The title pretty much sums up my recent trip to England. Having only returned to England for a maximum of 2 week stints over the last 6 years, this year we tried something new. I think most people call it spending time with their families, quite an unusual concept for a travelling type, such as myself but equally very rewarding. When I say ‘spending time with family’ I obviously mean doing that along with driving the length of the country to knock out a variety of races and interesting places to train - so potentially not that long with the family after all.
In the UK we have a series of criteriums for men in different city centres called the Tour Series. They are fast 1 hour races made into an interesting TV program shown the next night on ITV, our channel 3. Last year they ran one test event for women and due to the success launched a 4 round women’s series sponsored by Johnsons Health Tech. It’s pretty exciting for women’s racing in the UK to have this window of opportunity to promote our sport to the general public. Unlike Holland, women’s racing is not televised at all, we have a minimal professional team structure and little chance of developing our sport through media promotion, making this opportunity something pretty special.
So my first set of races was these races in Peterborough, Stoke, Oldham and Woking. The effort required to ride flat out and attack for 40minutes did seem vaguely familiar to me, although I’m not used to having to end it with a Cavendish style sprint like I needed at these races. However I managed to pick up 2nd, 2nd, 3rd and 4th to win the overall individual series. The TV coverage was great, the racing looked as exciting as it was at the events and overall I think with the Motorpoint and Horizon Fitness Prendas team battles it was really good fun racing.
At the other end of the enjoyment spectrum I also got conned into riding a couple of time trials! The first one I turned up to was cancelled due to a car being in the ditch next to the road, to my slight relief. The second one I turned up to was oversubscribed, unfortunately they let me in (did I just say that out loud?). However I rocked in a very smug 3rd place out of 67 mainly male riders. As I once told my house mate ‘time is irrelevant’ so for this blog that statement stands and times will not be discussed. The final time trial was near my parent’s house in Norfolk on a Sunday morning on a main road. It’s probably the main reason why I don’t like testing. However just to make things ‘more’ interesting they set the riders off in a carefully planned handicap, so basically all the riders would have someone to catch and finish roughly together (Or a peloton as nearly happened). I caught 3 people so once again happy to end my time trialling career on a high but just off the podium in 4th place.
Just because I hadn’t done enough criterium racing we also managed to drop in to the Smithfield Nocturne, in central London. They run an entire evening of racing with a twist. Alongside the usual elite races they popped in some penny farthing races, folding bike races and my favourite, the longest skid competition. Unfortunately you had to have a fixed bike to take part otherwise that would have been my target for the road season! Instead I had to settle for 3rd (Mrs Consistency if nothing else) and a really beautiful set of cappuccino mugs for the most aggressive rider.
After so much short racing it was time to set off to a caravan in Somerset and a men’s 2 day stage race. Our caravan was actually rather nice with 3 bedrooms and an open plan living area, best described as compact and bijous. It’s a pretty good job we are all athletes as its fair to say the rooms were on the smaller side of mini. In fact Annie fell out of her bed 3 times on the first night just by rolling over. However it was in a lovely location near Taunton which made for some great training, when it wasn’t raining!
I haven’t raced against men in such a long time and they are so much more polite than women. They gave us loads of room and even apologised when they slightly cut you up. They also ride very fast when they want to which really did hurt a lot during the 4 stages, in particular the 120km road stage. About half way through the road stage just after the race has split in two on the main climb one of the riders left started chatting to me. He said "oh this must be easier for you than me you weigh a good 25kilos less than me". "Yes", I replied, "but you have a ‘male specific organ’" (or in a shortened more descriptive single word).
Having spent the week in the far southwest of the country we headed off up to the far north of England to the spectacular and cold Northumberland national park. We were staying in a gorgeous farm house in the middle of absolutely no where less than 80kms short of the Scottish border very close to Hadrians Wall. For anyone who doesn’t know what Hadrians wall is. Basically it was built by the Romans a very long time ago once they had taken the best bits of Britain to keep the Scottish people in the cold wet northern wilderness that they enjoy so much. (Disclaimer; I have both friends and relatives from this area of Northumberland and as such am only playing on the stereotypical views of the area for comedy value and love people from Newcastle and Scotland. In fact I love MacDonalds!)
So back to the house, it even had a waterfall at the bottom of the garden and was in such amazing countryside, so open and vast but stunning. We were there to ride the national road race championships on the Sunday. From the day we arrived to the morning we left it only stopped raining for 5 minutes every day which allowed for us to just get out training into the valleys where it seemed to be sunnier and warm. Fortunately on the day of the race it was really nice weather and made for a great race. Lizzie Armitstead took a very deserving title in style, the girl has some serious talent.
In between all the racing and travel I did managed to squeeze in a chocolate cake date with my university friends, seeing all the family and watching Bradley Smith in the Moto GP Moto2 race at Silverstone, which was the most amazing thing ever. The noise is just something else entirely and if you think Sven Nys has a big motor home you should see these boys set ups its unreal. Plus now I’m an expert on reading the screens in the pits as I was too afraid to watch some of the deathly manoeuvres Bradley was making in the driving rain to move from 28th on the grid to 3rd in the race. I’m pretty sure I can now tick motorbike racing off my future career list.
We are now back in Belgium ready for the finally racing block of the road season. In the next month I have a 4-day stage race in the Czech Republic followed by a 7 day stage race in Germany. I do enjoy stage racing but one thing I am really not looking forward to is the team time trial with Hanka Kupfernagel and Sarah Storey, wish me luck!