Earlier in the season while racing at Val D'Isere there was a little chatter of a test event for a World Cup in China. Always interested in doing something new and exciting I put my name forward and was delighted when I was accepted for the race. Many emails back and forth between organisers, James from RWD Factory Racing, British Cycling and myself we were booked on flights to China. It's a nine hour flight to Beijing then a further three hours down to Guiyang, luckily I don't mind flying! I was accompanied my fellow RWD team mate Andrew Walker. His spannering skills are up with the best so it was nice not to have to worry about mechanical issues and to have someone to chat to. We met at Heathrow airport, I think it's fair to say both pretty apprehensive about the trip, I mean this was China, a completely different culture, way of life and of course the totally different food. Everyone I spoke to about going warned me how bizarre the food could be and obviously racing there I really didn't want to have stomach aches so was a tad nervous even packing a few trusty cereal bars and of course my reliable Sponser products.
The flight was long but we finally arrived in Guiyang to be met by our chaperones; Dawn and Nicholas. We had few photos taken with some local girls who were very excited to see us! We were whisked to the hotel on the other side of the city complete with police escort, I think more for show than any safety issues. The city was bright and busy, amazingly in China it is considered small as only 4.5 million people live there! We arrived at a rather extravagant looking hotel and were shown to our rooms. It was fantastic, pure luxury with a huge bed and an amazing shower. Exhausted by the flight I fell into bed feeling a growing excitement of what the days ahead held.
We came down to breakfast and all the worries of what we'd be eating disappeared. The hotel had put on every conceivable breakfast combination from all over the world. We were definitely getting extremely well looked after. Our chaperone Nicholas met up with me for the bike parade. We were all to ride our bikes through the city to the centre. They'd closed all the roads, it was a bit like London shutting down for a load of mountain bikers to whizz round the streets. It was an unforgettable experience, Nicholas is a keen cyclists so rode too, his whole cycling club lined one section of road cheering us go by. There were riders from 27 nations taking part, even countries I never knew had a mountain bike team such as India and Aruba. We then quite bizarrely jumped on a bus back to the hotel complete with bikes. Our first glimpse of the course would be after lunch. It had been raining quite a lot so we were told it was a bit muddy. The venue was a 15 minute ride away from the hotel, the Chinese drivers seem to make up the rules of the road as they go along so we had a police escort on the way there. It was pretty cool riding along as a pack behind flashing lights waving to passers-by. At the venue each country/team had been assigned a gazebo with a Chinese helper, ours was Dawn who had met us at the airport. She is studying English at the University in Guiyang, her English was exceptional for someone who has never been out of China. She was bubbly and made us feel welcome and relaxed. I headed out onto the course with WXC rider Zephanie Blasi. It began with a steep climb that seemed to go on forever. There were a few tricky rocky sections and a few drops to keep you alert. It flowed well and after a couple of laps I was looking forward to the race.
That evening was the opening ceremony. The only way I can really describe it is that it was a mini Olympics. We were lined up in countries and paraded through a big arena, it gave me goosebumps and I couldn't stop smiling it was an amazing experience. We then sat and watched singers, dancers and trials riders entertain us. They certainly know how to put on a performance, it was quite mind blowing.
Thursday brought the Short Track race. I've never really done anything like this before, I thought it'd be an Eliminator but it was a 1km track and it was to last 30minutes. It sounded like it was going to hurt! The course started on the flat then went up a sharp climb dropping back down through a rock section and back to the start. I didn't feel too bad warming up and apart from a little freak out at the Chinese toilets (they were basically a carrier bag in a hole not so good with cyclists, bit gross!) it was all running smoothly. I was gridded on the second row so I was conscious of getting a good start and that I did. I was lying roughly tenth for the first few laps then my legs just blew it was a devastating pace. I slipped back through the pack with my legs burning I just couldn't get them to go round any faster. I finished a disappointed 22nd. As always though it was a learning experience and showed me how much I'm lacking in top end fitness. Something I hope will improve with my dabbling in cyclocross this winter. Trevor (WXC) and Andrew were great, cheering me up and getting me focused on the next race. It's so easy to dwell on a performance so it was a great help.
Race day dawned complete with sunshine. I was determined to better my performance from the day before. I was rather proud to pull on a RWD Factory Racing jersey, my new team for 2013. Zephanie and I had our own escort down to the course but it was still pretty hairy with Chinese drivers pulling out at random times and cutting across lanes. I think the adrenaline flowed more then than in the race. After a few photos and a warm up we were ready to be gridded. I got a good start and settled in for the climb. It was a fast pace and I was hanging in on the back. I enjoyed the technical sections and would catch the riders in front of me only to be passed on the climb. It was frustrating but again showed what I need to work on for next year. The course was demanding but the descents made me smile and although I pushed hard I didn't quite make it onto the last lap. I finished 20th I was reasonably pleased and I'm looking forward to improving for next year.
So the 2012 season was over for me, we had a bit of celebration Chinese style. Let's just say they know how to party! On Saturday Nicholas and Dawn took us to an ancient town, it was a chance to see the real China. We visited a Buddhist temple, dressed in traditional Chinese clothes and ate some lotus root which was surprisingly tasty. They took us for lunch in a village called Zhuchangzhen which was right on the lake with breath-taking views. We were presented with local food and rice wine. It was all very tasty and included Sparrow, whole fish, dried chillies and rice. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it and would definitely eat it all again; it makes our Chinese food seem very bland. We were reluctant to leave but we had to dash to the airport. I was quite sad to leave and really hope they hold a World Cup there next year. It was an amazing experience, the course was great and the whole event ran smoothly and efficiently with everyone being so friendly. A big thank you to the Rare Management events company for making it such a success and putting up with our silly questions!
