Roubaix 2017

No riding the sportive for me this year, instead a last minute (one star) hotel booking in Villeneuve d’Ascq, and a flexible ferry ticket back to see my favourite race.

Don’t mention the journey on Friday to me, M25 hell bound. But it did mean a late arrival and empty French roads with Verity, my oldest and best friend, for company.

I’d offered to be neutral support for Phil Booth who was riding the 145km mid distance route, with the first section of cobbles being the erratic, bone shuddering Arenberg. An early drive in misty weather with the promise of a beautiful day ahead, saw us with a prime parking spot just off the Arenberg finish. 

The first few fast riders were just starting to trickle past in one’s and twos as we headed down the dolled off path. Metal barriers for quite some way limited access of cyclists to the much friendlier path, as much as keeping the public off the exit.

We wandered down, watching the rope barriers being set up, and kicking the odd bottle off the middle of the cobbles. A few people were walking about, the odd ‘bonjour’ and us two ‘allez’ing the riders on. A very French ‘Yes. It’s rock and roll’ in reply (pronounced Yace. Eets rack and wrol) had us in giggles for a while. 

I warned Verity a bridge would eventually appear – although neither I or Phil had even noticed it last year when we rode it – but the fog kept it hidden until the last minute.

Punctures and dropped chains were order of the day if you didn’t get through unscathed, although I failed to see the guy fall off his bike in the plough behind me as we finally saw the bridge.

I honestly couldn’t believe how high and out of place it looked in the spring greenery of the surrounding forest. A 15 strong mountain bike peleton was strangely quiet as the shock absorbers did their job over the rough, jilted cobbles. 

A total mix of bikes, it really makes the mind boggle. From full suss, brand new mountain bikes (Scott the leading brand by a mile) to road bikes who’s glory days had been 15 years ago. Most popular road bikes were all types of Specialized. Several Venge Vias and even a couple of candy coloured Cruxs. Castelli and Rapha the unbranded kit of choice, and the huge variety of club colours and makes. 

We removed all the bottles dropped on the ancient cobbles that we saw, and collected the spare tubes and tools that we found – giving the tubes to those who had punctured.

Phil managed to spot my very unsubtle gilet, and waited for us at the end.

Arenberg was very very dry this year, the only damp from shattered and split bottles. 

We saw Phil safely on his was before heading to my favourite section of pavé, the ever degrading Carrefour d’Larbe. Reckoned this year to be worse than Arenberg.

A long wait on the side of the pavé in the sun, a lot of encouragement from us both to the riders both flying and weary. The wait was starting to get worrying, so much so that a song was made up…

‘We’re Really Quite Worried About Phil.’

A WhatsApp let us know that all but one of his chainring bolts had come out, and the mechanics had done a bodge job worthy of GCN hacks. One other bolt and cable ties held it together

I offered my Scott Addict, sat redundant in the car, and even got it out to be ready.

A random meeting with Jon Dibben’s mum, massively proud of her son and trying to find a better place to park the campervan they had took up some time, until finally a white, green and red jersey snagged my attention.

A dusty dry day was taking its toll, and Phil decided to finish on the patched up Felt after he’d got himself together.

L’enfer du Nord

Sunday saw a car pool and a trip to Compiègne to see the start from the Medway Veloians cafe of choice. A table in the sun, coffee and banter. The colourful parrot like flock of the peleton as they passed

Then it was off to Saint Python for the next bit. Chasing the race for the love of it.

Fair play to the Astana bus rocking the Tom Boonen mask in the front window as we drove past!

The heat was cranking up as we made our  way into the village and out on to the cobbles. A high bank and narrow verge granted excellent views, as I chose to stay low for a photo or two.

The arrival of motorbikes and the distant helicopter heralded the arrival of the race. Dust driven up in clouds that a sandstorm would be proud of as the vehicles sped onto the cobbles.

The race was already breaking up. Riders barely glimpsed amid the cars. Terpstra abandoned. Punctures and team cars too far away.

Then it was a trudge up the field and back into the car. Air con a luxury the peleton could wish for. A long drive to Cysoing and a lucky parking spot. Twitter refreshed and the race really starting. Crashes reported, breakaway and a peleton thinning by the minute. Mostly French around us, radios and flags abundant as the temperature rose. A trek up section 7, memories of timed sections surfacing from last year as we found a place to stand. 

Rodonia sang again as I downed the last of the Orangina. Vehicles approaching, Daniel Oss still in front, yellow dust clouds gathering like the storm of the chase behind. Grim, dirty, silent, streaks of brown marring the rainbow hued men as they hurtle past. 

A race split to pieces by those errant blocks of stone, seemingly thrown together by a joker. A dry, hot day ridden at ridiculous speeds that we can only dream of. The main pack is gone. But every couple of minutes another whistle screeches, the crowds roar and part and another one or two or three come streaming through. Faces are strained, there’s not another lot left, and yet still more than 25km to go. The Carrefour awaits not far ahead, and yet they still don’t stop. A ten minute gap, the gendarmerie still vigilant for riders alone. 

Outgunned, unlucky, not their day, as we wait in the sun, envious of the hard men of Roubaix flashing through as Twitter once more is refreshed as they near the end. 

A van towing a flatbed loaded with bikes gives pause for thought. Is that Rowes bike? 

