Helen Wyman CX clinic at Palmer Park 

A trek from cold Oxfordshire to freezing West Berkshire this morning, with flurries of snow on the motorway was a great prelude to a day that never got above 4 degrees with a bitter northern wind. Thankfully there was no snow or rain, but I struggled with staying warm without being on the bike for the morning session.

Whilst led by Helen, Stef has definitely got the louder voice! 

A talk on tyre pressure, for different types of tyres, and Stef, Amira Mellor, Helen and Caroline Stewart went around checking them. I’m still surprised that anyone had more than 30psi in theirs (although if you’ve ridden in on the road, I kind of get it!)

I took notes when Stef and Helen were taking the morning session, but I’m not going to give it all away!

They started with a follow my leader to help shake the edge of cold off, then onto crop circles and figure of eights. Just watching and listening to the four of them gave me ideas of what to practice, and most importantly why.

Then dismounting and remounting, how, when, why, where to get off the bike, and how to carry it. There may have been a slight disagreement between Helen and Stef over how Helen carries her bike! 

Then remounting at the top of the bank… which did see a couple of crashes!

Then onto a session with riding and running a steep, rather slick bank. Riding it, with enough speed and in the right gear was easy. Carrying the bike and running proved rather treacherous, to my amusement as I stood and watched.

The talk of why and what line to choose as Helen, Stef and Amira alternately rode and ran became more apparent as they showed what and why they did what they did.

Lastly onto race starts, what posistion you start in and why, where your pedals are, on the hoods or drops. Gridded starts and Belgian style starts.

I knew our ‘predominately’ women’s session was going to be brilliant, although my dismal remounting actually made me embarrassed to be there.

We had a broad range of women turn up, Suzi Wise who usually races with me at the back of the field, Jo-Anne Perry, two of the 5th Floor girls, and even super Vet Alison Kinloch. Around 30 in total I guess, one awesome turnout!

Slightly chattier than the men had been, we were soon out doing figure of eights, first of all alone – in which both Stef and Amira came to give me some advice. I’d got the hang of always peddaling, but had to learn to put the spurt of effort in as I came out of each bend. Then we were up in pairs, and knowing Alison was faster than me, but also able to give advice, I asked her to pair up with me. It quickly showed me letting gaps in and her through, and I wasn’t quite able to hold the speed of her wheel for long, but it taught me a valuable lesson. 

Remounting was next. I was embarrassed before I’d even started, and eventually Caroline took me off to where Helen was giving Jo some one on one advice. I followed behind, kind of getting the idea. Then it was my turn. Helen had me jumping up beside the bike, but the fear of smashing myself onto the seat post or the wheel had me fearing to jump on the bike. I know how ridiculous it sounds. I berated myself and got rather frustrated.

As the women started practicing remounting at the top of a bank, I used the time to get off and on, off and on, again and again until we went to tackle the bank around the other side. I said of my frustrations to Stef as we rode to the other side of the stadium.

Tackling the bank, when I finally got around to doing it was easy. A bigger gear than I would normally, and speed. the drop didn’t concern me as it was short and had been well ridden in. A quick practice with shouldering the bike and running the bank – yes I am picking mine up weirdly because of a niggly shoulder injury, had me stuck behind one of the other ladies and slipping and sliding all over the bank. I had a right good laugh and later went back to practice it with Suzi.

We finished off with dismounting, jumping hurdles and getting back on before our turn at mass starts, both gridded and Belgian style – wheels everywhere and riders jammed in in every space. It was great, I loved the kick of the starts, with Stef warning us not to go into the red too quickly on race days.

What a fantastic day, with help and tips not just from one, but four coaches all with a fantastic range of knowledge and different ways to approach ideas. Learning how much you need just one hand to turn with, a different approach to remounting, and just how much you can learn from the experts.

I kid you not, it was bloody freezing, and it’s taken me nearly 3 house to get warm!

I swear Helen. I’ll learn to get remounting properly before the season starts!

#keepsmiling 

Aim To Achieve 

Finally I can announce that I’m to be an ambassador for CSCycle Coaching. I’m really quite excited, as this gives me the ways to achieve more than what I can do on my own. 