As always a huge thank you to my sponsors and coaches without whom this year wouldn't have been as exciting so thank you to; Ian and Mark at Firecrest Mtb, Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, Sponser UK, Ana Nichoola, Whackjob Jim, Mavic, Working Bodies and Baines Racing. Also for this race I couldn't have done it without the help from James Hall of RWD Factory Racing and the fantastic mechanical skills and calming influence of Andrew Walker, thanks tonnes guys! Roll on 2013!Back to top
The final round of the World Cup series took us to the well known ski resort of Val d’Isere in south east France. I was rather excited at the prospect of racing here I was imagining a course a little like La Bresse with mind boggling technical sections and huge climbs. We flew out a little earlier than usual as Val d’Isere is situated at 1850m above sea level this is where altitude comes into play. I wanted to get myself acclimatised as well as possible in the time we had available. I had the company of my sister Lucy for this trip, having competed in elite sport herself she knows how to look after me and keep me calm come race day. It’s lovely to have someone to distract me from the pressures of racing and have some fun.
The first day of our stay was really hot so we decided I should leave a lap of the course until later in the day when it was a little cooler. We had the great idea of going up in a ski lift to look at the course from above to suss out where it went. I’ve never been on a ski lift before but as I’m reasonably good with heights I thought it was a pretty smart idea. I was terrified, I can’t believe there is only one little bar holding you in. Lucy found it hilarious that I can throw myself down hills on a bike, jump massive fences at speed on a horse but put me in a ski lift and I’m literally frozen with fear. I survived the experience and the view at the top was definitely worth it, coming down wasn’t quite as bad but I can’t say I’m that keen to try it again! I managed a quick look around the course that evening; I was surprised as it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. The climbs were far shorter than I’d imagined and the descents not half as scary instead it was short killer climbs and the descents being technical but fun. There was even a section that went down into the town with a rock garden some drops and a wall of death! It was great and I was more than a little excited at the prospect of racing it. Over the next few days I had to make sure I didn’t do too much as the course was such fun it was so tempting to keep riding round. I have to admit a few wobbles at the wall of death; a call to Ian (Firecrest MTB) and being shown the way by Tom Parkin of RWD Brakes team meant I got round it after a couple of times of wussing out and began to build my speed over it. I could have spent all day getting lines correct and practicing carrying speed into sections but race day was looming so I took time out to relax and watch the downhill and hang out with the RWD team and Lucy.
Race day dawned with the patter of rain on the window. I was quite pleased to see it; some of the descents had been getting pretty loose so with a little rain it might help with the grip. I had quite a good gridding so for a change I wasn’t right at the back for the start. I got a reasonable start and picked a wheel to sit on; I felt comfortable and tried to settle into a rhythm. The first climb came quickly and began to feel the horrible tightness in my chest of not being able to catch my breath. I tried not to panic and concentrated on keeping relaxed. I knew if I made it up the first climb I had a good time to recover down a nice descent all the way back to the arena. I managed to hang on in and was in a group of about four of us. Coming to the most technical section of the course the riders in front of me jumped off, I rode it cleanly and managed to gain a couple of places. Each time I came to a technical section I’d pass people only to be caught on the climbs while I was focusing on keeping my breathing under control. A massive thank you to Lucy, James from RWD and Ian from WXC Racing for doing a fantastic job in keeping me calm and informed through the feed zone. I managed to gap the girls I was battling with on my final lap and I felt I was getting stronger with each lap so it was a disappointment to be pulled. I finished 47th which means I’ve gained more valuable points so hopefully I will get a better gridding in the races next year.
This year has been full of new experiences, huge highs and a fair few lows. I’ve learnt a lot and my riding has no doubt improved because of it. I am now looking forward to next year building on what I have learnt from pushing myself beyond my limits this year. I owe an enormous amount to the help and support of my family, friends, coaches and sponsors. I really couldn’t have done any of this without them.
As always a massive thank you to Ian and Mark of Firecrest Mtb, Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, Sponser UK, Ana Nichoola, Whack Job Jim, Mavic, Working Bodies and Baines Racing. I couldn’t have done this round without the help of RWD Factory Racing Team and my sister Lucy, thank you.Back to top
After catching up with some of the Downhill action at Mont Sainte Anne we began our journey down to the next round of the World Cup circus in Windham, upstate New York. It lies in the Northern part of the Catskills Mountains and I really couldn't wait to get there. We decided it would be best to have an overnight stay halfway down and this took us to Burlington, Vermont. We caught up with some fantastic girls, Jen and Jenny running a Mountain bike and yoga retreat (www.singletrackmindfulness.com) we found them on the Girlmtb.com website and thought we'd say hi and camp out in their driveway in the RV. This is one of the many reasons I adore the mountain bike scene, you can drop in on fellow cyclists you're warmly greeted and swap tales of sweet single track and comparing scars gained doing the scariest descents. We were rather sad to leave without seeing any of the fantastic trails they described but promised to be back next year to sample it.