A shock as the three slow and become five, can Stuyven sprint? No. The day is for GvA, a whoop from me and as I look up the road is reopened. But not all riders are through? Of 199 starters, it feels like maybe 40 have gone through. 

Suddenly it’s all done for another year… 


Medway Velo does Flanders

Last Friday saw us heading to Flanders. Having left early, I beat the M25 Friday gluepot and arrived in Chatham far too early! Nearly a whole hour early.

I spent most of the week moving house and getting the bike ready. Panicking that I didn’t have the right stuff or know where on earth I’d packed it all to move, let alone take with me.

I’d decided to ride the Scott Addict CX bike, with an added 52 chain ring  (thank you George Gori), 28mm Continental GP GTs from Paris Roubaix last year and kept my normal Crank Bros Eggbeater 3s so I could wear my Giro VR90s. A whole range of kit was packed, with only a new Castelli base layer my last minute addition.

Running through all of it in my head whilst I waited for Phil to arrive home, I hoped I had all the right gear… and yet still no idea what really lay in store. A frustrated message to the group chat as I enjoyed the sun in the car yielded no joy when asking for Rock Tape. I’d managed to turn my ankle over on the shale path outside the house whilst putting rubbish in the bin.

Rob and Phil had kind of convinced me earlier in the year to do the Flanders sportive, and now that we were nearly there, I’d started to really look forward to it. Checking my last minute Fantasy team on, I pondered my team choices and decided to leave them. Surely between GvA, Sagan and Gilbert, I should have some chance of points?

All too soon Phil had done some kind of superman, leaving some bewildered schoolkids to wonder how their teacher had beaten them out of school!

Steve was first to arrive, cycling up a hill of the type that I thought existed only in Wales, in casual clothes with a huge bag slung even more casually over his shoulder. He wasn’t even sweating, showing that Zwift and turbo training through the last few months is rather good for you!

Phil was next. Bike already on the roof and stuff already packed. I left the two pro’s to attach bikes whilst I slung my bags in the boot.

Shotgun had already been called by yours truly a week or so before, mostly because I get travelsick.

We had one other to arrive before we set out to search for Matt, hoping that Phil knew where he was going to pick him up.

Somehow we managed to get in convoy with Rob before we had picked Matt up, pure chance rather than millisecond planning.

Quickly through Dover and onto the ferry, time for a bite to eat and to say hello to the rest of the crew; Sparkle (Neutral Service Extraordinaire), Tom ‘Crash’ Kennison, Lord Muir and Roberto ‘I’ve Crashed In Better Races Than You’ll Ever Ride In’ Kennison. Better known as Flandrian.

A late arrival at the hotel, and I got the keys to my room for the next two nights. A nice little room. That smelt of drains. Shutting the bathroom door helped, but not much…

A beer/ wine/ Fanta and plans were laid to be ready to leave at 7.00am. Luckily we convinced the receptionist that we really needed breakfast, and we we allowed to take a selection to our rooms. We also had Canadian Jamie join our gang, he’d picked up our sportive number packs.

Tom managed to break the self serving coco pop machine, but gave me the idea of grabbing a bowl of dried fruit and yoghurt instead.

Anxiety had me up at 6, ready to go by half six and forcing breakfast down. A group chat call for milk had gone out as I blearily opened the door and passed it rather grumpily to Lord Muir. A check outside saw rain, and I made sure my Castelli Sotille jacket was at the top of my dry bag.

Leaving a little later than planned, and after Phil argued with his sat nav, it rained most of the way to Oudenaarde. Or at least to the Stijn Devolder (nope I can’t spell it either!) sportive car park.

The Medway Massive does Flanders

Kitted up, a thousand mixed feelings crossed my mind as we ride down to roll over the start. I thoroughly loved sitting on the front of our mini Peleton chatting to Rob whilst we rode down and up the river on the lovely flat cycle paths.

All too soon we went up a hill, and I was dropped fairly quickly. Phil soft pedalled, being far too patient and waited as the group drew ahead out of sight.

We chatted and pointed, looked and laughed, shuddered at choppers and exclaimed our disgust at the tens of idiots behaving stupidly as we rode. 

The first cobbled climb showed exactly what madness the Flanders sportive can throw. People walking. People getting gears all wrong. Diving up the cobbles and slipping and sliding everywhere. Ahead Phil pulled off to one side and unclipped, but I dropped down the gears and soldiered my way up. Faster riders passing and chopping each other up six ways of stupidity. I held my line and ground my way up until a blockade of swearing Europeans halted me. Trudging the last bit before swinging back on and riding again.

The flat cobbles  were great, although my right lower leg and back felt twingy,  I dismissed it.

Glad I’d kept my gilet on (Scott do awesome gilets!) as it wasn’t as warm as I thought it would be. Every hill was an effort, and the twinges got worse the more I climbed. Stoking off downhill had me grinning from ear to ear, passing a fair few on the cobbled sections had me feeling like I was at home as I stayed in the big ring as much as possible. The first feed zone was a calamity of bikes, riders, a hundred hues of kit and sticky isotonic drinks. 

