Road Trip: What To Look Out For In The Final Week Of The Tour de France 2020

It’s the third and final week of our road trip all around the glorious nation of France. So far we have visited the vineyards of Cognac, the restaurants of Lyon as well as the lavender fields of Provence. This week we head for the mountains as well as the capital itself, Paris. The capital needs no introduction as I am here to show you the little wonders on route, so for the sake of intrigue we will bypass Paris in this list. Instead we will be looking at the must-see location en route in this week of racing through the Alps, the Jura and the Vosges.

Grande Chartreuse

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A hub of activity and innovation through history, the Grande Chartreuse Monastery has welcomed a whole host of festivities. Located in the stunning Chartreuse mountains that we will visit on stage 16, the monastery which is not accessible to visitors or vehicles has a history stapled in spirit making. Although it plays host to the head monastery of the Carthusian religious order, the monastery first produced its Chartreuse spirit in the 17th century with the recipe being codified in the 18th century. The authentic 130-ingredient drink has been spread around the world and holds a special place within Alpine apéritif culture.

The refuge was threatened by the hardline 1901 turn of secularism in French legislation, forcing many of the monks to flee to Northern Italy. The monastery has now re-assumed its place within the Carthusian order following the restoration of the French Republic following the Second World War and the sales from its liquor goes right back into the church as well as its affiliated charities.

Le Moucherotte

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By now I think that we are all aware of race leader Primož Roglič’s past as a professional ski jumper. Rather aptly, we will be passing by the site of the ski jumping program at the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics on stage 16 of the race. The ski jump sits on top of the nasty Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte climb which will define the 16th stage of racing.

During the 1968 Games, it seated 50,000 spectators for the large hill ski jumping events. Nowadays it is abandoned and overgrown. Nevertheless, it is still an interesting site to explore as it is not protected, offering an exploration opportunity for anyone daring enough to visit the site. For any geocacher, be aware that this venue is actually a site of a cache (it is located in the judge tower). Let’s hope that Roglič makes a visit before heading down the valley for the next day’s stage. 

Lac de Roseland

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Sitting well over 1000m above sea level, the Lac de Roseland will be an oasis for the riders tackling the 18th stage to La-Roche-Sur-Foron. The lake is on the iconic climb to the Cormet de Roseland, a climb that we could not reach on the 20th stage of last year’s race due to adverse weather conditions. Characterised by its glistening blue surface, this reservoir is a great watering spot for anyone taking on the Cormet de Roseland or the nearby climbs of Beaufort and Pré which all come up to the lakeside. If you don’t suffer from vertigo, there’s a dramatic dam which produces 600 GW per year to power the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. 

The Three Valleys

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The largest linked ski area in the world, ‘The Three Valleys’, will be the amphitheatre for stage 17’s brutal finish on top of the Col de la Loze. The area was visited for the first time in a long while last year when the race visited the Henri Desgrange (the highest point in the race) summit finish at Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in this ski area. This year we are back, but instead, we visit the middle valley of Méribel.

The archetype of the glitzy skiing lifestyle of glam ski lodges, apres ski and snow-capped mountains of the Alps, The Three Valleys is a must-go for any avid skier.

Cheese In All Its Glory

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It would be rude to not mention cheese whilst we visit the east of the country. This part of the nation has a rich history in cheese making but on stage 18 we will make a flying visit to the home of Beaufort cheese, a common feature in cheese fondue up in the Savoy Alps (a region that also claims to be the home of tartiflette, a cheese-based bake). 

Beaufort will not be the only cheese that will make a big feature. The more widely available Comté cheese is produced all across the Jura mountains and the Franche-Comté region. Comté in fact is the most produced regional cheese in France. Many Comté farmers can tell the difference between regions of production purely from the smell of the Comté cheese, claiming that the Jura environment harbours a unique aroma.

Both have been protected in French law under the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée title which preserves the authenticity of localised culinary delights.

Château-Chalon

A mix of everything quintessential about the Jura mountains, the breathtaking village of Château-Chalon is a little gem. Perched on the rock, La Maison de la Haute Seille occupies the front of most of the postcards of this village, a multistorey house that overlooks, as well as storing, the vineyards of grapes surrounding the town. 

The unique vin jaune bears a yellow colour, a very different colour to that of nearby Burgandy. It is served in the traditional clavelin bottle which holds a capacity of 62 cl, differing from the usual 75 cl. Local legend dictates that this is the amount left of a litre of wine after ageing in cask for six years andIt’s celebrated at the Percée du Vin Jaune in early February, notably with a parade by Vin Jaune ambassadors. If you’re looking for at time of the year to visit and tate the wine for yourself, the Percée du Vin Jaune in early February is the time to come as the latest produce is released, attracting a parade of Vin Jaune aficionados and sommeliers.

