— British Cycling (@BritishCycling) May 21, 2016
Imagine my surprise on my return home after a five week trip to Europe to discover that I am top of the UCI Elite Women world rankings! And yes, that really is my age-I have good genes- although you can see that as a whole, female hand cyclists tend to be in their early forties before excelling at hand cycling. This is primarily because most women acquire their sci in mid-life and it sometimes sadly takes many years to discover hand cycling due to lack of promotion, costs involved and appropriate coaching being available. It also takes several years to develop the musculature required to propel a 12kg bike plus bodyweight over a 42km course at 31km/h! As there are even older male hand cyclists than me still winning gold medals in our sport, I don’t think the desire to win fades with age…
It’s only with the financial support from various sponsors and charities that I am able to compete Internationally, as I am not supported by my NGB British Cycling either financially or logistically. So, a big THANK-YOU to The Challenged Athlete Foundation: http://www.challengedathletes.org/site/c.4nJHJQPqEiKUE/b.6449023/k.BD6D/Home.htm The Arctic One Foundation: http://www.arctic1.co.uk, Centrica and my local Church, St. Ediths, Grimoldby, for supporting me financially on my latest trip. Also thanks to OTE Sports: http://www.otesports.co.uk/products/ for giving me a generous discount on their fab products, which keep me going before, during and after racing.
Without ‘Viva’ the VW, I would not be able to travel to races with all the necessary equipment to be my own support staff: Driver, Bike Mechanic, Physio, Dietician, Masseuse-I’ve learnt to do it all! V’Viva’ is kindly sponsored by Fogarty: http://www.fogarty.co.uk/blog/fridays-news
Lastly, I appreciate all the wonderful help and offers of support which I received at each and every competition I attended as an Independent, self-sufficient athlete over April/May this year, which included; loans of vital equipment, Physio before race day, coffee, offers of meals, a Hotel room, insecticide for an ant infestation (!), fun days out, a new flag, training partners and the unending words of encouragement to boost my morale.
Whilst 2105 has been a pretty successful sporting year for me as you can see from all the trophies and medals below, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many individuals, friends and supporters, sponsors and businesses, who have supported me on my journey in para-sport.
Thanks go to:
Fogarty, Master Quilt and Pillow Makers, http://www.fogarty.co.uk/blog/fridays-news who provided ‘Viva’ the VW, fully customized to fit my hand bike, plus two dogs and camping gear for my two month trek around Europe this summer. I’m still getting used to seeing my name on the side of her and am looking forward to more adventures!
Mammoth Mattress http://mammothmattress.co.uk/category/elite-athletes/ who kindly supplied a custom made memory foam mattress for ‘Viva’ to make sure I had adequate sleep recovery in-between my races.
Alfred Bekker http://alfredbekker.com/product-range/hand-controls-for-disabled-drivers/# who converted the van with hand controls that allowed me to cruise along the Autobahns and motorways of Europe in comfort.
KitBrix http://www.kitbrix.co.uk whose bags do a sterling job of keeping all my cycling stuff well organized in the confines of ‘Viva’.
The Arctic One Foundation http://www.arctic1.co.uk who provided me with a small cash grant which paid for my EuroTunnel fare to Europe to compete this year.
Challenged Athlete Foundation http://www.challengedathletes.org/site/c.4nJHJQPqEiKUE/b.6449023/k.BD6D/Home.htm whose training grant allowed me to pay for a cycling coach so I could train and prepare better.
The University of Lincoln http://lincoln.ac.uk/home/media/universityoflincoln/schoolofsportandexercisescience/UoL-Sport-2015.pdf for providing Sports Science support-it’s been an interesting journey so far!
My 5,000+ Twitter followers! The support, jokes, concern, sympathy, friendship and valuable contacts has been unending and I thank you.
To all the people I met in Europe who helped me with dog-sitting, tent erecting, laundry, food, meals, campsites, shopping, doctors, friendship, swimming, directions, training and more!