This means more guidance in what I’m doing, more idea of how to train, coaching on my novice skills, where I can aim for and ideas of how to go about it. I’ve had sessions with Caroline before, usually over around the fire roads of Swinley, or pre riding some cx courses with her.

Why do I need coaching? Because I want to get better, and be more competitive at cyclocross. Skills sessions take me through putting ideas into practice, to see if I’m learning from being taught. It gives me new ways of looking at issues; remounting and why I’m doing it the way I do, relaxing and learning to focus on riding lines, when to commit.

Sessions around Swinley help with aerobic training. Especially today with some nice short sharp hills on hardpack gravel/shale mix. It’s always different conditions there too, with the wind funnelling along the fire roads it makes for some cutting headwind especially at this time of year. Twice today I caught myself out, firstly with not committing to a line that I was on, secondly also not commuting to a line that looked like it ran into deep mud (it probably was rideable but I got a nice soaked foot when I braked and put my foot down whilst laughing my head off). Caroline questions why I did what I did and gives me more helpful advice on how to ride it. I know I’ve got better than I was last year, especially with following lines.
There’s a massive variety of terrain in a fairly small area, several sections that can get very boggy, and lots of trails to ride around it too. It’s always fun, but I always come away from it feeling like I’ve had a good workout and having learnt things. I like to question myself on why I’m doing things like I do, and it helps hugely to have a coach who understands this, as well as answer my endless questions!

Off camber grass banks – pic by Caroline Stewart

So. What’s next? Some turbo time (kindly lent for a breif period of time to me by i-Ride). Cadence sessions (currently I’m terrible, always grinding away in a bigger gear) and attack intervals. It’s a lot to work on for someone that is still a novice but whereas before I would do stuff blind with not much of an idea, at least now I can use what I’m learning to my advantage.
I’ve got the last few races of the season coming up, Lovecrossed, Abingdon, London CX Team Champs, and strangely, Battle on the Beach. Helen Wyman’s clinic and the Tour of Flanders sportive round out the rest of it before the end of spring.

Lots to work on, lots to do. I’m always keen to try new things, and it helps that Caroline understands that.

Fingers crossed eh?

Follow and talk to CSCycle Coaching on social media via the following links:

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#keepsmiling 

Racing At A Racecourse 

Whilst that may seem an innocuous title, racing a bike at Kempton Park Racecourse would have never occured to me.

A background in horseracing (for those who don’t know – I rode and worked with racehorses for nearly 15 years) I’m fairly familiar with Kempton’s All Weather circuit. I’ve galloped (not a race, think of it as race training) a fair few around there – especially an obnoxious chestnut (ginger!) nicknamed Shantou. I’ve been racing there more times than anywhere else except Lingfield. 
However, when I saw Central League were heading to here, I wasn’t going to turn down a 15 minute drive. Happy Valley was the London League venue in….. Brighton.

Ironically, I looked at the women entered and nearly put myself off. Had it not been for Fran Whyte, Claire Richardson, and Phil Booth, I wouldn’t have raced. 

Self doubt is a wonderful thing. And I guess people don’t realise how badly a newbie to cx suffers it, especially one that hasn’t really done any training. Having these three just to say the right thing helped more than ever anyone could know.

Turning up, I’d stopped thinking about it and was more interested to see what they could do with a flat course. A fair few turns, the bumpiest ground I’ve come across and the inclusion of magnetic grass and a bank about a foot high. A warm up lap had me gasping for breath like a fish out of water. However the novice and vet 40s managed to smooth out the course a bit.

I had one aim. Not to let Fran Whyte lap me. I got stuck behind someone who couldn’t clip in at the start, and saw the field string out in front of me. Somehow I got myself in a workhorse rhythm and manged to reel in Claire Richardson after a couple of laps. Only to get passed by another woman who had done the same to me. 

Tunnel vision. Focus, let the bike roll around. The more I rode, the easier I found it, swinging the bike through corners without a second thought. Loosing a fair few seconds remounting. Pulling inexorably away from Claire and realising after another two laps that I was on the final one. Tiring, with legs feeling drained, I forced my lungs to work harder. Then a glimpse of blue kit and the lead woman lapped me. Balls. Not far off the finish, I then saw Fran and Mathilde battling out 2nd coming up behind me. Only a few turns from the finish and they passed me before the small bank. A tussle and shouted words ensued as Mathilde tried to go up the inside on a corner. 