Mélisey

Although the Tour de France has not gone to plan for Groupama-FDJ’s Comtois frontman Thibaut Pinot, he will make a passing visit through his home town of Mélisey on stage 20 of this year’s race, just 9 kilometres into the time trial up La Planche des Belles Filles. There are no points for guessing that the Pinot entourage will be out in force when he rolls through this town, maybe granting the darling of French cycling with an opportunity to meet and greet his most loyal supporters.

Interestingly, the Pinot name carries a lot of respect in Mélisey. Thibaut’s father, Régis Pinot, has been mayor of this village since 2008, even being re-elected in the spring of this year. On top of this, the old textile factory in the town bore the name of the rider as well, Textile Pinot et Thiault. The hero’s welcome awaits him.

Road Trip: What To Look Out For In The Second Week Of The Tour de France 2020

The second week of racing has arrived in this year’s Tour de France and yet again we will have the pleasure of touring around the wonderful host nation of France. This week we head to the west in the Charente-Maritime département before heading all the way across France to the Alps, visiting the Jura and Massif Central in the process.

La Rochelle

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The town of La Rochelle is known to many within France and beyond as it plays host to flocks of holidaymakers each summer. Boasting a long maritime history and medieval past, La Rochelle is known for its stunning harbours and picturesque alleyways that provide the perfect setting for any seaside French holiday. In addition, La Rochelle was one of the first cities in the world to launch a bicycle hiring system when the network set sail back in the 1970s.

It acts as the capital of the Charente-Maritime département, a département that we will roll through on the 10th stage of this race. No matter how many groups the bunch will be in, the flying visit through this walled city will be a visual treat for us at home.

Cognac

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This heavy spirit is a staple of the West Coast of France and especially in the Charante region. Taking its name from a town en route on the 11th stage of the race, the brandy also known as eau de vie is synonymous with the French apéritif lifestyle.

Made using fermented grapes from the Cognac area, the drink is left to ferment for at least two years in oak barrels as the spirit eases down from 70% to a more moderate 40% alcoholic content. Although the brandy may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s one of the ways to a West Frenchman’s heart.

Puy-de-Dôme Volcano

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The Puy-de-Dôme volcano will act as the ominous backdrop for the start of the 14th stage in Clermont-Ferrand. The extinct volcano plays an important role within the area, even being the namesake for the département surrounding the mountain. Dramatically piercing out of France’s Massif Central, the Puy-de-Dôme is nevertheless very easy to find on a satellite map of the nation. A former stage finish location on the Tour de France, the volcano also houses one of France’s oldest archaeological sites in the form of the Temple of Mercury which wasn’t discovered until 1873. The climb was popular with the Romans too as an old Roman path provides one of the more popular routes to its summit, where you will be rewarded with impressive views over the Puy mountains that we will visit on stage 13 of the race. 

The Culinary Delights of Lyon

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Often regarded as the gastronomic capital of France, Lyon will serve as the finishing destination of the 14th day of racing at this year’s Tour de France. The city reaps the benefits of its neighbours in the Alps, the banks of the Rhône as well as the farmland of Provence in this city, giving them some of the world’s finest cuisine. Boasting Michelin star restaurants and top haute cuisine eateries, it’s hard to look past the culinary prestige of this city.

To get the full Lyonnais style at home, I’d suggest rustling up a Coq au Vin using Beaujolais, a local wine, as the base alongside some Lyonnaise Potatoes. If you’ve still got room for dessert, pralines trace their history back to this city so I’d recommend a rich Tarte aux Pralines.

Bugey Wine

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Fruit of the labour of farmers from the Ain region for centuries, the Bugey wines are the perfect hybrid between classic Burgandy wines and the different Savoy style that usually comes from the higher lands. As we pass through the Ain on stage 15, a Bugey wine would make the perfect companion to that tough day of racing as the racers head for the summit of Le Grand Colombier.  

Known more widely for its white wines, the wine is bound to be dry as 50% of the grapes must be of the Chardonnay type. This is protected under French agricultural law as the region holds the status of the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, meaning that the methods and traditions of the Bugey wine are sealed and preserved solely for winemakers in the area.

