Iona at Peterborough Crit

Iona at Peterborough Crit

Monday, 30 June 2014

Gran Fondo Sportful Dolomiti, by Karen

Some people seem to think I'm never at home. Sometimes I think they might be right. That's a little bit what it felt like whilst packing to fly off to Italy for a week in the mountains culminating in an epic 204km long Gran Fondo - the Sportful. It was first suggested to me sometime last autumn by our friend Paul who had ridden the Fred Whitton and Marmotte with me last year. I remember at the time being very hesitant about signing up but by the time we were actually flying out it was one of my key target races for the year.

It ended up that Paul didn't join us; he was afflicted with a crash-inflicted broken collar bone a week after I had bashed up my shoulder. There seemed to be an element of irony in it all. In 2013 Chris had suffered the agony of having to watch Paul and I ride the Marmotte. Was Chris going to end up being the only one of us fit enough to ride the Sportful in 2014?

As you'll know from previous blog posts it didn't work out this way, so a week before the race, bikes went in boxes, car and plane, touching down at a very hot Milan airport.  5hours of scenic driving later we arrived in the beautiful village of Mezzano at the foot of Passo Rolle.

The first few days were all about big miles and hitting the hills before tapering from Thursday in preparation for the race on Sunday.  This was made particularly challenging as a mini heat wave settled over Italy and we were riding in temperatures of 40+ degrees.  I was pleasantly surprised by how my body coped with this; in the past I haven't trained or raced well in extreme heat (although that was in my orienteering days).  Lots of passo's ticked off with my favourite day probably being Passo Fedaia (better known as Marmolada) and Passo Pordoi.  The day of 8min climbing intervals up Passo Brocon was also very enjoyable. By the end of Wednesday I felt that nothing in the Dolomites could defeat me and confidence was high for Sunday.

A few chilled out days later, race day morning dawned and for once the alarm clock woke us before the resident cockerel.  4:30! You have to love your sport to do that, trust me! But with the start at 7 and a half hour drive to get into Feltre it was essential.  I was very groggy for the drive but once in Feltre I soon became alert and ready to go.  We headed for the start boxes at about 6:30. There was a lane dedicated to women so I said an early goodbye to Chris, paid a visit to the cafe for the loo and claimed my place.

If I had understood the Italian commentator, I think he would have been building the atmosphere right up to the start of the race, and then we were off.  The first 10km or so were flat and very very fast. I made a conscious decision to cruise rather than try to kill myself ducking and diving my way through the peloton. I saw a few girls go past me but wasn't worried at this stage. Soon enough the gradient kicked up for the first climb of Cima Campo. Having ridden this already earlier in the week I knew it was a nice steady climb with no steep ramps. I set a good pace at the top end of my aerobic range and started passing a lot of riders, male and female. Faster guys were coming past me, but it got a bit of a wake up call when a girl came past on a guys wheel. I let them go for a bit, but then thought that they weren't getting away from me and that if she was allowed a tow, then I was too! I picked up the pace and got back on their wheels all the way to the top. By this time it was definitely wet, so I threw on my new Sportful Hotpack jacket and set off on the first descent. I quickly overtook the girl who I had climbed with (she was very cautious in the wet) and wasn't losing too many places even to the men. I powered past the split of medio-fondo and gran fondo courses and the first feed and on towards the foot of the Passo Manghen - the biggest climb of the day. This is one of the lesser known dolomiti climbs but has some Giro history of being an epic. Over 20km long with nearly 1,500m ascent; gradual at the bottom but the last 7km with an average gradient of over 10%. I loved it! Once again I managed to get into a group, although it split up after the feed and for the steep bit. It was getting colder and colder as we climbed, and there was a decent amount of snow still lying at the top. I made a bit of a mistake stopping twice in short succession, firstly for jacketing up then for the feed, immediately before another technical and wet descent. I was so so cold that my whole jaw was shaking with chattering teeth, but amazingly my hands didn't go Raynauds so I still had control of my brakes. Close to the bottom I was picked up by a group of about 6 guys and I took a few risks to stay with them for a tow along the valley. The group had swelled to 20 or so as we got to Predazzo and the foot of Passo Rolle.

