve large quantities of beer), I have rather surprisingly found that my handling skills have improved immeasurably.

Having left Central League in 2020 and been too late in the 2021 season to join Northwest League, I have amused myself by picking and choosing whichever races I fancy at whichever leagues I want. I’ve done a West Midlands one (did well, not much banter), several Northwest ones (did well, a bit more banter and some prizes), and now I can say I’ve done my first National Trophy event at Houghton-le-Spring! Something the hyperanxious old me would never have dared to do, for fear of being last and making a tit out of myself.

So how was it? Well, first off I was definitely NOT in it to win it. For a start, the majority of the senior field were U23, meaning around 15 years younger than me. Gawd that makes me feel old! And lots of team names I’d heard of, which is always a daunting prospect. Although I had joined Macc Wheelers by then, I was still racing under Velobants, and so I had to do the most “professional” job I could with “Beer, Bike, Bants” written on my back 😀

Like any true triathlete, I did a Parkrun sandwich the morning before, running from my aunt’s house to Durham Parkrun and back – around 10 miles. But at least I countered that with a long walk back to Durham and a big Greek late lunch with my cousin Gabi.

Having stayed at my friend Hayley’s the night before, we went into Newcastle for brunch on the morning, where I had a big black coffee and a bowl of loaded porridge. Still trying to like peanut butter… nope. After saying our goodbyes, I drove a whole 15 minutes to the venue and befriended the registration team, who offered to take my jacket off me on the start line. Bloody love northerners! Managed a one lap recce – intentionally no more, as I had no pit bike or crew, so whatever mud was picked up was staying put. There was a LOT of off-camber, a steep drop and a couple of climbs, a set of (in my opinion) impossibly enormous hurdles, and a fair amount of zapping flat grass. But the biggest obstacles were an off-camber muddy hairpin descent, and a short sharp bridge with about one bike length at the top. The marshalls at the off-camber hairpin were wonderful, sensing my nerves and lack of skills, and talking me through what they had witnessed working/ending in disaster. I think I may have given them an empty promise of a beer afterwards 🙂 The bridge? Well, I did not make it up hahaha.

So onto the start line, and with the 80% rule in place (where riders are pulled before they are lapped) I was not expecting to last more than a couple of laps at best. Maybe 20 minutes into the 40 minute race? Anyway, I was gridded I think second-to-last rider. The commisaire could clearly tell I was a noob and likely to be pulled, so we had some banter going and he exclaimed that I had “the dirtiest bike of the entire weekend” – well, at least I won something?!

Richard Howes Photography

I reckon I managed to stay with (at the back counts as with…) the pack until the first major corner, and then (obviously) my legs fell off. Cue settling into a more appropriate pace, and I had a couple of stragglers with me. One girl got a mechanical, so rapidly went backwards, but then rejoined and caught me a lap or 2 in. I reckon although I was last by that point, I managed to hold her within 50-100m for most of the rest of the race, falling off only on the last of my laps. When I eventually did get pulled, it was not as predicted – I looked at my watch and I’d made it to 37 minutes! So I wheeled George II around to the start/finish and watched some of the speedier lasses go through. Very inspirational. Unfortunately I couldn’t hang around for the finish and podium as I had a one-year-old’s birthday to get to, but I went back to Durham a last placed but very happy woman.

Positives:

  • Entered a race I previously would never have dared to.
  • Bossed the off-camber hairpin descent every damn time. May have been slower than others, but who cares?
  • After bailing on the bridge for the first 3 laps, I nailed it on the last 2. Chuffed to pieces! Proof that I DO have the power to get up, it’s just the confidence (and perhaps some skill) that needs work.
  • Despite coming last, I gained some points for showing up. National points. Boom!

Opportunities:

  • Enter more National level CX events! What is stopping me?! Only myself.
  • Work on confidence in my own power. It IS there.
  • Get a pit bike.
  • Rope someone into pit crew duties! 😀
  • One season of solid training should massively help to marry the new handling skills and help me to achieve more.

