After the British National Under Sixteen Circuit Championships I travelled down to Heathrow with my coach Stuart and two team mates Jake Scott and Chris Lawless, ready for our departure to Turkey the following morning. The week consisted of a 9km Time Trial, Criterium with Qualifiers and a Road Race on the final day. We where to compete against forty nine other nations and living with three thousand other athletes from all across Europe...
Another morning another bed, this time Holiday Inn in Slough, an early start saw us battle the M25 commuter traffic but make it to Heathrow Terminal Five with plenty of time to spare. The experience of checking in to our flight was pretty nuts. A BOA (British Olympic Authority) official met us and we were looked after incredibly well by the British Airways staff, checking in was made very easy, even with hefty bike boxes, and we were soon sat down at breakfast. I felt the most important objective of the day was to use as little energy as possible thus saving my legs for the next days race, keeping super hydrated and generally staying chilled out. We arrived in Trabzon at about 10 O’clock local time, a long days travelling. Again in Istanbul Airport we were looked after incredibly well, we would have surely missed our plane due to time delays without their help.
TT day, 9km of pure solo effort, pain, headwind out – tailwind home. The heat was also a major shock, all thirty degrees of it. If I am honest I was expecting this to be my worst result, a mindset I am glad I have now been able to change, I have only done a few time trials and have never done very well so wasn’t expecting a great time. With a strong headwind out we knew we had to commit to the first 4.5km, then hold on as much as possible with the wind on our backs. I warmed up well, reducing my progressive roller effort ever so slightly with the searing heat in mind. With ten mins before my start time I had my gear checked, then sat down in the holding pen. I was a little nervous but very concentrated on the effort.
The starting ramp was pretty steep, so I freewheeled down it, before pressing hard on the pedals, out the saddle. I felt calm but eager to get underway. The first two hundred meters where awful, my legs where fresh but getting into my rhythm was painful, the course constantly changed from false flat up hill to slight downhills, with no respite. I tried to stay as aero as possible into the headwind, looking for my minute man and the turn the whole time.
I was very unsure about what pace to go at, with no experience of ten mile time trials or anything else I just tried to push as big a gear as possible as hard as I could. The course suited that mentality as it would almost defiantly reward those committing to the headwind section. I went for it and just about hung on on the way back, coming in with the second best time of the day. However with over forty riders to go I was expecting that to drop, I warmed down, wary of the following days, stretched and tried to get back to some type of normal body temperature. I was drinking masses, mixing SiS Go electrolyte and also plain water, trying to stay ontop of everything for the following days.
It ended up I was 0.6 of the podium, of a medal, I was and still am pretty gutted. But I have to look on the upside as there is nothing I can change, fourth in Europe isn’t so bad, just have to build on it for next time.
Today was the Criterium, the team had a qualifier each in the morning, followed by a final in the afternoon. I was in the last crit, and had the confidence enhancing experience of watching both my team mates crash in their qualifiers, two guys who absolutely kill everyone on the British scene on corners and in general. They both went down on a very slick, polished corner coming into the final straight, however they both managed to get up and Jake qualified with relative ease. Chris hit the deck slightly harder and had some nice road rash to show from it, although he would be missed from the final, Jake and I where both sure he would absolutely kill the B Final.
I qualified by two places, not exactly with ease as the race was very hard, but I hadn’t forced anything, doing enough but making sure I qualified for later on.
The afternoons gig was too make any and every break I could. Following which I would set up Jake for the sprint, if that was what the race would come down to. I went with everything worth going with, any group that looked dangerous I set my targets on, in hindsight I probably neutralised the race a little, jumping on stuff as it formed, rather than getting across solo. However due to inexperience I was very eager not to miss anything, I desperately wanted to do the job I had been set, and in my eyes any break that went without me would be a failure.
With about six laps to go four riders got away, it was a strong break and the French and German national team started to chase. I was badly placed in the bunch and suffering big style, possibly paying for my earlier erratic efforts.
Luckily in those situations it sometime takes the smallest of switches to be flicked, I heard a shout from one of the coaches and all of a sudden my concentration cleared to the job in hand. Jake had dropped down in his positioning in the bunch, there would be not point me chasing with him fifty riders back. Going from near last in the bunch I divebombed up the inside of a corner, braking late and almost throwing myself of my bike, but taking about thirty places in the process. I picked up Jake (he barged his way onto my wheel) and then proceeded to make my way to the front of the bunch. In this time another two riders had got away, making two Belgians in the break, all the while the bunch seemed to be making no impression on leaders. The next lap I was told to chase, I was panicking slightly and possibly closed it too quick, but with three laps to go my race was over. It took all of about half a lap, maybe 1km, for me to die, I wanted to help Jake up the front but I had blown my doors of, setting my sights on closing the break and then going backwards.
