April 2019 – Blog de 3a Etapa
My first race back since breaking my ankle back in October was in Durango (Basque Country). I had travelling back from the UK a few days previously to have another CT scan. I eventually got the phone call, the phone call I’d been waiting on for 6 months. I could go racing. The all clear had been given and it was time to test myself proper, in my first race back.
We travelled early on Thursday morning, watching the light gradually seep into the sky through bleary eyes. As we descended the super steep climb into the town of Durango we got a sense of what we were letting ourselves in for. The Basque Country is notoriously hilly and mountainous. So far it was living up to all my expectations with climbs surrounding us entirely. After getting parked up we headed off for the obligatory cafe stop before the race. The espresso began to wake me up and get me into racing mode. Then it was into my usual routine, pinning my numbers on, pumping up my tyres and getting myself changed. Lots of nervous pees later I was on the startline. Ready to go.
After being lead out of the town and down a sketchy descent by the lead car we were let loose on a big open road. We got up to speed and a couple of attacks went. I was in the process of moving up through the bunch and bam. There was the screech of brakes and carbon hitting the deck right in front of me.
With nowhere to go I went straight into it. Luckily I had managed to kill a fair amount of speed and I landed on bikes as opposed to tarmac. But I had crashed, and within the first 15 minutes of my first race back. Not the best start. To be honest though, I wasn’t even thinking about that, I was in racing mode and just got straight up to assess the damage. Three riders lay on the ground and seemed hurt, but I was fine so I set about getting my chain back on, ready to go. Shortly after my team mechanic was there, and checked I was okay before giving me the push to get going again. I chased hard, getting into the cars as quickly as possible. Unfortunately I never made it back to the front of the race, the roads were just too twisty and difficult to be in the cars. And if I’m totally honest I didn’t have the punch I needed to get back into the peloton. After a lap of chasing I was pretty spent and I had fallen behind the broomwagon. Luckily the race started with a circuit, so I headed back to the van and got changed. A real shame to end my first race with a crash and a DNF but really I was just so happy to be able to pin a number on again.
I didn’t have long to wait until my next race, 3 days later I was back in the Basque Country. This time in Durana, ready to give it another crack. The race started off much better this time and I was right up the front from the start. It was a small flat circuit to start and once we got out onto some bigger roads I gave it a go with a couple of little attacks. It wasn’t to be and it always came back together, but it felt so good to see the front of the race again. As we entered the bigger lap which had a descent and then a 5k climb I began losing position. I’d get knocked and lose a place and lose all momentum, my confidence to just move into a spot was a bit rusty. Eventually I found myself right near the back and there was a crash. This time I managed to just avoid it, but it got in my head and I decided to let myself drift right to the back. This was a bad idea as the descent came and I got gapped by the peloton. I had to chase with a small group and just as we hit the climb I came back to the peloton. Over the course of the climb I moved up through the groups as it got more and more strung out and I managed to make the front split of 50 riders.
The second time on the descent I made the same mistake and started the climb last man. This time I didn’t make it back to front. I was just too far away to be part of the race. However, I did make the second group on the road over the top of the climb and we cruised into the finish. I got caught off guard a little with a left turn and then the finish was right there so I didn’t really make any effort to the line. But I had finished a race and that was a good place to start to build from. The next race in the calendar was a tour in France. I couldn’t wait!
March 2019 – Blog de 2ª Etapa
Now able to train, my coach and I set about creating a plan to get me back to full fitness. To begin with I went out and did an FTP test to establish a baseline. I surprised myself by averaging 344 watts for 20 minutes after only 4 weeks of modest training – only 2 of which that were actually out on the road. This meant that I hadn’t lost everything during my 3 and a half months off the bike. We had lift off!
The following week I was straight back to the UK to see my doctor. A pre-planned appointment in which my aim was to get signed off – ready for the home race in Huesca on the 9th of March. It was the usual thing – I’d been here a lot recently – into the x-ray to get a few different angles. Then in to see my consultant and what the results of the x-ray had found. They were positive, everything was healing exactly as planned, and most importantly the riding wasn’t setting me back in any way. The bad news was that my doctor did not want me to take part in a race quite yet. The talus bone is very complicated and needs to be treated with a lot of caution. I’ve heard that a lot recently. It’s frustrating but it’s true, and I really want to be able to ride and walk pain free for the rest of my life, so I’m prepared to proceed with caution. The prognosis was to go away and train to my heart’s content, but should I experience any pain I should back off until it goes away. Then I could come back in 6 weeks for a CT scan to confirm that the bone is fully healed and ready to withstand an impact should I crash in a race. Something which I don’t plan on doing – but is a reality of racing.
Once back in Spain I set about getting myself ready to race, but first I had the pleasure of watching the team’s home race in Huesca. I trained in the morning so as not to miss out on training load. Then it was straight down to the start line, just in time to see the guys off and wish them luck. I jumped in the car with Fernando (the team managers brother, and pro cyclist for Euskadi Murias) and we headed for the main climb of the race which they would tackle 3 times. The buzz of being back at a bike race was something I had missed, there’s nothing quite like it! First time over the climb Joshua Sandman had a lead of 20 seconds over a stretched out peloton. He’s a TT specialist and he got down to business, next time up the climb he had 3 minutes. Some lead for a solo rider! What had happened was that along the back straight the bunch had all looked at each other, in the process giving Josh an unassailable lead. At the finish line he had 4 and a half minutes of a lead – time to celebrate! For me personally it was really good to be back experiencing bike racing. It was exactly what I needed to push myself to the limit in training.