We arrived in Windham not really sure of where we would camp, we came across a great bike shop that even had a cafe attached next door. We popped in and stayed a good while chatting about bikes and the World Cup races. We eventually made our way to the venue that would become our home for next couple of days. We had the most amazing view to wake up to each morning. I was itching to get out and ride the course but my little Flux had taken a bit of a beating in Canada so the guys we'd met at the bike shop the day before kindly gave her some much needed tlc, even providing me with coffee and chat as I waited. Finally I could get out on the course, it was the complete opposite of Mont Sainte Anne. For a start it was incredibly dry and dusty, not a drop of rain in sight. There was one long climb all the way up the mountain with single track sections thrown in then when my legs thought they might fall off then there was a super-fast descent with a small rock garden some fast berms and the infamous Kabush Falls bringing you back into the arena. It was definitely going to be a fast and furious race. I was very glad of my Racing Ralph's providing me with grip in the loosest of conditions, it's very confidence inspiring when you can fling yourself into a corner and know your tyres will work for you. I was really looking forward to riding it at race pace.
Race day dawned, probably the hottest I have ever ridden my bike in. A balmy 36 degrees, I don't expect you to feel sorry for me racing in the heat while you were all under water at home but it was just a little too hot for my liking. Luckily I have the great range of Sponser UK products to choose from which suddenly become a lifeline when you seem to be sweating out as much water as you're taking on. I was very conscious of staying hydrated before and during the race, it can have such a huge impact on your performance so I was gulping down their isotonic and competition drinks. It was great to have One Planet Adventure rider Sally Gabriel come out for this race, it's great to see more British girls being crazy like me and competing abroad. We spun down to the start complete with ice round our necks in a desperate attempt to stay cool. We were to start down on the main bridge in the town where only a year before hurricane Irene tore through and destroyed most of it. It was a very poignant place for the start of a race as the organisers thought may not happen here again. It was also a huge uphill sprint which made for a super-fast start, I managed to hang on to the back of the main group until the start straight entered the course. My legs had that immense burn and my lungs were on fire but it felt so great to be racing on such a fantastically fun course. I was racing with a group of three girls we would all have our strengths and weaknesses throughout the track and each of us took advantage when the other was weaker. This meant I was battling to stay with them on the climbs and gaining an advantage on the descent. It was an incredibly fast lap which meant it was also going to be tough to stay in the complete distance but I was still bitterly disappointed when I was pulled. Having not completed a race distance since Houffalize I was really hoping that I could sneak in but I just wasn't quite quick enough. I finished 43rd, not quite where I wanted to be but still managed to bag a decent amount of UCI points hopefully making my gridding better for next year. As a racer I am finding it a real test of my mental strength to be compete against the fully funded pro riders but I keep reminding myself each race will be making me stronger and I'll be back next year at the pointy end of the grid!
I'm now sat on the flight home contemplating a pretty amazing couple of weeks. I've made new friends, pushed myself to the limit both mentally and physically, learnt to drive a huge RV on the wrong side of the road and most of all had fun riding my bike. I have a couple of weeks at home with the last round of the British XC Series and the all-important National Championships then it's off on an aeroplane again to the final round of the World Cup Series in Val D'Isere, France. Writing these little reports I have had some fantastic feedback and support, it is all greatly appreciated and I hope I'm giving you all a small and fun insight into the World Cup circuit through the eyes of privateer athlete.
As always I really couldn't have such amazing experiences without the help and support of my sponsors, coaches and family. An American sized (pretty huge!) thank you to Ian and Mark at Firecrest MTB, Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, Sponser UK, Ana Nichoola, Mavic, Whackjob Jim, Working Bodies and Baines Racing. Of course again the biggest thanks goes to Pete whose encouragement and support makes me the racer I want to be.Back to top
Round 5 of the World Cup series has seen me fly half way around the world to Mont Sainte Anne in Canada. It's been a bit of an adventure getting here; I've palled up with Scottish rider Lee Craigie and we've rented an RV. It's huge but has everything we need including the essential coffee maker! We both flew into New York and travelled up to Canada during the week arriving for practice on Thursday morning. The venue is stunning, it is a ski resort so you can imagine the mountains that surround it. It is also a really chilled atmosphere and although it doesn't seem quite as big as the European rounds the crowd that were out on the course were fantastic.
My practice on both Thursday and Friday went really well, it's a very demanding course never giving you a let up. The climbs are hugely technical with rocks and plenty of roots to negotiate. The descents were equally as technical, a huge rock garden is the show piece, it’s named Bertrice as it’s such a bitch! It wasn't quite as scary as La Bresse but certainly demanded a lot physically as well as mentally. By Friday evening I was getting excited for the race and really couldn't wait to get out there.