To my children, George and Rebecca, who helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel after my sci accident and are my most steadfast supporters, I love you more than…
And lastly, to my late best friend Micky Greenwood, who taught me so much about how to live life well and enjoy every moment you are given x
I wish you all have a peaceful, happy and prosperous 2016
I can’t believe that Winter has arrived so quickly after a protracted mild Autumn. I am in semi-hibernation mode now, only venturing outdoors for long, cold, often wet and usually windy bike rides. I know that getting the Base miles in over the winter is crucial to success next season. Afterwards I retreat to my sofa and my laptop, filling in my training on Strava, my diet on MyFitnessPal and emailing my Coach.
My race season this year started in sunny Abu Dhabi in March and ended in fascinating Beirut only two weeks ago! I trained in Portugal, Spain and Belgium, travelled to 10 different Countries and crashed badly in two races. I won 7 Golds and 2 Silvers in the European Handcycle Circuit (EHC) to finally take the overall Champions jersey in the series. I competed in four UCI C1 competitions, winning six Gold and two Silvers. I raced as an Independent at two UCI Para-cycling World Cups in Italy and Switzerland, finishing 6th, 4th, 5th and 5th. My UCI world ranking is 7th in the world this year.
I spent 10 weeks away from home driving solo over 10,000 miles across Europe and camping in a tent, then a van, accompanied by my two dogs Monty and Smudge. I was ‘living the dream’ according to friends, doing the Grand Tour I’d always dreamed about. In the middle of my travels, my best friend died suddenly. Thirty years of friendship-gone in an instant. Competing in para-cycling races just didn’t seem important anymore, nor did a world ranking, or even Blogging about my summer adventures. It would be two months before I’d enter another race.
So, with a bit of perspective since the event and my best friend’s motto-‘Do what makes you happy’- ringing in my ears, I have two main aims for next year. One is to be selected for a place on the National Team and potentially compete in the Rio Paralympics. To achieve this, I need to train harder than I’ve ever trained before, as the selection criteria from my NGB is to be a consistent Gold medallist at World Cup level.
The other is to raise enough sponsorship to to replace my three year old badly damaged race bike and enable me to travel to major competitions.
Neither are going to be easy tasks, but I’ve come this far…
“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.”
After the World Cup in Italy in May, my Coach Bryan Steel and I reviewed my training with an emphasis on improving my performance specifically in the Time Trial. Coming from a background of competing Internationally in Paratriathlon, which only involves a 20km bike section in the Sprint distance, my speed endurance was not sufficient for up to 48km of fast racing in this World Cup.
I had to negotiate getting down to London with all my equipment as I had no car, plan where to stay and also how to get to the race venue, as the UCI decided this year to only provide transportation to and from the official race Hotel for National Teams. I also needed to get to the official Hotel to register, collect my numbers and timing chip. I faced yet another complicated solo journey, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the adventure that followed!
I caught a National Express Coach down to Heathrow having used my accumulated Airmiles from the past four years of competing around the world for a free Business flight with British Airways to Madrid. I arrived to find my race bike had been left in London, despite having been marked ‘Priority’ when checking in, due to Baggage Handlers disputes. By the time I had put in a claim, I had missed the last train to Segovia, so had to book a Hotel for the night. Normally, I put all my clothes and medical supplies in with my bike, but had the luxury of two free bags with my flight-my bike and a double wheel bag-so had opted for hand luggage which fortunately contained overnight things!
I had time to research my options to get to the official Hotel in time for race registration and briefing the next day so sent an urgent email to the UCI organisers in case everything didn’t work out. I took a Taxi from the Hotel to a Coach station in Madrid the next morning and helped by the kind driver, found the bus to Los Angeles de San Rafael. I was lucky to discover a fellow passenger Diego was a race volunteer and his wife was picking him up from the station and she kindly offered me a lift to the Hotel. I made it just in time for registration, and was given dispensation for not being able to show my race uniform, which was still in my missing bike bag. The afternoon was spent frantically trying to contact British Airways and praying that my bike would be delivered in time for me to build it for the Time Trial in the morning.