Oranges, waffles, refilled bottles. We rolled out again, shooting the breeze like only good mates can. The next hill had me nearly in tears, twinges now abhorrent jabs in my lower back. Suddenly we were on the Valkenberg,

‘See you at the top Phil.’ I called, trying to ignore the flare up of pain. It was hard, every downstroke of the right pedal had a white hot poker stabbing me on the back, but I had to get to the top. A false flat as we turned the corner, and I pulled in by Phil knowing that was me done. I could barely put any weight on the leg, and had to lean the bike down to get off it.

A hard decision to call Sparkle put an end to my Tour of Flanders, and I ushered Phil to go ahead and finish. Luckily I didn’t have to wait long, and was soon off my leg and sat in the car on the way to the third feedzone. A million émotions;  frustration, sadness, anger, more frustration. Guilt at leaving Phil to ride on his own after having to wait for me.

We saw the fast group into feedzone 3, Tom finding me some stroopwaffles from the feedstation. Oh my God. I love stroopwaffles! Lord Muir was next, then someone who thought they were at the finish but were at the 2nd feed zone. Phil wasn’t far behind, and we were off to the finish. Eventually I ended up getting dropped off whilst Neutral Service found somewhere to park. 

Hobbling up the street – painkillers had taken the worst edge off – I saw familiar Sigma Sport kit, in the form of the just finished Callum and Rupert from work. Both looked knackered but happy! And then more familiar kit in the form of Hans Stiles Kingston Wheeler kit.

A bit further on, location dropped by WhatsApp, the faster group and Sparkle were enjoying beverages well earned. Banter flowing, Phil was suddenly spotted riding fast past us…

We later found they had stopped at the unofficial finish, and timing chips would show a gap of a couple of hours…

I had to ride back out to the car, the only bit that hurt badly was trying to ride a small hill in trainers on Eggbeater pedals, pressing down with only the left leg. 

Pizza, frites and beer were well earned that night. Even after 9 men couldn’t find the restaurant in Menen…

Sunday was race day. The Medway Velo organisation meeting held in the breakfast room at the hotel had outlines of a plan. Ride into Oudenaarde, watch the women’s and men’s, then head out to the Kwaremont (ish).

Backpacks were not allowed in the town centre, and that and an achy leg nearly had me a meltdown. Sorry guys! 

A ride out to the bottom of the Kwaremont in jeans had me rethinking about wearing them! Bikes locked to a metal gate, all stuff in a carrier bag to get through security and we set up camp on the side of the road by the cafe. 

Leffe Blond and Brun, Coke and Iced Tea. Hamburgers and banter with the good guys around us.

Suddenly out riders on motorbikes, lead cars and the women were there. Noise levels escalated to those known only by cycling fans as languages from all over the globe encouraged them on. 

The noise is followed by quiet. More fans making their way up, us chilling on the grassy verge. Friends checking in from the middle and top of the Kwaremont as we try and follow the racing on twitter. Pictures exchanged. More banter. Race updates from Twitter don’t glean enough information, instead I sit back and we wait for the men’s race to arrive. 

More fans arrive. Flandrian finds his fan club. Everyone is getting lightly toasted in the super weather. Even more fans walk up to the famous spot. Our grass verge starts to get crowded.

The helicopter is spotted, and cowbells start to sing as the first vehicles approach. We know it’s Gilbert and the crowd goes berserk, a noise that’s nearly indescribable, but is many decibels  higher up the road. 

Huge roars in Flemish,  French, English to name but a few. A brief silence, then the chase. Splintered groups of hard men on the road. Sagan, GvA, the names are all there.

Banter and beer resume, until Matt points out we can see them descending behind us, the yellow of oil seed rape a more garish backdrop to the sunflowers of France later in the year.

We watch the front few come past again, before quickly making our way to the bikes and back down the road. I’m first away, having to get nearly in the ditch to let the last of the peleton through. Then we are there, just around the corner from the Paterberg descent.

Gilbert flashes through, we know about the crash by then, before we make our way back to the car. 

My first Flanders done, I will be back, for I feel I’ve left my pride out in Flanders narrow cobbled climbs. A great group of friends and team mates, two great bike races and endless banter. Food for the heart and soul.

I have something to prove, I will be back. Until next time Flandrians and Medway Veloians. 


Guest Blog – Rob Kennison – Finish Manager of the Tour of Britain and Women’s Tour

One of Rob Kennison’s favourite sayings; ‘I’ve crashed in better races than you’ll ever ride in!’
Rob is also a prolific winner of the ‘Mug of the Day’ award given out daily at the finishes at both the Tour of Britain, and Women’s Tour. I believe he actually won it twice in one morning last year.

“But what do you do for the rest of the year?”

It’s a familiar question when people find out that I’m Finish Manager for the Tour of Britain and Women’s Tour. Believe it or not it is what I do all year round. These races don’t just arrive in town!

Planning starts immediately after the previous Tour finishes, and as venues are confirmed I head off to recce the proposed venues with Race Director Mick Bennett. We have numerous criteria that have to be met to ensure we reach the criteria necessary for a UCI HC (Men’s) or Women’s World Tour event.

The finish straight needs to be at least 8m wide, straight and with a good surface free of cats eyes etc, sometimes we have to ask for street furniture to be removed or the surface to be improved. Team parking has to accommodate at least 20 team coaches plus another 40 team vehicles and 60 escort motorcycles. We also require parking for all of our Tech. vehicles, and space for Hospitality, Judges Unit, Race Office, Podium, Anti – Doping and the SweetSpot Death Star where we hold strategic meetings.


