Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Stoked to Win at Stoke!

I still have a huge smile on my face that even my current state of tiredness can’t dampen.  An epic day out with the MuleBar Girls has certainly left its mark.  Last night was the first round of the Johnson’s Health Tech GP Series in Stoke and it was a night I will definitely remember.  The series has gone from strength to strength over the past few years and is now a well-established sister series to the Pearl Izumi Tour Series for the men, fast town centre crits in front of big crowds – what’s not to love?  Well, turns out it gets better, Team MuleBar Girl-Sigma Sport had a fantastic first round with Lou in 3rd and I won – yey!

I know I definitely have a lot of people to thank for helping shape yesterday and first and foremost is the team as a whole for being the most fantastic bunch of team mates and friends a girl could wish for.  We all work hard, train hard, laugh hard and enjoy ourselves.  The team spirit is invaluable for making nights like yesterday possible with two of us on the podium.  Lou has been an inspiration for me in learning to love crit racing, fast starts and faster corners.

Travelling up by train with spare wheels attached to bags and hanging out in a coffee shop after arriving long before race start; V, Lou and I had enthusiasm in abundance that for me was quickly superseded by nerves as soon as we lined up at the start (By the way, the Guinness chocolate cake from the Stoke-On-Trent station cafe comes highly recommended).   Lou was up at the front the moment the racing kicked off, at the sharp end of the action as usual. 

Hannah Barnes (MG MaxiFuel Pro Cycling) took the lead at the first sprint points with Lou hot on her heels and the pair of them made a break for freedom.  I thought to myself, in between the gasping for breath, this looks pretty tasty.  Sadly, Matrix Fitness Race Academy had different ideas and slowly reeled them back in, so I saw my chance to counter attack.  I always try to put my head down and not look back but when I finally sneaked a peak I saw Karla Boddy (MG MaxiFuel Pro Cycling) trying to bridge the gap just before coming a cropper with the barrier and a reasonable gap.

It’s fair to say that while the hill to the finish doesn’t look much like a hill, it certainly does while racing and after repeat efforts up it.  I was trying to listen out to the PA system to get an idea of the time gaps and a guy on the corner was giving me a split each lap (thank you for this whoever you were!).  You never know what is going to happen though so the idea was to just grit my teeth and crack on.  The support around the course was amazing from the people of Stoke-on-Trent, to team mate Anna and James near the finish, to the other girls in the race and the crews in the pits, especially to Becky and Chris from Team IG Markets - Sigma-Sport. 

I had no idea what was happening behind me so after crossing the line over 45 seconds clear, I was ecstatic to see Lou sprinting to the line in full contention for the podium.  All thoughts of dead legs were forgotten as I jumped up and down cheering her on.  V was there too going crazy all while being interviewed by the TV crew, I can’t wait to see that on ITV4.

We are such a lucky team in so many ways, from the great people in it, all of whom sadly weren’t able to make it last night, to the support from our sponsors MuleBar, Sigma-Sport, AnaNichoola and Wildoo, Sock Guy, Oakley, Hope, Knog, Batiste, Ilovegirlriders who made it possible for us to be there and to have such great kit.  We are a bunch of girls who love riding their bikes and I hope that shines through and inspires other ladies to get on two wheels (and maybe some men too?).  Thank you also to Sweetspot for making the Johnson Health Tech GP Series such a professional outfit, the briefing from Guy Elliot of Sweetspot beforehand was certainly inspirational in their vision for women’s cycling.  It was great to meet John Johnson as well, the man behind Johnson Health Tech, and to thank him in person for being at the forefront of backing professional women’s racing in the UK.

So, back to reality now.  There’s a lot of work to do to retain that leaders jersey and carve our way up the team standings.  Bring on Colchester on the 30th May!

Natalie xxx

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