Yesterday, I was the triathlete who was quite happy to go in a straight line. Yesterday, I was the cyclist who couldn’t go around corners without jumping on the breaks. Yesterday, I was the girl who got really twitchy when someone was cycling within 3 feet of her. But today that has all changed. How did this happen? I took part in a women’s only introduction to road racing session.
Those who know me for longer know that I’ve been dithering about entering a cycling road race for ages. My main excuses were: a) I’m a triathlete, I do time trials, b) I’m a triathlete and my bike handling skills are rubbish, and c) I need to improve my group riding skills (fat chance of that going mostly out on solo rides). On the face, they are valid excuses, however, they were annoying me and I think group riding and cornering are essential skills for any cyclist, triathlete or not. Equally, I wanted to enter a road race for ages, but lacked the confidence because I considered myself a danger for others in a group riding situation (which I’m most likely not, but that was my excuse).
A while ago, I came across the Racing Chance Foundation, a charity promoting women’s bike racing who are occasionally holding training days just for women. They are based in the Northwest and I sat there wishing that maybe, just maybe there would be something further south. Let me tell you: there is a God!
On Twitter I saw a post advertising a women’s intro to road racing session on the Curborough Sprint Circuit, accessible by public transport. I was free on the weekend. No excuses! I jumped at it. My friend Karen came along, too, so at least I would know someone. Hooray!
So I turned up at Curborough on a lovely if blustery Saturday morning and signed on. This started like proper bike racing, numbers, timing chips, the works (a lovely wee goody bag with vouchers and useful stuff like gels, bike bottle and chamois cream – wholly unexpected).
We got onto the circuit and started riding, each on their own. I chatted with a girl but on the T junction we nearly crashed, one going left the other right crossing over each other. Lesson 1: communicate! Eventually, we all got together at the start line and Huw Williams, our extremely capable coach supported by the team from Lichfield CCC for the day went to work. Firstly up: the world class warm-up also known as from bed to race ready in 20 min. Once we had finished this we started tackling the skills part.
Group riding: getting over the fear of proximity
Group riding is one of the things I’m most nervous about and having riders in close proximity. A series of exercises where we rode five abreast around the circuit holding each other’s shoulders made me feel a bit like a circus pony, but what a difference it made to my confidence. I learned to keep my head high and that made an instant difference to stability. By the end of this segment, we rode around in a nice tight pack. All 25 of us.
We were all elated and terribly impressed with ourselves. None of us had raced before apart from one lady, who admitted to mainly having time trialled races for lack of other women in the race. A quick coffee break, where Elisa, the organiser, magiced up some flasks with hot water for coffee and tea and ample amounts of cake and biscuits and then it was back on the track.
Cornering: getting into leaning
Cornering is my nemesis. On my second ride ever I came off over the handlebars in a hairpin turn. Since then, going around corners has been an issue. After some explanations from Huw and a demonstration just how far you can lean a bike without it slipping as well as a few run throughs by our resident pro female racers, it was our turn. Initially hesitant, my confidence soared massively with every corner we zoomed around. It was magic. Change direction, same thing. I loved cornering all of a sudden.
Pace line: getting back on
The last skill we learned was pace line riding and changing through. The kind of thing you see in team time trials at the Tour de France (or if you go chainganging). Randomly we turned out to be a pretty strong group and it was almost naturally how we zipped around the circuit, around the corners, passing other groups, using the commands we had learned. It was such fun and riding close on someone’s wheel wasn’t an issue anymore. I was almost sad when we had to stop.
With the day almost over and Lichfield CCC wanting to test their shiny new chip timing, we got to do a little mock race. 3 laps of the circuit, 2 of them neutralized. We set off and an inherent weakness became apparent: I am a craps starter. Luckily, I wasn’t too far back and 3rd row was still ok. Towards the middle of lap 2 I worked my way forward going through gaps and when we hit the start line, the race was on. Somehow I missed 2 riders going away on the side. Assessing my options, it wasn’t worth chasing on my own and then being pipped by folk I dragged around. So, I settled and worked with some girls for half the lap, knowing I would need to be at the front at the bottom hairpin with about 400m to go. I felt quite proud of my sensible tactical assessment of the situation. Bottom hairpin, pedal to the metal and no looking back.
It was amazing fun and crossing the finish line, I knew there was only one way to go from here: entering a women’s circuit race.
Going to the women’s only introduction to road racing session was one of the best things I’ve done so far. Not only have I met a group of fabulous female cyclists who have now formed a little network across the Midlands to enter races together and encourage more women’s racing, but under the expert guidance of Huw and the team from Lichfield CCC my riding skills have come on massively within the space of a couple of hours. Even if you don’t intend to race your bike, the skills you learn in these sessions are valuable for every day riding and confidence building on the bike. I would strongly encourage you to sign-up if there is an opportunity near you.
Good places to start finding out more are the Racing Chance Foundation, Filles-a-Velo in Scotland, British Cycling or following Huw and Elisa on Twitter. Lichfield CCC are hosting weekly training sessions at Curborough Sprint Circuit which are open to all who wish to improve their skills starting on April 1st.