A couple of the faster climbers then sat on the front of the group and stretched the pace a bit. I was more or less comfortable so went with the pace. The group of 20 was whittled down to 5 by the feed, where I carried on when others stopped. One guy came with me and I elbowed him through to do some work. We shared the load until about 4k from the summit where the fast climbers came back past. I couldn't go with the pace this time so summited on my own. A quick stop at the feed for liquid and I set off on a finally dry descent, zoom zoom all the way down. I picked up the same group of guys again for the final valley run before the last climb, Croce d'aune, made famous by Mr Campagnolo in the 1920's.  I had to de-jacket again but this time couldn't hook back onto the group again afterwards. I must learn to do it while riding! Although much shorter than all the other climbs, it was hard work after 180km and some steep ramps meant it really did hurt. I still had some company, including one of Stephi's Maltesers who I had a quick chat to. Topping out after just over 8 hours riding time gave me a huge buzz and with just a fast descent to go I now knew I was on for an amazing time. What I was especially pleased about was that I still had power left in my legs for pushing on when I got to the flatter part of the run for home, and even a big of a sprint finish up the cobbles to the square in the centre of Feltre's old town. My clock said 8hrs26 but I knew that excluded feed stops. What a ride! So many of the guys I had seen en route called me over to speak to me to say how strong I had been and what a good race I had ridden. Good glowing feeling inside :-)

I didn't know for sure that I had made podium, or what the arrangements were, so I went back to put my bike away, get my recovery drink and have a shower. It was while I was dressing after my shower that I heard the British national anthem playing over the tannoy then the women's scratch results read out. Doh! I had missed my moment of fame and pride, having won the 30-39 age group! I rushed back up to the finish to claim my prize but didn't get them to redo the ceremony. However, one of the other girls did persuade them, so I did get to stand on the podium in my GB Cycles kit in the end.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

La Look UWCT qualifier, by Karen

So, April was a tough month for me after my crash at Tour of the Reservoir kept me off the road for 4 weeks. During that time I was spotted in some very strange places sitting on my turbo trainer with my left arm firmly strapped to my body. At times during that period I believed that my whole season was scuppered and all that hard training over the winter would be lost.

The results of my ultrasound scan in early May was a big turning point as we established there was no damage to my rotator cuff tendon. This was good news and led to a different mental approach to pain management; no longer should I believe that pain meant damage, instead it was something that was just there and could be worked through just like pain in legs, lungs and every other part of your body that hurts when you ride your bike hard. A conversation with my wonderful physio Femke and we agreed that we would get my shoulder ready to race 10 days later (at which point I hadn't even ventured back out onto the road). 8 days before the race I managed an uncomfortable 30 minutes on the road, 7 days before this crept up to 75 minutes, and 6 days before I went and hit the hills for just under 3 hours. If nothing else, the mental approach to pain management was working.

We had decided that driving to Nevers in the Loire Valley was the best travel option, leaving British shores early on the Friday morning. The plan was to get there with enough time before the race to fully recover from the journey and have some course recce time. We also wanted to enjoy the scenery and each others' company. After some pretty miserable weather in the weeks preceding, we were blessed with glorious sunshine all weekend although the wind was strong if you were caught out on the road alone. We had time for a couple of hours on the hilliest section of the course on Friday afternoon, although I managed to find a lovely specimen of 'rue blanc' to get me back to the car. Then on Saturday we rode the last 25k which also had a tasty climb in it and a very fast run in to the finish. As we went to register on Saturday afternoon the excitement was growing and we even found some other Brits who had made the trip, including Nikki Juniper. Not to mention some superbly good deals in the Look shop.  Saturday night was all about getting bikes and bodies ready for the next days ordeal.