Race day dawned and was a little damp. In some ways I thought that would make the course a little easier, dampen down the dust a little. We're camped about 5km away from the course so we had the perfect warm up, zooming through some great trails to get there. Dave Henderson (GT MTB Team) is out here too and his wonderful girlfriend Becs helped us out doing our bottles. We were all sorted and were called to the start line just as it began to rain, perfect timing! I got a reasonably good start and managed to pass a few riders on the start climb, we hit the steep first climb and the inevitable running happened. The rain had made things rather greasy so it was a case of doing the best I could in difficult conditions, I had to run a few sections where I got the line wrong or my wheel hit a slippery root wrong. By the first complete lap I was settling into a rhythm and was tucked in behind Katherine O'Shea of Torq Australia. Unfortunately disaster struck as I descended Bertrice, my front tyre burped sending me down in a clatter. I jumped up dusted myself down and put my tyre back up and carried on, much to the delight of the crowd. Even in such rubbish circumstances that made me smile a lot. I dug deep and tried to keep calm, I noticed I had a few streams of red down my arms and legs but the adrenaline was pumping so I ignored them! I was now racing pretty much on my own, Katherine had pulled away but I could sense others behind me. All I had to do was finish; a DNF doesn't give you those valuable UCI points. Again I began to settle into a rhythm only for same thing to happen this time at the top of the rock garden and I was out of gunk to get it pumped back up. Luckily it hadn't completely flatted this time so it was a case of nursing it home and hoping I could hang in there. I got passed by quite a few riders which was pretty galling as I just couldn't do anything about it. I got to the end of the lap and was pulled but I didn't get a DNF so collected some points to get a better gridding in the future rounds. It’s another race that has given me a bucket load of experience and as my coach said will make me a stronger athlete in the future.
I'm now sat in the RV feeling rather beaten up, I have a few cuts and bruises but nothing that won't heal before we head to Windham, New York for the next round at the weekend. Lee had an equally tough race actually breaking her little finger but carried on to finish a fantastic 28th. We're a tough lot us mountain biking girls!
As ever a huge thank you to my coaches and sponsors for making all this possible; Ian Warby and Mark Baines at Firecrest MTB, Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, Sponsor UK, Ana Nichoola, Working Bodies, Whackjob Jim, Mavic and Baines Racing. I really couldn't do this without the support of my family especially Pete so the biggest thank you of all goes to him.Back to top
I normally write my reports on the evening of the race, it's a good time to reflect on what went right or wrong and what could be improved on for the next race. However, on the way home last night I was just far too uptight to even think about writing it all down so I find myself the day after sat on the sofa with ice packs on my knees and painkillers close at hand trying to find a way not to make this into an excuse filled, negative moan of a report. I apologise now if it turns out that way, I am a racer and have to justify my mistakes to myself sometimes that comes very close to being a whinge bag!
So round four of the UCI World Cup took us to the picturesque town of La Bresse, France. This race I was lucky to have my boyfriend/mechanic Pete with me, he is normally away working so it was great to have him with me for a change. It makes things a little easier knowing that I'm not completely on my own just in case something goes wrong. We were sharing a cottage with the South African rider Sam Sanders and we were both looking forward to another weekend of World Cup fun. We headed out on the first practice day with Jessie Roberts of RWD Brakes team. The course began with a long, technical rocky climb with a little drop and rooty section thrown in. At the top of the climb it was a long descent back down to the start finish. It soon became apparent that the descent was going to be one of the most testing that any of us had encountered; it included a drop down a huge rock slab, steep slippery switch backs, a section with three drops one after another, tight loose corners and a steep descent down a muddy rocky cliff! We each had our sections that we struggled with but by the end of the day we had conquered most of them and were feeling much better than when we first saw it. We couldn't resist watching the Eliminator, it was a fantastic course going round the centre of the town. It seemed the whole town had come out to watch and with ace commentator Dan Jarvis revving up the crowd the atmosphere was electric. Tracey Mosley was the only competing Brit with regular competitor Imogen Buick having to miss this race due to exams. Tracey looked strong and progressed easily until the semi-final where she had a huge crash, I didn't see it myself but having seen pictures of it I think she was very lucky to walk away in one piece. Unfortunately it ruled her out of Sunday’s race, I hope she's feeling a lot better now.
Saturday's practice began with rain which made a difficult course even tougher. Lines changed, steep sections became even more slippery and rocks were lurking to catch you out. Both Sam and I had problems and ended up with bruises and cuts. I made myself go round the complete lap so I could be confident that I could ride each section well, I had a few wobbly moments but came away comfortable with the course. Watching the under 23 men whizz round made the confidence grow; it was great to see the Brits riding so well. Both Seb Batchelor and Steve James flying down the descents, making them look so easy. I was beginning to look forward to the race.
