So, I’m out of the race. The Tour de Limousin. A four day stage race situated in central France. I haven’t properly explored France since family holidays as a child. Feels like a whole new country. I’ve been attempting to remember my pigeon French, or French with ‘hairs on’ as the Belgians would say. ‘Parlez vous Anglaise’ seems to be my most useful phrase. I’m not out of the race for the most impressive reason. A problem all cyclists have has, quite literally, bitten me on the bum. The infamous ‘saddle sore’. All this rain in Belgium (and now France) has had, hasn’t exactly done wonders for the issue. I won’t go into the details; it’s not a very tasteful subject to write about. The reason I mention it is that now I have even more time (and no excuses) to write a blog.
I’m currently sitting in a sleepy café (there’s me and the bartender) somewhere in the middle of France, in a village that would normally have nothing going on. It’s 90km to go of the last mountain stage in the Tour - the day I pray Andy takes the yellow and puts time into Evans. I’ve ordered a baguette so as to be polite, stolen the free WiFi and am watching Liquigas drill themselves to bring my boy back. Basso, just give it up already. YES! VOEKLER HAS GONE. Au revoir sucker. This blog is going to be full of interruptions, apologies. I’ll try not make it a blow by blow account of the stage.
I decided some time ago that I was going to do a bed blog. A blog centred around the many beds I have slept in this year. I know that sounds rather dodgy, but I mean it in the innocent sense. Travelling lots is a given in the world of cycling, but I don’t think the ‘non-cyclist’ really understands the extent to our travelling. Some people can go months and months sleeping in their own bed, with their own pillows and own cuddly toys. The only thing ‘samey’ in the beds I sleep in is Lavender oil, my Guatemalan Worry dolls and Lavender filled heart. Yea, sure I’m away from home for on and off six months of the year. But I ain’t sunning it up by a pool, riding my bike when it suits. It’s a life of living out of a suitcase, constantly on the move, a complicated race calendar full of difficult decisions and calculations to time form.
It’s been a while since my last blog, so I’m hoping the photos of the beds will help spark memories of that time and be a tool for reflection.
My first bed takes me to Zichem, Belgium; my base this summer. I’m nearing the end of my second block out here. I was meant to be heading home on Monday, but my commitments in the UK have changed and I am now able to stay out until next Friday and do two post-tour crits. So frikking excited!
Good to be back.
Not exactly the Hilton; but it does me fine.
I’ve had a mixed time in Belgium. It’s not only been a tough time getting back to racing, but also coping with all the other stresses bike riding throws at you. Troublesome finances, niggly injuries, team dynamics; I’ve seen to had it all this season. Not quite sure what I thought my first year full time would be like, but I certainly envisioned it going a tad smoother.
These few months have forced me to ask a lot of questions of myself and what I am actually doing. A lot of these times, the questions are asked when my morale is super low and my direction is lost. Not quite sure if these questions are particularly constructive, however quoting my wise mother “Tough times can be hard. They can be useful in helping sort out directions.” I’m a big one for planning ahead, a trait I’ve had to calm down a little recently. I’ve found that there are so many paths/opportunities/decisions that I could potentially take, that it can sometimes be so bloody overwhelming. Thinking of winter, thinking of next year, thinking of 2013. I’ve had to just take a step back and focus on the here and now, go with the flow. Something which does not come naturally to me. Like a fish out of water.
I’ve learnt a lot and will go into 2012 a lot stronger, both physically and mentally. Maybe, just maybe I’ll have a bed frame by then…
Taking over the eldest Grant’s bedroom.
Bertie and I had a strawberry picking competition. His paws let him down.
In mid June I headed back to the UK for Smithfield Nocturne and Woking Tour Series. These eight days travelling took me through five beds, before heading back to Europe for Rabo Steeuw stage race in the Netherlands (and two more beds).
Before Smithfield I went to stay at the Grant residence. Or more accurately, the Grant Mansion. I saw it as a little rest bite. Nice little pad out in the Oxfordshire countryside; spent my time picking organic strawberries, drinking coffee with Mrs. Grant and catching up on Sky+’d Apprentice’s and Made in Chelsea.
Smithfield Nocturne was a fun course with huge crowds and a great atmosphere. Helen finished 3rd, Annie 4th and me 10th. Not a bad day out. After watching the Alex Dowsett rip it up in the Elite men’s event, I rode through the dark to my bed for the next few nights. Situated in the heart of the city, surrounded by alternative clothing shops and vintage market stalls is Flat 105, Commercial Street. This, by far, is my favourite bed to stay in. It’s a first floor flat, overlooking the historic Spitalfields Market. I’ve been coming here since I was a baby, but only in the past few years have I began to love it.
My bedroom; directly above a Fred Perry shop which plays sweet, soul music all day long.