The race venue was a further 86km from the Hotel in Cuellar, near to Segovia. Diego picked me up in a van full of race equipment after chip allocation in the evening. I was all registered and ready for my second World Cup, but my bike was not. It was worrying having spent money getting to Spain and time training. An enforced rest of three days had not been part of my plan either.
It was a lovely surprise to find friends from the Italy at the my small Hotel in Cuellar, but I was overjoyed to find my bike had been delivered! I worked late into the night to rebuild and race prep it, with the Italians helping out when they returned from their meal. I would have to ride and check my bike just before my race the next morning, not ideal as there was no time to fix anything that might be wrong.
The hotel was a short, but steep, ride away from the race start. I set off up a hill at some lights and suddenly stopped with my right leg going into severe spasms. Looking down, I could see my shoe was caught in the front cassette. An Italian friend came running to help me remove it, as I was stuck in the middle of traffic. I had no time to stop and look at my foot as I had to warm up on the road, ready for my Time Trial. The TT went well, with a new PB and hitting my goal average speed, but my leg continued to spasm throughout, making it hard to concentrate and keep the bike straight. I found the race Doctor whilst still in my bike, who strapped up my foot and gave me painkillers, which I found amusing as I have no pain or temperature sensation from the knees down. I knew it must hurt from the amount of spasms I was getting.
The next day my foot, ankle and leg were black and blue, and the swelling was so severe I could not get my race shoes on. I also could not bear any weight on my leg, which made transferring in and out of my bike and wheelchair extremely difficult. I was plagued by severe spasms throughout the Road Race and despite initially staying with the leaders, I soon fell back. The TT had only been 22 minutes in the 38 degree heat, but the RR was 36km- thankfully reduced by the organisers from 48km due to the tmperature-but with a steep, cobbled hill in each lap. I have a limited sweat response due to my C7 sci and I was lucky to have kind members of rival competitor teams douse me with water on each of three climbs which made it more bearable.
I was taken under the wing of the Italian Independent Team staying at my Hotel, taken for meals out and all the way back to a Hotel near Madrid Airport, ready for my flight home the next day. The flight back was delayed and I missed the only Coach home, but British Airways came up trumps, arranging a door-to-door Taxi at their expense. I then got a local Taxi straight to A&E to have my foot and lower leg x-rayed in case anything was broken, but lucky it was just a bad sprain. I got an ambulance ride home at 2am!
I’m so lucky to have the support and friendship of so many people in the Para-cycling community and blessed by Guardian Angels who seem to appear at just the right moments to sort my logistical nightmares out!
I have always wanted to visit Barcelona so an European Handcycle Circuit (EHC) race which was a P1 competition with the UCI, combined with a bit of sightseeing plus practice for my first UCI World Cup in May seemed a great idea. I would also gain points for my world ranking depending on my finishing position.
The Hotel, airport transfers, and a trip to the Formula 1 track for training were organised by Handbike Barcelona Club and two members also kindly accompanied me on two rides during my visit. The roads were busier than I was used to in Lincolnshire, so I was grateful to Martin for helping me train.
The TT was held around the Olympic Rowing lake, which meant a headwind into the finishing straight but a bit of wind assist at the start. The University of Barcelona was doing some research and we lined up after registration the evening before for calliper tests with bicep measurements, The same tests were repeated straight after the TT and I was so occupied that I hadn’t realised I’d come second!
The RR was held on the flat beach road the next day with a loop of about 4km with one technical turn and a roundabout. I made the mistake of assuming the race format was one hour plus a lap but it turned out to be the first rider past the post having done 38km. I was working with Romina from Italy sharing the drafting and sprinted when I heard the bell, only to do an entire lap at my best pace unnecessarily! I did, however, come second and was pleased with my race preparation for Italy in a few weeks time.
