Next up was the regional championships of Aragon, and despite me never having set foot in Aragon before February of this year I was on the startline. It was an important race for the team, especially as their sister club Escuela Ciclista Zaragoza were organising the event. For us there were two classifications that we wanted to win, the Elite and Under 23 Regional Championship jerseys, they were our focus. We had a few riders in each category, but only those from Aragon could actually win the jersey. Which meant that the rest of us were firmly in the domestique role. I like knowing exactly what I have to do in a race, it makes things much simpler, you just have to work hard and help your team achieve the result. Although having said that, there was still a little part in the back of my head that thought ‘I can win this race’. I guess that never goes away, the competitor in me always wants to be the first across the line. However I had to try and banish that for this race, as any result I got would not be welcomed by the team. They had already pre-chosen their race leaders, and the only way I could be one of them was if I suddenly turned Aragonese, which is surprisingly difficult.
The race start was in a small town called Cetina, a few kilometres south east of Zaragoza. I’d had a little look at the race route on google streetview and plotted it on Strava to have a look at the amount of climbing. The more the better as far as I was concerned. Sadly though there was really only one climb on the circuit, and it was only 4 minutes long. In UK racing, this would blow a field apart, but in Spain it’s a completely different story. The other thing to contend with in this race was the way that they planned to integrate the masters races into the field. First you have to understand a little about the course, it was essentially 4 laps of a circuit. But with a short 9k ride out to the circuit to start, and the same 9k ride back to the finish line. The way it was going to work was that the 30 to 40 masters would be introduced following the first lap, then following the second lap the 40 to 50 masters would be introduced. Then on the final lap the 50 to 60 masters would be introduced, a novel idea, but one that I had serious reservations about how it would affect the race.
The race started under typical Spanish sunshine, casually nudging 30 degree Celsius, what was previously a hot days racing for me was now just a standard day at the office. Unfortunately I had managed to forget my sunglasses, and I had to squint a fair amount, but it was all my own doing. On the ride out to the circuit the race was aggressive, with moves flying left right and center. The problem was that it was a pretty big open road, and you remained in view of the peloton until you had at least a 30 second gap. I was also aware of a couple of ‘big’ teams, and by that I mean numbers, a couple of teams had similar numbers to us. What we needed to do was to make sure we included them in any breakaways so that it wouldn’t be chased back instantly. I made a few attempts off the front, but nothing full blooded because I was always checking around me to make sure that I had other members of my team with me. My main job was to shut down moves that had dangerous riders for the jersey in. That way I would tire them out, making it easier for my teammates when they made their move. Eventually just before we hit the circuit a move got away, and we had three riders up there. Sadly only one of them was eligible for the jersey, as the other two were Columbian and Argentine. However, we were satisfied and set about disrupting things to make it difficult for other teams to chase. Once we hit the first time up the climb the break had about 45 seconds, we could see them ahead on the climb, but it wasn’t an instantly bridgeable gap. The peloton went pretty fast up the climb, but we (La Tova) sat back and followed, knowing we had riders up the road. Also just before the climb, was the first introduction of masters, and with it the bunch swelled. This made things exceptionally confusing, who was racing for what, and who was helping who. Riders would take random pulls on the front, subtly helping out people they seemingly had no affiliation with apart from just being mates. After the first climb, the peloton was all together and the break had maintained their lead. Any stragglers had ample opportunity to get back on as it eased over the top. I was all for putting the pressure down, after all we needed the race to be as hard as possible as our hopefuls were all climbers.
On the second time up the climb, after even more masters being introduced the gap came down to the breakaway. With the gap slightly down, and on a smaller rolling climb I attacked with two other teammates and we flew across the gap. We were within touching distance when ahead of me Lorien’s wheel slipped out, he was riding behind our teammate Antonio. He lost control and veered off the road into the gravel, where he was promptly thrown over the handlebars and into the dirt at the side of the road. Not something you ever like to see, especially not when it’s your teammate and one your closest friends in the team. I looked back as he flew over the handlebars, knowing that he had just crashed at upwards of 50kph. But that’s bike racing and we had a job to do. Soon after we bridged the gap, minus a teammate, and we settled into the group. Well, that’s not strictly true, I settled into the group. Antonio went straight to the front and started drilling it as hard as he could. From my experience, when you get to a group it’s best to integrate into it and start working with the pace they were already setting. Especially when we’re just adding two extra La Tova riders into an already La Tova heavy group. I would rather them work with us, than simply sit on, which is exactly what they did once they realised we had joined the group. We were left to do all the pace setting, and they simply sat back, knowing full well we would pull them along. It was all for nothing though, as the peloton caught us before the next climb.
