Iona at Peterborough Crit

Iona at Peterborough Crit

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Winter in the Park, Gravesend, 16th February

 As spring arrives, its time to start getting the legs used to racing again, and now I'm based down south, the Cyclopark at Gravesend provides a cracking venue for early season races.

I was very impressed with the Cyclopark - not just the road circuit but also the BMX and MTB tracks, which were heaving with kids playing on their bikes.  This is great to see for the future of the sport.

Based on what I had been told by both Sandra and another friend of mine who have already raced in the series, I wasn't expecting a separate E/1/2 race, but as 30+ women lined up on the start line, 7 of whom were E/1/2, we were set of  separately.  I knew it was going to be a hard race as the Nocturne winner Clemence Copie lined up, alongside 2 riders from the new team 'Les Filles' and Gravesend regular Jasmijn Muller.  Everyone was up for a hard race right from the start as we were stretched out in a single line within half a lap.  Very quickly we were catching the slower men, and using them as carrots.  I did a big turn on the front at the start of the third lap, and then suddenly found myself being churned out the back on the hill back up to the finish.  I wasn't the only one, and quickly paired up with Jasmijn and we shared the workload for the next few laps.

By this time, we were starting to be caught up by the faster men, and tactics of jumping onto the back of men's groups started to come into play.  Jasmijn went first and left me behind, and I went into TT mode as I saw up the road that she hadn't stayed with them.  I was very gradually closing the gap, and could also see Keira (McVitty) who had been dropped from the lead group getting closer and closer as well.  The gap was closed with 3 laps to go as I got a tow of the first group of men who were actually going at a reasonable pace.

The last 3 laps was all about hiding in the group of men and saving as much energy as possible, and keeping an eye on where Keira and Jasmijn were as well.  Keira had been churned straight out the back (which I hadn't noticed during the race), and Jasmijn had dropped back too, so I didn't wind myself up for the final uphill sprint (or in all honesty, didn't have the legs left to do so).  Jasmijn came storming past me.

The race was won by 'Les Filles' rider Alexie Shaw - she will be one to watch this season.  My finishing position was 6th, which was not too bad for a first race of the season without any speed training yet!  There is definitely more to come.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Cross Country Skiing in the Pyrenees

I thought it the perfect recovery day to take to the mountains on a set of cross country skis.

My coach Steve Hall took me up to Cap Nestes on yet again a lovely sunny and warm day. Steve's son had left earlier that morning on a school trip, which I thought was a great way to spend a day at school. They get 8 trips up to the mountain each season and they spend all day there.

Having never been on skis before, I was wondering what I was letting myself in for but the boots felt like slippers, and I felt quite comfy whilst clipped in. So skis on, poles at the ready... off we went...

Up first onto the green route, which was about 3.5km. What a great workout! I soon got into the rhythm, and was talking, I think I have found a new sport. Then came to the downhill, and sticking in the tracks is great, but then when you come out, you have to have some control, and this I found quite amusing as I got speed up through being over confident. I ended up hitting the deck a fair few times.

Back to the station, a much needed coffee, then back out around the 6.5km blue route. The flat and up hills were great, downhills were really great, but still the odd crash but all in all a great workout! And a sun kissed face, and I wasn't expecting that in February in the Pyrenees.

Tomorrow will be a cycle trip to Lourdes - on a pilgrimage, to drink the holy water... and come back pure and yes, very simple. 

Sandra riding the Gascoine area sportive

Today started with (again) clear skies and amazing temperatures and decisions of "legs or no legs?", meaning "should I wear my longs, or not?"

We arrived a village surrounded by cyclists and cyclists: some wearing just shorts and others, like me, wintered up!

Steve informed me after that there were some French pros out and a number of French teams. It was, after all, a beautiful day and as their season is starting soon, this was a good start for them.

The beauty of French sportives is that they are organised like road races. You have your lead car, your motorbikes and all the backup. The traffic is stopped (not that we saw much traffic at all.)

The mass start was a bit slow but once out of the village the boys hit the pace. The course was very up and down, sweeping across the countryside, with some good small climbs, and great views.

I started to pick people off and started working with a few chaps, then ended up dropping them. I always end up wondering if this was a good idea.

Moving on, I started working with another group, which is just great practice, and also keeping up the intensity.

I was on the front of this bunch when this chap came gliding past with ease!! I looked round at the boys and then decided I would sprint to catch this chap up, and I sat on his wheel for a fair while, thinking, this pace is really rather high, there is no way I can sustain this effort, BUT, for me it was all part of the fun in training. I did end up dropping off, taking a small breather and some much needed gel to only be rejoined by the group I'd left.

I was really starting to feel the effort of yesterday's ride in my legs, and the sign of slight twinges and I thought maybe I'd been pushing it too much.

Our group had become two, as others had dropped off, I was chatting or trying to chat with this chap, and rather elated, I saw the 70km sign for straight on, and 100km going left..... So I bid fairwell to my companion as I excitedly decided to opt for the shorter route, which I was perfectly happy to do, as my legs really were spent.

