Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A humbling experience

It's safe to say that I was really nervous about my first race, the French National Gravity Enduro Series. But not for the reasons I should have been.

I have been riding more than I have for years and actually had time to think about entering a race season that had lots of races in it. I know I am a pretty decent rider, but I have never been fit enough, nor had the logistical time nor headspace to put it to the test and see where I stood in the real world of racing. The only races I did for the last couple of years I was doing for a TV shoot or I was ill or I was late. So it was pretty cool to arrive in France on the correct day, with the correct bike and definition in my calf muscles!

The reason I think I'm a pretty good rider is because whenever I ride with other girls who do race, I can keep up (unless it's Manon, obvs!) and, you know, you see pictures and videos of what other people are doing and I am confident I can do them too. People tell me I'm good too, so I let it go to my head. I can get down stuff, sometimes I need to suss it out and think about it and analyse it, I often follow someone into something first too, but, well, I am pretty ballsy and a whole lifetime spent on two wheels has given me the confidence to go for gnarly shit.

And, I LOVE racing! I love, love, love it!!! I wish I did it more. So yeah, I was feeling pretty confident, and that made me nervous, having something to prove.

Here is what actually happened.

I sucked.

I have done a few downhill races and done pretty well at the Megavalanche, I went on a 4-day training camp at a rocky DH place in Spain, but I have never, ever experienced ANYTHING as bonkers as the Blausasc Enduro. I know I exaggerate stuff to make things funny, but I tend to downplay big things (oh so British) so please, if you are reading this, understand that I am not exaggerating. I was, and still am, completely shell shocked.


After a half hour ride/push up to the top of a small mountain in the scorching heat I stood at the top with the other girls (after trying my French on one girl who used to be an Opare and another who's hobbies included VTT and les Sports en general, before realising that they all spoke pretty damn good English and were super friendly. Some weren't even French!) I admired the view and padded up for the first timed downhill section. Around 6 mins after my start I crossed a river at the finish line thinking "Wow! That was rocky and steep as hell! Some of those rocky switchbacks I'd probably not normally have done without looking first if it wasn't a race. Thank God I only crashed twice"

I was then a bit sick and got left behind and had to race up the hill on my own to stage two.


Was up a MASSIVE mountain. An hour and fifteen minutes later my legs were screaming and if "Sweat is Fat Crying" is true, my fat was positively in mourning. The view would have been stunning from right up there, if my eyes weren't burning. And BOOM! Off I went. Only this time, the trail was even crazier!! I got knocked off by a cactus and flew off a blind drop that, yeah, OK, was only 2 foot, but, I mean, I'd never do a drop blind. It was bonkers. There were also loads of cyclo-cross style climbing that meant trying to sprint up steep, dusty banks whilst pushing your bike. It was around 8 mins long. It had taken AN HOUR AND FIFTEEN MINUTES to get to the top ffs!! At the bottom of my run I bumped into my bro Deke, who was just heading up the mountain, his eyes were like saucers "this is freaking bonkers, I crashed three times already!"
( this is a video of someone getting knocked off by the same cactus: http://www.26in.fr/videos/bucheron-blausasc-barelli.html )


...Was after a lunch break. Lunch appeared after an hour long road climb, up hair pin bends, Tour de France style. On a full suss. We had around half an hour to scoff our faces before heading another 45 mins of climbing to the top of stage three. Feeling like I was starting to get the hang of the place I let loose at the top, over the rocks and swooping down and up these swoopy sections. But then halfway down there was a ravine to the side of the path. I mean, what the hell?! I felt fear pass through my body like a heatwave, starting in my legs, into my gut, up my arms and finally settling in my head, turning everything to jelly on the way. I don't do well at heights generally, but when I spoke to my brother Philip after, who also said he spent pretty much the whole section with one foot unclipped, I knew I was being reasonable. It is NOT reasonable to race a bike next to a ravine. Nope. That is just unreasonable. It's bonkers. I can feel the taste of wet fear back in my mouth just thinking about it now, sat at my computer in South London.

I got caught up by my twenty second girl too and that was upsetting (not to say that I made her pass on the ravine side of me, obvs!)


The good thing about doing a race blind is that you have no idea where the top of the next stage is. Ignorance is bliss. What kept me going was thinking that I was nearly there the whole time, for an hour and a half of brutal climbing. My new friend Nina and I spent the last twenty minutes pissing and moaning about how dumbass all this climbing was and only made it to our start with about ten mins to spare, pad up and go.

I got off to a flying start, getting in some extra cheeky pedal turns here and there, feeling a bit of confidence now that there was no opportunity to fall off a cliff. Then suddenly, it was like, just so crazy steep and rocky with drops to flat on 90 degree turns it blew my mind. I crashed, couldn't get back on as it was so steep, pulled over to let my twenty second girl pass again and carried my bike down a section. This makes me die to think about. I am not that person who carries my bike down stuff!! It's just too embarrassing! As I turned one corner the girl who had just passed me was stood on her bike facing me. It was really confusing. I think we were all just completely out of control.

The final section was steep as hell and in reality pretty fun, some of the switchbacks were so steep you could have probably put your hand out and patted the head of the person on the one below. I wasn't relaxed though, I just didn't know what was coming and was more relieved than anything to ride down the village steps through an alleyway and onto the finish line.

I finished day one in 10th place out of 13. I don't know what that means. Who are these girls? I dunno, I didn't understand the presenter when he called out their names and told us about them. Are they good? Should I be disappointed? I guess I just need to get real.

That was some crazy ass riding. To do it is a big deal. To do well at it, well, I guess I am just not there yet.

So it was with the attitude of taking this opportunity for experience and training, and start to just enjoy the really cool company of the other girls and to race up and down some seriously mountainy mountains that I entered day two.


My buddy Nina was one place behind me and I hoped to keep that and maybe, possibly, creep in on the girl in front. My other new friend Sandra was ahead of me which meant we got to ride the transitions together a bit. My legs were already tired from the day before and stopping only meant that starting again made it even harder. Having seen something once is enough to really, seriously give you confidence and I flew down stage one. I tapped my foot down a couple of times, but no crashes and I finished with a massive grin on my face.
But then I was sick again, the medics came and helped out a bit and Sandra stayed with me despite the fact that she then had to steam up to stage two and was battling for a podium spot. I really appreciate that. Girls really do seem to stick together in Enduro, it's lovely.

After that I was wiped, the hardcore-ness of it all anyway, combined with being sick, just drained me down to nothing. I crawled up to the top of stage two at my own pace, on my own, and missed my start time. They let me in, presumably with a penalty, but I had nothing left, I was wobbly and all over the place, you know, even on the easy bits. I completed the run and started the hour long climb back to lunch, still alone. As I came into the paddock Sandra and Nina were already heading out for stage three. I knew I was finished. I had kind of known earlier, but that sealed the deal. I needed to eat, so would miss my next start and for me, it was Game Over.


The French seriously know how to give you your money's worth. The race entry was 50 euros and we got fed and watered and a full two days of times racing, closed roads, spread all over several mountains. The local council get involved and love showing off by feeding you. For the slight extra money spent on getting to France I think the value for money is amazing.

I want to do more!! I want to improve. But everything is booked up! What can I do? Suggestions please!

I need to ride more. Get faster and faster. I really wanna improve. That stuff is FUN. If you're not terrified, I bet it's even funner.

I loved it hated it loved it. Hated it....Loved it. I dunno. But I wanna do more. So I guess I loved it.


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