Sunday morning dawned bright and breezy, and after a quick breakfast we jumped on our bikes to head down to the start. Organisation, and toilets, seemed to be somewhat lacking, and as usual everyone was going into the start boxes early to get the best possible position. Contrary to what was expected, start boxes were by race number rather than category, so it was impossible to see who you were racing against. Given the size of the field, I knew it would be the 'top 3' criteria rather than the 25% that would apply to my age class so I had to try and keep an eye on where all the other women were.

After a long wait, we were off. I had a good start but it was surprisingly fast right from the gun. Very early on Nikki and Nick came past, shouting at me to jump on their wheel. I tried to follow them through the flowing peloton for a while but decided it was using up too much energy that I wanted to save for later. There were some interesting moments early on when the road narrowed for one reason or other. There were some dreadful squealing brakes which made every dicey moment sound much worse than it was. The hills soon enough started to spread the field out, and I found myself climbing better than those surrounding me. There were two other girls nearby who I was keeping an eye on. By the time we got to the village of La Machine the peloton had broken up into a number of smaller groups.

I was with 2 other women in my group and we could see two more groups on the road up ahead. No one else seemed interested in bridging to them, so I went into time trial mode, cruised up to and past the first group then onwards towards the second group. About 3 other guys came through to take a turn and I didn't dare to look back to see how many others we had dragged across the gap. Amazingly, that group then bridged to another (I presumed front) group just before another climb towards Saint Saulge blew it back apart again.

By now we were onto the section of the course that I had pre-ridden with several tough climbs. I put myself into a good position at the start of the first two but towards the top of the second I started to struggle and didn't have time to recover before the third and longest of the day. This meant I started in a bad position and drifted backwards through the bunch then out the back. There was little I could do to respond on the climb so instead had to descend fearlessly to chase back on. Fortunately the chase was successful, despite my compact chainring which was proving to be a disadvantage.

I sat in for a while then moved up through the bunch again as I knew there were some tricky descents coming up along with a bugger of an 18%er that I wanted clean road for. During this period I managed to have conversations with the two other girls to establish they were both also in my age group. This meant I needed to start thinking tactically about how to beat them.

One last nasty climb saw me drifting backwards again and a speedy chase back on once again saved my bacon as it was critical to be in a group for the last 10k burn-up to the finish. Again I was looking to move up, and had decided to go for the tactic of sneaking away off the front before the mad cobbled sprint. It was hard to get through the bunch by this point as no one wanted to give an inch. Remember that this is a 50+ strong bunch where only a maximum of 10 people are really racing for anything significant (women and 60+ men), very frustrating!!! Eventually I managed to get through and went for my diving attack off the front. It was countered immediately, not by the girls but by several of the guys who weren't really racing for anything. Ok, I thought, that's fine. Let's just make sure I hold my position in front 10 and there may be a chance the other girls won't get through. That was hard work but was going fine until a roundabout less than a kilometre before the finish where I got squeezed slightly and lost my position. On the final uphill kick it probably wasn't a surprise that I didn't have much left for a sprint and ended up finishing 4th woman out of 3 in our bunch (yes there was one female in disguise who I had missed completely for the majority of the race).

Several anxious minutes later I was very pleased to find out that although I finished 4th in my race age group (35-49), I had still finished 3rd in my UCI age class (35-39) hence qualifying for the final in Slovenia in august. Sigh of relief, lots of tactical lessons learnt and now the build for Slovenia can start with a vengeance.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Shrewsbury GP

Believe in your dreams enough and one day they may come true

On Sunday the 25th of May exactly that happened. My dream ambition of winning an Elite Town Centre Crit became a reality.

The Shrewsbury GP returned this year after 20 years of not running; consequently there had been a huge build up to this event in Shrospshire with many news articles and an official Shrewsbury GP website drip feeding the public with news about the event in the weeks prior to the event. The biggest news being Jo Rowsell MBE, Team Pursuit World Record holder, 4 x Team Pursuit World Champion, Individual Pursuit World Champion and Olympic Medallist had entered and was set to ride the event. With the knowledge of Jo riding I knew the race was going to be an exciting one!