Until next year!

WinNats21 – Type 2 fun at its best :D

After last year’s relative success at Nationals on the notoriously nauseating Streatley Hill Climb (36th female), I didn’t give entering the 2021 competition a second thought. Take my money!

When I found out it was going to be Winnats Pass, my first thought was “I’ve heard of that”. What *should* have been my second thought was “why have I heard of that?”… but instead my brain went with “that’s less than half an hour from my new house, great!”. **Insert your cruel (but 100% valid) smirking here** 😀

2020/2021: Absolutely shite, would not recommend.

As many of you know from my social media posts over the last year, things have been far from ideal in terms of training and prep. A cheating ex-boyfriend/coach, a spiral into severe depression and anxiety, a relapse into anorexia (followed by a relapse into bulimia) and a subsequent move 130 miles north to get away from my old life, wipe the slate clean and start again meant precisely zero targeted training. My new coach at https://catenarycoaching.com/, Tim, has been extrememly supportive (and let me get away with far too much laxity – less of that in 2022 please, boss!). But I’m sleeping the best I have in years, I’ve weaned right down on my antidepressants and for the most part I’m eating regular, healthy meals. I’ve no idea what my weight or FTP are – and for the moment, I’m happy with that.

The recce(s).

Anyway, back to the 2021 Nationals! Having never ridden in the Peaks before, let alone tried out Winnats, I took myself off to attempt a recce from Goyt Valley 8 days before race day. I got within sniffing distance of Winnats, but unfortunately the cold got the better of me, and I had to head back to the car. It wasn’t all a waste of time though – I did what I now know to be #37 in the 100 Greatest Climbs during my ride – Peaslows (1.6km at 10% average) – and completed it without drama. So off I popped again T-48 hours. The rain held off and it was a stunner of a day, although the wind had picked up. I bettered my Peaslows time by precisely 30 seconds to get a top 20 on the Strava leaderboard…good start. Then I got to Winnats…

Mentally I had been expecting to hit the bottom and ready myself before a recce, but my skills in being directionally challenged surpassed themselves and I found myself at the top, looking down. It was soooo beautiful I pulled over, took a picture, and caught flies for a good 5 minutes! The descent, which had been talked about on Facebook forums, was actually not that bad in the dry. A few minutes to ready myself at the bottom, and the ascent was a whole different kettle of fish!!! The road is steep from the off, and barely wide enough for 2 small cars. Good tarmac, yes, but pools of oil in places, and people weren’t joking when they said that the gorge has it’s own microclimate! A massive headwind with gusts that took me into the paths of ascending cars, and I had to call it quits 2/3 of the way up. Disappointing, but at least I got an idea of the pass. Unclipping and crossing the road to descend once again was comedy gold – as soon as I lifted my bike, the whole thing flung itself as if to take off into orbit. Jeez!!!

View from the top of Winnats

In true triathlete style, I elected to run my first cross country race with my new run club, the day before race day. “I’ll pace it” I promised myself and my clubmates. Hahahahaha. If I ever say that again, please slap some sense into me!

XC “tapering”..!

Race day!

Race day arrived; I left reasonably on time, but then got scuppered by the road closure so arrived with less “faff” time than anticipated. I’ll be honest, it was 50:50 whether I was going to bother leaving the house when I saw the weather – if I hadn’t made it up in the recce, what was to say I would make it up on race day?? Once at HQ, I met the lady going off immediately after me who was doing her first nationals, whose husband kindly took a bag of dry kit to the top for me. What a legend. The weather was abysmal, but thankfully less wind than during my recce, and live timings suggested that the juniors and blokes were all making it up, so I felt a bit more positive. The ride over was less “warm up” and more “try not to freeze to death” following an unwelcome downpour of hail. Rude. Bumped into the lovely Laura Owler as we got to the start area, a fellow medic who I know from social, who also struggles with her mental health. She’s a total legend who gets stuck in no matter what, and always with the biggest smile 😀 I waved her off and then found my friend David who had come to spectate and hold my jacket, and at 10:12 I pulled my sodden leg warmers off and made my way to the holding pen. Ordinarily I’d have removed my helmet and gloves, but I was absolutley frozen and genuinely quite worried about the possibility of falling off due to wheelspin, so I forfeighted the extra weight.

