Last Sunday I raced my 4th road race of the season and it was one I’d been super looking forward to! The course had lots of off-road gravel sectors, as well as some tough QOMS. I started the race last year, but after an untimely puncture followed by being sent the wrong way whilst chasing back on, I DNFed. In fact, it was the last race that I did in 2018 before I climbed off my bike for a couple of months. I did the course recce last year and part of the race, so I could remember bits of the course and I knew it was going to be a tough race.
A really nasty crash only a couple of kilometres in to the race meant that we stood neutralised for nearly 2hrs. My little sister was involved in the crash too, so for the first 30mins or so I stood there super worried. A crash doesn’t usually stop a race like that, so I’d worked up a massive story in my head about how bad it must have been and how injured she was. In fact I was close to turning round and riding back to the crash to see if she was okay, when one of my team mates Dad rode over and said he’d seen her and she was okay. She wanted to keep racing, but had totalled her front wheel and our spare wheels were dotted around the course on the main sectors. It was probably best she didn’t carry on, because it’s the next morning you usually realise how injured you are!
After nearly 2hrs stood waiting to restart, we got the go ahead that everyone was either up or off to hospital and that the doctor and follow cars were free to continue the race with us. I was dreading restarting the race… it was nearly 4pm and I’d had lunch at 11am, I’d also not got a follow car so I’d saved my gels and water bottles for the race. Basically I was hungry and thirsty and had been stood up for 2hrs – great prep. It was like racing straight after a cafe stop, except I hadn’t had coffee or cake.
The race started super fast as I’d expected and I decided not to look at my bike computer screen and just focus on what I was doing. I positioned myself in the front 5 and spent a lot of time in the first 30mins or so pushing wind. I knew the race would split on the narrow gravel sectors and up the climbs and I decided my energy was better spent on the front, rather than constantly chasing. It worked well for me, I ended up in all the splits and didn’t once get hampered by crashes on the wet and muddy off road sectors or have to chase up the climbs. After about an hour of racing the heavens opened and the temperature completely dropped. I was in shorts and jersey and remember wishing I had a follow car to grab an extra jacket from. The wet made the tight and technical course even more treacherous and gaps continued to open in the peloton. After the final QOM there was only about 10 of us left. I remember this bit because there was an attack and I was hanging on for dear life. I remember thinking that it was okay I’d just slip down the bunch and then move up again on the downhill. That didn’t happen because there was literally no one left!! I hung in there though and got up the climb in what was left of the bunch. The rain was lashing down and visibility wasn’t good at all. Everyone took the decent pretty carefully which I was super thankful for. With my main focus being the Olympics on the Track, I’m only doing road races for fun and really didn’t want a crash!
The group swelled back to about 20 riders once the course flattened out. There had been a bit of a lull in the pace as with only 10km or so to go, no one wanted to commit. I was starting to think of the sprint too and was trying to hide in wheels and save energy. The organisers had sensibly shortened the race by about 20km after being stopped for so long. This meant that the race went straight into the finish rather than having a finish loop round the town. I had no idea what the finish straight was like so I was completely winging the sprint. I had read in the race manual that there was a left hand corner about 450m before the finish so I’d loosely planned to get round that in the top 5 or so and go from there. We rode past the sign “Welcome to Melton Mowbray” and I realised the finish was close! I was near the back as the pace was high with lots of small attacks. I pushed wind round the bunch on the right hand side of the road in order to get myself to the front. Up ahead the lead motorbike turned left and there was a crowd of people and a lot of race barriers dictating the race course. This was the left hand corner! I’d gotten a bit lucky with my timing as I hit that corner in fourth wheel. I’d been pushing wind for the last minute or so in order to move up, which isn’t ideal! The 3 girls infront of me kicked out the corner and started going for the line. I waited a few beats and then moved round right. They all moved right and I was completely trapped. I kicked back and went again and found a clear line. 200m to go I was neck-a-neck with Becks Durrell (a previous team mate on the road and super strong and talented in all terrains!). We rode wheel-to-wheel for what felt like forever. As we hit the last 100m I pulled slightly ahead and then got a wheel ahead and then a bike ahead. No one else was close to the two of us, and as I crossed the line I could hear my name called as the winner.
CICLE Classic is an iconic race on the British women’s road calendar, but to outsiders it might not seem like a big race. For me it’s my biggest road race result ever and I couldn’t be happier. 1 year ago almost to the day I wasn’t riding my bike, and this year I turned up “just for fun” and took the win! Waiting for me at the finish was my Mom and little sister (looking unhurt to me relief), both beaming. They knew how much this meant to me, how hard I’ve worked and how many set backs I’ve had in the last 12 months. They’ve been through it all with me. It might not have been a World title, or even an Olympic title, it wasn’t even a national title, but to me it meant the World and I was so happy to share that moment with them. I’d also like to take the chance to give a big shoutout to Jonny Towers and Kieren Frend. Jonny owns the bike shop Cycle Division and Cero Wheels, and so kindly gave me a road bike to train and race on this year. Kieren is the Manager of the shop and has continually helped me with bits, organised my bike and wheels, the set up, advised me on tyre choices and so many other things! Both of them believed in me from the start, and have done everything they could to get me the best possible equipment I could have asked for. In our pre-race chat, Jonny told me I could win this race, and now I know he was right.