April 2018 Spoiler alert: I finally make my return to racing!!!! April started out with me heading off as one of the first ever female UCI mechanics at the Healthy Ageing Tour. I had a (mostly) brilliant time, but (not that I ever have) I will never ever take any support staff for granted ever. I was up hours before the girls and in bed hours after. The team I went with didn’t have a service course, a bike stands or even gloves and the reality of women’s cycling even at the top end began to dawn on me. I was cleaning and fixing team bikes in my own shower because it was the only ‘reasonable’ space I had to work and my own bathroom is still stained from returning back from that trip which took weeks to wash the grease in me that had seemingly tattooed itself into my skin. It was hard work with only two support staff. I sorted bottles, timings and logistics, bike maintenance, bike cleaning and bike packing and I did my best to make sure the girls were always happy (I’m sure they could give you their own review of how well I managed that). Whilst I was incredibly envious I didn’t get to race, I also learnt so much, including that being in the convoy can either be ridiculously dull, stressful and exciting all within 60 seconds. I learnt a lot from the racing and from the other teams and their set ups, which were so hard to compete with. We had two of us and a hire car. Everyone else seemed to have trucks with trucks with vans with cars. When it came to the longer stages that required feed zones, we would have to detour across the route and out the convoy and beat them to the feed zone then jump back in the car and back into the convoy. The girls did a fantastic job though, despite the set up. Inspiring performances all round. The lack of riding that week did seemingly set my knee back a little bit the following week as I started to be in pain again, but my fantastic physio helped me work through it and I was back on track in no time. I was also fortunate enough to get a new frame at a great discount from Estrella, which thanks to the funding given from The Lewis Balyckyi Trust Fund, I was able to build up with the latest ultegra and it looks amazing with my team issue wheels!!
My return to racing was all set for the 29th April and I couldn’t be more excited. I knew I didn’t have the top end speed, but training was going well and I was excited to see where I could place against some big names in UK domestic racing.
In the meantime, I’ve also taken a massage course, been working hard on my uni dissertation all about snails (I now hate snails. Not that I had any particular love for them before) and I’ve just generally been trying to enjoy myself as for the second time in my life I am learning the hard way that life does not revolve around sport and nor is it a necessarily ‘secure option’, anything can happen at any time. No matter how much you love and want something, you are not indestructible.
On the 28th April, the day before my long awaited return to racing, I was hit by a car, for the second time (albeit the first time was significantly worse when I was 16), on my way home from a ride. I wanted to race so badly that I still started on the 29th April but only managed 30 miles of 55 miles, the injuries I sustained I don’t think would have had a huge impact on my result. I was suffering a lot on the climbs and the elastic just snapped eventually. That being said, after my race I ended in A&E. Below is my statement I posted on twitter that evening
Despite my neck injuries I did do a local race just two days after that race and managed to get on the podium which I was pleased about, I was also really reactive and launched lots of attacks myself. After the incident with the car I was starting to feel really low about cycling and really trying to figure out if it was worth it all and low morale made me feel a lot like all the odds were against me, but after a podium in only my second race back I am so motivated to get back into hard training and give it my absolute all.
After having my name on so many UCI start lists over spring but being unable to start them due to my injuries, I am so overjoyed to finally be starting Trofee Maarten Wynants(1.1) on the 6th May!! I will be heading to Belgium on the 4th May for 10 days, competing in that UCI race and as much kermesse racing as possible as part of a hard training block. Whilst the opportunity to race in a 1.1 is brilliant, I have made the decision with my coach that because it is unlikely (I’ll definitely still try) to get any big results from it, that I will not taper for it as I am playing catch up without much training over winter and want to maximise the early season time now to train so that later in the season with bigger races, I can perform and get the results I set out for this season. After that I will return and do the last rounds of the tour series, which I am extremely excited for!!!
May will be a big month for me and I’m excited to let you know how I get on!
It is with regret to say that my 2018 season has not had the best start after it initially felt like it was going to be my ‘breakthrough’ season. Spoiler: It gets better, don’t worry.
In December I went on a solo training camp to Lanzarote. I was feeling the strongest I ever had and being an aspiring climber, my numbers were looking fantastic. Until the final day of riding where a niggle in my knee started and then escalated extremely quickly to agonising pain where a 20 mile ride home took me well over three hours. Having university exams, I took a few weeks off to rest, assuming my knee pain had been triggered by a bit of potential overtraining.
Exams ending meant I was now on my year out of uni, a decision I made when signing for a Belgian team so that I could really give racing and training my all and go abroad a lot more, as well as do justice to those supporting me. Fully rested, I headed off to Calpe with some teammates for a couple weeks of sunny miles in preparation for the season ahead. On day 2, my knee was worse than it had ever been and I physically couldn’t pedal so had to turn back and pedal home using basically just the other leg. Fortunately in Calpe there are always big teams training and with this comes some of the best physios you can find. I had a scan and was told my tendon had drastically degenerated, I flew home immediately to start the rehabilitation process. Things got worse before it got better and I was in denial that we could have been looking at a year of work to get back to anywhere near I had been at the end of 2017. Fortunately, things finally got better and over March things have improved rapidly and I am back to ALMOST normal training again.
My injury was caused by a large muscle imbalance caused by bad crashes in the past, meaning I will forever have a far weaker left side. So whilst it is brilliant news that I am back riding with a whole season ahead of me, I will have to continue with physio for the rest of my cycling career. I don’t care though, it’s worth it.
My first races were supposed to be Omloop Het Hageland and Dwars Door Vlaanderen. UCI class 1 races in Belgium. Whilst I couldn’t race them because of injury which seriously devastated me at the time, I’ve managed to gain some perspective now. My first ever road race was 11 months ago in a cat 3 &4 race where I only finished 10th, so I’m proud of myself looking how far I came and how I hard I worked in that time to get my name on the start list of two big events.
Whilst my season will now be starting (luckily, only fractionally) later, it does definitely not mean I have changed my goals and objectives. My first races will be some local UK races, before going to Belgium at the start of May for some Kermesse racing and finishing the month off with Tour Series. My big aims for the season are Dwars door de Westhoek, Flanders Diamond Tour, Tour de Feminin or GP Sofie Goos, Endrondegemse Pijl, Flanders Ladies Classic and the Lotto Belgium Tour.
Whilst being a very small, lightweight rider means my strength and focus is definitely anything uphill, I intend to prove myself and stick with the best on the flatter races whilst I work on my raw power coming into the season.
To summarise, after a super tough start to 2018, mentally and physically, I’m feeling extremely positive. My body should be much stronger now that physio is teaching me to use muscles I haven’t engaged before (so I’m excited to see what I can do in form and actually using them!!) and I’m so ridiculously excited to return to racing in the next couple weeks, hungrier than ever. But first, I’m off to the Healthy Ageing Tour where I am proud to say I will be the team mechanic (one of the first females on the pro circuit) for Torelli-Kuota-Brother!
Onwards and upwards!!