Having never done a major hill climb pre-COVID, I don’t know how the starts “normally” are. But this year it was very much a case of roll up, roll straight through to the holder, 1 minute countdown and “Go!”. Very little time to take many deep breaths and take a moment, but also very little opportunity to tense up and over-think it. The bottom of the hill was fine – I tend not to look at my numbers but I did see a 410watts at one point – definitely too high, but less so than at the bottom of Streatley (high 500s!). The lower 1/2 was gruelling but doable, and I stood for the most part.

The “doable” bit! – Photo by Bob Askwith

Just as I reached the point where I’d had to bail on my recce, my legs were burning and things were becoming hazy, and my body kept asking me to sit down. I listened for a bit, but my cadence was slowing badly and the noise from the crowds was deafening – just what I needed to literally pick me back up again! I remember seeing an oversized kebab on a stick (was I now hallucinating?!) and a gradient sign which read “100%” – eurgh!!

Richard “Kebab Man” Stoodley – Photo by Sport Pictures Cymru
The crowds – photo by Jelignite Photography
That soul-destroying sign! Photo by Trax Media

I was digging so deep around that last bend, my vision had closed in, everything was tingling, and it felt like I was starting to have an out-of-body experience. I fought with every fibre of my being not to unclip and put a foot down, and the next thing I knew, I was over the finish line. Oh. My. Word.

Nearing the summit – Photo by VeloUK

There were 2 catchers at the top, and boy was I glad of that! I couldn’t unclip, I had nothing left. I was trying to speak and tell them this, but I’m pretty sure I was just making noise. They unclipped both my feet, lifted me off my bike, and when I started to collapse onto the ground due to Bambi legs, they picked me up and carried me over to the grass verge and laid me down to recover. My breathing took soooo long to calm, and every time I tried to move my legs to sit up, both quads started to cramp. I must’ve been down there for 5-10 minutes!

Of course, I had to stay and watch the leading ladies come in – they are truely inspirational. Bithja Jones took the win, with Mary Wilkinson a nailbitingly close 2nd. My pre-race predictions were not realised, and I think the cold/wet got the better of quite a few folk in the top 20. A very slow limp down back down the hill and a chat with one of my new clubmates (and rather good cyclist) Monica Greenwood (15th on the day), and I was ready for a quick swoon over Ollie Bridgewood off of GCN back at HQ, and some well-deserved pub grub at The Peak.

Oh, and I came 43rd by the way!

Pumpkin soup for Halloween.

So, what have I leart from Hill Climb Nationals 2021?

  1. Even when life has thrown a lorry full of lemons at me, I am still a half-decent cylist.
  2. Hill climbing is cool.
  3. The crowds make it what it is – thank you for showing up (especially in the pissing rain!!).
  4. I have a renewed drive to do better at cycling (road, cross, time-trialling) and hill climbing – roll on 2022.
  5. I need to do some V02 max training! Or even training… 🙂
  6. Tunnel vision and numbness are what happens when you are really digging deep.
  7. Hill climbing is cool.
  8. N+1 is probably required if I want to be in the top 1/3. Project 6kg beckons…
  9. Eating helps.
  10. Did I mention hill climbing is cool?!

Race Report: National British Road Race Masters

I don’t know what on earth possessed me to enter the National British Road Race Masters as my first road race… must’ve had a bang to the head! Still, 2021 for me, like a lot of people, has been about mixing it up and trying something new. So why the hell not?? In the 24h before, I had some really useful chats with an old sports acrobatics (and former elite road racer) friend from uni, who gave me some really sound advice.