The sun was shining after a heavy rainfall over night. I decided to go with a tyre combination of a Racing Ralph on the rear and to give me some extra grip a Rocket Ron on the front. I had a lovely warm up soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying such amazing views. I headed to the start grid feeling nervously excited and looking forward to conquering such a demanding course. I was gridded 85th so pretty much at the back and after last week’s crashes at the start I was cautious when the gun went. It is an area I need to work on and I definitely need to fight for my position more so I can get some space going through technical sections. The climb was mostly done at walking pace as it was so narrow and only took one person to stall before we were all off running. Reaching the top of the climb I was in a group of four, entering the beginning of the first section there was a steep rocky descent ending in a drop. You needed to carry speed into the part of the course so you had enough grip to get through the corner and into the drop. Unfortunately even at this level you get riders that walk sections, this causes havoc with us that are trying to ride them. The rider I was following had to descend extra slowly to avoid these riders meaning I had to too, I lost grip on the corner and had a heavy crash. It damaged my saddle meaning I had to stop quickly in the tech zone to fix it, this opened up a gap to the group which I then had to close. A further crash when I caught the group in front caused more damage to the bike, the extent of which I didn't fully realise until I had passed the tech zone where Pete was standing. I came to the beginning of the climb and hit the gears, nothing happened, I was stuck in top gear. I could see that the rear cable had come out of the cable stop but try as I might I just couldn't get it fixed back in. I had to make a decision, cut my losses and pull out or run up the climb to the second tech zone to get someone to fix it. I hate pulling out of races so it was really a no brainer, so off I set for a bit of fell running with my bike for company. The crowd were fantastic cheer me on as I struggled up the 1.5km climb, I must have looked a right state I'd cut my legs so there was blood everywhere and I'm a useless runner so was doing a walk/jog combination while trying not to cry in frustration. I finally got to the tech zone where the WXC team and British Cycling helped pop the cable back to where it should have been. I set back off on the lap hoping I had enough time to get another lap. It was not to be as the mechanical had cost me far too much and I was pulled at the end of the lap, I was absolutely gutted. I'm still frustrated and angry at the crashes I had. I know sometimes it is easier to run a section but when riders are dismounting at every technical section and not moving off the line it scuppers other riders attempting to ride it. It not only makes a tough line tougher but at such slow speeds I’m having to ‘trackstand’ just to stay upright. The key to fast and safe technical riding is hitting obstacles at the right speed and letting the bike do what it’s capable of. I'm still improving my skills but riding so slowly it inevitably results in me having to part company with the bike but at least I'm attempting to ride it and can be satisfied that I'm pushing myself to improve by doing so. My finish position was 70th so even with the drama I managed to improve on my gridding. I'm now looking forward to the third round of the British XC Series at Hopton Woods. It's a new venue so I'm really excited to see what's in store for us then it's off over the water to Canada and the USA for the next World Cup rounds. I am truly living the dream!
As ever a huge thank you to my sponsors and coaches; Ian Warby and Mark Baines at Firecrest MTB, Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, Sponsor UK, Ana Nichoola, Whackjob Jim, PowerBreath, Mavic, Working Bodies and Baines Racing.Back to top
Round 3 of the UCI XCO World Cup Series took us to Nove Mesto na Morave in the Czech Republic. As the current Men's World Champion hails from this part of the world we were promised a crowd of epic proportions and a fantastic course, neither disappointed. I won't bore you with details but our journey and first night in the Czech Republic didn't quite go to plan, late flights and hotels shutting early caused a little stress but soon we were down at the course ready to have fun playing on bikes with the worlds best.
For this round I was sharing hotel and travel with South African rider Sam Sanders, she's a pretty fast rider and her technical ability is fantastic. It was a gorgeous day, 27 degrees, it felt lovely to ride in a short sleeved top and shorts. We headed out on to the course which was technically demanding both on the descents and climbs. There were drops, BMX jumps, big rock gardens and lots of roots everywhere. Following Sam's lead I rode all the big sections and began to feel confident hitting them at speed, the nerves fell away and lots of fun was had. Once we'd finished on the course we watched the Eliminator which had a British interest in Tracy Mosley and Moda riders Imogen Buick and Erica Zaveta. Unfortunately they didn't get through to the final but put up a great fight and it looked entertaining!
Saturday was another practice day and race day for under 23 and juniors. It wasn't quite as hot, in fact you couldn't have got more different. It was cold and wet not at all pleasant. This changed the course quite significantly, roots became very slippery and lines changed. I did a couple of laps and felt confident that I could ride sections as well in the wet as the dry. We watched the Juniors race, an extra well done has to go to Alice Barnes and Beth Crumpton who had their bikes stolen the night before the race and had to compete on borrowed ones. They looked as confident as ever racing round and you would have never have known that they were on anything different from usual, impressive rides. Imogen Buick had another storming ride and was flying through the big technical sections. We also gave Carla Haines a cheer in the under 23.
Race day dawned and thankfully there was no sign of rain just very cold. We had the help of Moda Bike Magic Team manager, Mike in the pits. It was very generous of him to help when he had his own riders too, a huge thank you to him for that. I warmed up but didn't get all that warm, it was just so cold I was struggling to retain heat even though I had a fair few layers on. We were called to the start and although we are gridded once you've been called on to the line you can move forward, this causes a bit of a crush! The start gun went and within a couple of seconds there was the sound of bikes hitting the tarmac with one girl flying through the air past me minus bike, it was complete carnage. I managed to get through staying on two wheels only to come across yet another crash on the first corner again I managed to stay upright. As my aim for these races is to complete the full race distance hold ups like these cost me valuable time to stay in. As I completed the start loop I had managed to pull myself up a few places, I began to settle into a rhythm. I caught Tracey Mosley (former Downhill World Champion) on one of the climbs just before a section of jumps with a big gap jump at the bottom; I knew she'd jumped it as the crowd went absolutely wild. It made me smile through the pain of pushing myself hard! I continued racing with Tracey for most of the race, I'd pass her on the climb and she'd fly by on the descents. Unfortunately the time I'd lost at the start cost me dearly and I got pulled out with one lap to go. I finished in 68th place which is a slight improvement and I was second British girl. I am disappointed not to have completed the full distance but pleased with the way I rode, lots to work on though! I now just have a few days to get my bike and kit clean before heading off for Round 4 in La Bresse, France. I almost feel like a pro!