‘The Remco Era’: Tour de Pologne Victory Brings In A New Age Of Cycling

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As we are all aware, the Tour de Pologne has taken place under a sombre backdrop following the horrific scenes at the finish line of the first stage in Katowice. The race that usually provides light relief for riders in the summer once again turned into a subdued procession as the peloton grappled with the severity of the crash on the opening day. No team had to come to terms with the reality of that incident more than Deceuninck-Quick Step who looked set to attack the race on the sprints and the hills of Southern Poland.

As the race unfolded the following days, the team still managed to provide quite the performance despite all that shook them in Katowice

The overwhelming favourite going into this race, Remco Evenepoel, was expected to pick up the fourth stage well ahead of the Tour de Pologne’s opening stage after having won the Vuelta a Burgos, one of the first stage races following the COVID-19 induced break. 

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Evenepoel was fixated on victory in his first UCI World Tour race of the year

Once the flag dropped at the beginning of the fourth stage, a rolling stage around the town of Bukowina, Deceuninck looked hungry to take a win that would proclaim the hashtag of #ForzaFabio for themselves, providing a beacon of hope for a sport so troubled by the news of Jakobsen’s crash. 

The team’s frontman would not leave anything to chance, emptying everything out onto the road. Once the Belgian struck out for victory, the elite group of favourites knew that it would be an incredibly difficult task to reel back the European Time Trial Champion, especially on the form that he has displayed since the season started back in January. 

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Evenepoel has not lost a stage race during 2020, taking GC the win in four races

Upon his arrival at the finish in Bukowina, Remco held up a sign of solidarity and respect that spoke larger than any words. In a gesture that shows his wisdom to be far beyond his years, the Belgian unravelled the number ‘75’ worn by Fabio Jakobsen. As the noise still echoes around the cycling Twitter-sphere surrounding the crash in Katowice, Evenepoel provided a moment of reflection and unity that is needed in this time of great confusion and emotion.

As a member of the new wave of cycling, Jakobsen would be honoured to see Evenepoel’s gesture as a way of unifying all generations of cycling during these times. 

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Evenepoel said after the stage that he ’took confidence in seeing the others struggle’

The 20-year-old phenomenon has already become the youngest UCI World Tour stage race winner since its re-vamp in the mid-2000s, but he has also become the first rider born in the 21st century to win a UCI World Tour race. This marks the changing of the guard at the highest level of professional cycling that is currently unfolding in the sport, headed by the likes of Evenepoel, Simmons and Pogačar who would identify as members of ‘Generation Z’. Who else should usher this era in than the man touted to become the next Eddy Merckx, certainly providing new hope for Belgian Grand Tour racing?


Following the mixed reception to Evenepoel’s victory salute in Burgos, this moment marks an important turning point in his career – not only in terms of his career as he takes his first UCI World Tour stage race victory, but also his maturity on the world stage. For someone aged just 20, many people were sceptical of Evenepoel’s maturity and self-control in comparison to the more mature and already established contenders. The threat of such young blood had certainly rocked the cycling community who are now bracing themselves for an era characterised by this young man, but now Evenepoel has shown to us all that he is ready for the big time. It’s hard to look past the fact now that his rise to prominence is a welcomed inevitability. Known simply as ‘Remco’, let’s appreciate this race win for what it is: the overture to the new age of cycling.

Zwift FOMO: How To Train During Lockdown Without Zwift

As we strike off another day of pandemic induced lockdown, it is becoming more and more familiar to see the latest stars and ‘cycling normies’ alike logging on to the lockdown e-racing phenomenon Zwift. I know that the quote-on-quote real-life cycling video game has been rising in prevalence over the years, but it seems to me that Zwift is reaching mass audiences for the first time, not just the most fresh-faced or tech-savvy. 

It is an inevitability that the cycling community has finally reached a point where Zwift FOMO is becoming a real condition. It may appear to be the optimum way to train and socialise during this time but let’s face it – we as cycling fans are all attracted to the latest shiny thing. Zwift firmly occupies this role at the moment. Nevertheless, is Zwift really the thing of our time and what can you do to conquer lockdown free from Zwift jealousy because believe me, I am coping without.

Who wanted a virtual Tour de France in the first place?

As a cynical and fundamentally tight walleted cyclist, I am, of course, going to throw caution to the wind when it comes to any flashy new trend. Zwift fits the bill on that account. With the moderate price tag of $13 per month, it may be hard to falter, however, no-one tells you about the hidden costs of getting into e-racing. In order to hit the virtual streets of Yorkshire, you’ll be in need of a power meter and a smart trainer. For those of us who bought a trainer during the dark times before e-racing, this upgrade would firmly set us back a fair amount. So for those of us on a budget, all you’ll be needing to tackle a session on the turbo trainer is a laptop connected to the internet. I must advise that you prop up a fan or at least have a towel at the ready because you’ll be dripping after only a few ‘virtual kilometres’ on the cheap man’s Zwift. 