I travelled up on the Friday night and stayed with my parents in West Lancashire, before travelling up to North Lancashire on the Sunday morning for the race. I knew of at least one person racing, my virtual Socks4Watts teammate and very talented Saint Piran rider Gemma Sargent. After a flying visit to my cousin in his new pad in Lancaster, I made my way to race HQ feeling relatively calm. The nerves began creeping in once I had registered and started getting my bike ready, though I managed to focus enough to get my numbers pinned on, a 20 minute warm-up in and 3 billion nervous wees done. I met another virtual teammate (Clare from KISS) and had a quick chat. My parents turned up just before the start to watch and wished me “good luck”, in return for the very important instruction from me not to drive the course (a DQ in my first race would be quite embarrassing!).

We set off on the neutralised start at a reasonable pace. This was very different to the manic balls-out starts I’ve experienced with cyclocross and Zwift racing! Once we hit the start/finish, the pace slowly and steadily ramped up, and there were a few spiky efforts required on the climbs. I’m not a bad climber, and I thought I’d eaten plenty the night before, but I struggled with breakfast on race day and therefore the hard efforts really took it out of me. The race was 7x10km laps and around an open-road loop which I didn’t think sounded too horrendous, but my HR was averaging near max effort, and this clearly wasn’t sustainable.

Near the start of lap 2 there was a massive pile-up on a short climb into a left turn at a T-junction. I somehow managed to dodge the bullet by riding around the mass of bikes and bodies on the floor – phew! I stayed with the main peloton for the first lap and a half, and then on the 2nd long descent the girl in front of me got gapped and unfortunately I never quite managed to close up again. Many solo miles ensued, and I felt more worn out and disheartened with each lap. 2 riders from Blaydon who had succumbed to the first crash caught me and we tried to work as a 3-up, but unfortunately I just didn’t have enough in the tank and they continued on.

The general rule is that if you are lapped or more than 10 minutes behind the leader, you are pulled from the race. I had it in my head after 4 or 5 laps that I would be done, as I knew I was >10 mins behind. Imagine my dismay when the race leader shouted to me that if I finished the next lap I would be placed – I was NOT mentally prepared for that! However, it seemed foolish not to continue, so continue I did. I had company from one of the Blaydon girls for the last lap and we did put a bit of effort in, but also managed to have a bit of a chat. Once past the line again, we waited for the riders to come through the finish. A solo breakaway had occurred, and she crossed the line jubilantly. We waited and waited for the rest of the riders, and continued waiting… finally it was confirmed on the radio that there had been lots of crashes and an ambulance was tending to Clare – eek! Eventually they started coming through, with Gemma in 4th. Bravo!

As I was about to leave and collected my car key from HQ, one of the organisers advised me to stick around for the podium ceremony… I’d gotten the bronze F35-39. Sweet! The pain and solo miles were worth it, just about 😉

In summary, a great little course with lots of undulation and a few technical descents. More food required (ED demons are a bitch). And possibly different gearing. Has it put me off road racing? My upcoming calendar says no!

Chase the Sun (North)

I like a challenge, me. Don’t ask me why. I’m not after any Guinness World Records! But I do find such a sense of achievement out of doing something slightly bonkers. Past endeavours have included climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, cycling from Basel to Verona, and a 10km swim down the Jubilee river (just because). I also seem to gravitate towards events which have a USP – Alp d’Huez triathlon (3 mountain passes on the bike and a half marathon at altitude), Guernsey Marathon (a lap of the island), Tour of Wessex (the UK’s only multistage sportive). They’re just a bit more interesting than your bog standard branded stuff 🙂

Before COVID-19 was a “thing”, I agreed with a club mate to enter Chase the Sun 2020 – a 200 mile bike ride from the East to the West coast of the UK, the challenge being to start at sunrise and finish before sunset (the clue is in the name!). Due to living in the South, we opted for CTS (South) from the Isle of Sheppey to Burnham-on-Sea. Sadly, the pandemic put a stop on all events, and we put that one to bed.