After even more masters had been introduced, we hit the climb once again, by this point I was pretty tired. But I chose to sit right up the front with some other teammates, so that if they asked for anything I was right there to help. However, it was at this point that I realised, that despite all our efforts this peloton was never going to be broken up. We needed to have made an absolutely brutal pace every time up the climb to split it, and now we were running out of opportunities. The masters that had done significantly less racing were keen for a sprint and brought back every group that even tried to get off the front. Also off the back, they held things together, as they fought to stay in contact they brought everyone back into the race. The total race distance was only 116 kilometres, and I’m pretty sure all the masters could have completed the race distance easily. That way it would have been a much smaller peloton, at the front of affairs, as it was it was a guaranteed sprint finish. Never have I ever been in a race where the finishing peloton is bigger than the one that started (unless in a pursuit). It was a bit ridiculous, and it was at this point that I switched off. I’d burnt my legs to help my team, and I didn’t want to compete in a sprint, so I just sat on the back of the peloton and reflected. Reflected on what could have been for this race, had it not been for the way the masters had been introduced, making it impossible to split the race and make it hard. Fortunately enough, Adrian Barcelo managed to sneak off in the closing kilometres and take 2nd in the Elite classification. Not quite a jersey, but a podium to save what had been a bit of a torrid race for us.
For me personally I had a good race, and I felt I could do a solid job for the team. They valued that, and I hope in future races to get my opportunity to go for the race result. Sadly this time, the race was overshadowed by a friend of mine hitting the deck. Luckily he was alright, and after a short trip to the hospital he was sent home to rest. But it really brings home how fragile we are as bike racers, as I came across the finish line my main priority was to find out that he was alright.
July started off back in Spain with a race in Beasain called ‘Clasica Loinaz’. My Auntie and Uncle had come over to watch, and it was really great to be able to share some of the racing atmosphere with them. The weather for the race was pretty murky, a mist had gathered on the higher ground and meant it was quite overcast. I was relaxed going into the race start and neutral section, letting myself be one of the last riders out. This isn’t my usual style of racing, I’m normally up towards the front, but to hold myself back I decided to sit on initially. To begin with this decision seemed to pay off, but as we started climbing I tried to start moving up. It was at this point that there was a crash a couple of riders ahead of me, and I couldn’t slow down in time. It was mostly down to the greasy tarmac reducing my ability to stop, and my only option was to go around the side. Unfortunately the only thing at the edge of the road was a rain drain that I ended up riding into. Luckily there was a ‘soft’ landing of the verge which I managed to find. I was up quickly – adrenaline pumping – put my chain back on and got rolling. Just in time for my team mechanic to get to me and push me off. After getting a spray of water from the car to clean hands so I could grip the handlebars, I pushed on through the caravan of team cars. I managed to get back to the rear of the peloton fairly quickly, just in time to hit the first major climb of the day. I moved up as riders dropped off the back, but over the top I was just off the back of what was the main group. Spooked from having already gone down, and with misty rain falling I didn’t want to take too many risks on the descent. I just tried to maintain my speed, get down safely, and then reassess the situation once I got down. The other riders had different ideas, and halfway down the descent those who had got dropped on the climb started pinging past me. Then my teammate was there, on my inside on a wet hairpin, not the best idea. He hit the deck hard and I almost came to a complete stop to avoid him. After that I tapped out, that was enough risk for one day! It’s hard to explain how unsettling it is to have riders come down around you, but it was compounded by me having already gone down. This all happened in the first 40 kilometres of the race, and it’s safe to say that at this point my race was over. Not the best start to a months worth of racing, but lesson learnt. Most of all, to be up towards the front, to stay safe and be part of the race.
