This year is the first time in 3yrs I’ve competed at the Elite European championships! Back in 2016 when I was 19, I raced the Team Pursuit and the first ever Womens Madison event and came home with a Bronze and a Silver medal! 2017 and 2018 I missed out on selection because I actually wasnt riding. Both years I was injured but this year I finally made it to the start line! I was down only to race the Scratch race but ended up racing the Elimination race to the following day.
Going into the Scratch race my plan was pretty simple. Keep the race together so that it would finish as a bunch sprint and start the sprint early (maybe 2laps to go) instead of trying to get round riders in the last lap. The first 30laps (of the 40) were pretty uneventful with a couple of little moves but nothing that stuck, meaning it was looking like a bunch sprint! A late attack by the German rider followed by the Norwegian saw the chance of a bunch sprint and my chance at a jersey ride away. The whole bunch watched them go and so I attacked down to the black line to start the chase at about 6laps to go. After a lap I swung up hoping others would commit to the chase but nobody did. A split second decision from myself saw me continue on the front and chase the two riders down. I passed the German and then on the bell I passed the Norwegian. I’d been on the front for over 1min by now and my legs were screaming at me to stop. I was sure I’d be swamped by the bunch any minute, but I made it to the final turn and then to the finish line ahead of everyone else.
My legs hurt so much I couldn’t actually get off my bike but I was so happy I couldn’t stop smiling! I won GBs first medal of the championships and started the ball rolling for a good championships from the squad.
The next day was the Elimination race. I raced the Elimination race at the U23s back in 2017 and although I won the jersey I also finished with a concussion, fractured ribs and went to hospital to have splinters removed. I was really hoping that wasn’t how this race was ending!
This year the race was really cagey and there was a couple of times my front wheel hit other riders as they swerved and bounced off others infront. I was a bit scared if I’m honest, so I ended up riding a little higher on the track than usual and tried to stay out of trouble. I was starting to tire and when there was only 5 of us left I got close to being out for the first time the whole race.
Elimination races are brutal because you have to sprint every 1.5-2laps which is roughly every 30-40secs but keep that up for over 10mins (if you aren’t eliminated). By the time it got down to the last 3 I was really flagging, but the Polish girl surrendered early and left it to me and Kirsten Wild (Netherlands) to fight for the jersey. I took height and planned to race it like a flying lap; build speed, attack down the bankings and get round Wild before the finish. It worked well except I didn’t quite get round her at the end, so Silver it was!
Looking back maybe I should have lead the sprint out like I did in the Scratch race, but I’m not sure whether it would have worked either. Kirsten is one of the most decorated track riders, having won a whole lot of World and European titles in the last couple of years, including 3 World titles this year. Coming 2nd to her wasn’t so bad! Two medals in two days with one of them being Gold was better than any of my expectations!
There was no time to rest though once competition was over as I pretty much went straight down to London for the Six Day competition there (only 3 days for women). The day before competition started I raced my first ever Zwift race! It was on stage in the centre of the velodrome and with the thousands of people there to watch the track racing, also watching me race on a turbo- pretty crazy! I had never raced a virtual race before so I had no idea what to expect. We warmed up on the turbo trainers with the big screen and the virtual ME riding infront of me, so I got a little feel for it. The race itself was relatively short: 3 laps of a 3km circuit with a sprint each time you crossed the finish line. The racs set off super fast and I was worried I was going to get dropped! The perspective that you view the race from on the screen means that reaction times feel a but delayed, so by the time you’ve noticed you need to pedal harder to keep up, youre already a little dropped! Thankfully the race had little drama and I got the hang of it, picking up a 1st and a 2nd in the lap sprints. Coming around to the finish I messed up a little and didnt start sprinting as early as some of the others and got myself gapped. I pulled a bit back though and finished in a respectable 4th place for my first ever Zwift race!