One more small climb and I ended up joining on the back of the leading bunch of boys coming in from the 100km. Legs were silently saying "no more, pleases" and as we turned the corner into the village, we all came to a halt as we queued up to get through the finish.

A great ride was had, in about 2 hours 10 minutes.

When we came to drop our numbers off, there was food, and not only that, I had one a bag full of goodies: brilliant bike stuff I thought, but no, I'm a girl of course!! I had one bag full of kitchen utensils, a bowl, a knife, a kitchen timer, a flan cutter, pizza cutter, fridge magnets and a t-shirt of the local area: a nice surprise.

I couldn't have wished for better weather, it was sunny throughout, and very very warm.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

My races in Malta in 2013...

The racing season in Malta is well and truly under way. I am pretty happy with my performance so far. Here is an update of my racing to date.

My first race of the season was the first round of the mountain bike national series...

Malta MTB National Series Round 1
Photo courtesy of Kevin Mifsud

The course was fun and challenging with some slippery rocky single trail. The rain the previous day made it a little bit more exciting... really enjoyed this race. Thumbs up to the organisers :-)

Steve came all the way from England to hit two birds with one stone...I think he only hit one in the end!... Bird 1: to enjoy the sunshine (which turned out to be a wet and chilly weekend!) and bird 2: to support me and watch me race. 

Steve helping the race organisers and watching Mark Bonnici crossing the line in 2nd place

Result : 1st place


The time trial race...1, 2, 3/4 laps?!

The 20km (27km!) TT (Photo courtesy of Edward Enriquez)

All geared up for the time trial race I went to meet my club members of Agones sfc. The race was held on the coast road, same course of the first stage of the Tour ta' Malta. This was a good opportunity to get some practice and check my time trial fitness. I worked hard to keep a good pace, hard enough to deplete all my sugars from my brain and do an extra lap! Oh well, counting was part of the game, and I lost but gained an extra lap training! 

Result: 7th (1st from last)


On the MTB again...

Malta MTB National Series Round 2 (Photo courtesy of Edward Enriquez)

The days leading up to the second mtb race were tortuous due to some complicated mechanical problems. Edward of local bike shop Wheel Wizard came to the rescue and fixed my bike just in time for race day.

Since Ruben had approximately 1km of single trail to tape before everyone shows up we decided to camp next to the race venue under the stars. We joined the race organiser Warren and his friend Daniel for this venture and pitched our tents in a sheltered area under some olive trees. It was a great relaxing evening with the brief company of two strangers who brought us some yammi jam doughnuts...Thanks Liana and Mark. Next time remember... a phone call prior to your arrival please...would have saved me from the fright of two strangers approaching my tent!!! :-) Grrrr!

It was great to roll off my semi deflated mattress and right on the start line! The course was a single trail heaven, my RDR italia 29er once again performed well round the bends and on the rocky section. 

Group hug with Caroline and Lizzy :-) Photo courtesy of Edward Enriquez)

Result: Won the race with a comfortable lead.


My first Road Race of the season...

I woke up to a lovely sunny day; 13 degrees with a mild breeze ...anyone living up the northern hemisphere jealous yet?! :-)

Agones Pedal Power team mates

After a skype chat the night before the race with Steve we decided that the race would probably come to a sprint finish and there might be no point in trying to get away. They set us off with the masters and juniors. It was a bunch of approximately 25 cyclists of which 7 were female riders. There were no attacks. It was a smooth constant pace throughout the 45km. On the last lap there were 4 of us left in the bunch. We all moved up and sprinted to be first across the line.

The start of the Road Race organised by Mosta AF Sign Studio (Photo courtesy of Edward Enriquez)

Result: Won the sprint :-)

Receiving a giant trophy from John Magri :-)
Thanks for following our blog
Steph :-)

Sandra's Day 2 Training in France

This morning I woke up to blue skies, sun and the most amazing view of the Pyrenees.

Today was a nice 4 hour ride, which took in a lot of up and down, and certainly enough time to practise the downhill techniques that Steve showed me. On the drops, as low as possible, and just go, and sweep around the bends, arms parallel to the ground and just lean your bike into the corners.....

I have always gone downhill on the top of my bars and never on the drops so it is quite a change for me, but one that felt quite comfy: only when someone tells you the simple things do you suddenly realise that its more confidence than anything else.

The views all around were stunning, the roads as quiet as anything, perfect, and with excellent long climbs, a good training base!!

We stopped for a coffee in a deserted village, sat outside in the sunshine, which really was warm, quite a stark contrast to Mondays snow storm.

Another 90 minutes of riding and we were home, certainly feeling the affects of today's ride, couldn't have wished for better weather and warm too.

Tomorrow we go about an hour north for a 100k reliability ride, which will take in similar terrain: another good training day.


Friday, 15 February 2013

Sandra takes to the South of France

Making the decision to come training in the south of France was quite risky, considering the amount of snowfall the Pyrenees have had thus far. But today I arrived in the village of Galan, 40 odd miles from the famous town of Lourdes, to stay with my coach Steve Hall at his Allant Cycling Holidays place.