The following race was once again in the Basque Country in a town called Antzuola. We had a plan from the team director. The plan was to send half the team on the attack early, and then save two riders for the final. I was one of those who was told to attack first and try to get up the road. Attacking is one of my favourite things to do, and I relished the opportunity to go on the offensive. Just before the first main climb I managed to get a little gap, sadly I was solo and so didn’t have much chance of surviving as the rest of the peloton would chase. I was caught halfway up the climb and I just decided to hold my pace and let myself slip through the peloton. I needed a bit of recovery and I thought it would all regroup after the climb. I also didn’t want to completely blow and find myself really off the back. After the descent I took a moment to eat and drink in the group, and as we started cruising along rolling roads we started getting in some more moves. After a while a group went up the road, we had one rider up there, but the attacks still kept coming. Suddenly I found myself in a group of 15 in between the peloton and the breakaway. La Tova had two other riders in this group, meaning if the groups came together we’d have 4 up the road. Once we hit the smaller of the two climbs on the circuit I went to the front and drove it to bring the two groups together. Across the finish and just before the final climb I emptied the tank, I knew I didn’t have much left and I went full gas to bring the two groups together. As we hit the lower slopes I pulled off, job done. It was one of those, I didn’t have the legs to perform in the finale so I sacrificed my chances for the team. It didn’t pay off, but it was worth a shot because we would have had a great chance of being in the main move of the day. Working for the team is something that I really enjoy doing, it’s one of my favourite parts of racing. That common goal to get the best result for the team, it brings us together and means we get better performances out of each other. When you know someone has worked for you it’s so much more important to finish the job, and helps you to go deeper.
After the race in Beasain I had a bit of time off, as the next race was a week and a half away. I gave myself a couple of easier days to fully recover, and then I went about enjoying all the joys that the Huescan roads have to offer. Some of my favourite rides, big days in the mountains just enjoying tapping away on a climb and then flying down the other side. Half the battle of these rides at the moment is heat management, keeping the core temperature down and staying hydrated. It’s not something you can ever really prepare for without simply riding in the heat. While it’s hot like this, the other battle is the daily struggle to sleep without waking up in a pool of sweat. Taking a shower, cold water, a breeze coming in through the window, all help but nothing really makes it easier. And I know, it’s Spain, I should have known it would be hot. I guess you just never know what it’s like until you’re really living it, all 38 degrees C of it.
After a week of sweating profusely it was back to racing, mercifully the forecast was for 25 degrees. However, after a 5 hour drive to get to the race the temperature was solidly mid 30’s. Oh well, I was used to that by now, I’d just have to make sure I went back to get bottles. I didn’t make the same mistake as in Beasain, and I started in the first 15 riders. After an absolutely rapid start on twisty Cantabrian roads I let myself slip back. I needed water and I knew no dangerous breakaway was going to get up the road because Caja Rural were closing every single move down. A little chase back on through the cars with fresh water and I was back in the peloton. I took the time to eat a bar and catch my breath before moving myself back up to a safer position. Then we hit the real rolling roads that had been promised, constant up and down with no flat roads in sight. Riders started losing wheels and I knew we were on the first of two bigger climbs, after losing the wheel on the descent I found myself about 15 seconds off the main group. I was with a couple of riders, and I assumed that they would bridge back up. I assumed wrong and I ended up having to make the jump across on my own, bridging just before the top of a 1 kilometre long roller. Safely in the peloton I had a gel and gave myself a couple of minutes, my legs were pretty gone and I wasn’t sure how I was going to go on the final climb. Despite not having great legs I moved up towards the front as team Amari started working away on the front. They had missed the breakaway that was up the road, and they went full gas. Over a 10 kilometre stretch they chased hard, stringing the peloton out and making it impossible to even think about attacking. As we hit the bottom of the final climb the junction was made and the race was all back together. Being towards the front was a major advantage, as I saw a Caja Rural rider slip up the road. I don’t know what came over me, but I decided to jump on the wheel and I found myself away. We went hard, but not so hard that I couldn’t sustain the pace. Three kilometres before the top a small group bridged and I went into hanging on mode, gritting my teeth with the pain of the effort. In the final kilometre I dropped the wheel, I just couldn’t sustain the pace and I was overheating. I tried to settle into my pace but everything was hurting, I crested the climb alone. I had a rider just up the road and I tried to bridge up on the descent but it was twisty and he was out of sight. I was overtaken just before the bottom by another rider and once off the descent I did everything to bridge up to them both. It was a losing battle and as I looked around I saw a group rolling through behind my. In my head I thought ‘they’ll definitely catch the two other riders so there’s no point in chasing anymore’. This was a mistake on my part as the two riders weren’t caught, but I took the risk. At this point there was about 12 riders up the road in lots of small groups, and I was in a bigger group of 20. I knew I had no chance in the sprint so I decided to give it a go with an attack in the final kilometre. Sadly I cramped hard and didn’t get anywhere, rolling through with the group in 31st place. I was disappointed with myself, yes I’d made some mistakes, but I’d shown that I was up there. Most of all though, I came over the finish line and I had enjoyed the race. I think this was down to the fact that I had really been there at the pointy end, and with a little refinement I had the chance of a real result.
