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

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

Meet Connie, our newest Columnist

So, hello there and welcome to week one of Connie’s column. If you didn’t know already, I am Connie Hayes, I was born and bred in the best city in the world, London and I am very proud of my London postcode!  I race bikes for this super cool u23 girls squad called AWOL and get to travel Europe doing what I love best and feel super grateful for this. I am also a full time student studying Human Geography at Queen Mary University of London which I absolutely love. 

Here is a little introduction to me as a person. As a rider a lot of people jump to brand me a tester when in reality I call myself an all-rounder- I love every aspect of racing my bikes whether that be smashing it out in a TT or climbing huge bergs to being covered in mud racing cyclocross. Road has the largest place in my heart but my relationships with Cross and Track are both starting to blossom which I think is nice as doing one displine would be a bit one dimensional. My best result last year is a tricky one to define on paper it was probably my 16th at the elite national crit champs. Yet, personally I think it was getting round the UCI races I managed to finish as just a few years prior I couldn’t get round a youth national yet alone a professional level race. As a person I am well known for being very quirky. I am quite introverted which I think really helps me with my mental drive when it comes to training, I like to think having the mental strength to hack out 3 hours on the turbo with no Zwift is a skill that everyone wants in life… My preferred place to ride in the UK has to be the peak district (sorry Essex) I love hills and the beauty of the landscape. Racing all over europe, I think my favourite race to date has to be GP Isbergue, I loved the rolling climbs and the atmosphere. Away from cycling I am often found studying for my degree, I have a strong interest in Geo-politics and Housing hence why I choose to do a geography degree. I opted to study alongside cycling as I wanted a degree to fall back on and I also wanted to keep cycling fun and not make it a ‘job’ at 18. Its been a tough winter balancing it all but I am so happy I am at university, especially as my uni give me lots of support (more on that in a future post). 

I wanted to write a column to give people an insight into what life is like trying to be the best rider I physically can be whilst trying to balance this with my academic studies at a top flight uni so when I got approached about writing for the chain gang there was no second thoughts.  I also have both Dyslexia and Dyspraxia and I want to raise awareness of this in a bid to show people that if you put your mind to it there are no barriers to anything in life and feel a column would be a great place to do this. In my posts I will talk about everything from races, training, things I do away from cycling and topics that I feel are important within the sport of cycling and further afield. I hope you stick around and read the future posts in this series and enjoying gaining an insight into my life on the road. 

See you next week 


6 Day track cyclist suggests big changes are needed at British Cycling.

6 Day track cyclist Alex Spratt has suggested “a massive knock-on effect” in the wake of HSBC ending their sponsorship of British Cycling.

HSBC have activated a clause in their eight-year contract with the organisation which allowed them to end the deal three years in, which is estimated to be worth around £10 million per Olympic cycle.

Spratt, who works full time as a contract manager for the East Lancashire NHS, became the UK’s fastest amateur sprinter in 2018 after completing a flying 200m time trial in 9.987 seconds, a time just nine-hundredths of a second off the current world record in the event.

The 30-year-old said: “I think there will be a massive knock-on effect,

“What about British cycling events, obviously you’ve got the national road events, national time trial, HSBC fund that.”

British Cycling have already announced that they will be cutting the live television coverage of the National Road Series, meaning races will only be shown in short highlight packages.

As well as this, the sprinter spoke about the effect of the pressures to perform placed on riders within the British Cycling set-up.

He said: “I think there’s a massive issue with pressure, not even elite level like kids,

“I knew a few of them have kind of being suffering from kind of like anxiety and a bit of depression because they don’t feel that they’re hitting what they need to, and if they don’t hit what they need to then they’re off,

“And I think that’s the problem, I don’t think they give people enough chance.”

This is yet another issue for British Cycling at a difficult time, which saw mass publicity in 2019 after Callum Skinner announced his retirement due to mental health issues.

The question remains as to who will step in to sponsor British Cycling, and where do they go from here.