Pic courtesy of Steve Moakes

Once again, I was able to hit the tarmac finish and move up through the gears to sprint on the drops. I finished happy but completely empty. 

By far the best race I’ve had, although it’s all still dry. London League CX tomorrow is at a last minute change of venue now at Bethlem Hospital. But first my second visit this week to Rouleur Classic courtesy of Freestak!

#keepsmiling 

Crosstober at Abergavenny 

Fairly sure I don’t need an excuse to go to Aber, but having seen there was two days of cx down there, with the National Trophy Round 2 on the Sunday, and Keith Murray// SCOTT Racing requiring an extra pair of hands a decision was made.

I can honestly swear I do end up taking every bit of kit I own with the team logo on it. Even having looked at the weather – I still spent two hours pondering what I needed to pack. 

I’d had to get the bearings done on the Kinesis too, and was looking forward to being back on it. Although I took the Colnago too. Just in case. And an extra jacket. And shoes. And another jacket. 

With Bastille and the Chili Peppers to keep me company, I let myself get a tad carried away singing until I saw the look on the persons face in the car next to me at the services. Talk about STFU Elz!

Having arrived stupid early, at least I was able to get an idea of the course and how slick it was going to be. Angharad, Gareth, Griff Lewis and family were there, both manning the Continental tent and some of them racing. Lovely to see such a turnout from Ystwyth CC!

I managed to crash twice on my last warm up lap. 1st time I had too much air in my tyres and the back end skidded out, hurting my shoulder again in the process and leaving me seeing stars for half a lal. 2nd time I dithered too long over running or riding a corner and faceplanted through the crash netting right in front of everyone I knew there.

Thankfully Louise checked my tyres again just before we raced and let more air out – or I probably would’ve been on the deck again!

Watched the Vet 40s go off with no problem picking out Keith Murray and his day glo yellow bike going rather fast along the bottom of the field.

 A crash on the first main corner from the Vet 50s held me back a fair way and I hesitated longer than I should’ve done, allowing a few too many in front of me. Worrying a bit too much, I was a little over cautious in places on the first circuit. 

The Vet 40s caught me on my second lap. And Murray flew past me just before the hurdles – with me swearing to myself he was not going to get two laps on me.

Again, hesitation and crap remounting held me back on the last circuit, until I saw that day glo yellow bike approaching 


as I went past the pits for the second time. Even as I went downhill onto the finish circuit- I put everything into going up through the gears and sprinting for the line. Trying desperately not to let Murray past me 

I failed. Just. 0.10 seconds. And astonishingly quite pleased with myself!

And absolutely loved it!

Only later did Murray inform me I was 6th Senior. I honestly didn’t have a clue.


Pitting on Sunday was easy. And rather chilly. A 50%ish course change and dry overnight. No bike changes, and the biggest most visible bike in the pits. With a few helpful pointers from the other guys around me, I spent most of my time judging how well Nick Craig and Murray were going. Nick won.

I also lent a hand to Chris Macleod for his lads. And briefly later to the Mellors in the Senior race, before retiring to take pictures and shout for various people. 



‘Two Ts’ is definitely the most fun to shout for. Expect a wheelie or face pulling of some description! Lee Shunburne always appreciates it, as does Nick Craig.

Sadly #posterboy ‘One T’ wasn’t at this round, so I was unable to provide the heckling he should have had. No doubt I can make up for it soon.

#keepsmiling #cyclocross 

Wessex League CX. Reading

I had a bit of a crash on the road on the 6th October, bike was fine, luckily. I was ok. Well. Lost a bit of skin here and there, stitches in my knee, separated shoulder and torn ligaments around my thumb. Rather annoyed to be honest, especially when I figured out (after having been told) that I couldn’t ride a bike. Or go jogging. Or get the stitches wet. Mutinous at home, cranky wasn’t the word, hence why I headed off to Derby to see the National Trophy Round 1 on the 9th!

