After a winter of riding for not much longer than an hour round a muddy field I decided I needed to find my road legs. What better way to start the road season than with a 4 day stage race in a foreign country. What an earth was I thinking?
At about 6 weeks to go till Malta I was seriously contemplating not going. A month of training had gone down the drain with a chest infection, heavy snow fall and stresses at work. I could not have possibly felt less prepared. I am pretty new to cycling and extremely new to road racing let alone stage racing. Despite this I had a stern word with myself and decided to just go for the experience, do my best and if it all went wrong I could at least look after the rest of the team off the bike. There isn’t much road racing where I live so I travelled to some circuit races to try and get some speed in the legs. I am not at all sure how useful this is for stage racing but it did give me confidence in riding fast corners in a bunch.
Before I knew it, it was time to have some sort of mental breakdown whilst trying to pack and catch a flight to Malta. Thankfully my friend Di was coming with me. She’s a super strong rider but like me has little experience of road racing. We arrived in Malta and met the rest of the team! Thank god for the Mule Bar girls. Our team is wonderful. V was organising us and making sure we didn’t get lost, Lou was keeping our nervous moral high and Sarah was ready to prepare us for every stage of the race.
The race it’s self was hard but thankfully the stages are not long, I shall give you a brief summary of each day.
Day 1 – arrive at hotel, build bikes, swear a lot realise I have brought no tools what so ever. Borrow stuff off everyone else. Ride out and view the TT course, eat and sleep!
Stage 1 – 25km TT I was relatively calm about this stage as at least TT is simple ride as hard as you can but pace yourself for 25km. I was also quite excited to start on a ramp under a banner. I had rather let the side down though as I was probably the least aero person ever to ride a TT, my only bit of aero kit being my skinsuit. After sunbathing for a couple of hours it was my turn to go – 4 laps of a rolling windy costal road. The first two laps seemed to go rather too well, despite towing a Dutch girl round most of the course. As I started to tire she jumped ship to Lou’s wheel. Cheating foreigners. Retching and totally spent I finished – not last! This was to be my first major achievement. Post TT we rode out to view the road race circuit. A 10km circuit with a 2km climb. Somehow with rather too much excitement I managed to slide off on a corner at the top of the climb leaving half a bum cheek on the road and giving myself an impressive bruise. Thankfully the only think I damaged really was my pride and because of this I launched myself straight off the floor and on to the bike to catch the other girls. “yeh yeh I’m fine I mean I fall off the time, well not all the time obviously but you know I’m proper hard! I’m northern! I race cross! No my er massive bruise doesn’t hurt at all, bleeding? It’s just a flesh wound!” O the bravado! Later that evening I limped to bed wearing compression tights to reduce the swelling.
Stage 2 – 60km hilly road race -the stage we had all been dreading, a massive hill 6 times, a terrifying bumpy decent and some corners that would have been better placed in a mtb race. Somehow I made it to the start without vomiting. I was so nervous, we all were. The other girls rode beautifully. Unfortunately for me I got caught up in a crash and lost my chain. V waited and we worked hard to catch the bunch but it wasn’t to be. However we didn’t give up. We rode hard and worked our way through the stragglers. We made it up that bloody hill 6 times, we weren’t lapped, we weren’t last – yet another major Sneddon achievement and even better Di won and Sarah came third. Post race celebrations in the Jacuzzi!
Stage 3 – hilly 40km crit race thingy, basically a free for all in with the men, masters and pro men. I rode well for me and I hung on in the bunch. I was starting to feel almost confident. Unfortunately as we were overtaken by the pro men, the girls at the front jumped on Michael Rassmusen’s wheel. All of a sudden we were going uphill at a rather uncomfortable speed with a lot of professional men. Needless to say my legs went pop and I disappeared out the back. However continuing on from yesterday I worked hard with some other dropped ladies and men and picked off the stragglers, Di finished a superb 2nd! Post race pizza and pasta, more compression wear and recovery drinks then off to bed.
Stage 4 – the worst day – 13km TT. I’m really starting to hate TTing, for a start we didn’t even get to go down the ramp. We rode out to the start of the TT and it seemed to take forever. In our slow procession we went up and down a large amount of hills. My legs, arms, arse and back were all aching and I was feeling less than OK. I had really struggled to manage breakfast and if my only aim hadn’t been to try and finish the tour I could have easily stayed at the hotel. However I rolled up and rode the TT, probably the slowest TT I’ll ever ride. I was shattered but I squeezed out everything I had got. I had finished!
Despite the overwhelming relief at finishing my first ever stage race and an overwhelming desire to party as hard as possible, we all found ourselves in bed at 10.30pm. The racing had certainly taken its toll, even on the ultimate party animal – V.
Reflecting on Malta I am so glad I went, it really helped me get to know my team mates and it also made me hugely grateful that they have given me a place on a team based solely on enjoying yourself and getting the best out of yourself. Hopefully the 4 days have made me stronger and fitter but I have also learnt a great deal. I am comfortable racing in the bunch, I know where I need to be and when. I also know that no matter how tired I feel or how much my legs hurt I can always push them just that little bit further. My main aim this summer is now to work on my many weaknesses and get strong enough to be able to support some of my far superior team mates.
Unfortunately as my so called holiday/torture camp is over I have had to go back to work. I am now working as a doctor in health care of the elderly, which is pretty grim. At least I can escape on the bike at the weekends....O yeh except I can’t because I’m on nights!
Love Phoebe xxx