The End of 2017, Sunlight and Mist.
Yesterday was my final road race of the 2017 Season. My second full season of bike racing. It finished at the summit of Beachy Head at the end of the 7th ascent of the long brutal climb, as part of the final stage of the Women’s Tour of Sussex.
After a 76km flat stage one (20th, boxed in on the sprint, should have positioned better), a hill-climb ITT (23rd, hurt in the legs but not in my lungs so I definitely could have gone harder) the final 80km took in 7 laps of 1,435m of climbing. My normalised power for the 3 hours it took was 240w. My 1 hour threshold is allegedly… 240w.
The race rolled out from Eastbourne Pier as a sea fog rolled over, chilling our jerseys against us, damp from warmups (which were intense, as we had found out in the briefing that neutralised ended before the first climb up to the Beachy Head course).
7 laps, not one bit flat; we descended into cold mist, and climbed, stroke after stroke, into the bare sunlit sea sharp views of Beachy Head.
It was the hardest race I have ever ridden. Hardest in my head, at least. I’m tired after a year of learning. It was harder than Lincoln GP with its crashes and climbs of Michaelgate, which was mostly thrilling – to race in my home town, in my first National Series race – and also, I knew, too hard for me. Harder than the 3 Days of Bedford, my first stage race, where an hour into the third stage the disgust at the feeling in my legs suddenly lifted and spinning my legs seemed so much better than any of the alternatives, when I felt equal to it.
As I turned the pedals yesterday, and despite that began to be dropped from the front group on the first ascent of Beachy Head (by all accounts shortly after the whole race was grupetti), eventually joined a group of 3, that became 6, that became 9, I felt exhausted. And full of the summary of my season: how far I have come and how far I want to go.
Lap after lap we descended into cold mist, and climbed into the bare sunlit sea sharp view of the summit of Beachy Head, each pedal stroke I pushed was full of wishes for a mechanical, an excuse, knowing there was nothing else that would allow me to stop. For the first time I fantasised about just pulling up and getting off. But at crucial moments (the summit) friends and strangers shouted encouragement, and I knew I wouldn’t.
Then there the final lap. The final climb. And the summit came into view. I crossed the line. I could barely unclip. I placed my bike down (mech up). And laid myself on the rough grass.
And I felt it all: disappointment, achievement, ambition, pain, the weight of the work I’d done, and everything I know needs to come next. The marking of my second year of racing. Everything I have learned about positioning, bike handling, tactics, my body, my abilities, where I surprise myself, how I talk myself into and out of things. And everything I now know I don’t know, and am hungry for.
Also I felt literally hungry.
My pal Helen (who had a great race, only a week after a strong performance at the Rás na mBan, chapeau) came over and asked how I was and… Honestly? I burst into tears. Not because I felt sad. But because I felt everything.
Either way I was thankful for her hug.
That’s the last thing I have to say: unlike the end of 2016, when I was just starting out, beginning to recognise people, this year I have made friends, met astonishing women from all different places and professions. And my Tour of Sussex would not have been possible without the kindness and generosity of many of them – obviously of the NRG/commissaries/organiser variety – but as someone who can’t drive, and doesn’t have a significant other or team DS/mechanic etc. to swannie for me, I only managed the logistics of the weekend with the help of: Olivia and Matt for driving me to the stage 1 start, Nic and Delia for the van space and rollers, Lucy for lending me a jacket for the descent after the ITT, Karla for sorting me out when I was dripping wet and shivering after the ITT storm, Giles and Tina for the lift home when the trains were cancelled, Steve from GB cycles who leant me some rollers, Terry from Fusion who gave me a spare wheel when I punctured 5 mins before my ITT start.
As I reach the end of 2017, I’m already sad I won’t see a bunch of pals until next season. As much as I like to be and try and be self-sufficient, I felt wrapped up and looked after by the women’s racing community this weekend. And very grateful for it.
I descended into cold mist, and climbed into the bare sunlit sea sharp view of the summit of Beachy Head. I did so both alone, and among friends.