Next up is the championships of Aragon, which is a very important race for the team to perform well at. Aragon is our region, and we need to show that we own the race and represent the jersey. The course is lumpy and the race will be decided on the tight twisty roads that are so synonymous with the Aragon region.
June started off with a race in the Basque Country in a classic little town called Beasain. It was another fairly early start, getting up at 3:45am ready to get to the race which started at 8am. The team orders were to try to be up there and in the breakaways because they thought it was likely that a big group would get away. I was right up for this because I love getting involved in the attacks. The race started off with a couple of smaller climbs and lots of big open motorway roads before we hit a 12km climb 100k’s into the race. For the first 100 kilometres I got into lots of moves and represented the team in lots of attacks. Being totally honest, I blew my doors off and wasted most of my energy. Sadly this meant that when we got to the big climb I was pretty finished and just sat up. It was a shame because I had good legs but I used them up at a time when it didn’t really make too much difference. I need to learn to be much more patient. It’s alright to attack a bit, but you’ve got to realise that it’s not going anywhere when they keep getting brought back.
Sadly I didn’t have the opportunity to put my lessons into practice because I had yet another appointment to go back to in the UK. Also at this point came selection for the British national road race championships. I was hoping that I’d get in, and had booked my flights home so that I could race if the opportunity arose. Unfortunately because I had been racing in Spain, and not the UK, my points were not online. To them it looked as though I hadn’t competed in any races and was just chancing my arm at getting an entry. A shame, but there wasn’t any racing in Spain as they also had their national champs so I decided to have an elongated stay in the UK. I had already missed the races I had planned in Spain because of my doctor’s appointment so I wasn’t losing any race time.
Onto my appointment with the doctor then, well it was one of many that I’ve had to come back to the UK for. They hadn’t seen me since I had started racing and as far as they were concerned the recovery was going swimmingly. Sadly since starting racing I had been having pretty well constant issues. Achilles straining, pulling behind my knee and soreness around my ankle. The pain would flare up around races and any longer days walking. I kept having to DNF races and quit training sessions for fear of causing a longer term issue. At my appointment I explained my symptoms and asked them what to do to sort it out. Their explanation was that; from a fracture point of view it was all healed but the prolonged period of immobilisation was meaning that I needed physio. The plan now is to get into the physio and hopefully start to mobilise the ankle again. What I’ve learnt through this whole rehab process is that you’ve really got to be patient and work through things step by step. Jumping straight back into full time training and then racing is always going to be a shock for the body. You’ve got to respect that.
Whilst I’m back in the UK for a longer period I decided to make use of some of the best features of the UK cycling scene. The club ride and the chaingang, both absolute staples of the UK cycling diet. First it was time for a club ride where you get to have a great natter while covering some of the best local roads. The main subjects were; Froome crashing out at the Dauphine and the Ovo Energy Women’s Tour of Britain. In fact we rode on a very similar course to the Berkshire stage of the Tour in celebration! It’s really gratifying to come back to your local ride in foreign kit and you get to tell a few of the war stories. Next up was a chaingang, much less conversational, more of a race than most criteriums. Everyone just hits it hard and sometimes rotate through, usually the first few miles are controlled and then you hit a lump and it splits. Unfortunately I was on my cyclo-cross bike and so didn’t get to unleash too many wattage bazookas. It still ended up being a race for the top of the valley and then a full on sprint for the finish back at the bottom. I love that feeling of speed that you get in a chaingang; it’s like being in the breakaway of a road race. Rolling through, and all contributing to the speed of the group as you fly through the countryside.
Now I’m in North Lincolnshire at my grandparents, relaxing and being well fed. Whilst building up ready for some one day races in July. The team and I have come to the decision that I will stick to one day races, despite having the opportunity to do some ‘Vueltas’ (tours). This is because I’m not sure how my ankle will hold up racing day after day and I do not want to let the team down. July will be action packed and hopefully we will be able to hop over the border into southern France and see some of the Tour de France. Something I’ve never done before, but cannot wait to experience! Especially on some of those iconic climbs where you really get to be part of the action.
