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!