The best things in life are free.

So my road (turbo) to recovery went pretty smoothly. The first few days were rather boring; even just slobbing around not able to do much for a few days was quite depressing and irritating so I was itching to get training again and doing what I love.

I was back turning the pedals just 5 days after the crash, I could begin using a knife and fork properly again and turbo life was going well!! Turbo gets a bit of a hard time in the cycling world being called boring and dull. Yes it can be, and don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t want to be riding it everyday, but I do enjoy it and it’s a very efficient method of training.
I really love the satisfaction of nailing a tough session, buzzing off endorphins, music pumping, wet from sweat and cooling down knowing it’s job done well. ✌🏼

So after 10 days of hard training on the turbo and 1 shoulder test on the road, I felt I could race. When holding the skiis (aero bars) on a TT bike you hold some body weight but it’s a fixed position without much pulling on the bars or lateral movement, so I felt I could race and the risks of crashing were very minimal as I was just relying on myself, rather than the unpredictable nature of road racing with 120 other riders, centimeters apart.

Race day was here, I was confident from my power on the turbo and excited to feel the wind in my face again.

I came 4th U23.
4th, urgh, such an annoying position to finish!! I was expecting more to be honest, but it was only my 3rd ever proper TT and I get told, and need to remember, that injuries take a lot out of the body. Even though I sometimes think, ‘ok I’ve broken a bone, it will heal, and I can train on turbo’, actually on the inside there are lots of processes happening, the body is in ‘repair mode’ and using lots of resources to fix itself. As a result the immune system weakens due to energy being diverted to more important places, so illness could also strike. I wasn’t ill, and had to be thankful to my body for being on the start line for the TT champs after putting it through training on top of the healing process.

The National road race Champs was too much of a risk due to higher chances of crashing thus undoing the healing process. It was a shame as they were held in my home city so I’d really be spurred on to achieve a successful result, but in the bigger picture it’s best to be able to finish the season without potentially prolonging an injury.

This small setback has been a good opportunity to remind myself of how lucky I am to have my health – the most important part of existence for all of us – yet easily taken for granted.

Sometimes it’s good to bring everything down to the ground, to the basics, and appreciate the small but BIG parts of our lives.

Thankfully bones can mend themselves and I was soon back enjoying my passion with the freedom to do nearly anything without restriction.

The best things in life are free.