Rob about to leave after the final stage of the Women’s Tour 2016

Once we are confident we can build our finish at a given location I liaise with Route Director Andy Hawes to join up the route and final 3km, sometimes there can be quite a lot of restraints so this is not always straightforward.

In the months leading up to events I have regular meetings and site meetings with venues, these usually have a tight agenda to address items such as Emergency Services liaison, road closures, event schedule etc. I also attend Safety Advisory Groups to ensure plans are in place to cover any eventuality, unexpected road closures, Emergency Service call outs as well as arrange for licences for our promo zone and temporary structures.

A month before the Tour we publish our Race Manual so it’s important that accurate maps, profiles and schedules are ready so that teams can check out the routes and are prepared for their on race briefings.

Race day usually starts with an alarm at around 04.30, a quick coffee and bacon roll and I’m on site at 05.00. Our first job is to position our large infrastructures, hospitality unit, Judges unit, podium and power generators. Signage teams set out to position the last 1km signs and branding team get to work.

The gantry is erected and at 08.00 the Fire Service rock up to fill the water ballast tanks, shortly after this we have another breakfast cooked by the amazing Charlie’s Angels followed by a Finish Crew meeting to go through any information that needs reinforcing. At this meeting there’s always some banter around the “Mug of the Day” award, presented to the person or persons who may have cocked up in any way. By eleven everything is ready for hospitality to open and receive guests at 11.45, shortly after this, depending on how far they have to drive, the Team Coaches start to arrive in convoy from the start, the parking team position them allowing plenty of space for the team cars that will arrive with the race.

Live TV starts at 1pm and the show is 4 hours long with the finish usually around 3.30. We get regular updates from the race via our Race Control situated at the finish line, and final road closures are placed to allow the 1km inflatable to be erected. The tension builds in the last hour with Team soigneurs and media crowding the finish area, usually trying to keep an eye on the big screen to see how their boys or girls are doing, when they can’t see the screen all are glued to their phones following the excellent ToB Twitter feed. I position myself about 100m after the line where I ensure soigneurs are safe and won’t be hit by the riders as they finish, I direct our H & S team so that they are able to park the Race Controllers’ and Commisaires’ cars. The anti-doping team arrive and inform soigneurs which riders are required to report for testing. I gather the “catchers” to make sure we are ready to catch the correct riders to chaperone them to the podium for the presentations. Generally the race flies into the finish and riders come to a stop with swannys to grab a drink and directions to team parking, the leaders go to the podium and as soon as the broom wagon has passed our teams start to dismantle everything. I attend a couple of meetings before heading off to my hotel close to the next day’s finish, this can be up to a two hour drive so sometimes we don’t arrive until quite late. I usually have dinner a quick G&T and head for an early night ready for the next stage when we repeat it all again.

Once the Tour finishes I have a bit of down time before we begin on planning for the following year. It’s a good time to spend some time on my own bike and to try to regain some fitness. This year I decided at the last minute to ride the Master’s World Track Championships just three weeks after the Tour, not the best preparation but I was satisfied to make the finals of both Scratch and Points races. Next year I’ll be once again focussing my racing on track and grass track  and promoting a couple of meetings myself.

@Theo Southee photography

Picture credit Theo Southee


Some of Rob’s greatest crashing palmares; Junior Worlds 1982, Amatuer Paris Roubaix 1983, Tour of Belgium 1983, Ster van Brabant 1983, National Madions Champs 1986, Lincon GP 1985


I’d really like to thank Rob for convincing me to tag along with Medway Velo last year, doing the Not The Tour of Flanders sportive with them (I managed to lose everybody, but finish eventually), then joining in with their trip to Paris Roubaix. He also talked me into attempting grass track, and through him and the others; Sally Smith, Phil Booth, Alex Cook, Tom Kennison, Matt Nunn, and Steve Smith, they have bolstered my confidence no end! I’m a proud 2nd claim member to Medway Velo, and can be found as a stand in DS/ Soigneur at track meetings in the summer. 


Humbled By My Friends

You may be aware that a lot in my life has not gone to plan recently. From numerous visits to the dentist, to broken bikes and frustration with my fitness.

Needless to say, I don’t mean to be whinging and moaning. I’m too matter of fact for that – although I’m not sure anyone knows me well enough these days to corroborate with that.

I completed cx at Herne Hill on Thursday 11th August. A hot, arid, dusty evening in southern London. Glad to get there early, mosey around a warm up lap, sign on and get a feel of the course with Phil Booth who had earlier in the week helped me out to fix the Kinesis (thanks for indexing it Hans Stiles!). I was quite looking forward to the mostly flat course, a nice bit of solid single track, and a couple of interesting features.

Nice to be joined by fellow colleagues for this very well organised, uncategorised race. It’s a shame there is just the four in the whole of the London CX scene, but I understand how hard it must be to organise. Kudos to both the 5th Floor and Kinesis for their hard work and sponsorship.

I started fast, but the grass and my lack of fitness soon pulled me back. Within a couple of hundred meters to be precise, and from there I paced myself around at the back of the field, getting caught and passed by Alec Briggs  (5th Floor) fairly quickly.

