Thrills and spills at the Lincoln Grand Prix! Team 22 cyclist and Alpine team member Rachel tells us about her latest National Series race.
A couple of weeks after the Bedford 3 day and the big crash, it was time for the Lincoln GP National Series race. Having not yet fully recovered from the crash – and with my poor Emonda still in tatters – the days leading up to the race were filled with the dilemma as to whether to ride at all. In the end, I decided to do it. I arrived late afternoon the day before, and did a lap of the course with my Dad to see what it was like. It was pretty flat, with one technical descent and the feared ‘Cobbled Climb’. Having heard all kids of rumours about the climb, I’d built it up to be a monster and was really surprised to find that it wasn’t that monstrous at all. Riding the course in advance was a good move, as it helped put my mind at ease about the upcoming day.
After heading to bed early, we were up at around 5:45am. I was trying to get myself in a good place mentally to start the race. We arrived at HQ in plenty of time and set up camp, ready for HQ opening so that we could sign on early. Despite good intentions, signing on seemed to take forever. We got there in the end, but annoyingly only in time for a 7 minute warm up before the race… A stressful way to start, to say the least.
Lining up, there were a LOT of women, 143 to be precise – the biggest peloton I’ve cycled in yet. Next to my teamie, Charlotte Alston, I felt quite relaxed. When I see Charlotte in the peloton, her presence calms me and gives me confidence. We were talking to get our heads in the right place and Charlotte mentioned that she had a mantra, and suggested I make one for the day. So I quickly replied, ‘That’s easy. Position, position, position’. Then we looked around and giggled. It was clear that I had not dialled that, as I was almost at the back already. Start as you mean to go on and all that… Never mind, as the rolling road closures meant that it should be possible (in theory) to move up the bunch using the width of the road. Soon we were off, moving towards Castle Square where the official start would take place.
At the start line, I felt (aside from nervous) quite privileged to be here. On the cobbled streets of Lincoln, I was taking part in a National Series women's race with some of the best riders the country has to offer. Last year I had only just picked up a road bike, and now I had a team manager and a coach, Colin Batchelor, who took me under his wing without really knowing what he was getting himself in to.
A quick 5 second countdown and we were off. The bunch were all still together and I was in a comfortable position. However, carnage quickly ensued. There was a big crash in front of me and I had to mount the kerb to avoid it. At this point, my wheel jammed in a drain and I suppose that’s when it all started to go south for me.
I could still see the bunch so I started chasing, but I just couldn’t get my speed up. I started to wonder if all my energy and fight had just vanished, or maybe I was having a terrible leg day. Unfortunately it appeared that my back brake was jammed on and – whilst a bit of resistance is always good in training – it’s not ideal during a race. I jumped off the bike and adjusted the brake. This appeared to work for a short period of time until I went over a bump, started climbing or got out the saddle. It needed more than a quick adjustment and, by this time, several minutes had passed… So my race was effectively over.
Some passer-by’s had the unfortunate pleasure of listening to me shout obscenities at my bike in pure frustration. I can now fully sympathise when you see the pros throw their bikes down in anger, or give it a wee kick. At that moment, I wanted to launch it as far as I could (not that it would go very far!)
When you really give something 100%, it’s hard to accept when things don’t go to plan. You start to question your training, your nutrition, as well as your ability as a racer. The doubts start to creep in: is racing really for me? Will I ever be good? But then you realise that you can’t imagine a life without your bike, without training, without a challenge. Not yet.
And so your answer lies right there. All the disappointment and knockbacks are worth it for that one time in the season where everything goes to plan, you do better than you expected and you realise that you’re doing what you love. Disappointment is inevitable, but it’s how we respond to the disappointment that matters. Sometimes you just have to accept that today is not your day, move on, pick yourself up and try again. And try I will. It’s all part of that lottery that is road racing…