As always I couldn't compete at this level without the support from my coaches and sponsors so a huge thank you to Ian Warby and Mark Baines at Firecrest MTB, Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, Sponser UK, Whackjob Jim, Working Bodies, PowerBreathe, Ana Nichoola and Baines Racing.Back to top
Still on a high from last weekend’s World Cup I was really looking forward to racing the second round of the National Cross-Country MTB Series at one of my favourite courses, Dalby Forest in Pickering. It uses the same course as last year’s World Cup and I really enjoy riding here as it is hugely technical and has some monster climbs, a real test of proper mountain biking. As we left home to begin the journey up it started raining and it never stopped the whole weekend! My practice lap was done in a hail storm making the course extremely slippery but still enjoyable. I was confident I would be able ride the 'A' lines in the race despite the constant downpours. I considered it a wise decision booking a bed and breakfast rather than take a tent and I spent the afternoon curled up on the sofa pitying the poor people who were braving the camp site.
I woke on Sunday to the sound of rain; it looked like it hadn't stopped from the day before. On the way to the course I made a quick detour to pick up Mel Spath, a fellow Elite racer from Ireland, and it was really nice to have someone to chat to on the way in. It helped settle the nerves somewhat. I had the luxury of the Velocite/Whackjob Jim tent to warm up in which makes quite a difference preparing for the race without getting wet, I was definitely feeling spoilt. The rain had finally stopped as we lined up at the start. There were 26 Elite women and I'm sure that is the most I have seen on a UK grid since I started racing, it's great to see. I got a reasonable start but from the off it was extremely slippery, round the corners I had plenty of foot out moments. I had my Rocket Rons on, thank goodness, as I had been toying with going for a Racing Ralph on the rear but luckily stuck with the first choice favouring the extra grip of the Ron. They gave me bags of confidence in the mud and as my Flux is so light it felt as if I was gliding over the top of the soggy stuff. I settled down into a rhythm after we'd completed the short start loop I tucked in behind the Japanese rider Rie Katayama. On each little technical section I'd sneak ahead then she would do the same on the climbs. I managed to stay on her wheel up the Medusas climb and headed for the drop which is a very technical section of very course. I was feeling confident having ridden it in every time in practice but as I dropped in it was far muddier than I expected and I got caught on the wrong line. This made me panic slightly and I must have grabbed for the brakes as the next thing I knew I was heading face first into a log, ouch! I would like to consider myself pretty tough but that really knocked me about. I picked up my bike and began wobbling towards the Tech Zone and as luck would have it the British Cycling coach Phil Dixon was there. He sat me down so I could get myself back together and with his encouragement I got back on to try and finish the race. I was still a little shaky but made my way back through the riders that had overtaken me while I was sat down composing myself. As I crossed the start/finish line to begin the second lap my sister was there giving me lots of support and telling me to just keep going. I cannot tell you how much of a boost it is when people give you a shout, it focuses you on the task and really makes you push even harder. Not only did I have my sister but the whole Velocite crew were there too and it’s thanks to them for keeping me going! I had managed to catch back up to Jessie Roberts of RWD Brakes team and as we are pretty evenly matched we battled through to the last lap where I managed to pull out a minute and a half lead by the time I crossed the finish. I also managed to just catch and pass the cyclocross expert Gabby Day on the last lap too which moved me up to a very bashed-up and muddy eighth. I didn’t think that was too bad considering I think I was as low as 17th at one point. I am now looking forward to a skills session with Firecrest MTB to rebuild my confidence and learn to stay on my bike a little more. Then it's on to the third round of the World Cup in the Czech Republic where I’m hoping the sun will make an appearance!
As always a huge thank you goes to my sponsors and coaches; Ian and Mark at Firecrest MTB, Velocite Uk, Schwalbe Uk, Whackjob Jim, Ana Nichoola, PowerBreathe, Working Bodies, Mavic and Sport Kitchen. I’d also like to make a special mention to my pit crew; my sister Lucy, my mum, Mark Almond from Red Cloud and Ali the team mascot.Back to top
There are no Classic races for Mountain biking but if there was the Houffalize World Cup would be right up there. It is one of the most talked about rounds of the World Cup calendar not only for the course but for the atmosphere of the event itself. Needless to say I was rather excited at the prospect of racing there and it really didn't disappoint. Arriving at our lovely B&B La Pommiare (if you're ever near Houffalize it is well worth a visit) we were told as we entered Houffalize the next day just to look to the left and we'll see the mountain. At the word mountain my little legs began to shake, although my climbing is improving I still get nervous at the prospect of huge climbs, on the upside though I knew it would mean some pretty awesome descents.
They really weren't wrong; the course was on the side of mountain zigzagging up and down. It looked terrifying! Luckily the guys at Hope helped to quickly change my front chainring to something more suitable than the one I'd used at the pan flat course of Sherwood. A huge thank you to Nick from Hope Technology for being such a star. I teamed up with Jessie Roberts of RWD Brakes team for a first practice lap. Within the first few minutes we were off our bikes checking out the rather gnarly technical sections. It's great to go round with someone so you can discuss lines and which will be quicker; it is also far more fun. We both agreed this was by far the hardest course we'd ever seen, the technical sections were steep and included a huge rock drop on one descent and the climbs were energy sapping being horrendously steep and long. It was fab! My lovely Velocite Flux was made for courses like this, zooming down the technical sections and feeling so stiff and stable up the climbs. Saturday was another practice day and by the end of it we were both pretty comfortable with the course. It was great to see so many Brits racing there and getting great results. Carla Haines in the U23, Imogen Buick and Alice Barnes in the juniors all three having storming rides. It was definitely a confidence boost to see them do so well on Saturday.