I loved the singletrack, and ft more than home on a course like this. That bloody steep hill hidden around the back of the sun splashed track was hell. Taught me I need to start jogging again! The lovely Hazel Barnes was not too far in front of me and we did a few laps sort of together, her egging me on and me glad to have someone my pace (ish). Really welcomed the shouts from Ian Cleverly too, it helped a lot! Considering how rusty I was – and how hard I found it, I really enjoyed it a lot. I know the skills I need to work on, along with my fitness.

Friday evening, sadly, saw me reduced to tears. Being classed as ‘unapproachable’ and the context of how it was delivered, whilst feeling rather uptight and worried about the two races I had at the weekend, combined to one of the most heartfelt posts I’ve written on Facebook. Needless to say, the support I received from friends both close and acquaintances helped bolster my courage for doing the Brighton Big Dog on Saturday. 

Something that to a lot of my fit friends that have been racing years, probably doesn’t mean much, but was worrying me considerably.

Thank you friends for helping pull me back together. Especially those from Medway Velo – Alex, Phil, Sal and Rob deserve a special mention. Because without these guys I wouldn’t be brave enough to face doing a lot of things.

#crossiscoming #keepsmiling 

Podium at Herne Hill. NLTCBMBC Thundertrack 

Today I set out having had about two/three hours sleep. From being sunburnt the other day – more fool me, haven’t ever been that burnt even from working outside for 15 years – I have some slight nerve damage in my back and on my shoulders. And a constant itching that makes me want to tear strips out of my skin.
I arrived at Herne Hill far too early for the NLTCBMBC, and felt that rubbish I actually had a sleep in my car.
I was quitely excited and a bit worried, never having ridden on a banked track before. But more than willing to give it a go.
Phil Booth arrived first, shortly followed by Alex Cook who had offered me the use of his track bike. Until he arrived, I thought he was riding – but no, he was being brilliantly kind and standing in as soigneur/DS.
Being the awesome mechanic he is, we had the bike set up in a few minutes, and he encouraged me to go out and spin around the flat kiddies track to get a feel for it. I think my smile said it all.

A bit nervous, worried but happy. Really happy to have friends like this around. Phil reassured me more than one, and I needed it.
Eventually I got myself signed on, as more and more people turned up. We were joined by Jo Smith and her partner Rob.
I eventually unearthed the days schedule: Scratch (11 laps for us B’s). Kerin. Elimination. Points.
Then I had a brief session with Phil warming up on the track. Look before you move, flick the elbow to let them know your moving. Always look. Angle of the bank is the same at the top as at the bottom.

My advice is be aware at all times; of who and what is around you.

Men’s B’s were up first and with Phil riding in that group, I was able to keep an eye on what was going on as I rode a few warm laps in the center of the track. With it being windier than normal, I knew it was going to be hard. Alex’s advice – you need to go faster…

Then it was our turn. With only 7 of us in the B group, I managed a quick chat with some of the others as we waited patiently in the holding area.

A couple of deep breaths as we were called up and sat on the fence. Nerves had long gone. Just focusing on what was happening there and then. Then the race was on. As its a group of people I had never ridden with before, I was a bit wary, but knew I would be on the front shortly. The front rider flicked up and moved off, then the second. Then I was on the front, being careful not to do too much. Then a glance behind, a flick and I’m up and letting the next few come past me. I tuck into the back, briefly losing a gap before regaining it. We rotated rather well, and it began to get harder and harder being on the front as it got windier. Totally focused on the wheel in front and how the rider was acting, it was only on the last couple of laps I started to drop of the back. They quickly dropped another girl, who I then focused on and managed to come around her in the back straight before we finished. I might not have finished in the bunch, but I was really pleased at how it had gone.

I felt tired after that. Sitting down and chilling as I watched the men’s A’s and then the women’s A’s take their turns. It’s great to be there with friends, supportive and encouraging they help me to believe that I can do better. Having them talk through a bit after the race like a coach would do is invaluable. If I could have had the strength to hold that wheel a bit longer, I would have done.

Next race was the Kerin. We had a practice go at it, and I knew I would have to save my strength – so as the derny pulled off I didn’t put all of my effort into it. Knowing I would need it later.

Then it was the Elimination or Devil Takes The Hindmost. It was to be a rider out every lap until the last three. As soon as the whistle went, I found myself out the back. Holding the last wheel, I was able to move up in the back straight and around the top corner. Making sure I was in easily. Then I did it again. And again. And just held on so four were out. I was in the last three and really struggling. As we came to the top corner they pulled away, not a lot, but enough that they were well clear. Again it was a hell of a learning curve. And I was over the moon to have been placed!

Kerin proper was next. Only five of us lined up, and as the derny pulled off I was getting dropped. I finished the race wondering if my legs had it in them for the points race!

I lined up for the points race with very heavy legs, hung grimly on for a few laps before getting shelled out the back like I was shot. Not entirely sure how I managed to stop! 

I had already heard rumours there was another race; so made the most of resting for a bit then turning the pedals around for a few laps before Alex attempted to teach me how to track stand which kept ending in me laughing madly and him even cracking a smile. 

Unfortunately I’m not very good, and kept giggling. I get the basics of it and understand how, but it’s obviously something that takes practice! 

