Reports from the front line of grassroots women’s racing in the UK from feminist and second cat racer Hannah Nicklin. Let's go! đŸ’Ș

Race Report: The Lincoln Grand Prix

One week ago I raced my first National Series level race. You can read the official race report from British Cycling here, it includes info and pics of all kinda of exciting things, like the people who actually won. This isn’t a race report so much as a ‘Wot I Learned’ post, keeping track of the stuff I know now, that I didn’t know before. So, what’s that?

1. Preparation is great.

I went through all of my terrifying levels of preparation, I was there with plenty of time, everything I needed, and when I lined up with all the other 130-140 or so women on the start line I felt… Fine? The race was late starting because they needed to confirm that the roads were all closed so I had enough time to not only feel fine, but realise that I just didn’t feel nervous. For me, I think a lot of my nerves get ironed out in the few days prior to a Big Thing. Plus I knew I was just testing myself, I didn’t really have any responsibility to perform. That felt nice. To sit there and welcome the race start in quiet, open, ready sort of way.

2. I’m still not sure how to time a warm up

hannah nicklin at the Lincoln Grand Prix 2017, picture by Julie Chasin
A pic by my friend Julie Chasin – I had no idea she was going to be there and it was a great surprise to have someone shouting encouragement to me, specifically. The atmosphere was amazing.

Look, how does this work? I know what my basic warm up should be (between 20-30 mins, with a progressive effort and some high cadence spins) and I know it’s better done as close to start as possible. But I also know that there’s usually quite a long roll out for road races so you can warm up a bit in neutralised, too. AND I know that it’s really really useful to be on the front of the bunch during neutralised, so you’re not fighting for position from the very beginning, and can avoid nervous touches of wheels, etc. The way to do that is to be the first few people to finish warm up and head to the start line and stake your place, waiting for 20 minutes, sometimes, which sort of negates the warm up. By the time I’d done a shortened warm up because of the long neutralised section, it was 10 minutes before start time. I headed to the start line and found… Basically everyone. I was in the 20 or so people at the back. So is it better to trade warm up for start line position? I guess it depends on how cold the weather, how long neutralised, and how big the field is. Next time, I’ll try 10-5 minutes earlier.

3. Crashes happen, crashes are terrifying.

Less than a few minutes after the flag dropped there was a HUGE crash. According to a few tweets afterwards it was someone swerving to avoid a cat’s eye (not something you should do) that caused it. We were going pretty fast down Burton road at that point, and it was a pretty brutal experience. I know crashes are a part of racing, but they can begin to feel a little… Exhausting. I was fine, people braked suddenly but I braked a little less hard, as it was a little further up, and my biked didn’t skid at all, people to the left and right of me went down, but in that slowed down moment I concentrated on the small gap between riders and bikes and rode through and chased back on to the front of the group. But it was still hard. The sound of it is hard; the screams, carbon hitting road. There was a particular sound from one rider I couldn’t see that was somehow worse than a scream. A breathless, shaken sound. Most people got up with only cuts and bruises, but I heard from a marshall later, and saw via twitter, that a Storey rider, Laura Cameron, had a particularly horrible injury, a very bad, exposed break of ulna and radius that will require surgery and bone grafts. I’ve never met Laura, but I’ve been thinking about her a lot over this week, checking up on Storey’s and her Twitter feeds. She’s tweeting and is upbeat about her recovery by the looks of it, which is great, but it’s shocking and horrible that it happened. I know crashes happen, but they’re hard to ride away from, even when I’m lucky enough to be safe. There’s something against instinct about leaving people in pain behind. I know it’s the best thing to do so they can get the attention and first aid they need. But it’s a difficult part of the sport. That’s all.

4. Closed roads bring new challenges.

Riders at the front of the Lincoln GP 2017 peloton
The front of the bunch (photo credit, my mum) which I got to see very little of.

This was my first totally closed road race: we could ride anywhere in either carriageway. This definitely made the numbers of riders feel way more manageable than I expected (though perhaps so did losing 1/3 of the field to the crash) but it also introduced a bunch of new stuff I hadn’t considered: road furniture, and cat’s eyes. The peloton has to find its way around bollards and islands in the road, people riding in the centre have to be aware of the cat’s eyes that might surprise or jolt them, or be slippery in the rain, and the peloton has to communicate all this stuff. Also, as the peloton splits to go round something, it adds a whole new dimension to positioning! If one side goes through faster, suddenly you can go from front to middle in one stroke. LEARNING.

5. Positioning, positioning, positioning.

As I said in my preparation post, my main work in this race was to work hard on my positioning. I had mixed results, and just as everything else is harder at this level, positioning was a much more active, aggressive thing in this race. Every moment except when I was chasing on I filled my head with the chant “move up, Hannah, move up” forcing myself to follow my own instructions. I kept on filling gaps and pushing myself forwards, but every time I did a new move in the peloton, or a piece of street furniture, or just a lack of space as others found gaps meant that one step forward was always half a step back. I never made it past the front 1/3 of riders. A lot went well about the race, but this is definitely where I found the biggest room for improvement. So. Every road race I do this season this is my new target: work work work on positioning. Move up, Hannah, move up.

6. It’s not only about the hill, it’s about after the hill, too.

The formidable Nic Oh of Les Filles QOM RT told me this the Tuesday before the race, and she was, of course, right. The climb wasn’t the problem, so much as the chase back to the group after it. If you got stuck behind someone, or as the pace was pushed at the front, the real job became catching up to the peloton as you hit Newport Arch. It was less about going hard up the climb, and more being able to kick right in and work hard afterwards that made the difference. (Though of course, had I been better positioned…)

7. So how did it go?

hannah nicklin at the Lincoln Grand Prix 2017, picture by VM Collection
Picture by VM Collection on Twitter. Apparently everyone said I looked very comfortable on the climb. It’s nice to know that the painface I’ve been dealt is a sort-of-half-smiling one.

I stuck with the race for 4 laps out of 8. My positioning was ok in the most of the race but on the little kick up to the lights just before the run into Lincoln central, I just couldn’t maintain my place (a lot of that down to confidence) and I went into the climb usually in the back third of riders. The first time up the climb, there was a minor crash, which slowed us all up, and the second time, the pace just seemed to almost slowed to a stop, so I had to work hard together with others to catch back onto the back of the front group. After the third climb of Michaelgate I was towards the back of the group. I pushed as hard as I could through Newport Arch but glanced around me and saw I was the last rider.

With no one to work with, it was highly likely to be my last lap. I was caught up by two OnForm and a Ford Ecoboost after about 5 minutes and we worked hard together for 10-15 minutes, but I didn’t have the legs to be much help. Then, coming up to the fourth time up Michaelgate, Ecoboost had a mechanical, and TeamOnForm seemed to think it wasn’t worth working with me so put in a burst of effort and gapped me so I climbed Michaelgate in luxurious solitude. I then pulled myself out at the roundabout with HQ on, knowing the broom wagon was only a few minutes behind me, and thinking it better to pull out near HQ than on the other side of the course. My coach had said he’d be impressed if I managed 3 laps. Technically I stuck with the peloton just into lap 4, and the solo lap 4 ascent meant I got some nice photos 😉

I learnt a lot, and that was the point. So I’m happy.

Next year, though, I want to see it through to the finish. Move up, Hannah, move up.