Arriving at the event the atmosphere was electric, the music was pumping and the crowds were in their thousands.
Standing on the start line I felt quite nervous as I had never ridden a course quite as tight and technical as the course set out before me. The course started out on a straight of cobbles before sweeping round into a short sharp climb. It then consisted of a series of corners sweeping down into a very tight bend onto the cobbled 200m finish straight. I knew being on the front on the start line was crucial if I was to keep up with the leaders due to the narrowness of the circuit which wouldn’t allow for much movement once you were in position.

The countdown began…5…4…’God I need a wee’…3…’not sure if Im really ready for this’…2…’oh crap’…1…’go go go!’.
From the off Jo Roswell hit the front like a bullet out of a gun and set a hard fast tempo stringing out the bunch behind. I knew I had to stick on her wheel like glue or else id be out the back so I did just that! After 2-3 laps I had a quick look around to see how the bunch were looking and to my utter surprise realised there was only myself, Harriet Owen of Matrix Fitness and Lydia Gurley of Merlin Cycles following my wheel with Jo infront. ‘Wow’ I thought, maybe this could go quite well.
Jo set the pace for the majority of the race putting in a couple of attacks to see if she could separate herself from us but with no such luck. I tried to take some laps leading our group to help Jo out as I felt that it wasn’t right she did all the work whether she’s an Olympic Champion or not! I was feeling pretty comfortable at this point and was starting to get abit giddy knowing if we continued in such a way I was going to get 4th as a minimum. At 30 minutes however, a group of about 6-7 riders caught us from behind and I thought…bugger! But then Iona comes charging past onto the front and I was very pleased to see her! It seems Jo wanted to keep our group away however as she immediately attacked up the short climb and that was it…back to the four of us in the original breakaway again.  
The crowds throughout were phenomenal banging on the side boards, cheering and clapping their hands, ive never felt so electric in a race being in the front group with so much support behind us.  
Coming into the final 5 laps with our group having an extensive lead on the next bunch back, I felt so comfortable yet I never thought I was going to win it I was just so happy that I was potentially going to be in the top 4 in an Elite Crit.
On the final lap Lydia attacked up the climb and I knew I had to be 1st or 2nd wheel minimum coming into the final cobbled corner so I jumped onto her wheel and dived through the last series of corners into the final cobbled corner where we had to negotiate our way through a bunch of riders we were lapping in maybe the worse place possible on the course! I took abit of a do or die line through the corner and saw the finish line approach. Lydia moved to the right which gave me a clear line to the finish which I hardly ever get so I took the chance and sprinted my heart out leaving nothing left in my legs. I came over the finish line and was actually very confused! I thought ‘Oh my God I think ive just won it!’ But I was so surprised I just didn’t believe it until the commentator came up to me and told me to come up to the podium for an interview on my win!

Iv only ever felt as happy as I did that evening once, and that was when I won Bronze at the U20 World Age Group Triathlon in Budapest 2010 as a 16 year old and the feeling was unspeakably good!
After the podium presentation I was whisked away for interviews and a prize presentation in which I received a pair of Bontrager wheels, a pair of Podium glasses, a bunch of gorgeous flowers, an amazing glass trophy and £500 cash prize money! What a haul!  And what made the evening that much better was that my boyfriend Rob Watson won the Elite Mens Race to make it the double!
We had a very happy car journey home with our prizes retelling our races to each other over and over not quite believing we both had won!
Iona also did very well getting a 5th place and taking home £80 J

I am very grateful for the hard work and efforts of the organiser of the race and everyone involved in making it such a successful evening including all those that came out to watch.
I am also so grateful to my teammates, friends and family, boyfriend and coach for helping me to achieve one of my biggest ambitions in cycling.   

Brit Tate

Our Breakaway group consisting of myself, Jo Rowsell MBE, Harriet Owen and Lydia Gurley

Managed to get my arm up in celebration after the initial shock

Prize Presentation with the Mayor of Shrewsbury