The weather for ages has been rubbish. Steve informed me, "It's been wet constantly and on Monday we had 
a snow storm!" However, I was pleasantly surprised to be putting my trusted Cervelo together in just 
my T-shirt, and tracksuit bottoms.

We hit the road shortly after for roughly 2 hours, feeling very warm and dry with the sun shinning. The landscape 
is lovely, and it's so nice to just go out of the door in warmer weather, ride, and get some good climbing in.

I am here until Wednesday, and will be writing about my training experience everyday. Sunday we have 
a 100k event, then Monday (a first for me) we are off up into the mountains to try some cross-country skiing as a fun rest day.

Here's hoping the weather will stay in our favour and the sun will keep shining. I will get some much-needed Holy water from Lourdes 
and if the forecast is to be believed, temperatures are set to get as high as 16 degrees on Sunday.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Sandra Races The Winter In The Park Series 6

Saturday 2nd of September and a much needed outing to the great Kent Cyclopark. This is a great facility for all, with skateboarding, scooters, bmx, mountain biking and the fabulous closed-circuit road.

Finish Line Events have put on a series of races at the park, with races for all categories.
Steve Wright our team manager met us there, and with a lovely surprise for me: my new Polaris Bike Box, kindly supplied by GB

I thought it was quite a good addition to our Team GB Cycles challenges: bike box racing...

For me, I very much needed a race. I think after Christmas and New Year I needed that race feeling... and by golly there is nothing quite like a race to get you back into shape and make you realise you need to work harder!

There was a nice field of girls out for the Womens 3/4 event, starting a minute behind the Mens 3/4. We soon set off and the pace was fair for the first few laps. Then (to me) it seemed to increase to the point that I lost contact with the main group of 5-6 girls. Nevertheless, I continued to work as hard as I could, loving all the cornering involved. I find the course quite interesting: slightly longer than other courses at approx 3km.

I worked with another rider for a few laps, but three quarters of the way into the race, I needed to control my own pacing and lost contact with her. I managed to pick my pace up again, lapping some of the boys, and at the final last two bends lapped a trailing group of girls to roll in 7th.

Overall I am pleased with my performance, given too much of a break over the Christmas and New Year period, but a race is just what I needed. Thank you Steve so much for meeting me there and giving me some much needed encouragement.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Croft Season Starter Races

Saturday 2nd February, and while Sandra plays at riding bike boxes (a new southern sport by the looks of it! None of that up here!) I headed to Croft Motor Racing Circuit for the first race of the season.  It was a cold day, but glorious sunshine.  I decided to race the 4th cat men's race, for which the organiser had added a Women's category too at the last minute, and then also the Elite to 4th cat handicap race straight after.

I watched the hardy souls braving the weather in their arm and leg warmers but I opted for my warm and cosy GB cycles bib tights and long sleeved jersey. After all, it's winter!

We set off and I hit the front straight away. Why, oh why do I always do that?!  Anyway all good and I got myself sheltered in the bunch.  It was 8 laps, and we went round and round the track. Not much to report, other than a crash 2 laps from home.  There were about 5 girls riding. One got taken out by that crash.  That left just 4 of us to sprint it out, 2 of whom I wasn't too worried about. The other (Katherine) I know can sprint.  I was the furthest back in the bunch out of all of them.  We got to the home straight, the men were all over the width of the track, and believe me it's a wide track!  It was like doing slalom but on bikes!  I sprinted hard all the way to the line, I couldn't see any of the other girls ahead, but still wasn't sure if I'd got it, as Katherine had been ahead of me.  As it turned out, I had and I got my entry fee back!

After a quick change of numbers and the prize presentation for the first race, it was straight back to the start line for the Handicap Elite to 4th cat race.  I set off with the 4th cats again, and as if 8 laps wasn't enough this time we had 15 laps or 30miles of the track to do!  We were off,  and again I found myself at the front, I  started to try organise the group to work together.  I'd rather work hard in group for as long as I could before getting dropped.

I found myself mid-bunch, with a few of the stronger 4th cats driving the pace.  A few laps' in and I found  myself slowly loosing contact with the  bunch.  I glanced back and saw a massive gap behind.  Damn, I needed to hang on as we'd already lost 1/2 the bunch, but no I was out the back!  There are two sections you can get a good rhythm and really drive the pace, but then there are equally 2 sections where you hit the block headwind, and on your own this isn't fun!

Anyway I time trialled my way around the course for most of the 30 miles on my own.  Now and again being able to jump on the back of a passing group, before being spat out the back pretty quickly again..  I seemed to always have a carrot to chase of two riders dangling in no-man's land just ahead!

By the last lap the only other girl in the race caught me, having been towed around by one of the lads for most of the race! It was a drag-race to the line. It was close but she just got it. Oh well. No prizes for winning that one!

It was good to be back on the bike, after what was January, and good to be racing again!  Now for that reliability ride tomorrow and an early start of 7am!  As I write this now I can't even bear to think about it, still at work and doubt I'll be back any time soon... try 2 am and you might be somewhere near. Rubbish!!!