Baby wipe clean. The way to do it with limited outdoor space
(Ok slight deviation. It’s now Saturday 23rd July, the penultimate stage for both the Tour de Feminine and Tour de France. I’m a shocking at painting pictures, but I’ll do my best. I’m sat in the van at the first KoM climb, waiting. I’m in a rural, typically French village. The marshals have just spotted cow deposits on the road and are rushing madly around trying to scrape it off before the caravan arrives. There’s an elderly woman, probably nearing her century celebrations, rootling around her farmhouse for a spade. One marshal is eating damsons off a tree, another is currently sweeping the road. I can hear chooks, I can see a family of ‘Lassie’ dogs and can smell, quite frankly s**t. There’s also an amazing vegie patch to my right, with the carrots calling my name. The total population of the village (all the 20 habitants) eagerly await the arrival of the riders. There’s something so humbling about this experience. Feel like I’ve been transported back 50 years.
Oh and, I’ve been corrected. They are not damsons, but ‘prunes’. The crazy French marshal made me try one, assuring me in French that they wouldn’t kill me after I acted out tasting one and dying. Ah, I love a good language barrier. I’ve now succeeded in eating my entire body weight in these so called prunes. If you ask me, they taste more like a plum. So tasty.)
Despite Commercial Street being so busy and hectic all the time, ironically Pam’s flat allows me to be a normal human being again; or at least pretend to be. I get to wear casual clothes (not trackies), eat yummy Waitrose food and scour the markets looking for a bargain. My time to leave always comes too soon.
My next bed was in Putney, en route to Woking Tour series, the last event in the series sponsored by Johnson Health Tech. I had been gutted to miss the first three, especially considering the results Horizon had been getting. Apart from the Nocturne three days before, it was my first proper ‘crit’ since 2009. And oh my word, what a shock to the system it was. That constant feeling of breathlessness, the taste of iron as your capillaries burst in your lungs, the screaming in your quads as you attack out of every corner. Had I missed it? To be honest, at the time, no. But when you finish and you feel completely exhausted, that sensation of giving 100%, it’s so satisfying.
Twin beds. One for me, one for Mother.
My feline friend guarding my Horizon kit. Good kitty.
My next race took me to windy Zeeland in the Netherlands for the Rabo Steeuw UCI stage race. Quite possibly the complete opposite riding style to a crit. I was guesting with the British Columbian cycling team, along with team mates Britt Jochems and Claire Thomas. My dad came along for the ride too. He came in 2009, when I got a 19th in the prologue as a Junior. Guess he saw himself as some sort of good luck charm? Wasn’t quite so this year; I rocked out a 45th, pretty far off the mark, but with 200 starters, it could’ve gone worse. It was also the first time I had ridden my new Dolan TT bike. Position was a complete guess as it’s my first ever TT bike! As for the two road stages, they went pretty poorly. My bunch positionning was awful, meaning I ended up fighting my way up through the echelons when we hit the wind. Eventually I settled into the second bunch on the road; for the whole race we yo-yo’s between being one minute and two minutes behind the leaders. Riding on small Dutch roads with 200 girls is something else. I’ve never been good at it but by the end of my last road season, I was definitely improving. Seems like I’ve taken a step back as the second road stage went even worse. There were so many crashes in the first few km that inevitably I got tangled up in one, causing my lower back to pull. Game over.
Laura Trott and I looking far too happy considering what was about to happen.
Got to love sharing bed with team mates in a stage race…
I was ready to head home after my somewhat fail in the Netherlands. I’d be away from my bed at 53 Vale Road for a month. In the grand scheme of things, a month isn’t really that long. However, considering I’ve been practically living out of my car, never spending more than a week or so at one given place, it seems like an eternity. I needed to get grounded.
This little fella makes home so much more enjoyable. Hi Paddy.
It was a tough few weeks, full of ups and downs. It’s tough this cycling malarky; all the uncertainties, set back’s and mistakes are part of the journey.
Today if I view the glass half full I’m thinking… “Back to the UK today, Godmothers wedding on Saturday, time to let my hair down (not literally, it doesn’t suit me). Also time to catch up with my friends. Skype is amazing and often my saviour, but it does not compare to chilling out with a coffee/beer (or whatever beverage takes your fancy) and having a good chin wag with your nearest and dearest.”
And the half empty view…”I’ve got five hours of driving (on three hours sleep because my body decided not to co-operate) to do when I get to the UK which is seriously going to dent my already depleated bank balance. As it stands, I’ve had a pretty shocking season results wise, making my opporunities for next year pretty dim. And to top it all off, I tasted the tarmac on Tuesday leaving my (fading shade of brown) body nicely cut up and bruised. Just in time for wedding pictures.”.
Some days I can feel incredible self-pity (see above) and other days I praise the fact that in reality, I’ve got it pretty easy. All I’ve got to do is ride my bike. Right?
At the moment I’m feeling pretty crap (not helped by the fact that I’m sat for another hour, waiting for the ferry back to the UK, having just missed the early crossing). I’ve also got zero petrol; if I run out, you may never get to read this…
I’ve still got a few more beds to write about but looking back, I’ve rambled on for some 2000 words which is plenty I think. It seems there will have to be another installment to this story.