Hurdles, sandpits and run-ups – without the cowbells and crowds – were the order of the day for twenty-eight women who congregated for a cyclocross training day in Kent.
*** Looking for pictures? Scroll down for the gallery***
The London Women’s Racing Cyclocross training day, supported by Cadence and Total Women’s Cycling (us!), took place over the South East Regional Championships course, at Cyclopark in Kent, this weekend.
The session was organised by Beth Hodge of London Women's Racing and coached by Huw Williams and Caroline Stewart. Three hours of practice started with basic handling skills around a slalom, and moved on to explore dismounts, mounts, riding through a sandpit, shouldering the bike, run-ups, descents and carrying the bike up steps.
The South East Regional course is extremely technical, but the women – who ranged from absolute novices to experienced racers – tackled all of the tricky areas. Many skills were demonstrated by 5th Floor rider Adeline O'Moreau and 9-year-old expert rider Tulsi. As Huw put it: "There's little better to persuade you that yes, you can actually do it, than seeing a 9-year-old with superb technique demonstrate."
TWC was on hand throughout to chat to the women taking part, and snap as many pictures as possible (everyone loves a photo!). It was fantastic to see women encouraging each other, but also revelling in the competitive element during short race sections.
Speaking after the event, Cyclocross coach Huw told us: “It was great to have such a good turn out for a women’s session. They did really well despite it being a technical course. The way I approach a session like that, is to think if it looks like a proper 'cross race at the end and it looks like a shambles at the start, then they’ve probably learnt a lot. And that certainly was the case today."
Explaining the importance of these skills in cyclocross, he said: “Cyclocross is all about keeping momentum over various surfaces and obstacles. Skills days like this are essential. At the start a lot of novices were stopping the bike, getting off – and pushing the bike from a standing start. You can save minutes in a race through applying the correct skills – even if you get it wrong the first few times."
It’s not uncommon to hear women on training courses such as this arrive with an ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I’m not very good’ mentality. The thing is, very often it’s that lack of confidence making us (I say us because I'm as guilty as the next) ‘not very good’ – a little practice and encouragement can reveal an entirely different rider.
"Some of the riders were saying they couldn’t imagine they could have done the things they did today, at the start."
Huw said: “Women do tend to lack confidence. Some of the riders were saying they couldn’t imagine they could have done the things they did today, at the start."
It’s easy to pick up skills and then forget them when it comes to a race scenario – Huw’s advice in that situation is to break it down, and accept you won’t get it right every time: “Even if you do one of the obstacles per lap, or decide to use the skills properly for certain laps - such as laps 3 and 6 of 10 – then you can gradually build up your confidence in using those skills. The beauty of cyclocross is that if anything is not ‘do-able’ or you think you can’t do it, you can just get off the bike and run with it! Racing is about getting from A to B as fast as possible"
Taking part in the day was Hannah Nicklin, a Cat 2 road racer who had never been on a cyclocross bike before the session.
"My favourite part of learning to do anything is always when I think something is impossible, then I manage to do it – when things turn from a mountain to a molehill in my head."
She told me: “It was terrifying, but I find most cycling terrifying which is why I do it! Terrifying in a good way. It was really great to have a mix of abilities here. There were riders taking part who do this a lot, and do it well. I learn by watching and doing, not really by listening, so having experienced riders to watch helped. My favourite part of learning to do anything is always when I think something is impossible, then I manage to do it – when things turn from a mountain to a molehill in my head. So the really steep hill looked like a mountain but as soon as I was on it, it was far less scary than I thought it would be."
Discussing the ‘confidence’ issue that often crops up when women approach skills sessions, she said: “I think women have a little less bravado than men, we have a tendency to say ‘it’s ok I’ll just go slow’, but the coaches kept saying ‘pretend this is a race’, which is what you actually need – they made us push ourselves."
Claire Richardson has been racing cyclocross for several years. She found the re-cap on remounting particularly useful and told me: “None of the skills were new, but it’s good to go through the techniques and hear the basics again. And to see other riders doing it wrong, and right – as it makes you realise what you’re doing. Skills are probably more important in 'cross than being fit – you can make up so much time by knowing how to ride sandpits and run hurdles than people who are really fit but can’t do the skills."
Speaking about the growing women’s cyclocross scene, she told me: “There’s loads more women doing it, when I started there would be maybe 10 women at a race, now this season I’ve done races where there have been 40. It’s really good to do in winter, it’s much more enjoyable to do than a 5 hour ride! I’d say cyclocross is generally very approachable and a more supportive environment to race in than you get at road races or crits. People cheer each other – even if you’re getting lapped people shout encouragement."
If you were there and want to see yourself in action, here are some more pictures - feel free to right click and 'save as' for any you want to keep...
Fancy trying cyclocross? Check out these skills videos...