Jake placed sixth, it was a great result in a very chaotic and difficult sprint, we were both really pleased and although I was disappointed not to be up at the front helping out at the end it was the way it was. Again we were slightly disappointed not to have medalled, especially upon seeing swimmers etc with four or five each, but its one of those sports where so much can happen we couldn’t control. We learnt so much today.
Road race today, I really wanted to do well in this, it was our last chance at a medal and the course suited me pretty well. It had a tough climb, five hundred meters of reasonably steep tarmac, followed by a couple of hundred metres of cobbles. Jokes where made in the reckon, where we still in Turkey? Or had we strayed into Belgium and onto a Flemish berg, it certainly seemed like it.
I had been working really hard the whole week to keep ontop of my nutrition, drinking stupid amounts of water, along with a mix of GO electrolyte drink from Science in Sport. The British Olympic Associations sports scientist had been assessing our hydration levels daily via urine samples, in the heat and humidity the conditions where really challenging. Although the products from the guys at SiS do make it that bit easier. Personally I was very worried about cramping in the hot conditions, however thankfully I didn’t have to many problems.
The race started very early afternoon, so an early breakfast was followed by another meal, force feeding is hard enough as it is, my appetite had been suffering as it was, but I shoved the last few spoonful’s of raw oats down, looking forward to some home cooked food already.
Again the heat on the start line was tough, possibly a little cooler than the first few days but not enough to make it noticeable. The atmosphere on the start line was pretty electric, with crowds about six or seven people deep at the start line! Jake, Chris and I barged our way as much as possible through gear check, placing ourselves on the front row of the bunch, hopefully out of trouble on what would be a pretty chaotic start up the cobbles.
Within six hundred metres I was out the back, not something I am used to and luckily not due to my legs. Someone had swerved violently, ramming their rear mech into my front wheel, breaking a spoke and buckling it in the process. The wheel was rubbing pretty badly on the side of the fork, I got my hand right up in the air, and looked back to check the neutral service where readying themselves, the fully inflated tire on the front then exploded, my ears rung luckily I had just about reached the back of the bunch and pulled over. The neutral service mechanic panicked and it took a while for him to get a new wheel in, but I was greatful for it all the same. By the time I was back in the saddle I was a good kilometre of the back, luckily the bunch was traveling pretty slowly, I chased hard for a couple of minutes but soon regained contact.
The first time up the hill I went for the little ring and suffered for it, the high cadence on the cobbles making my back wheel jump around uncontrollably. The boys and I where covering any dangerous moves, and although we missed one or two, a long stretch of dual carridgeway any break could be seen for miles, nothing was getting too far from the bunch. Next time up the hill I held my position but couldn’t make much more of an impact.
With one lap to go I found my legs, I started to feel really strong and had Jake lead me into the hill first, I let a few people come around me as we hit the tarmac, before switching down a few gears, shifting back on the saddle and applying the pressure on the cobbles, I looked back at the top too see one rider left on my wheel, with riders battling to regain contact behind. I pressed on over the brow of the hill, but ultimately we would be caught on the long and pretty straight dragging descent.
I was frustrated not to have made a selection on the hill, and although I split it up a little, in hindsight these are the best riders in Europe and it was going to be hard to just ride away. I went with a few more moves, trying to make any break going, however I managed to miss the decisive one, two riders held of the bunch to the line. I sat in after it had gone, hoping to tee myself up for the sprint, but it was not to be, sitting in a perfect position I got swamped on the dual carriageway, I fought to regain my position but ultimately would sprint into twenty sixth with Jake twenty first.
The week was amazing; I have never ridden in such a competitive and at times dangerous bunch, with so many nations represented the constant fight for positions was challenging and exhilarating at the same time. I loved riding in Great Britain kit, now I just have to get my head down to ensure I have the honour again.
A huge thanks to the coaches who took us Stuart and Gary, to Rapha and Condor Cycles my personal sponsors and to Science in Sport for the nutrition help they provided me.