Team 22 rider and Alpine team member Rachel updates us from her latest race: The Scottish National Championships in West Calder.
Let’s just start by saying – what a day! Running up to the Scottish National Road Race, I was starting to feel pretty unwell. That was an understatement: I had hot and cold chills, lethargy, sickness and nausea… and I was pretty convinced that I had the flu. The first thing I did was take a few days off from training – even though it makes me tetchy – but I was starting to feel better. I didn’t really want to miss out on the Scottish Champs. After all, it was a race I had in my head as being a target. So I didn’t want to miss out.
It was weird staying in my own home the night before the race. The previous races have all required a fair bit of travelling, which I’ve really enjoyed. Staying at home meant an early start to get to race HQ on time. I was feeling pretty nervous on the way up; I was worried that my form and fitness might have been affected by my recent bout of illness. We arrived at race HQ at 8am. It was still not open so I set about organising my stuff, getting the bike prepared, the turbo out and checking I had all my kit. Good start – all my kit was here. Earlier this year, I turned up to a reliability without my cycling shoes and ever since then I have obsessively checked my equipment. For the record, trying to ride fast with Mickey Mouse Vans is not ideal…
Soon after the rest of the team arrived, I decided to check out the finish: a 90 degree left hand turn, followed by 100 metres to the finish. So, I needed to come out that corner pretty hot and in the right gear. As I cycled back to the car, I suddenly panicked: it sounded like air was escaping from my front tyre and I had a flat. Was today going to be another disaster? I quickly collected the spare wheel from neutral service as there was little time to change the flat before warming up. However, when I returned to the car again, David had looked at my wheel. It turned out there was just a huge piece of Sellotape lodged between my front wheel and the brake block section. Panic over… Sometimes I wonder how I manage to get through a race, especially since I seem to lack the necessary amount of common sense to survive day-to-day life.
I was soon warmed up and ready to go. I had no idea what the course would be like, since I stupidly hadn’t pre-ridden it. We assembled at the start line, the anticipation and nerves building, and very quickly the race was underway. The first section was VERY slow. Averaging – according to my Garmin — around 16/17 for the first few miles, I felt like I was riding a Sunday social and not a race. That meant one thing: the race was going to be tactical. But that’s what it’s all about. It’s not necessarily the strongest rider who wins a race; it’s sometimes the smartest.
After a couple of miles or so, I decided it was time to make a move, so I launched the first attack to up the pace and put the pressure on. Soon after, Amanda Tweedie joined in to help split the field and I think the increase in pace started to shed riders. The course was unusual: the first half was gradual climbing and the second half was a lot of descending, but there was very little flat or respite. In other words, it was the type of course you had to be on the ball for. Snooze you lose.
By the 10 mile mark, the bunch had thinned down and the pace – although increased – had steadied. I was aware that I needed to be conscious of my position, so I tried to stay near the front so I could respond to any attacks. I didn’t want to be left behind. But after a long twisty descent followed by a rough road surface, I went straight into a pothole. I felt like my back wheel was spongy and heavy and at this stage, was almost convinced I had punctured. In a panic, I dropped back a little and found Amanda. She said she though my tyre looked okay, but after another long descent, it still didn’t feel right.
And so I made possibly the worst decision I could have made in that situation: I stopped to check. Just as I paused, the neutral service guys were getting out to help… and I realised that I had a ‘false flat’. I quickly started cycling again, enraged with myself. Was today a write-off?
I didn’t want to give up. Before the race, Luis had said to me, ‘leave everything on the road. Don’t regret anything today.’ And so I chased. I chased furiously. Chasing after a bunch on a long descent is NOT ideal to say the least, and a considerable gap had now opened. I had a LOT of work to do. But, passing through the finish line on the first lap, I could almost see the peloton again. You can catch them, I thought, keep going! And so – frothing at the mouth, probably slavering unattractively and breathing rather heavily – I pushed on and caught the bunch.
Now it was time to think smart. Dad had said to me that I need to start reading the race better, thinking smart and conserving my energy (which I’m not good at. I feel lazy if I’m not working hard!) So I decided to get a good position in the bunch to allow my legs to recover. Feeling comfortable again, I moved up the bunch into a better position before the descents.
Descending is the most frustrating part of cycling for me. It’s not that I CAN’T keep up, I just panic among the riders, especially after my crash last May at the Etape. So I ALWAYS end up towards the back – which you think is the safest place – but is actually the worst place to be. I then lost contact with the group again, creating a significant gap coming out of the sharp corner. This stage was where the winning move would be made, and I was far too back to respond. The result of the attack meant the speed of the bunch increased, and because the course was descending, they got further away from me. But I’m not a quitter. I was not going to let this be the end of my race; I worked too hard earlier on to end it like this.
So I dug deep. Eventually, I was starting to catch people who were coming off the back. Then, I could see the bunch and lead riders just ahead. I caught the peloton. There were two riders in front of us, and ahead of that the other three. By this stage, I didn’t feel any pain in my legs and didn’t notice if I was breathing heavily or not. All I could think of was pushing on and catching the next riders. They were my focus. I pushed as hard as I could. And then we were on the final descent into the village and the finish was in sight. A quick sprint and I was over the line. Sixth place – how did that happen?
Today was a lesson in perseverance. It’s easy to give up at the first hurdle, but just because there is a hurdle doesn’t mean that it’s a road block. You can still find your way over it, you just need to work at it. That’s how I feel with my bunch riding. It’s my biggest hurdle, but it doesn’t mean that it will ALWAYS be… it just needs some work. The second lesson was always listen to your body. I probably shouldn’t have raced as my body hadn’t fully recovered from illness, but sometimes you have to learn the lesson the hard way. I had turned up at the race with a lack of confidence in my own ability, so my goal was just to get to the end without any major disasters. So I was pleased. Sixth place, goal achieved and many more lessons learnt. As Churchill said, ‘Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts. Onwards…