Just throw on an old stage

My guide to cheap training sessions lies in one thing only: classic stages. Nothing is more motivational than seeing the best in the world wheel away on your screen. You may be used to watching the Giro on your sofa with a Mediterranean snack in-hand, but these are unprecedented times. So, please, swap the antipasti for a ride.

In the age of the internet and dodgy stream archives, any stage from the last 8 years is easily accessible online. I recommend watching a full race over your sessions, tracking the trials and tribulations of the real-life affray. Instead of obtaining new Zwift medals and prizes, flatter yourself by imagining that you’ve finished a Grand Tour by following along with a vintage edition of La Vuelta (I personally opted for the 2015 edition).

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Befriend the commentators to help make training sessions feel like a café fondo

You may think that watching a stage for 1 or 2 hours is dull. You may be correct in that assumption to some extent, however, this is the very part of the stage where we get to hear the commentators chat about life, the race and a whole festivity of topics. If you’re in for a long session on the trainer, I suggest finding a stage featuring Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby who will grace you with the most outlandish stories spanning from his tenure at a Breton biscuit factory to his Michelin Star boar stew in France. In a time where lots of us are having to turn to the same old faces in our real lives, it feels refreshing to acquaint yourself with one of the sport’s commentators. By the end of lockdown, you will have probably formed an inseparable relationship to your favourite member of the Eurosport team and inevitably create a ‘stan account’ on Twitter. 

The power invested in you

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Take the opportunity to transport yourself back to a time when Thomas Voeckler was still racing

By this, I mean that you are in control of everything. There are thousands of vintage rides on TizCycling (my personal plug for old stages) to choose from. Most importantly, you can tailor your workout without needing to follow the set sessions or the social pressure forced upon you by Zwift’s Silicon Valley style approach. 

Additionally, you have the controls to the video. You have the power to sculpt the length and depth of the workout – heck, you can even fast forward and cut a part of your session out. Remind yourself that sometimes the most flexible things are the most simple.

Rather embarrassingly, there is no need to hold back comfort breaks with the old school Europort – trainer combo! You can simply hop off the trainer and waddle to the toilet without the fear of losing your progress on an effort or prescribed training session. Neither are you left red-faced over stopping on the side of the road during a group ride or race. Embrace nature’s call and take it easy!

Words of wisdom

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Be prepared to sprint along with Gaviria in the final kilometres of a vintage Giro finish

If you opt to sweep up the natural breeze outside, you may have to face the dilemma of porting headphones or playing Sean Kelly’s dulcet tones through a speaker. I opt for the latter – the stickiness of sweaty headphones is a no-go for me. If you choose to use a speaker, be prepared for your neighbours to be less than forgiving over Rob Hatch’s impassioned delivery of Fernando Gaviria’s sprint victory. However, bask in the glory of knowing that your neighbours may be wondering whether you yourself are competing in an online race. I’m sure the approach in which you take will be dependent on how socially anxious you are.

As you power along with the 2017 Quickstep leadout train, you’ll probably start to feel the sweat drip down. Underwhelmingly, this is the same when on Zwift, just so you don’t feel left out. Bring out a fan or open windows and doors to keep ventilation flowing. Stock up on bidons and remember that you have the liberty of going to fill them up during your cost effective session.

Humans are social beings

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Pumping out the watts in the living room is not exactly an ideal situation

Due to the current public health crisis, the cycling groups and local chain gangs have had to take a break. Despite my malaise towards Zwift, it does allow its users to take on virtual rides with friends. However, for those of us too cheap for the platform, we can always do some improvising. Video calling services such as Zoom and Skype offer perfectly apt platforms to gather all your cycling buddies together for more than just a virtual ride. All in all, you can’t take a café stop or embrace the local scenery on your computer-generated roll through ‘Wattopia’. It is just as effective to hold a Zoom meeting whilst putting out the watts on your bargain bucket trainer. What’s more, you don’t have to feel the pressure of ripping your calves to stay up with the semi-pro of your posse, it’s perfectly acceptable to spin at your own pace when you’re not on Zwift. You are in the comfort of your own home after all. 

The beauty of a video game is that it is fictional. Try not to get too flattered by the boosts you’ll receive every now and then during an e-race, they aren’t real. I’m not the only one failing to get on board though, the pros are finding it a real drag. They may be receiving big bucks to ride around the ‘Alpe de Zwift’, but behind the scenes, some have been lamenting their experience with the platform. Now that a Virtual Tour de France is on the cards, the trend looks to be far from the grave.