I lined up with Jo Smith, Keira McVitty and one other. All experienced top class riders and way out of my league! So when the whistle went we ambled around to the section of the track we had to stop in. I rode slower and slower, getting teased by the judge who told me to keep going, and eventually rolled past Keira and gave up just upsides Jo…. who promptly over balanced behind me and followed me out. Then they blew the whistle…

Picture courtesy of Phil Booth 

I cannot thank Alex enough, letting me borrow his track bike, setting it up, keeping me laughing even when I was completely knackered and trying very hard to put up with teaching me to track stand. You, my lovely, are a superstar. A proper mate as well. Much appreciated and rather humbled.

Phil, you’re a diamond too. You’re encouragement is exactly what I needed – especially when I wasn’t sure about riding it at all. 

Medway Velo has been so supportive and I hope I did them proud today. Huge thanks to Jo and Rob for being supportive too.

Here’s to grasstrack next weekend where I will be with the best group of people I’ve met!


Aim For the Stars

EDITED TO INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING: Sally is lending me a road bike and I can use her rollers. Rob has a turbo I can borrow for a while. This is what friends are for. Also thanks to Phil, Alex, Steve and Tom #mycrew #thisiswhatfriendsarefor #MedwayMassive

@swordpanda has also offered to help me out with a training plan when I’ve healed after dental surgery. 

Well. Not quite the stars. I mean I have an ice gel pack currently resting across my face after dental surgery yesterday so I can’t exactly do much. Walking in a straight line would be a bonus. But I need something to aim at.

You know I don’t have any of the following; road bike, turbo, rollers, hr monitor, power meter or any idea of how to go about training. But I do have a great bunch of friends at Medway Velo who have helped me out no end.

Having Paris Roubaix Challenge to aim at was hard and I’d had no specific training other than increasing the miles. But with everything going a bit wrong at the moment, I need to aim at something.

Despite ‘my’ road bike being requested back at work, a few days after breaking a spoke on the loaned wheels and less than a week after getting hit by a pedestrian and a car, I’m trying very hard to look forward. I can’t ride a bike/ do much for a week and having a mouthful of blood isn’t really conducive to doing much. 

So I’ve entered the Green Arrow grasstrack on the 14th August. It’s not the biggest event ever but it is one that I didn’t think I’d be able to do.

Ride London Expo is next week, Thursday and Friday with my employer Sigma Sport and Saturday and Sunday with Conti UK. Not much chance for riding a bike anyway! 

I know I’m not very good, that I don’t know anything much about training or fixing bikes. Does it really matter? Are you brave or bonkers enough to have a go?

I’ll always try. I always want to learn, even if no one wants to teach me or help me out, I’ll be doing the best I can.
Having been underestimated by so many for so long, I’m truly grateful for those that are now my friends, the willingness to put a bit of belief and support behind me. 


Grass Track with Medway VC

A lot of firsts for today. Except me being first. Rob Kennison had suggested I had a go at grass track racing, with my second claim club Medway Velo whilst I was working the (weekend only) Women’s Tour last weekend. (Pretty cool to be UCI chaperone for Marianne Vos!)

Usual protests from me:
‘I haven’t got a bike’ The club has one you can borrow,
‘I haven’t got any suitable tyres’ We have some spare ones (this was on Friday lunchtime when I panicked that Sigma had nothing suitable!)
I’ll lend you a jersey.

Ok. Just under 2 hour drive to Colchester grass track meet, and I was a bit wary when I got there. Mostly of the whole ‘how on earth do you stop on a track bike?!’

Yep. That’s right. I’ve never ridden a fixed wheel track bike. Or raced at a grass track programme.

Rob bought the majority of a bike with him, frame, wheels, needed tyres; but Phil just bought his whole Fuji grass track bike, and lent me that!

I was chickening out of setting off for a ride (in trainers) down to the loo’s. Phil ended up holding me up and running with me until I got going. Then I had to stop. Not very elegantly, to get under the barrier tape. Getting going again was… interesting. But I managed. Just.

It managed to rain, but didn’t put a dampner on our groups odd sense of humour. Phil had valiently put up a gazebo, and strung it with flags, whilst I sheltered in the boot of my car waiting for the rain to pass.

All too soon Sally was telling me we had to go over for the first race (yes I had ridden some warm up laps beforehand!)

A three lap race left me blowing like a train, although I had beaten one lady! Then a break, then another race… and so on. It was fairly hot in the sun when it managed to shine for a few minutes, and dried the ground out after a couple of races. I was struggling in the devil takes the hindmost, and was the 2nd person out. In the 800m heats, I finished last out of three by quite a way in  my first heat, and hung on for 2nd in the minor heats.

Grass track is so much harder than anything I’ve done so far on a bike. It makes Paris Roubaix, and Dunkerque Roubaix feel easy by comparison

My legs were totally empty, but I tried my hardest. Having a gel before the 10 lap race did help. Me and another lady slowly dropped away from the main group after 4/5 laps, and I managed to hold her off until the last half a lap, but didn’t have the legs to chase her. Every lap got harder and harder to churn those pedals round, to keep going and not give up. The cheers from Steve, Alex, Rob and Phil really helped. #moveup. I nearly forgot how to stop, and was very close to falling off.

The last race was the 8km. It wasn’t counted as part of the omnium, and I will put my hands up. I didn’t even attempt to ride it, instead I got myself a cuppa and a cake. Actually deserved for once.

