What a difference a couple of weeks make!
I am buzzing from my first ever win yesterday on Stage 5 of the 3 Days of Bedford – a stage race which forms part of the Women’s Team Series.
The weekend kicked off with an individual time trial of 2.7 whole kilometres. Despite the short distance this really did split the field. I found it hard to get the full effort needed out of my legs but was happy(ish) with a result which placed me around the top 15.
Stage 2, the first road race, was where the racing started proper. A frantic roll out led to a massive crash just after the flag dropped. Around 30 riders hit the deck and that was sadly the end of my team mate Harriet’s ride. She ended up being taken to hospital in an ambulance after her face took the majority of the impact – she was given the all clear that evening and is now recovering at home. Heal quickly Harriet!
Down to three riders we soldiered on with the rest of the stage. Polish team Planet X were dominating and race leader Jess Roberts had a tough job to defend her jersey. I pleased myself by finally getting my ass to the front of the race. It was so much more fun this way! With a couple of laps to go I followed an attack over climb and ended up hammering it with three Polish riders. The chasing peloton were determined not to let us go though and the race came down to a bunch sprint up the climb. I was gutted to hit a pothole at 1km to go and to miss out on the finish with a double puncture.
Stage 3 was the team time trial – down to three riders (when other teams had up to six) we put in a solid effort. It felt smooth and together and this is the moment when I started to feel pretty strong. I found I could push a massive gear (following advice from DS Simon Howes of ‘if in doubt change up’) and we lost only around 30 secs to the winning Planet X team.
Stage 4, the second road race, was a nice rolling course. I stayed active at the front of the bunch but stupidly was way back in the peloton on the bell lap when two Planet X girls attacked over the climb and stayed away to win the stage and the leaders jersey. Lesson learnt. In the last lap the three of us managed to get together for the finish. All was looking good until a horse box squeezed the pack and our line blew apart. In the chaos a rider from Team 22 slipped away for 3rd, I did a kamikaze move through gravel down the outside to hit the front just in time for the climb. The timing wasn’t quite right and my legs gave out before the finish – riders passed me and I came away with 7th.
I went into the last stage 11th on GC and feeling super strong. I’d taken confidence from my finish on Stage 4 and was ready to get stuck in with my teamies. The finishing climb was a bit longer and a bit steeper – perfect. With two laps to go the Army Girls were lining things out and keeping the pace high, I popped an extra strong caffeine shot and on the bell lap I followed Chanel from the Army team as she attacked over the line. It wasn’t to be and things came together but I felt like I’d staked my claim to the front of the race. I hid from the cross winds as best as I could and refused to be bullied to the back of the bunch. My team mate Gemma was doing a great job of riding high and I tucked in on her wheel. Emily had been taken out in a crash and had managed an incredible ride to get back to the main bunch via dropped groups.
On the last left hander I saw a Team 22 girl attack, riders were determined not to let her go and I hitched a ride 5th wheel to the bottom of the climb. Just as the pace eased I saw the top of the climb and just went for it. If I could get a decent gap on the climb I’d stand a chance of holding out over the crest. I didn’t look back. All I could hear was someone screaming for Jess – good. That meant she needed the extra support. I heard my ex-teamies partner Barny shouting that the gap looked good (thank you Barny – that made me believe!) I kept pushing, crested the hill, couldn’t see anyone alongside. Push push push and finally the line!
My first emotion was disbelief! I must actually be dreaming. I crossed the line grinning as it hit home, I stuck a hand in the air and whooped. My legs felt amazing, I couldn’t feel the lactate. I had won!! Finally!! It had only taken 2 and a bit years after my first race to get across the finish line first.
Jess said well done, the Polish girl in the yellow jersey said well done, I looked for my teammates, I needed someone to hug! Gem came along first, then the team car, then Emily, everyone was so happy!
It feels so good to give the team a win, to give Lee a win, to give my parents and coach a win. It makes me finally feel like I’m earning all the generous support I’ve been given since I took up racing. Fingers crossed this is just the beginning…
Thanks go to:
Simon, Ro from Kemp Fitness (more on his superb warm-up routines later), Gemma, Emily, Harriet (top teamies), Katie of Challenge Cycle Coaching, Phil at Aprire Bicycles (for the gorgeous bike), NutrixxionUK (for that mega caffeine hit just when I needed it), to the team sponsors, and to my exceptionally handsome fiancé who motivated me with a brilliant ride in his race the day before. I love you!!
Also thanks to Huw Williams for the photo – see his fab pics of the weekend here.