After my initial forays of racing it was full gas and back doing all the races that the team wanted me to do. The way it generally works is that we’ll get a calendar sent to us for the following month about mid-way through the current month telling us the races we’ll be doing. The decision is based on past race performances and also considering the course characteristics and the aims of the team at each particular race. Happily I was selected for lots of races which meant that I could really start to test myself and see how things were going.
I think my last month of racing can be summed up well by the events of the past week. I travelled back from the UK on the Tuesday after a family wedding, it was really great to be able to be there and I have to thank my team for being understanding. I flew in in the evening and was straight into getting all my kit in order for the following days race. We left at 8 o’clock the next day for the 6 hour drive to Higuerela, it wasn’t a super early start because it was an afternoon race but we were in for a long day. After arriving in Higuerela we had a couple of hours to relax and get our kit on. It was a fairly warm day but perfect for racing. I wasn’t sure how I’d be feeling because of flying in the day before but I was glad to be back racing in Spain. My legs were pretty lethargic in the first hour and once we hit the first big climb of the day I just didn’t have that zip to stay with the main pace. I let myself slip back in the group whilst maintaining a steady rhythm and found myself in the cars just at the crest of the climb. I got a couple of bottles and got into the convoy of cars to try to get back into the peloton. Unfortunately there had been a split in the peloton so I had to slip into the second group on the road.
Once I was in the group we got working and maintained our pace, I was happy to just roll through and get a solid 140ks in my legs so I got into the paceline. We never got back to the peloton, but I wasn’t really expecting much from the race because I’d had a pretty inconsistent couple of weeks training. This was mostly down to the fact that my ankle had been playing up since the 6th of May. It started off as a little niggle up my calf, and has meant that I have missed and curtailed a lot of training sessions. It wasn’t too bad in the race and I only noticed it a little towards the end of the race. It had been a good day because I had got round with no real problems with my ankle. But I was getting frustrated because my legs were feeling good, no cramps and towards the end of the race felt really good. It was just my ankle that was my limiting factor stopping me from getting some really good results.
After a couple of easy days we headed to France for a stage race in the Pyrenees. The course really suited me and if I was without injury problems I would have seen it as an opportunity for a really strong result. However, I knew that a stage race was going to be a tall order and I would have to be careful not to worsen my ankle. I went into the weekend with the mentality of “take each stage as it comes and do what I could manage”. I didn’t want to put any pressure on myself and then have to try to push through the pain in my ankle.
It started off with a short TT of 5k on a pan flat cycle path, I’d got all set up on the teams Sobato TT bike. I’m not really a time trialist, and I’d have preferred it to be longer, but I was still up for giving it a good go. I managed to come in 30th position about 30 seconds off the lead, which was a solid ride. On the positives, it was good to get fitted to the TT bike and to get the opportunity to give it a crack. After the TT we had a few hours to recover for the afternoons stage which was a 90 kilometre road race finishing with 12ks up to Luz-Ardiden. I realised pretty quickly that my legs weren’t there and after the first climb I communicated to the team that I wasn’t good and that I would work for them. A pretty big group had got up the road after the first 40ks so I got to the front and have it licks for 10 kilometres until we hit the climbs again. At which point I dropped back through the peloton after having worked on the front. Luckily I managed to stay in the wheels and got back to the front to position the guys well for the final climb. As we hit the lower slopes I did one last turn and then swung off. Job Done! Or so I thought, the next job was to make it up the 12 kilometres at an average of 7.7%. After an initial minute of recovery I tried to get back into my own rhythm and tempo to the top, but it was just so relentless. The climb seemed to go on forever, counting down the kilometres, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. The last kilometre was much easier because I could see the finish, it was such a mental battle.
The following day we had a flat 88 kilometres apart from the final 10 kilometres up to Cauterets. Unfortunately the morning of the stage my ankle and calf were pretty sore. I started the stage anyway, hoping that it would be pretty steady on the flat roads before the climb. It wasn’t, we averaged 45kph for the first 40 minutes. Once we hit a couple of lumps I decided to ease off the pace and pack it in. I didn’t want to risk any serious injury. It was time to have an easy week and get my body repaired, I was slowly but surely realising that injuries are extremely complicated. It stops just being about recovering your legs, and starts being about managing an injury. This is my first broken bone and sustained time with an injury in cycling and I’m needing to learn to really listen to how the stresses of racing are impacting my body. I haven’t had a traditional base period in which I can build that resistance to fatigue so I am going to need to be really careful and listen to my body.
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!