Great to watch Sally bossing it, she finished 2nd overall and showed me how slow I was! Rob was on fine form, finishing 4th/3rd overall? Steve and Alex both looked strong early on, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole atmosphere. Steve’s daughter Safiya should also get a well deserved mention as she tried really hard in the kids race 🙂

The guys got plenty of abuse cheers from us as they raced.

I can’t thank these guys enough. It makes me proud to put a club jersey on and race with you. Thank you all for looking after me, especially being so clueless about everything, from track bikes to what was which race! Doing this today has helped chase away the dark shadows of the past few weeks. It was stupidly hard but amazingly good fun. Next week? We’ll see…


Paris Roubaix Challenge

You all know how much I’ve been looking forward to the Paris Roubaix Challenge Trying to not get too excited leading up to it. Well. It was absolutely bone judderingly fantastic.

5:36:19 and 75.46 miles.
Max speed 30.71mph (must have been us entering Arenberg!)
Average 13.6mph (no auto pause).

Colnago World Cup 2015 on Continental Grand Prix 28mm tyres (90psi). Double wrapped bar tape – Bontrager Gel Cork over Colnago.
Castelli Nanoflex Bibshorts, Castelli Nanoflex legwarmers, merino socks. Orange Giro mtb/cx shoes.
Castelli diluvio overshoes.
Sportful long sleeved 2nd skin baselayer.
Borrowed red spring jacket.
Bioracer Medway Velo jersey.
Ana Nichoola winter gloves from 3 years ago.

Having two support cars made a hell of a lot of difference – and it seemed to be a common factor with a lot of people, having back up by the side of the road. After dropping the others off at the start in Busigny, we made out way to the first rendezvous point – the end of the timed section at Saint Python. It was chilly, but clear with barely a cloud in the sky. Plenty of wet grass to walk through as we walked a short distance down the cobbles to wait for the others. Sparkle’s cowbells were a great idea, even with Tom managing to drop the clapper.
It’s a proven point however that laser eye surgery isn’t always great as Tom managed to confuse a 6 ft plus guy with rather wide shoulders riding toward us with Rob.
Soon however Rob did appear, jabbing his hand at the guy in front and gesticulating wildly.


But as he didn’t appear to have a mechanical or be in serious pain, just a bit more loopy than usual, we let him carry on and waited for the others



They regrouped at the end of the cobbles where Rob proceeded to explain his gestures were not part of some strange cobbled madness. The guy he was pointing at was Juan Antonio Flecha. Yes that Flecha.



They all set off again, with Neil (@HooRoubaix) having had a puncture a slight bit behind.


Then onto the first feed station. Which is where I started from. Rob, Sean and Steve were the first to appear and after I quick chat, I set off in front of them. I’d got quite chilly and whilst I desperately needed to warm up, I wasn’t going to go on a burn out mission in the first few miles.
That first section of pavé – no. 21 – Quérénaing à Maing warmed me up considerably. There wasn’t a huge amount of people going onto it at the same time as me, so I was able to hold my line on the crown and ramp up the speed a bit. I’d forgotten quite how rattly everything is, but quickly remembered hands on top of the bars, hold them very loosely and power forward. Ironically it’s not unlike cx – I find myself riding harder and faster over the cobbles than I do on the smooth tarmac in between. In my head it’s SPRINT sprint SPRINT sprint SPRINT. Because that is exactly how it feels.
I heard Rob’s voice next to me as I rode toward pavé n°20 – Maing à Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon, and I gestured Steve to go ahead just before we hit it. I know they are faster then me, and they gradually rode away for me. Knowing Phil and Neil were still behind me was quite heartening.
Heading up the tarmac after a couple of sections was great. Legs had started warming up and I’d got warmer.
I can’t remember why, but I was looking down rather than up as I left Demain. A quick glance up showed flashing lights and a metal level crossing barrier/pole already lowering in front of me. You wouldn’t think it but I was going far too fast to stop, so grabbing the brakes I manged to chest it pretty hard… and not fall off. A rider coming up behind me was the only person to see it, and as he pulled up alongside he was chuckling away. A *beep beep beep* heralded the arrival of our minibus and trailer behind. I think I turned around and waved, although I’m not too sure!

Phil and Neil both managed to catch me up before the next cobbled sector n°19 – Haveluy à Wallers. We rattled over it, in the middle as there wasn’t much room on the sides, and as we came out the other end, Phil informed me the next section was n°18 – Trouée d’Arenberg as he caught sight of the iconic coal mine that marks the first sight of the Trench. Turning into the bit of tarmac leading up to it was frankly unreal, crowds already gathered some behind barrirs, some in front, Belgians, French, British just starting to have a party that lasts all weekend.