All in all, these are unprecedented times and Zwift may well be the way in which the lycra clad clan of cyclists are coping. Nevertheless, try not to get too flattered by the boosts you’ll receive every now and then during an e-race, they aren’t real. Instead, save the pennies and enjoy the nostalgia of the previous day’s excitement. Even if we can’t stand on the side of the road and cheer our heroes up a climb, transport yourself into that pre-Covid world where we can get lost in the delirium of professional cycling. Escapism doesn’t have to come in the form of a digital cycling igloo, fight back the pressure from magazines and your co-équipiers and reconnect with cycling in its purest form.

Regardless, despite my efforts to lament Zwift’s existence, now that a Virtual Tour de France is on the cards, the trend looks to be far from the grave.

Cycling And Dyspraxia – Connie’s Column

I am starting this blog post with a note to say I am in no way shape or form a medical expert, however since my dyspraxia diagnosis in 2017 I have undertaken a large amount of research in a bid to understand how my brain works and try to figure out ways to help myself . The point of this post is to be able to explain how it affects me in cycling and to just genuinely raise awareness of the condition. 

Dyspraxia. To a lot of people I sense that’s a word they have never heard or seen before. Dyspraxia is a form of developmental coordination disorder which is most known for effecting movement and coordination. However it affects much more than this, such as social and emotional behaviours, eye movements, memory, processing, learning and perception. Dyspraxia is traditionally more common in boys than in girls but research is starting to question whether this figure is only due to how it presents itself differently in girls. Dyspraxia appears slightly different in each person so people don’t have every sign of the condition.  

I was diagnosed dyspraxic just after my 17th birthday. I was tested for both this and dyslexia (which I also have) after going off the rails academically when the work picked up prior to my GCSEs. I had never found school work challenging until this point where I suddenly felt very exposed, it felt like we had all had a hurdle put in front of us and everyone else around me had cleared it. I was incredibly lucky that I had two teachers who raised the alarm that something wasn’t quite right. At this point it was very clear I was dyslexic but no one had raised the question about whether I could be dyspraxic so my diagnosis in 2017 came as quite a shock.

Now you’re probably all trying to work out how this links to cycling. In hindsight it really stood out and I think if there had been more awareness it could have been detected years ago, leading to better management of my problems. It took me years to learn to use rollers and even now I wouldn’t say I am particularly skilled on them. My cornering is strange, I am very good on a left hand turn but put me through a right hand bend and its never going to be as smooth.

I still can’t really ride no handed- I will never forget an RSR back as a youth when we were asked to take jackets off whilst riding and I got completely stuck and ended up on the grass. I was utterly mortified given that I was trying my absolute heart out but genuinely couldn’t balance whilst co-ordinate myself to get my jacket off. It is alarming that coaches can become qualified without any awareness or training on how to spot or deal with conditions such as dyspraxia. It alarms me that I am even having to write this in a bid to maybe just educate one person who may in turn help one child with suspected dyspraxia. 

A lot of people ask me how I have got relatively good at something that I should struggle with, the simple answer is a huge amount of will power and determination. I have a lot of people to thank who pushed my talents in a bid for me to not dwell on my weaknesses in sport. PE at school should have been something I hated due to my lack of ability in ball sports, yet I had teachers who really used my natural talent when it came to running, increasing my confidence which has been rock bottom on some occasions due to my difficulties.

In cycling, despite some horrific experiences in skills sessions, over the years I have had coaches around me who would highlight my talents instead 75% of the time. We need more people like this in the sport and we need more awareness. Governing bodies such as British cycling need to include neurodiversity awareness within their coaching courses. Even if I had had a diagnosis I feel like I shouldn’t need to be screaming it out just to be treated fairly. Given the amount of people who get diagnosed late and only get diagnosed as a result of seeking treatment for mental health problems society as a whole needs to change and become more educated. 

I want to end this piece with a note to say whether you’re diagnosed dyspraxic or suspect you could have dyspraxia it is far from a barrier to anything. I want to be seen as someone who has gone against the stigma; I am studying for a degree at a Russell group university whilst competing around Europe in a sport that people often say dyspraxics can not do. If you put your mind to anything with the right support you can go against the status quo.

A slight change of plan….

Hi, I’m Mily and I’m excited to have been asked to write a column for The Chain Gang website.

I’m looking forward to sharing my cycling journey with you and hope to inspire people to get out on their bikes (Obviously following the current social isolation guidelines!)