Fast forward 13 months, and I started receiving emails 2 days after breaking up with my boyfriend, telling me that although CTS South was fully booked, there were still places available for CTS North. It didn’t take long to know that it was something I needed to do to make myself feel something other than heartache again. Sadly, my previous CTS South buddy declined to join, so knowing that no-one else I knew would be up for it, I threw caution to the wind and entered solo. What the heck!

I had been thinking about getting a cycling coach for a while, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try and train “properly” for my first very long distance event, so I contacted Tim from Catenary Cycle Coaching (https://catenarycoaching.com/) and he agreed to take me on for CTS and a couple of other cycling and multi-sport events I had my eye on. With just 10 weeks of training and having hardly ventured outdoors on two wheels for quite some considerable time, I followed the plan as closely as I could, factoring in work, depression, lack of turbo trainer and studies.

Event week arrived, and my friend Lynda and I made our way up to the Whitley Bay via Nottingham (to meet our friend Steph’s gorgeous new dog), Durham (to show Lynda the sites but unfortunately not see my family, who were isolating) and Newcastle (to meet up with my good friend Hayley for pre-ride dinner). I had to organise an emergency last minute massage in Nottingham as my lower back was in pieces after the Catenary trip to Yorkshire, which helped a bit.

Durham was lovely as always, but it wasn’t quite the same to not see my family. And Newcastle was as lovely as I remember, with lots of cool grafitti to photograph.

We got up to Whitley Bay with enough time for me to collect my legendary orange ribbon and complementary CTS jersey, but decided to dodge the free drink and Beefeater meal in favour of a can of G&T and some chocolate back in the B&B room. Cue accommodation cock-up #1: we ended up with a double, despite requesting a twin. Good job neither of us snore! I got as much ready as possible before bed, we agreed on some cafe stops to meet at, and the lights went out. 4 hours later, they were back on again and I was attempting to shovel down some Alpen and tea. Not easy at 3:30am! We managed to get out of the door and down to the sea front for 4:15am, and I spent a few minutes faffing with texting the secret word to the organiser to show I had started and taking a quick photo against the (rather cloudy) sunrise. Mary-Jane (my Ridley Jane XL) was suited and booted with a new Apidura Food Pouch to help me to remember to eat (10/10 worth the money) and a borrowed Alpkit Frame Bag (which *just* fit) for a pump, some spare tubes and sun cream.

The first 5-10 miles I tried to wake up and chat to a few people, and I managed to find some of my friend Gope’s club mates from the Cowley Condors – hard to miss them in their bright pink kit! I didn’t get the sense that many of them were hopeful about finishing before sunset, so I wished them well and started jumping from group to group, until I found myself on my own. One of my flaws is that I get a bit impatient on the hills…more with myself than other people. I just don’t see the point in dawdling up and prolonging the agony!! Unfortunately it means that in this situation I was only really with other people on the flat, and then on my own agenda on the climbs. There was one other girl who was giving it the beans on the climbs as well who I rode with a bit, but she didn’t seem interested in small chat, and I was glad when we parted ways.

The first stop was for breakfast in Kielder water at 56 miles. The weather was dry but fresh and I was very glad to have donned my new Castelli ROS jacket – thank you for the tip, Sean! Lynda met me in the car and got me a coffee and an egg bap, which was bloody delicious. I stayed there about 15-20 minutes and moved on when the midges started eating my face.

