Team 22 cyclist and Alpine team member Rachel rounds up her first national series race in April: The Tour of the Reservoir. Discover how she got on below!
Where to start? Imagine snow, hailstones, rain, and freezing conditions. Then imagine riding a bike in it. Crazy, right? Well that pretty much sums up the conditions for day one at Tour of the Reservoir: sketchy. The day started pretty early as usual at around 5.50am. I like to get up and shower as I feel ready for the day. Some people don’t see the point as you’re going to get all sweaty anyway, but like my granny always said, 'make sure you have a clean pair of pants on incase you get run over.' The same reasoning kind of applies to showering and being clean... Or at least in my head it does. So, fresh and ready for the day I jumped into the car with my mum. It was freezing and there was ice all over the road. My nerves kicked in. The race was to start in two hours’ time and I had doubts over whether I could even keep my bike upright with the current road conditions. Seems like everyone did. After much speculation over what was to happen, the race was to start at 10am.
We were one of the first to arrive, and then the flow of riders appeared. That’s when the fear set in BIG STYLE. In came the British Cycling girls, Team Ford EcoBoost, Drops cycling team and so on. My first thought was 'OMG'... my second thought was a string of words that can’t be repeated, and the third thought was 'what am I doing here? I'm not ready for this.'
Bang on 9.50 we lined up, ready to go. It was still cold but not overly so. Having been used to training in the freezing conditions over the winter, the cold didn't bother me. Sitting on the start line, I felt like I was having palpitations I was so nervous and I felt a little nauseous with emotion. After the briefing, the race was soon underway, but the nerves did not subside. I could feel my hands shaking and my body tense. The course was 10 laps of a 2 mile circuit that went much like this; long flat, slight rise, sharp descent and technical corner, into a small drag, and then flat again. And repeat.
Crit racing has always terrified me, never mind at a national level, so I was always quite nervous about day one. One thing that I was immediately intimated by was the larger field size, and the fact that a lot of riders were elite or 1st class. And then there was me, my lack of experience and my lack of cycling ability in comparison. During the crit I managed to stay and finish with the lead group, but I used a lot of energy chasing to get back on after the descent, which meant really pushing up the small drag and then repeating this process. Positioning is vital and it's one thing that I really need to work on... but it's very hard to do. I lack a lot of confidence asserting my position, and instead of being like, 'sure no problem, have that wheel I was on', I should think, 'it's MY WHEEL'. Okay, so maybe not quite like that but you get the idea. However, finishing the first day without crashing and in the lead bunch was a small victory for me. 32 out of 90 riders was not bad I suppose.
But Day 2 was the one I was excited about. HILLS, HILLS AND MORE HILLS. Unfortunately it didn't go quite the way I had hoped. At the neutralised start I was near the back again, and once the race started, I found it hard again to move up. The riders in front of me appeared like a brick wall, and at the back I felt like I was just bashing my head against it. Soon the race kicked off and it was quite fast from the start. I was managing to keep on but struggling being at the back as I found the momentum quite fragmented, and with all the stopping and starting it was hard to get into a rhythm. This also means that when attacks are made at the front and you’re at the back there is little opportunity to respond to that breakaway attempt.
Unfortunately, my race ended on the long descent where I lost contact with the group. A girl had a mechanical and moved to the side and I stupidly braked overly hard, and before I knew it the bunch were gone and then I was chasing. I did this furiously for the next few laps. The pack was still in sight and I hoped I could get back on. But by the final lap, my energy had completely gone. I had burned all my matches and I had nothing left. Eventually, I grovelled up the last climb and crossed the line. I was so annoyed at myself and overwhelmed with emotion that I got a little upset. I felt, in a way, that I had let myself and the team down. It was my first national race and I knew I was being hard on myself, but the build-up of nerves and emotions was just overwhelming. But I had finished and that was something! That's a start. Next time Can only be better... I hope.
One thing that really hit me hard this week was a video that was shared on social media. It got me thinking. The video was about dreams, goals, and ambition. It was about suffering and pain and about doing whatever was required to achieve that dream. The guy in the video said that, 'no mountain top is ever smooth, you must cross many rugged peaks to reach the top'... and he is right. My short journey with cycling so far has taught me a lot about myself. It's taught me that I am not a quitter, that I am determined, that I love to push myself physically and mentally and that I will always give 100%. Sometimes things don’t work out as we hope or plan, and sometimes they go very pear shaped indeed, but that is all part of the learning curve.
To improve we must make mistakes, and to get better we have to suffer and feel pain. But like the video says, it's better to suffer on the road to success than suffer through regret of the things that you never attempted out of fear of failure. Doubt steals more dreams than failure ever did. The truth in that saying rings so true, and yet it's so obvious. Although my weekend wasn't quite what I'd hoped, I took a lot away from it. And I am happy, happy to be on my bike, happy to be on the team, happy to be continuing this journey... So bring on the rest of the season. Your guess is as good as mine as to what's in store!