First, a little bit about me. I’m 19 and am a full-time cyclist riding for a Belgian Elite Women’s Racing team called Isorex No-Aqua. Until 2 weeks ago I was based in Belgium for the season, I had planned to document my experience of living and racing in Europe, but overnight things had to change.

Obviously, all of us in Belgium were aware of the devastation the Corona Virus was causing in China, Iran, etc, but none of us could know just how badly Europe was about to be affected. Literally overnight it was made clear to us that we needed to leave for home.

My Teammates and I arranged our homeward journeys in a bit of a daze, Kerry booked a flight to Australia, Antonia to Sweden, Ellen back to the UK, and then of course me!

I squeezed all I could into my Fiat 500 and left early the next morning to catch the train home, having not done the 6 hour journey home alone before I was a little apprehensive, but knew I just needed to get back to the UK whilst I still could, it wasn’t long before Belgium went into total lockdown. I had a full tank of fuel, and Belgium waffles for the Journey.

As I drove home that day feelings of disappointed and disbelief began to creep in, I’d waited so long for my move to Belgium, having fought hard to get back to fitness after suffering terrible side effects of a medication causing me to lose an entire season. Also, working and saving hard all winter, then the wait and elation upon hearing I had been selected to receive support from the incredible Rayner Foundation. My aspirations of being a full-time cyclist were becoming reality, finally, on the 26th February I was packed up and left to start my new life in Belgium, which lasted a total of 2.5 weeks…….

In the space of 24 hours my goals, plans and new life had to change. However, I was safely on my way home, unlike some of my friends in other parts of Europe, who didn’t know how or when they would be able to return to the UK!

Back in the UK, any feelings of disappointment were quickly replaced with feelings of gratitude for being home, sadness at what was happening around the world and disbelief at the enormity of this Pandemic. I’m not sure many of us understood just how bad this was going to get.

So, what now? My Belgium race calendar and U.S summer track racing trip will now be replaced with solo road rides and several indoor sessions; I am keeping my long-term goals at the forefront of my mind and remain disciplined. Whilst my time in Belgium may have been brief, I learnt quickly that discipline was vital.

Most of all I remain grateful that so far, my Family and I are untouched by this terrible disease. My Parents are both Key Workers, them having to go to work during this difficult time helps me maintain perspective, the disappointment of losing part, or perhaps all my first year in Europe pales into insignificance in comparison. Luckily, we live in a world of technology, so keeping in touch with friends and teammates is easier than ever.

By working together, we can beat this. It may be a few months; it may be next year but one day we will all be allowed to race again, and I plan to be ready.

Till next time : )

A Lost Cyclist – Connie’s Column

Welcome back…
I wasn’t sure what to write about this week, I had planned to write a piece from the peak district about how amazing it is to ride your bike in different places. I had planned to tell you about how excited I was for lots of upcoming UCI races. Instead I am at home social distancing, scared, stressed, struggling without other people and feeling completely lost.

For anyone who’s been in a cave lately you might have some how missed the Covid-19 outbreak which has put the whole world on hold. No bike racing till May at the very earliest. My longest racing break was 6 weeks when I broke my back in summer 2018- even then, I had raced for 6 weeks prior in extreme pain, determined to finish the season. People keep telling me this is different and better; yes it is because we are all out of action so you don’t have to look at race results and think what if? However, when I was out I was still going to cross races weekly to watch my dad race and stay in the loop with everyone. Now its unknown when I will see friends again and this is tough.

The cycling community is the best. There you go I said it. During my teenage years I swam, rowed, had (and still have) horses and even ran a bit, yet one of the reasons I chose cycling to be my main sport was the people. Don’t get me wrong there are people in this community who I don’t agree with, there are still huge faults in the sport but the vast majority of the cycling community are gold dust.

Things are rough for the whole world right now and I really can not wait till this nightmare is over and this community can start to rebuild. My heart goes out to race organisers who had booked courses and paid for road closures who’ve now lost loads of money. I also feel for community ran/charity venues such as the brilliant Herne hill velodrome. Plus independent bike shops who may never recover from this pandemic.

As a rider this period will be tough. For me partly down to the way my brain works I need goals and in a weird way run off adrenaline so feel slightly drowned in all these emotions. I had so much planned, from several UCI races, Track races (yes you read that right I am kick starting what will probably be a unsuccessful track career as soon as I can!), TTs.