Not too long after breakfast came the English/Scottish border, and one of only a few quick snaps I took on the day. I had packed a Go-Pro style camera which would have been awesome (the scenery was beautiful, as predicted) but unfortunately my handlebars were too fat and I had to leave it off. The next 38 miles to the mandatory lunch stop at Langholm were a bit of a blur, I think I rode it mostly alone, taking in the sites and trying to remember to eat and drink. Lynda had driven ahead and cycled back to meet me, hoping to get some decent miles in. Amusingly I was going faster than anticipated and she seemed a bit aggrieved to only get to 5 miles before turning back around with me 🙂 I scoffed some savoury snacks (prawn crackers, Pringles) and refilled my bottle, text my secret word and had a quick coffee and a loo break.

Then it was back on it, no time to waste! I found and overtook the annoying girl, who looked like she was badly bonking up one of the hills, and then it was back to solo riding for a bit. A while later I found a couple of lads to ride with who were a similar in strength to me. They were a bit more crack than the misery guts girl, although one of them didn’t have a proper GPS unit and hadn’t downloaded the route (?!?!?). We did a fair stint as a 3-up and were making good progress until the heavens opened and we got soaked to the bone, forcing us to stop at the AE Bike Shop at mile 132. They hadn’t planned to stop originally (I was aiming to meet Lynda there), but we were a bit miserable and needed a hot drink for morale. They very kindly bought me a coffee and we had a bit more of a chat, before they decided to push on whilst I waited for Lynda to show up. A cup of the saltiest pea and ham soup and another bap later, and still no sign, so I got going again.

Sage advice in AE Bike Cafe.

It wasn’t long before I saw the yellow and black of Lynda’s BTS kit coming in the other direction, and once again she turned around to accompany me back to the car in Moniaive, at mile 152. There was a horrific temporary road surface gravel section for about 1-2 miles on a twisty descent, which was thoroughly unpleasant on skinny tyres – Lynda said it was bad enough going up it, and she wasn’t wrong! We made it to the car and this was where having Lynda as a support driver came into its own – fresh kit! I stripped off everything that was soggy – shoes, socks, bibs, bra..the lot, and boy what a lovely difference that made with dry stuff and 48 miles still to go. A quick pint of lemonade at a pub, and then Lynda set off for the finish, whilst I carried on solo.

Lemonade time 🙂

I kept smelling the air in the last 5 miles to see if smelt of saltwater, but all I could smell was cow pats 😀 Around the same time, annoying girl caught up with me – great. I thought I’d give her another chance, but the chat was still pretty poor. It felt like an absolute age before Ayr was in striking distance, and then it took until literally 1 mile to go before we caught sight of the sea! I had visions of rolling in with annoying girl whilst congratulating each other and getting a bit “totes emosh” having finished, such is the hopeless romantic in me. But no, she seemed absolutely hell bent on “getting there first”, and started skipping red lights and mounting the pavements like a crazed person. I don’t have any time for that nonsense whether there is time pressure or not, so I left her to ride like an idiot and tried not to let it spoil my finish. I rounded the corner and there was Lynda and a few other supporters… I’d done it! A quick mandatory text and it was done.

All in all it was an amazing experience – in the end I made it with 3.5 hours to spare, coming in at 6:50pm! We had the best tasting pint of larger at the finish, followed by accommodation cock-up #2 (may have forgotten to book somewhere…oops!). Thankfully Lynda found a B&B with a spare suite, and then we celebrated with lovely tapas and wine and swooning over Ryan Reynolds on YouTube…bliss 🙂 Sunday my knees were a little sore and my face swollen (bad idea to cycle 150+ miles without glasses) but we had an amazing brunch at the Secret Garden Cafe in Ayr, followed by a lovely beach dog walk with my friend Jen and her puppy Max.

Ride stats for the data geeks: 199.9 miles ridden (no, I did not want to do another 0.1 miles to round it up!!). 3629 meters ascended. 12h13 ride time, 14h36 elapsed time. Average speed 16.3 mph. Average cadence 95 rpm. Weighted average power 135 watts. Average heart rate 133 bpm. 5000 kcal burnt.