People often wonder why I never have time to phone them back, email or text them but I am usually busy either out training, cooking proper food to fuel my training, looking after my dogs or travelling! Then of course, are events or meetings that I get asked to attend on a voluntary basis. This visit to the University of Lincoln for a photo shoot was in-between two back-to-back trips abroad for EHC Races.
I’ve been in touch with the University of Lincoln Sports Science Department for some time now and they have recently agreed to sponsor me with support for the next year. That’s a huge bonus for someone not on a UK Sport Lottery funded program or supported by their NGB and the EIS as I am able to tap into a huge reservoir of sports science and knowledge for free. They are taking a huge interest in me and hand cycling and I will also be able to speak to engineers about various adaptations and modifications I’d like to make to my bike for next season.
The photo shoot came about because Dr. Willmott at the University had a friend doing a 52 portraits in 52 weeks project and asked if he knew of anyone wanting free photographs done. I arrived back from the Czech Republic, put the bike back together and off I went to Lincoln the next day.
I was a Graphic Designer working in London in my 20’s and am no stranger to photo shoots, although I was normally the person art directing it. We went through some shots David had thought about after I’d given him some input on where to find shots of hand cyclists on the web.
My bike is nearly six-foot long, has reflective elements on it and lying in it does not always mean a flattering picture of oneself, or show the components of the bike and how low it is to the ground.
To his credit, David took all this on board and produced some wonderful pictures, which includes my favourite above. To have a look at his project visit: https://www.facebook.com/davidtravisphotography
Barely three days at home before I jetted off to the Czech Republic for another EHC Race, this time with the TT and RR on the same day. I arrived at 10:30 at night and put my bike back together as I had an early start to register for the races in the morning, with the TT scheduled for 10am.
I love coming to Louny, a town outside Prague, as the countryside is beautiful and the roads are really, really good! I can confidently leave my race wheels on my bike for a training ride, knowing that my route will not involve pot holes, surface dressing or many cars.
It’s a great advantage to know the course before you ride it, so I was well prepared for the fast downhill, but gruelling uphill for the TT. I felt fantastic and really strong and was over 3 minutes faster than third place.
The RR unfortunately, had been changed to a tight and technical 4km sprint round the town, with a nasty 180 up a hill and round a cobbled roundabout. I drafted Romina for the first lap, but then dropped her when I went in front. She chased hard for the entire race, and was a mere 35 seconds behind at the finish. It was impossible to pick up any decent speed with constant braking for corners and the uphill section, so I was lucky to stay in front of her. Two second places were a great boost to my morale.
I spent the next two days biking round the scenic hills and enjoying the company of Seine and his mum, regulars on the EHC scene.
Getting up at 2am on Friday 13th is not my idea of fun, but a trip to Poland was on the cards, this being the first EHC hand cycle race ever to be held here. To get an overall European ranking, I need to compete in at least 8 of the 12 races and Poland offered both a TT and a RR over one weekend.
I decided not to recce the course as the roads of Rzeszow were busy, and so the hill climb on both the TT and RR came as an unwelcome surprise! I had a bad dream the night before, felt a bit chesty and ill and had decided on using disks which were a mistake considering the side winds encountered on the course because of the buildings. The only consolation was producing higher Watts than in Italy, but it is impossible to compare a flat with a hilly TT.
I spoke at length to hand cycle legend and Paralympic Gold Medallist Walter Albinger at the dinner laid on for us by the organisers and came away reassured that I was on the right path and just required more years of training. Competing in Europe means I get to talk to many hand cyclists, discuss equipment modifications and learn lots from my fellow competitors, who push me to do better.
So I faced the RR with renewed enthusiasm and rode positively despite being unable to draft the faster girls. The hill was more a mental problem than physical, as there were 9 laps to do, but I was relieved to hear the bell after 1 hour, having tackled it 7 times already. I came away with two 3rd places-and a bouquet of sunflowers.