The future of cycling is no doubt now shrouded in mystery, with races postponed and a very small window at the end of the season to fit them all in. This element leaves room for little debate beyond if races will go ahead. The more important question to discuss is how the cycling dynamic will change, if at all, with certain riders not allowed to ride outside if following the rules of their nation.
Before I get into this, I’d like to add that the most important thing in this time is, of course, everyone’s safety, and this article does not mean to overlook this in any way.
Starting with the riders most affected, I believe it is very possible we could see a drastic drop in performance in riders living in countries that have had large bans on outdoor riding. Whilst we may have indoor training methods and other ways to train, they don’t quite provide the same training as being out on the road, with core strength and bike handling playing a minimal role indoors.
For these riders, it is possible they will end up struggling in the peloton, as one DS warned a few weeks ago, that the cycling world is in danger of a drastic divide between those training on the road and those who are unable to. Using this, we see the chance is fairly high that we may see a completely new dynamic at the top of our sport, with riders residing in Italy, Spain or any other country with tight restrictions, potentially falling largely behind. If this is to happen, would it provide a huge opportunity for riders from lesser affected nations, such as those in Africa?
Shining through this awful situation could, therefore, be the new opportunity for riders to make their break, and see continents yet to hit the top of cycling come to the fore.
Alongside this, we also have the first time in living memory that cyclists will not race potentially for a season, meaning the riders heading towards the end of their career have potential to see a drastic fall-off in their performance levels, and as such could add to a huge shakeup in the peloton we saw racing last season.
However, all of this is simply speculation, and we will never truly know until it happens. For now, the most important thing is to keep each other safe, ride alone and follow government advice.
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.
With the ongoing situation around the world still worsening, now is the time to express our views on how we can help each other out, at a time that will be hard for all.
For people suffering from mental health issues, this time could prove to be a huge test, and we need to do our utmost to help each other out and keep pushing on.
Seeing Charlotte mention before how mental health issues can prominent amongst cyclists, it’s therefore vitally important for all of us to look out for each other, and here’s a few ways we can do it:
Drop your usual competitors a message – you may be rivals on raceday but you still socialise. Even if this is not a big deal under normal circumstances, it is now as everyone has lost all social interaction in person. Your message could keep someone going.
Make a new friend! – Go out and message someone new or someone you’ve briefly met a few times, you could put a smile on their face
If you’re not a racer, still message people – riders love to talk to fans and there’s no better time than now.
If you’re struggling, reach out to people – The Chain Gang will always reply on any social media and we’re happy to be there for those who need to talk, as will thousands of others online.
Let’s fight this battle together and make sure we make it out the other side as strong as we all can.
We can fight this adversity and make new friends in the process, message that cyclist you’ve followed for years.
On a personal note from me, I’ve never been a cyclist, yet now most of my best friends are cyclists, and I took the steps and have surrounded myself with a great web of support, now you can do the same.
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.
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
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.
Once again, we’re back with some hard hitting journalism. The trophy the winner receives at the end of a race is carefully designed, and made to look nice, so just which one is best?
This trophy is just so perfect, it’s so pleasing on the eye, it’s modern and it is so unique. I think this trophy’s beauty genuinely goes beyond any I have seen in any sport across the globe. What’s even better is that it comes with the best colour leaders jersey, and would just a complete honour for any rider to win.
Tour De France
Now, the Tour De France has a few trophies, but this is the one given to all the jersey winners. This is a fairly nice trophy, but it does bare quite a striking resemblance to the more modern football trophies. Also, a winner of this race would much rather show off their yellow jersey over this trophy.
This is so underwhelming compared to the other two, it’s not particularly aesthetic and is very dull. It’s a massive shame that ASO don’t create a nicer more modern looking trophy for La Vuelta, rather than just an over-sized dinner plate.
Milan – San Remo
This trophy’s only flaw is the fact it does look slightly dated. I really enjoy the attempt to incorporate the logo into a trophy, and this does make it look extra unique. And, what’s more, you can easily go and enjoy a game of ring-toss to wind down after the race.
Ronde Van Vlaanderen
I mean, I guess this one will have its fans for people who appreciate the craftsmanship of the trophy. For me though, it is simply not up to scratch with a lot of the other trophies we see in cycling. Maybe they should look to modernise the design drastically to create a perfect harmony
Paris – Roubaix
Now, whilst I’m assuming the design for this trophy was a long a scientific process, I think it is really nice and simplistic. It also is perfectly traditional, and likely will not ever appear dated thanks to its extraordinary heritage.
This is a nice looking trophy, just a bit too generic for my liking. I feel a monument should have a really distinctive trophy, and whilst this trophy is aesthetic, it just feels like it’s straight off the shelf of your local trophy shop.
Just another average looking trophy to my eyes, nothing particularly special about it. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a bike wheel, but to me it just looks like a 1950s F1 steering wheel.
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?
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:
A rejuvenated Giacomo Nizzolo powered past Pascal Ackermann and his Bora teammates to take victory on Stage 2 of Paris-Nice.
The race was blown apart by crosswinds, leaving a group of 10 riders at the head of the race, with both Nairo Quintana and Julian Alaphilippe facing difficulties which left to lose yet more time as they crossed the line behind the favourites.