As Phil says – ‘Nothing happens before Arenberg.’
I’m pretty sure my words were ‘Jesus Christ here we go!’ and then ‘let’s hit this hard at speed.’
As we sped onto the first few cobbles ‘oh hell’ went through my head as we attempted to ride them hard and fast. Nothing quite prepares for the complete irregularities and huge gaps, let alone the fact that it was wet and muddy. All sectors (apart from Troisville) had been dry so far. A glance at the old Garmin showed 23mph as we entered the dank forbidding forest.
Then the sounds you dread to hear. That distinct sound of a bike, then another going down, lycra going off route in front as riders are unable to hold their original line. I could see one down, and another, a hold up on the section where you dread to stop. I can honestly say I did not touch my brakes, but had to stop pedalling as there was only a narrow space on the left to squeeze through. I’d lost the speed I needed then, and ended up juddering to a stop, I managed to get going again, and get back over, but with people going down all around, and no chance of getting back up to speed, we ended up going up the right hand side. Jumping back on a bit further up, we managed to ride the rest of it. Despite more and more riders going down all around me, both Phil and I managed to stay upright.
I saw Sparkle and Lee at the end, and we managed to pull in by Tom. I failed totally to open an energy bar with teeth or gloves, and Tom took pity on me opening it for me.

I remember setting off again, knowing Phil was forced to ride a bit slower as I’d just started to have a bit of energy lag. And I certainly remember riding sector no 16 Hornaing à Wandignies (4 star rating 3.7km), no 15 – Warlaing à Brillon (3 star, 2.4km) and n°14 – Tilloy à Sars-et-Rosières (4 star, 2.4km) as they were one after the other in fairly quick succession, and certainly not easy to ride!

A quick stop at the feed station. Honestly oranges have never tasted so good! A visit with the support team around the corner to pick up some more bars and gels. And off again.

We ended up riding a sector, slowing/stopping the other end (mostly for me!) and waiting for each other, trying to figure out without looking at the top tube sticker which sector was next, and how long it was and how many stars it was rated. The answer was… no idea… and it didn’t matter. Over and over again, I knew (and told Phil repeatedly) that we would be fine when we got to sector 5 – because I knew it from last year.

I’d just ride the cobbles (or the side of the sector if available!!) as hard as I could – churning the best gear I could. Which was fine until you really are tired, and just don’t quite have enough energy to get past the slightly slower rider in front without blowing up. Every bit of road into the headwind was slowly draining me, and the last feed station was more than welcome. More oranges, bananas, orange energy drink, and off again.

I’ve no idea how much crap we talked, as the energy levels slowly burnt down, but it was a lot. Idle thoughts become voiced questions as you get more tired. Mentally I loved every second of it, although finally seeing the entry to sector 5 – Camphin-en-Pévèle (4 star, 1.8km) was a hell of a relief, then seeing both James and Helen Standen picked the mood up a bit more. I think I knew at this point that we would make it. The Carrefour de l’Arbre (5 star, 2.1km) was not too bad, until we turned the corner into that sapping headwind. Phil dropped me here as I struggled along first the right then the left, then just pushing along and trying to blank it out of my mind as a few cars came past rather closely! Eventually I reached the end, and pulled to a stop by Phil, using one of his gels as I was out.

I can’t pretend the last two sectors were easy  – although we rode Gruson on the gravel at the side. Well until I got nearer to the end, and an ‘I WILL do this’ filters into my brain, and I get back on the cobbles. Same for sector 2 – which I still profess to personally dislike. This time it was easier, riding proper lines through and off the corners, and hammering the last section right down the middle.

The last bit we knew was all tarmac, so the sheer relief as I think we laughed was huge. Well until we got to 5km to go where they had decided to route us over a few meters of new cobbles – that was just like… what? Why would they do that!??! How? Just… disbelief doesn’t cover it!

We ended up on the banking in the velodrome, but finished safely. I still can’t get over doing it! No punctures or mechanicals for the entire group! A celebratory drink after nearly had me on my knees. Dehydrated, drained and very very tired..

I can’t thank Medway Velo enough. Especially Rob Kennison for talking me into it, Phil Booth for riding with me and looking after me without complaint. Also the drivers – Anthony and Lee, soigneurs Sparkle & Tom Kennison, and the other riders; Sean, Steve, Neil and Ian. A great group that got on really well, especially when chasing the race the next day, and so many laughs on the way home – as the minibus massive managed to catch one ferry, and the car crew got stuck at passport control! Guys, you were absolute diamonds, and I’m proud to have been part of it!

Thanks also to Continental Tyres – for the Grand Prix GT 28’s. Never had a moment of doubt with grip on the damp sections being so important. They rolled through everything and barely looked used! So impressed, definitely a go to for next time (which might well be June!)



Strong enough? Or a point to prove?

Looks like I’m heading back to the cobbles of Paris – Roubaix again (My Paris Roubaix.) this year, this time with the lovely people at Medway Velo.
I’m highly likely to be riding the Colnago – yep, my cx bike, hopefully with borrowed wheels (TBC).
You wonder why I want to this? Because, despite my emotional outbursts, I want to prove to myself I’m strong enough to do this. Being surrounded by doubters has left me with a right ‘fuck you can do’ attitude, you don’t think I can? I’ll prove to you, I’m stronger than you ever thought I was.
And. I love those cobbles. It’s given me something to aim at…

So thanks to Phil Booth and Rob Kennison. Looking forward to joining the madness!

What’s your advice? Spare tyres? Chamois cream? Super cool bar tape? (Don’t even think about mentioning a road bike, I don’t have one) Nutrition to carry? wpid-20150412_114759.jpgwpid-20150412_113155.jpgwpid-20150412_115839.jpgwpid-img_20150412_142840.jpg

#excitedmuch #keepsmiling