It’s the first time in my cycling career I have felt really lost. Everyone is scared for those who are vulnerable in society too, I know I don’t want anyone to end up in intensive care. I guess for now the goal for us all is to not get ill and to keep riding our bikes in order to help our mental health and morale as that’s all

Due to the lack of racing I am hopefully going to use this time to write about wider issues. I am really keen to write a piece about battling Dyspraxia and Dyslexia as the general understanding of these two issues is pretty slim. I have also had some requests to talk about my degree and balancing it with cycling as well as wider issues such as sexism in the sport. If anyone else has any more ideas please reach out to me on social media as I want to help bring some interesting aspects into peoples lives in this difficult time.
Till next time, Stay safe and well
Connie

It’s Race Season! – Connie’s Column

Welcome back. This week I am going to be telling you all about my first proper race week of 2020 and a little bit of back story. So sit back and enjoy…


First week in March means one thing, race season! However, this very nearly wasn’t the case for me. Although my cross season had gone really well there were gaps in my winter training from illness.

Despite not living on campus at university I kept having the classic student cold, preventing me from training. Reflecting on the situation, this was 100% the right call as the few times I did try to ride, it only made it worse.

Going to an academically focused university I was unable to make time for a warm training camp as I had lectures and tests to attend, leading me to be in a state of panic as I realised I had failed to prepare myself for the year as well as I had hoped, and as such, had to keep reminding myself that my degree comes before cycling as it holds greater long-term significance to me. Riding back into form after a few local crits, I had my eyes set on the start of my season in Belgium, however, an illness hampered me yet again.


A weekend in bed was the only option on the menu. Determined to be to race-ready, and although not quite 100%, I took the risk to go to Belgium after a positive turbo session on Monday morning.

Les Samyn Des Dames is the most similar women’s race to Paris Roubaix and I can confirm the cobbles did not disappoint! Riding the race, I was unlucky as I got caught behind a crash around the halfway point and never made it back to the group. Alongside this, I had a slight gear failure due to my hanger somehow coming loose so I was stuck with only 14-11 on the back which was rather interesting on the cobbled climbs. However, I knew the legs were there and this definitely boosted my morale.


Back to London and back to training before a double race weekend. First up was the first round of the MK bowl spring series. Traditionally I get round in the bunch here but never get in the top 10 and when I have almost made it, I have done some stupid cornering leading to a nice puncture… I expected the race to end in the standard MK sprint finish but it didn’t. Littering the race were plenty of attacks, I was left with the options of attacking, counter-attacking or chasing every attempted break but one… in all honesty, I wasn’t sure it was going to stick so I stayed poised to attack when the two riders were brought back. Half a lap later it became apparent the break wasn’t coming back so I jumped up the outside and went on my own. I was now in no man’s land, out of reach of the break, left riding alone.

A few laps later two more strong riders joined me and the gap started closing. The three of us worked like crazy but never quite made the catch despite getting the gap down to 10 seconds, leaving us sprinting for third. Leading the sprint left me in a weak position, seeing me finish fifth which wasn’t disappointing, as the 3 of us had worked so hard we didn’t mind what the final order was.

Sunday saw the Hainault hilly on my local Essex climbs, hills I know well due to the amount of pain they inflict onto me on a regular basis. Riding my brand new time-trial bike for the first time, I got a chance to appreciate quite how nice it is. Sitting on the rollers warming up, I was laughing at how dead my legs felt. However, I managed to perform and win the women’s and get 22nd overall as well as breaking the course record contrary to my prior expectations. Hopefully, I’ll be doing more TT’s this year as I do really enjoy them (weird I know!)


So that’s the first week of my race season complete, so the fun and games start now I guess. Stay tuned for the rest of my adventures this coming season.

Till next time
Connie

Athletes and Mental Health – The Complexity of Being Human

By Charlotte Broughton

As some of you will know, in recent years I’ve become vocal on my own issues mentally and within the sport across my social media platforms, namely Instagram.  I do not claim to be a professional, no way! But it costs NOTHING to be kind and to listen. I’m tired of people jumping on the bandwagon but not living up to the ideals of just being a decent human being. 

Let’s get into the thick of it. 1 in 4 people will suffer with a mental health condition every year within the UK. Suicide is the biggest killer in the UK of men under 45. Therefore, why do we still hold such a stigma towards mental health, especially with athletes? 

Charlotte racing at the 2020 Track National Championships

After I opened up about my own struggles I had an influx of messages fill up my inbox. So many of you bravely confided in me expressing your relief that you weren’t alone in how you felt. I think it’s important to note that these messages were not just from cyclists and from a mixed demographic.