Anyway. I took my own stitches out in the end. Determined to get back to jogging, they were rather uncomfortable. But get back I did. Not very far the first time, but I felt so much better for it. Then on my bike, figuring out that bumpy terrain wasn’t an issue, but lifting it might be! It was getting better day by day, but I found myself apologising and getting annoyed with myself at work more than anything. Believe me, hefting turbo trainers around just did not happen. Or anything over approximately 1 kilo. Well, for a time, it might have been half a kilo!

I knew Reading was on, and it was a fair bit closer than the LCCA round, so thinking my coach Caroline would be there, I headed off prepared for the rain forecast most of the morning.

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What I didn’t expect was Caroline to not be there (she was ill), and the hardest course I’d yet faced. Whilst not totally on my own – the only person I knew there to start with was the photographer Graham Robins – I was at a bit of a loss. Eventually I hopped on the course for a warm up. Some nice twisty bits after the pits, all beautifully slick and slippy, around into some twisty bits in the trees (still slick but a decent covering of grass), over a mucky hill and into some lovely wet grassy parkland. I followed the course, paying more attention to the bits about ten foot in front of me, than looking around. Then a marshal warning me about the hill ahead. I looked at him, raised an eyebrow and went around the corner. I did stop fairly quickly. Extremley slick, and already starting to get muddy, it was long and steep. I watched a couple of guys ride it and both came off in different places. More worried about my shoulder than anthing, I edged down it on my feet. Then the climb back up. My god. Steep and very muddy. Ten minutes later after I’d climbed it stopped yakking to the marshalls, I rode the last bit of singletrack and back out into the stunning sunshine and the start area.

I’ll just say, I didn’t do too well. Worried about crashing on an already injured shoulder, I was probably overly cautious. But do you know what? I absolutely bloody love it!

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Seniors eventual winner Mike Cotty in the middle

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I’m just over a third of the way down this hill

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Leg warmers, shorts and wellies. Best combo ever

I just wanted to get back into it! I left feeling a bit frustrated, but at least I’ve got a better idea of where I stand now

Plus points…. I carried my bike like a pro. And I’m off to Abergavenny next weekend. Race Saturday, pitting Sunday.

#keepsmiling #tougherthanilook

 

Wessex CX Round 2

Whilst the hard people were heading off to the #3pcx challenge today, I was heading off to Swindon. To a golf course no less!

Before you get your hopes up that I’ve given up cycling and taken up golf, I have to tell you that the golf course is decommissioned and I went to cyclocross instead.

LCCA didn’t have a round this weekend, so I planned to combine seeing my parents, with a cx race. It’s still less than a year ago that I started racing, and I need all the experience I can get.

So, whilst I would have preferred to be in Yorkshire cheering on Keith Murray, Scott Chalmers, Scot Easter and Emma Osenton, I found myself moseying around a nicely technical grass course.

The other part of the reason I like the Wessex league, is that it so friendly. With the likes of Caroline Stewart, Chris Macleod and Graham Robins there, they make you feel more than welcome.

Caroline rode a recce lap at my pace with me, and I quickly identified one corner that I found tricky. Just one mind. Off camber, 180° right hander going downhill. Why I’m having problems with exactly the same type of bend two races in a row, I don’t know!

Very, very glad to be riding Continental CX Race tyres. With a course that had such a decent covering of grass, even when the heavens opened briefly, it didn’t properly cut up. Sure there were some damp, squidgy grass, but it was merely suicidily slippery. Not muddy as such.

It took me a while to get into the race. And looking at my lap times, my last lap was fastest again! I need the experience more than anything. Different courses, terrain, and people. I found it a huge learning curve today. Eventually winning the battle at the back with another girl.

The only problem I had was faceplanting over my bars on the second lap. Not entirely sure how I ended up on the floor – but hey ho!


I didn’t enjoy the first lap. But by the second I was back in that love/hate relationship. I love the course. I love riding cx. I dislike that I’m such a novice and so slow. I love the friendliness.

It’s not easy not having the experience or background of years in and around cycling clubs, road races and cross.

#keepsmiling