From that point on I set about putting in multiple near 20 hour weeks. Every session counts and I made sure I ticked every single one off to the letter. It was all made so much easier by the setup we have here in Huesca, the main factor is the weather. Not a single day was hampered by rain or anything which made hitting my watts and hourly targets so much easier. The roads surrounding Huesca also offer up endless variety. With miles and miles of flat roads south of the city I could get my fast rides and sprint sessions in perfectly. North of the city is any number of climbs and loops into the Parc Natural de Guara which catered to all my climbing sessions. Having such beautiful scenery also helped to keep it fresh every day, there was also a new view to discover.
After 2 and a half weeks hard training I got the opportunity to go and watch another race. This time I managed to get in the team car, and experience things up close and personal. The speed, the danger, the excitement. Everything I was missing in training. Seeing how fast they were climbing really made me appreciate the hard work that I needed to do to be up there. But I also realised that I needed to do a lot of self-learning and start to visualise myself back in a race situation. I wasn’t just going to be able to jump straight into cornering right on the limit, I was going to need to build up slowly. Translating this into my training I started using the descents as somewhere to start pushing my limits. Not recklessly so, just little by little, increasing the speed in the corners. Leaning my bike over a little more, learning to trust my own instincts again. My crash had knocked my confidence and I needed to trust that I wasn’t just going to be thrown to the ground. Eventually I started being able to roll with the guys on the descents and I started to enjoy that feeling of speed once again.
However, to be able to be in the mix on the descents you need to be able to get up the climbs in the first place. So after just over a month of training I re-tested myself in another 20 minute FTP test. Same climb, same power meter, same me. But this time I set a personal best (ever) power of 371 watts for 20 minutes. Not bad for someone who 5 months previously was bedridden with a cast and only able to move with the aid of crutches. 20 minute power isn’t everything though, it’s just an indication of where you’re at. There is still lots of work to be done, especially on my high end power and some maintenance on my endurance. But this is a start and I feel ready to take on my first race. I am back to the UK for a CT scan on the 11th of April and all being well I will be making my racing debut in Durango on the 18th of April.
Ashley’s 1st Blog :
Blog de 1ª Etapa
My journey of coming to race in Spain started when I got put in touch with Elliot Reed by Mark Dolan at Epiccoaching©. Elliot had a ride with EC La Tova – Asesoria Almudevar for 2019 and I got in touch with them to enquire. After a few emails back and forth, an agreement had been reached, I was going to race in Spain in 2019. On the 30th of October 2018 the next step of my adventure took place (albeit this was not one that I had planned). I was hit off my bike whilst out training between Basingstoke and Newbury. Knocked unconscious and left with a broken ankle. I was out of action. But for how long? It turned out I wouldn’t ride my bike until the 22nd of January 2019 a full three months off. Even then it was only on the turbo trainer because it was too much of a risk to ride on the road. Was this the end of my goals to race at the highest level in Spain? Well firstly, I needed the team to stick by me, and seeing as I’d never met any of them this wasn’t guaranteed. They deserve massive credit for believing in me despite knowing that I was doing zero cycling in my lead-up to moving out to Spain. It would have been the easier for them not to have a rider (especially one new to the team and country) recovering from an injury. Quite simply, a thank you to EC La Tova and Adrian (Team Manager) for believing in my potential despite the difficult circumstances. Secondly I needed to find a way of getting myself fit without putting any weight on my ankle. Not an easy task. Aerobically it was a tough one, I didn’t want to do too much upper body based work because I would simply have to lose the weight once I got back riding. Swimming was the obvious choice, it was non weight bearing and would not ‘distort’ my body shape too much. However, I’m not really much of a swimmer, I love swimming in the ocean, but pools really aren’t my thing. I did take a few trips to the pool towards the end of my recovery, but primarily I opted for an adapted body weight program. It consisted of yoga and stretches, that I modified to eradicate weight bearing with my left ankle. I did the same with core exercises, and along with my coach we went through and picked movements that would work or adapted them. In this vein we built up a routine that I could do to keep myself in some sort of shape.
And so I arrived in Spain, still wearing a boot and only supposed to ride on the turbo trainer. Far from ideal. I was woefully unprepared for riding some of the highest level U23 races in the world, I couldn’t even unclip my shoes from my pedals. To all intents and purposes I’m a pro cyclist, but I’m not getting paid and I can’t ride my bike. Things took a step in the right direction a couple of days after arriving in Huesca, I rode my bike outside for the first time. It felt amazing, the wind in my hair and the bike speeding underneath me. There was only one problem, I couldn’t get this thought out my head, it was perpetual, on every corner, each time the speed increased. “Don’t Crash!” A stupid thought – and one that was not helping me to relax and enjoy the moment – but it was very real. If I crashed I could be straight back to square one, no bike riding, no racing, no nothing. The thought has lessened over time, however I think it serves as a reminder for me to continue to ride carefully. Until the time comes when I can commit to taking risks and racing down the descents again.
The weekend of our arrival was to be the team training camp, a testing ground to see where everyone was at. Josh Sandman, the third Brit on the team, excelled winning the battle to the top of the last climb of the day on Saturday. I got to watch it all unfold from the comfy seat of the team car because I had stepped off the bike a few kilometres previously. Easing myself back to training was important and I didn’t want to overdo things too soon. Poco a Poco. The Sunday was an 80km ride in the morning (which I completed) and the team presentation at Sommos winery in the afternoon. It was a great day, it all felt very professional, and we (the three Brits) had really started to get to know some of the guys on the team.
The 3 English Amigos: Joshua Sandman (left), Elliot Reed (middle) and Me (right) 2019 is going to be a great year with La Tova, a very professional setup that will take us to some of the best races. For now it’s all about getting the hard training miles in, ready for what is going to be a stellar season with Equipo La Tova. I’m really looking forward to making the most of this opportunity and sharing the story along the way!