Race day dawned and I had a quick panic when I heard the rain on the window but it turned out to be just a shower thank goodness. The course was tough enough without the prospect of mud and slippery rock drops. I’d been running my Racing Ralphs all weekend, making my Flux feel like it was on rails so I was very happy no more rain appeared. Arriving at the course, the atmosphere was electric, there were just so many spectators it was amazing. At World Cups we are gridded on our world ranking so I was pretty much at back gridded 88th. I knew I could gain a few places and my major aim was to stay in the race for the complete distance (if you're not lapping fast enough you are pulled off the course so not to get lapped by the leaders). We had 5 laps ahead of us and the start loop was an extremely steep climb which was a little mean of the organisers; they obviously like to see us suffer! So the gun went off and 94 girls hit the slopes of Houffalize with the start climb turning into a running race almost immediately. With so many riders jostling for position on the first lap there were lots of sections where you had to dismount and run which doesn’t help when you know you can ride everything and just want to get into a rhythm. I settled down a little on the second lap and began to relax a bit more although each technical section scared me and each climb exhausted me. I loved every second! I was very conscious of my lap times and tried to keep them consistent to try and stay in the race and as each lap was ticked off I was just hoping I was doing enough to stay in. Finally I was on the last lap and the relief of being able to complete the full distance was huge; I thoroughly enjoyed that lap. People were cheering me on and I'm pretty sure I smiled the whole way around or perhaps more a grimace on the climbs. The feeling of crossing the line was amazing, I finished in 74th, so I made a few places on my gridding but more importantly I completed the race. I'm now planning the next round; I have the World Cup bug!
As always a huge thank you to all my sponsors and coaches they make me the rider I am and I really couldn't do this without them. So thank you to Ian and Mark at Firecrest MTB, Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, Whackjob Jim, Ana Nichoola, Sport Kitchen, Working Bodies, Mavic, PowerBreathe and Baines Racing. Also this weekend I couldn't have managed without my mum and James and Mark from RWD Brakes, thank you guys for making a nerve wracking event such amazing fun!Back to top
This weekend the British XC season kicked off in style at Sherwood Pines, Mansfield. Attracting riders from across the world with its UCI Class 1 status, it was going to be a weekend of tough racing. I was really looking forward to racing in this series again; it produces some great courses and has some really competitive events. With 23 riders in the Elite Female category it was most definitely going to be busy, the category has grown within the short time I have been riding and it’s great to see so many girls pushing themselves to compete at this level and makes for some great racing. I hope it will encourage more women to get out on their bikes and have fun, perhaps even a little dabble in XC racing. After a great coaching session with Firecrest MTB in the week, I was feeling fully prepared for the race and looking forward to blasting around on my new Velocite Flux bike. I was getting butterflies just at the thought.
Saturday was practice day with the Open and fun races having their race day. I had finally managed to persuade my sister to have a bash at a race; she has recently begun cycling and has been doing a lot of trail centre riding. I was pretty sure she would cope well with the course. I took her out on a practice lap; it was far more challenging than in the last few years with a few technical drops to catch you out and even a few little jumps. It was at one of these Lucy had a little off, when I say little I actually mean rather painful, winding herself but being a Filby she dusted herself down and heading for the start line. She finished an impressive fifth, putting the pressure on me to perform the next day! She really enjoyed it and is even considering doing round 2; I think the racing bug has bitten.
Race day dawned for me, it was a new experience as I was spoilt enough to have Velocite Bikes and Whack Job Jim helping me out with a place to warm up and prepare for the race. They also provided the encouragement when I was racing, which every rider knows is a huge boost. My warm up went well and I was feeling good, I was gridded on the front row so was hoping I’d get a good start. The start gun sounded like a cannon going off so I jumped off the start line and tucked in behind Carla Haines of WXC, she looked like she was going well. I was thinking the pace was high and hoped she wouldn’t be able to maintain it for too long. No sooner had I had the thought I could feel her start to ease back and I decided to pass her on one of the fire road sections and use my single-track speed to create a gap. The course flowed really well and I was having a close battle with Jessie Roberts of RW Brakes, we were pushing each other hard each one taking advantage of where the other was weaker. We were also closing the gap to fourth place Mel Alexander. As I started the last lap we were only a handful of seconds behind her and I had managed to pull a little gap to Jessie. I have never really raced this closely with such fast girls and was rather enjoying myself, perhaps a little too much as when I managed to get close to Mel’s wheel I had a lapse in concentration and took the wrong line over a slippery root and found myself having an intimate conversation with the dirt. Jessie took advantage and passed me. I jumped back on but unfortunately my handlebars had took the brunt of the crash and weren’t exactly straight, as I was finishing the single-track section I made the decision to stop and straighten them on the fire road, this cost me another place with Jo Clay, having an awesome ride for WXC, passing me. I finally got myself sorted out and began the chase; I could just about see them in front of me and was closing the gap. I managed to catch Jessie in the last km but the course was just a little too short to catch Jo and Mel who both had storming last laps. I finished in sixth place, which is a huge improvement on last year and I felt strong throughout the race. It was great to have such close racing; it definitely pushes you to your limit. I can’t wait until the next at Dalby Forest, a little more of a technical track so it will be a real test of my concentration!