With regards to cyclists, I noticed more young males had messaged me, often expressing the shame they felt being the main barrier stopping them from telling others how they felt.  It seems that a lot of young men just do not discuss their mental state nor confide in one another. It appeared a lot of these young men were more fixated on not failing than achieving.  

What are we doing wrong within the sport? We simply put too much emphasis on cyclists being cyclists around the clock (judging what they eat, their weight, their form, their own idiosyncrasies, how they express themselves). It’s vital that we remember that cyclists/athletes are normal people too who also want to enjoy other aspects of life.  Let’s put it this way, imagine being told within your own time you could only concern yourself with matters regarding your job for the rest of your professional career. You simply wouldn’t have it, so don’t expect athletes to, it’s unrealistic! 

In this way we also take away an athlete’s own personal identity, potentially leaving them with an identity crisis on the horizon and vulnerable to self-sabotage, as well as acting recklessly in order to rebel against the labels we (unfairly) attach to them. This behaviour often then leads to self-isolation and a downward spiral.

I do believe it is important to note that as with any job/career that is results-based that you do need to apply a certain amount of pressure to achieve goals, however, we need to rethink what is acceptable treatment of athletes.  

It’s important to appreciate that athletes aren’t superhuman mentally; if anything they are often exposed to a greater amount of stress, pressure and criticism than the average person. Too much pressure means too much stress and too much stress has an AWFUL physical and mental effect on the human body, leading to inconsistent training and bad form.  No one wins in that situation, not the team or the rider. For me, too much emotional stress meant an inability to eat. This was highly problematic as not eating meant no energy, and so then I’d get very stressed about how rubbish I was doing in races and training – and so the vicious circle continued.

The general feeling is we need to see more support for the psychological side from a younger age given by national governing bodies and then following that support on through to the UCI teams to ensure consistency with regards to mental health treatment.  If support isn’t commonplace then the stigma will remain. We have to encourage young athletes and even parents to be more vigilant and understanding.

Unfortunately a lot of the people who contacted me sited their parents valuing them more on their ability as an athlete than a human (constantly comparing their child against other athletes who were having a better season or on better form) being a major source of stress and anxiety. This has to stop; your child is an individual, not a chess piece. I appreciate parents make sacrifices for their children to compete in cycling but it’s not an excuse to project your issues and insecurities out on them, most of the time young athletes are critical enough of themselves without that added criticism from the main people who are meant to support and nurture them physically and emotionally.

In conclusion, all people have different needs and abilities mentally; therefore looking forward this needs to be considered carefully and should include the wishes of the athletes when deciding how best to approach the issues of mental health in cycling. But as fellow athletes, fans, parents, coaches, friends and social media users, we do need to all be more active in helping aid positive progression. Be kind, check up on people, notice strange behaviours and encourage those around you to talk by creating a safe and non-judgmental environment to do so.

If you have been affected by any of the issues within this article and need help and support then please reach out to the following services: 

Mind –  http://www.mind.org.uk   – 0300 123 3393 (Mon – Fri, 9am to 6pm)

Samaritanshttp://www.samaritans .org.uk  – 116 123 (free phone 24 hour helpline) 

Rethink Mental Illnesswww.rethink.org – 0300 5000 927 (Mon – Fri, 9:30am to 4pm)

How Lara Gillespie balances full time study and riding for the Senior Irish team

By Lara Gillespie – Lara is a 21 time Irish national champion cyclist who rides amongst the senior squad, most recently in the team pursuit in the World Championships.

Balancing full time uni – studying health and performance Science and being on the senior Irish Cycling Team has its challenges, advantages and of course adventures.

I am extremely grateful for how  supportive my cycling coaches and my family have been with encouraging me to continue my education alongside cycling at the highest level. Especially because many said it was impossible. 

I think it is crucial to have people around you who support what you want to do, what makes you happy and people who listen and who you want to listen to around you.

For me, this decision was best for many reasons.

We do not have a velodrome yet in ireland so the athletes are based out in Mallorca, there is no U23 Category for women on the road and the jump from junior racing to elite racing is huge and not something I see a point in being rushed.  

At the moment I’m getting the best of both worlds. I’m getting lots of experience racing at top level with little pressure and getting to study a subject I can use both in cycling and later in life to help others get into sport and get healthy and happy in themselves. My family and friends are extremely important to me so I love being home too. 

Organisation and communication I think are two things that have to be on top of and always improving. I’m lucky to be apart of an amazing scholarship programme in University College Dublin. 

It’s easy to get stressed (and I do) about 6am/8pm training sessions, sessions in between lectures and exams