The Ride.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I was mostly worried about nutrition and not under-eating, and although I probably ate conservatively, I didn’t bonk at any point and never felt “hungry”. The egg bap, salty soup, Deliciously Ella oat bar, mixed fruit and nuts, and Kellogs Rice Krispy Squares were my weapons of choice. I finished with a massive sense of achievement, stunning scenery etched into my brain, and thanks to the incredible generosity of my friends and family (and one or two “anon” donors), we raised £1565.00 for the 2 charities I chose to support (BEAT https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/ and Beder https://www.beder.org.uk/). From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

I plan to do the hat trick, with CTS South first and CTS Italy last (when COVID allows). It would be nice to do it with company next time, so please do shout if you’re interested in joining for the ride.

Chase the Sun? Completed it, mate 🙂

For anyone yet to donate who would like to: https://www.justgiving.com/team/KateLauraChaseTheSun

Velodrome time!

Last year, for Paul’s birthday, I bought us tickets to do a velodrome “taster” session at Lee Valley in London. We’d watched a fair bit of the world championship track cycling earlier in the year, and also been to the London Six day event in October.

At the time, I thought nothing of it. Just something different to do, a bit of a “fun” date (triathete’s type of fun, obviously!). In December, I went for coffee with my club mate and awesome cyclist Kate Allan. She rides for Drag2Zero, and had recently been to the velodrome for an aero testing session. She told me how she’d taken a tumble on one of the corners and badly friction-burnt her side, wrecking her aero skinsuit in the process. Although self-confessed queen of going in a straight line (but pants at bike handling skills), having a semi-pro cyclist tell me this meant come the taster session day the nerves were kicking in!

After we’d gotten our track bikes and I’d had the piss sufficiently taken out of me for being given essentially a child’s bike with toe cages (who wears Look cleats?!), we entered the track and had our session briefing. There are a few differences between road/MTB and track bikes, the main two being that there are no gears and no brakes. Therefore you have to keep pedaling at all times, and slowing down takes a while! You essentially keep your legs spinning but put some resistance against the pedals as they come through the top of the pedal-stroke.

Sounded simple enough – a few goes around the flat and cote d’azure to get used the bikes and build up some speed, and then at the session holder’s say-so we were to steer up onto the wooden track, progressing up to the red line when we gathered enough momentum and confidence. Simples!

From London Six – too fast for focus!

So off we went, P ahead of me and both of us “representin’ ” in our yellow BTS jerseys 🙂 First few laps on the flat were easy. Now for the proper bit… A couple of laps of the cote d’azure later and the signal was given. I confidently moved up to the wood and felt good… until I hit the corner. No matter how hard I pedaled I could not seem to stay up on the wooden track. I don’t have much patience at the best of times, and I get extremely irritated when I can’t do something well (Virgo perfectionist much?), and combined with the whole not being able to stop quickly I was getting more and more panicked at the prospect of crashing into a fellow beginner.

The session holder brought us back to a standstill and came over to me to ask if I was OK. My face must have been a picture! I explained I was nervous and couldn’t seem to stay up, and his answer was an unhelpful “try to stay on the wood above the black line because it’s actually easier than lower down”. Great advice when I can’t even stay on the wood!! Thankfully being being analytically minded and a good observationalist, P was able to work out that I was steering into the corners and this was causing me to drop down to the cote every time. So I was under strict instruction to hold my line into the corners and let momentum take me round.

Off we went again, et voila! Not only did I stay on the wood, I could then lay some actual power down and overtake some of the boys 🙂 The next 40 minutes turned into a threshold workout session, and I even made it above the blue line and onto the advertising logos at the top of the track, whoop! I may not be the most powerful cyclist yet, but all this cyclo-cross has improved my bike handling skills and ability for explosive efforts.

So all in all we had a great track date, once I got my shit together! I would highly recommend trying a taster session if you’re at all into cycling and fancy branching out to test different skills. Just remember to hold your line around the corners!!

I survived the velodrome 🙂