The next day was the start of the track racing at London 6day for the Women. We started off with an Omnium on the Friday night, which I finished a respectable 2nd place behind Katie Archibald. I was pretty chuffed with that having placed consistently across the first 3 events (3rd, 3rd, 5th) and then picking up points throughout the points race. During the points race it was very tight with me and Neah Evan’s and Laura Kenny constantly changing positions between 2nd 3rd and 4th (Katie had won all 3 of the first events so only a lap gain might topple her lead). Going into the finally sprint I was in 3rd place but only 4 points behind 2nd place and only 4 points ahead of 4th, so it would all come down to the last sprint. Katie, Neah and Laura had all sprinted hard at the 10laps to go sprint and picked up some points in that, but had also done a big effort sprinting against each other for only a small amount of points. I had decided to sit it out and rest for the final sprint which offers double points and so could boost me up to 2nd. Elinor Barker attacked straight after the sprint and the 3 girls having gone big for the sprint couldn’t react. I went with her along with a Russian rider and an Itailan and we got a good gap. In fact I was about 40m off taking a lap which would have seen me jump Katie and take the Omnium title! The finish came around too fast though so it wasnt to be, but I sprinted around my attacking companions and took the 10 points jumping me back to 2nd place. I enjoy racing Omniums but they aren’t my best event at all so to have finished in 2nd place with only Katie Archibald (previous World Champion in the Omnium) in front of me gave me a really good boost of confidence and confirms for me that my legs are feeling good!
The next 2 days consisted of a 20km Madison, Madison Team Elimination, Scratch race and then the final Madison Chase. I was partnered with my good friend Manon Lloyd. We have never raced Madison together before despite having been good friends since we met back in 2012 and having raced together for many years. We didnt even practice going into the first Madison of the weekend, in fact we didnt so much as practice holding hands! I’ve known Manon a long time and so I trusted completely that she knew exactly what she was doing and we would be fine. I was confident in her and I guess judging by the fact she didn’t ask me to practice, she was confident in me. We finished 3rd in both the 20km Madison and the Madison Team Elimination which I was super proud of! The Team Elimination is always a bit of an unpredictable one because one wrong move and you can be stuck at the back behind everyone’s Madison changes making it impossible to get over, so you’re out. We did mess up the sprint that we were out on, but we went in aiming for top 3 and came away with that.
The Scratch race was supposed to be the first time I got to race in my European stars, except 6day hadn’t been able to get a jersey sorted for me soon enough. I was pretty gutted if I’m honest, but there should be plenty more opportunities to wear them this year! I finished in 4th, with the Czech rider off the front, Katie winning the bunch sprint and me behind Laura Kenny (by so little I thought I’d just got her on the line). I admit I was a little disappointed but I also have to remind myself how strong and highly decorated my competitors are: Laura is Britain’s most decorated female Olympian with 4 Olympic Gold medals as well as the countless World and European titles over the years. Katie comes in 2nd with just the 1 Olympic Gold medal, but again a room at home full of World and European medals. Me? Well I have 1 Elite World Title (in the Madison with Katie in 2018) and 1 Elite European title this year in the Scratch race, yet I’m competitive against them.
The final chase was fairly uneventful. The gaps in points meant that the only way the scores would change would be by lap gains. The team of Katie/Neah held 1st position with Laura/Elinor in 2nd and Me/Manon in 3rd. The race didn’t change the overall standing for the top 3 (below there was a cat fight for 4th) and so the weekend finished with an all British Podium which was exactly what the home crowd of London wanted!
A flight direct to Minsk World cup from London saw me race the first World Cup of the season. It was a bit of a disappointment coming off such a successful Europeans and 6day. We finished 5th in the Team Pursuit, just missing out on a medal ride. I was 4th in the Scratch race, and me and Laura Kenny finished with Silver in the Madison. I think I’d done too much racing over the month and I didnt have the legs I wanted, so all in all I was pretty happy to come away with a medal in the Madison, even if it wasnt the Gold we aspired to.