Snowballing Womens Cycling

Right now it’s snowy outside. But the snowball I’m talking about is more figurative.

I never really thought there was much going on in womens cycling – but now I’ve got my ears open and my eyes wide – it seems to me there is opportunity everywhere I look.

Before Christmas, I and a couple of intrepid Redhill CC girls joined BC coach Huw Williams and a range of cat 3/4 women from around the region to learn racing tactics and practice swooshing round the Cyclopark circuit in Kent.

Much of my own racing experience consists of being jammed in with E/1/2/3/4 women, trying my best to race in a pack of 10-15, which splits pretty quickly when the experienced Cat1/2 ladies decide to put some power down, leaving the other 5-10 riders to fend for ourselves. So actually being able to ride with a sizeable (as in number of women, not size of women) selection of cat 3/4 women was a revelation in itself.

We began by practicing technique, riding with our hands on each others shoulders, testing out pace lines and chaingang and then warming up with a couple of paired sprints. We then had a break and listened to Huw explain a bit of training theory. He also outlined the stupidity of letting the (albeit tiny) group of 3/4 women split into individual time trials as they tend to do in E/1/2/3/4W races – and pointed out we’d be much better off working in a group. Personally, coming from a TT background, I have a bad habit of breaking away from a group and sitting at ‘7/10’ on my own for a good 90mins – then getting rinsed at the end. So this was probably very good advice for numpties like me.

A few mince pies and gluten free flapjacks later and it was time to actually put it all to the test and try some 10min races. Race 1 went pretty well – Ms London Dynamo tried to make a break and work on her own for 6mini laps. I tried to pull the group with me – no one came, so I joined her on my own, soon to be joined by some Kent Velo chicks. Skinny Velo girl in the red overtook me on the last corner – giving me a third I was fairly pleased with (since Ms Dynamo has beaten me twice before, at Hillingdon and Mountbeam I wasn’t expecting to get her, more to hold on).

We did about 5 more races (I think) and I starting dropping back a bit for the last few – but since this was day2 of recovery week, I figured coach Lizzy might rather that anyway, and to be honest I’d rinsed myself in the first few mini-races and didn’t think I had much left over anyway.

The session itself was excellent. I’d say the best ingredient was the short races at the end. It was probably around 6 miniature events of 5-10 mins each, giving us an opportunity to: 1) ride with a good group of women of similar ability, 2) test out tactics in an environment that doesn’t result in another 80mins of pain if it goes wrong.

Following the success, I’ve noticed Kent Velo girls now host their own womens only sessions at Cyclopark. I’ve also done some stalking and discovered the London Womes Cycle Racing League, and realised that Surrey League have their own womens team/training sessions coming up too. Not only that, but as Huw promised, there are a lot of cat 3/4 womens races coming soon. Admittedly most are at Cyclopark, with fewer at my favoured (ahem. easier) circuit at Hillingdon and so far as I can see hardly any on the road – but that’s fine – I appreciate I need to work harder and get up a Cat anyway.

Not only are there more races, but with a bit of encouragement, our own little RCC ladies team is emerging – with some promising (intimidating?! you know who you are Ms Ray ;-p ) girls joining me for some practice around the lanes one weekend, and a beastly turbo session (it was icy) the next. The three of us who attended Huw’s session has now become 5 of us training together – and I expect the snowball of excitement is picking up in other clubs too.

Grabbing together the 5 girls in the club keen to race means we’re all at different levels. This means for us to train on the road maybe some of us have to work very hard, others take it a bit easier – but I think it’s worth it. I’m also working on some clever sessions that mean everyone gets something out of it – even if that’s more technical than cardiovascular.

I’m still not totally sold on road racing or circuit racing – I love my TTs and comparatively I’m better at them. All that thinking in road racing is exactly what I like to avoid in a TT. But whichever way it swings – if every club has it’s own little segment of ladies getting ready to race, it’s going to be a pretty interesting summer ahead.

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