Report from Natalie Creswick:-
Thanks everyone for your kind words about yesterday. I thought I should put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard as it were, and write a report of how things went at Capernwray, round six of the women’s national series. First off I think I’m pretty lucky I ever made it to the race. My housemate, Rachel Przybylski (Rapha Condor) and I were planning on travelling up by train on the Saturday but Virgin trains it seems had other ideas and were none too helpful in letting us reserve spaces for our bikes. They were however quite happy to let us phone a premium rate number multiple times and put us on hold (I think any race winnings I made will have gone on these phone calls!). Having just come home from Belgium were they have entire carriages just for bikes this wasn’t a great welcome home present, but luckily with a few smiles and much swallowing down of our true feelings for Virgin Trains customer services we arrived in Lancashire.
I think if cycling doesn’t work out I’m going to write a book on random B&Bs and restaurants in Britain. My collection of stories about these is growing by the week and Bolton-le-Sands where we stayed, a few miles from the course, didn’t disappoint. The highlight was definitely the restaurant we ate in which was like going to someone’s front room and eating with a group of their friends. I can’t quite find the words to describe it. The people there were unbelievable friendly though and by the end of the evening the owner had pulled up his chair to sit with us and it felt like everyone there had given a few words of wisdom on the best possible route to Aughton, the location of the race HQ. I also made the mistake of asking for extra potatoes with my meal with no prior concept of the size of portions offered. It was no wonder the owner was shocked when he heard this and when our meal arrived I was as shocked as he was as it was huge, even by my standards. I packed it all away though and if you’re ever hoping to carb load, this is the place to go.
After another early night where Rachel gave me a good talking to about being confident in myself, I think I owe a fair bit of the victory to this, we made our way to the race HQ. Unfortunately although the people of Bolton-le-Sands had given us good directions, they hadn’t quite taken into account that we’d also have quite liked the flattest route possible and I think we might have done more climbing on our way there than in the actual race. Not put off though, we labelled it a good thorough warm up and went to sign on.
The Capernwray road race was a three in one event with the women’s national junior title and the Divisionals also taking place within it. I have to admit to being quite nervous as we lined up before the rolling start to find Joanna Roswell behind me, a rider who I know from the TV and winning world championships! Luckily for me the track is generally a lot flatter than Lancashire.
Rachel and I had hoped to ride the course before the race started but with our epic cycle there we didn’t want to completely tire ourselves out so we had to make do with detailed descriptions of the course from Ali Holland (Max Gear) and Kara Chesworth (Dysinni CC) who both described it in not too friendly terms. There was one main climb at the end of each lap which was about a mile long and another shorter shaper climb in the middle. The rest was rolling although the slight rises seemed to get steeper as the race went on.
I’d managed to position myself well at the start of the race and worked hard to maintain it for the first lap as not knowing the course I wanted to get as clear a view of it as possible, leaving room for error if I picked the wrong gear or was suddenly met with an uphill. This paid off as I was shocked to turn left into the first corner to find myself face to face with what looked like a wall but was in the fact the road. A rapid change of gears was needed. There was also some excitement early on when we passed two male cyclists riding side by side. Wanting to give them a bit of a warning I shouted ‘mind your backs’ as we approached. Looking over his shoulder I don’t think the one on the outside was quite expecting to see over thirty women cycling towards him. Wobbling as we went passed I then caught him falling into a ditch out of the corner of my eye – opps! I felt really bad so if anyone happens to know the identity of the stricken rider, please pass on my apologies.
By the time we came into the main climb Anna Fischer (Max Gear) was on the front and knowing she is a good climber I knew I had to stick with her or that would be my race over. I was about third or forth wheel back and was surprised to find at the top that we’d shelled out quite a few girls and were left without about 10 or 11 riders. From the last few races I have done I know that there are girls who are willing to work together and it was good to see some familiar faces in the group. It quickly became clear that though there were also a few in the group who weren’t so willing to work and I found myself saying to Ali Holland as we approached the climb ‘we need to get rid of some of these free loaders’. Without everyone working together it was disrupting the pace and the last thing I wanted was for the peleton to catch us up. Ali nominated herself to sit on the front and lead us up the hill and she put in a good pace. I came round her halfway up and between us we managed to whittle the group down to seven, which later reduced to six. It was a good break and once again all the girls were working hard together. Our lead gradually extended which was testament to our common aim and we took it in turns to lead on the climb and then miss out a few turns at the top to recover.
One the third to last time up the climb I had planned to turn the screw a little and see how the other girls responded, nothing too much but just enough to get an idea of what might happen if I attacked. I led up the majority of the climb and kept the pace on as we went over the finishing line. I was pleased to find that my legs weren’t too tired at the top and no one else had come round me. The next lap continued as before until a few miles from the main climb when we were suddenly reduced to four riders, somewhere we’d lost Ali Holland and Laura Trott. Ali’s team mate Anna dropped back and the remaining three of us slowed up a little. It turned out they’d touched wheels and come down. I had no idea what the etiquette is here, perhaps other people wouldn’t have slowed, but before long the other girls had chased us down muttering many words of thanks. The group was all back together at the bottom of the climb and I was suddenly unsure what to do. My race plan had been to attack up the hill before the last lap but with two riders just knocked off and back with us I wasn’t sure if I’d be cashing in on someone else’s misfortune. I decided to hold back until halfway up and make my move there.
Having spent the previous two weeks in Belgium and experiencing racing there I had learnt just how hard I could work and I was holding this new knowledge in my mind as I picked up the pace up the hill. I had planned to get out of the saddle and sprint but putting more power through my legs as I built up to it I was surprised to look over my shoulder and find out that I had already made a gap. Wanting to retain as much energy as I could I stayed seated and climbed as hard as I could. I knew if I could get over the finish line and round the lefthand bend just afterwards with enough of a gap the twisty road would hide me from the chasing girls’ view. As I crossed the finish line I dropped into the big ring, put my head down and went hard. I didn’t dare look over my shoulder for quite a long time as whenever I see riders on the TV do this I always think that they’re wasting power when they turn round and I was determined not to. Soon enough my curiosity got the better of me though and I was glad to see that I couldn’t see anyone.
The last thing I wanted to be was complacent though and I kept focused on turning the pedals. In my mind I was thinking about how well the group had worked together before and how well they’d be working together now to try and chase me down. I was going to have to pull something out of the bag to stay away from such a group of strong riders. As I approached the bottom of the climb, a mile left of pain to the finish line, the lead car slowed right down and the driver leaned out to tell me I had a minute and 14 seconds on the group adding ‘I think this one’s yours’ with a smile. For a split second I imagined the win but this quickly dissolved into panic as I started to wonder if I could make it up the climb, would my legs keep working? Telling myself to shut up I put my head down and kept going. It was only when I could actually see the finish line and went over it that I truly believed I had won. My bike and I rolled to a standstill and I crawled off it and leant over it breathing unbelievably hard but happy.
Capernwray was a good race and the course was a challenging one but great if you like hills. The rain also held off until afterwards although the torrential downpour made for an interesting ride for Rachel and I back to Carnforth to catch the train home. I haven’t been so wet for a long time. We must have looked so baddraggled that one of the race organisers, passing us on his way home, took our bags in his boot to the station to make our journey a little less painful. Top of my list of things to do this week – buy a car!