As always I’d like to thank my sponsors, coaches and family. I am very lucky to have such a great team around me and have such fantastic kit. Many thanks to Ian and Mark at Firecrest MTB, Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, Whack Job Jim, Sport Kitchen, Ana Nichoola, Working Bodies, PowerBreathe, Baines Racing and of course my mum for being such good pit crew!Back to top
After a winter of riding in the cold, rain and even snow I thought it would be rather nice to get an early race in the sunshine. Heading off to Spain sounded like the perfect way to start the season as I had decided in those cold days of training that this was going to be the year I was going to push myself out of my comfort zone in my riding. Racing aboard gives the chance to ride technically more demanding courses and compete against the world’s best. The plan is that this will improve not only my riding but fitness and my mental attitude.
All these great plans seemed a little silly as I was leaving Pete at the doors of Heathrow airport heading to a race on my own where I knew no-one and could just about say hello and thank you in Spanish. I just had to keep telling myself that it’d all be worth it and that I was going to learn a huge amount. It was quite odd to be worrying about everything except the race; how was I going to manage driving on my own on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, would the people in my hotel speak English and would I be able to find the hotel. In the end the driving was straight forward, I only got lost once, and the hotel was lovely and friendly. Arriving there I took a wander over to the course, it looked like it was on the side of a small mountain, very picturesque and I couldn’t wait to get out on my bike and have a look.
After some admin issues the next morning I was exploring the course after successfully building my bike back into a fully functioning race machine. The course was fantastic, lots of short technical climbs mixed in with some long lung busters. The descents were scarily fast and technical; it was how a mountain bike course should be, a real test. It was dry and dusty; it hasn’t rained there for months so it took away the worry of tyre choice, something that I seem to worry about far too much! I’d had a lovely package from Schwalbe UK the day before I left so I had some brand new Racing Ralphs to play with, perfect! It was quite warm too which would add to the toughness of the race. There were some top athletes there, I assume because it’s an Olympic year everyone is out to get those vital points for Olympic qualification. I still get slightly star struck seeing riders such as Julien Absalon, what a legend! I spent the afternoon chilling out in the gorgeous garden of my hotel topping up on Sport Kitchen meals so I’d be all set for the race.
Fully fuelled I was gridded tenth so I knew that there would be some good riders up front but as I arrived on the start line seeing the rainbow strips on a the girl at the head of the pack made my tummy flip a little! I tucked myself in behind Maja Wloszczowska, the 2010 World Champion and Marie Helene Premont of the Rocky Mountain team, again getting that slightly star struck feeling. These girls are amazing and here I was on the start line next to them, it’s a pretty amazing feeling. The start was fast and furious, I think it’s something that I need to work on is being more aggressive; these girls definitely had their elbows out! We soon settled into our rhythm, the climbs made my legs burn and the descents made my heart pound but I loved it. It seemed like the whole town had come out to watch, the crowd were amazing, cheering me on. After some jostling for position on the first lap I managed to attack on the main climb and pull a gap to the rider who was sitting on my wheel and eventually finished 10th in the Elite race and 12th overall (including the under 23). Maja won the race in style and then went on to win the first round of the World Cup in South Africa a week later so I was in good company!
As always I could not do these races with the help and support of my sponsors, coaches and family. A huge thank you to Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, Baines Racing, Whackjob Jim, PowerBreathe, Working Bodies, Sport Kitchen, Sponser Energy, Ian and Mark at Firecrest Mtb and of course Pete for giving me the confidence to jet off on my own!Back to top
After what seems an age of waiting the 2012 season finally kicked off this weekend with the first round of the Midland XC series. As its still early season we were using this race more as a guidance of where my form is rather than focus on the result. It’s at races like these that I test out new strategies, tactically, physically and with my nutrition. It’s never good to try new things at the big events so a race like this gives me the perfect opportunity to test new things out in a race situation without the pressure of worrying about compromising the result. I can take more risks on choosing tyres and play around with pressures, even though it was muddy in places it was mostly on a compact path so I ran Racing Ralphs risking losing a little grip on the mud but gaining a great deal on the hard-pack. In the end I lost nothing on the mud and the Ralphs kept me upright and with plenty of grip, I’ll definitely be running these more often this season. With the nutrition, my focus was to drink more and take on more carbs than I have been doing. This is something that I find quite hard but, on my practice lap, I picked out areas where I was going to take on nutrition so made sure I drank everything I had and took my Sponser Liquid Energy gels. I tend to find these are very easy to take, melting in your mouth plus they’re also dead handy as their flip-top cap means I don’t have to take the whole lot in one go.
The course was great fun; as I said earlier it was a mix of mud and hard-pack. Along the faster stuff were jumps and berms which gave you a little buzz each time you hit one right. I think it’s the first race where I’ve felt I’ve got some proper ‘air time’. I was whooping and chuckling to myself as I was going round, I think perhaps onlookers thought I was a little mad but that’s what I love about mountain biking it really does make you grin even when you’re hurting in a race!
So I came away with the win (woo-hoo) which is a good way to start the season plus I tried lots of things I can use in future events. I don’t think I’ve been as excited to begin a season before, I hope it’ll live up to expectations! As always a huge thank you to my sponsors and coaches; Ian and Mark at Firecrest MTB, Velocite UK, Schwalbe UK, PowerBreathe UK, Working Bodies, Sponser Energy Products and finally my mum and my sister Lucy for being such a great pit team. I’ll try to tempt Lucy to have a go at the first national round so you might see another Filby on the start line.Back to top