As a first-year Espoir (u-23) rider in France I saw huge changes both in lifestyle and in racing. It was a steep curve but one that has taught me a lot in a short space of time. Having reflected on the season and the start of my journey here are six things I learned and that I know will serve me well in future.
1. Keeping some in reserve for the final
In British junior racing, it’s pretty crazy for the whole race, and doesn’t settle down so often. In France once the break goes it becomes more relaxed for a while until certain difficulties in the race or the break gets caught earlier, but one huge thing I learnt is saving it for the final. There were times that if I had saved more energy for the last few important parts of races, the result could have been a lot different. Having great legs is nice two hours in, but I found that races are usually won at the last moment.
2. Giving my body the opportunity to get stronger
This is my second year being coached by Kenny and week in week out it’s been great. Every time I re-test myself it’s so weird just being able to hold what I’d previously consider impossible power. To give an example; my 1-minute peak power from April is now the power I can hold for 2 minutes, and my old 20-minute power is now lower than my FTP! The big improvement came after I had a little break after the nationals. We decided a lot of racing and training needed time to settle in and within 6 weeks I had made most of the aforementioned improvements from rest and a well-planned training block afterwards.
3. H2O really is the most potent sports supplement
The training in France was different for sure, super quiet roads and a real mixture of terrain around Toucy. The climate was totally different, with the temperature peaking at 37 degrees on some rides. Even on recovery rides I was drinking 1.5L of water inside the first 45 minutes but I slowly adapted. This became very important as some of our races were also very hot. The French do have an actual summer unlike the UK!
4. This ain't Kansas Dorothy!
Living away from home was the biggest challenge for me. I've always been a home-bird and have an amazing family who support me immensely, so it was a culture shock to move away from that instant support. I know without Jake Gray and Siim Kiskonen it would have been a very tough place to live. VC Toucy were incredibly good to us and I am grateful for the platform to push my career forward but it wasn't home. Things which I previously took for granted, like having WiFi suddenly became a luxury! Having access to my training plan and regular communication to Kenny is very important for me so it was challenging when I had no internet connection. What it did mean, however, was that I wasted less time sitting around and spent more time cooking and researching better meals for the house.
5. When the chance comes on the road, don't think twice!
Although I was excited and confident after a good finish to my Junior years I fully expected to have to settle into espoirs before a chance came my way but in only my second race one opened up. I made it into a group of 12 who would compete for the win at a UCI 1.2 in Morocco but late in the race I picked a bad wheel and lost contact, and had to settle for 11th place.
Six days and three races later I was presented with another opportunity at the Challenge du Prince - Trophée de l'Anniversaire UCI 1.2 in Morocco, and I had learned quickly that you have to grasp the nettle fast at this level. I jumped early in a reduced group at the finish and took 3rd and a podium in only my 5th race as a senior rider.
6. I made the right decision to gET OUT of my comfort zone and go to the continent
Before VC Toucy offered me a place on their team I had offers from within the UK and also with teams populated by UK based riders but I decided my fate will be decided in mainland Europe. I would have been able to spend most of the year at home and have people around to help me with a lot of the off-bike stuff.
Leaving that comfort zone I've learned a new language and culture: even if I'm not the most fluent French speaker. The focus this gave me to train and absorb each race as a learning experience as much as a challenge is something I'm not sure I could have got without leaving home.
It's not the pro-life the World Tour riders have, but they earned the right to those positions and some! I hope to follow in those footsteps too.