Happy cycling, Sophie Wright @sophiekwright8

Collarbones, altitude, gravel riding and finding form

Dear readers,
Last time I sat down to write my previous blog for Voxwomen, it was snuggled on the couch with my dog back home in New Zealand, feeling a little sorry for myself. The Tour of Britain, and soon after the Giro Rosa, were being raced at the time, and I was merely an avid fan waking up each morning to view results, physically and mentally so far away from it all. The temperatures at home were hovering around three degrees, my level of fitness at that time was probably similar, and my left collarbone was also separated into that exact number of pieces. It was really nice to be at home in a familiar environment after four months, literally jumping from café to cafe and going out riding with many familiar faces, but at the same time I felt like it wasn’t where I should be. I guess that’s a good feeling to have though, as initially when the team told me I’d have a break back home in New Zealand halfway through the season, a little part of me was scared that I wouldn’t actually want to return to Europe!
I spent around five weeks or so at home, the first ten days were spent attempting to study for my mid year university exams and riding very socially simply for fun, although I think my coach’s intention probably was for a little more rest than what actually transpired. The days that followed consisted of similar, except for the fact that I decided to throw in the second broken collarbone in two months after hitting a rock while out ‘training’… Lessons learnt from that episode: just treat yourself to rest when it’s a rest period but if you do decide to rebel, riding before breakfast is really great when it means you already have an empty stomach for the purposes of surgery that afternoon.
I flew out of NZ mid-July after a couple of weeks solid training on the road and 1.5 weeks where Zwift was my saviour. The break repairs were still a little on the fresh side but even the surgeon approved the outdoor riding, however I have not felt that unfit for quite some time and even pulling a gentle turn on the front of my local Sunday bunchie was a major effort. This was reflected in my 60 minute Zwift sessions at zone 2 power and 175bpm average.  Unfortunately there’s no disguising poor form when training indoors! In all honesty, I felt like physically I was at rock bottom, although to be fair that was more likely to have been when I was lying on the road after hitting the aforementioned object.
Full steam ahead though for part two of the season;  it was straight into Girona for one complete day before flying off to the BeNe Ladies Tour. This would seemingly be quite a rude awakening after the 40 hour journey straight out of winter with minimal fitness, not to mention how self conscious I felt being so ridiculously pale compared to everyone else in the peak of summer riding. This was a four day event featuring the classic Dutch/Belgy conditions and a rather nervy bunch – the perfect place for my newly reconstructed bone too! It ended up being a 2.5 stage event for me after getting caught up in one of the large handfuls of crashes, but somehow the collarbone survived despite an impact to my shoulder so to me there was no bigger relief. I jumped on my spare bike and kept chugging along but a lack of motor pacing and police sympathy meant that my tour came to an abrupt ending; frustrating but still nice to be back with the team racing after a two month absence.
It was fully into rebuild mode after the tour with a couple of solid weeks in Girona to knuckle down and find some form. It’s amazing how much difference some good days of quality summer training can make so come my next race, Ride London, I had a nice tan going and the sensations on the bike weren’t too bad at all. In true Ella fashion though, there were a couple unintended easy days after churning out the kilometres on a knee that took a small hammering in the Belgium crash (the same problematic knee that flared up during Tour de Yorkshire after another crash;  I’ll learn eventually). Ride London was an awesome event to race with a great atmosphere and despite having an extremely minimal amount of fast twitch fibres, I enjoyed the course and the fast, punchy style of racing. I even made it two crashes from two races after getting caught up in that infamous pile up during the final 200 metres which was a streak I aimed to end pretty promptly after that. Luckily the side barriers saved my fall so I was again unscathed apart from a couple minor fence stabbing cuts, nothing a spot of glue didn’t fix.
The trip to London marked the beginning of close to a month on the road and after spending a day completing a Rapha bunch ride alongside a little exploring, my team mate Christa and I flew straight to Denver to begin a couple of weeks altitude training in Boulder. This was my first time being exposed to altitude for a prolonged period of time, only having been to just under 3000m once before during a ride/ hike at Sierra Nevada for the Zwift Academy Finals team camp last December, how time flies! I was really interested at the prospect of spending some time up high, to see how I would cope and also to see if I could develop any noticeable gains going forward.
The first couple of days had me feeling a little breathless upon setting out in the mornings, but fairly quickly this improved and I was able to ride reasonably normally for solid durations, exploring the popular Boulder canyons and the Peak to Peak Highway. I was starting to feel in good shape, fit and pretty stoked that I was able to complete lots of my favourite riding – big kilometres at steady zone 2 for the win. One thing that nobody tells you about altitude is just how much it increases your need to pee… or how seemingly faster descending can be at 2500m versus sea level.
A quality 12 days in Boulder; an amazing city with gorgeous scenery, so many fit people  and most importantly endless quality coffee options (Rapha Boulder do great carrot bread FYI), before stepping the altitude metres up a notch to Steamboat Springs at 2100m. This was the starting location for the four day Colorado Classic a week later, the main reason for the Colorado training vacation.  But before that could kick off, it was time for some gravel action. Canyon were sponsoring the first edition of the SBT GVL event, so Tiffany and I were lucky enough to get our hands on a flash gravel bike each to hoon around on for the weekend while hanging out with the cool Canyon crew. We even competed in our first proper gravel race, the SBT 100 miler, with the intention of getting in a solid days training and not overdoing it before the classic begun four days later. Unfortunately when you pin on a number and line up on the front row, it’s hard not to mean business, so as we progressed through the race, the prospect of hanging in with the front bunch was too much to resist and the pace on the hills wasn’t quite hard enough to put me off. So it was a smidge under five hours out in the beaut Colorado countryside with some fairly relaxed Sunday cruisy riding on the flats and untechnical sections to keep it friendly, and a top five overall for me after still keeping my efforts reasonably restrained. My personal goal was to have a nice quality stop at an aid station to sample the various treats on offer but unfortunately once in the leading bunch, my racing instincts took over, so I failed that one. This leads back to one of my altitude discoveries, it’s fine for males to manage but five hours on a sunny day without a pee stop really took its toll. I really loved the whole event and the style of race; it was great to get a little loose on the gravel and 100 miles actually went surprisingly fast despite the terrain. It’s definitely something I don’t want to keep just as a one off race outing!
Post a couple days R&R, it was time for the main event. Road racing in America is quite a foreign concept due to many varying factors compared to Europe, namely the road size, completely unfamiliar teams/riders, and also the courses we raced, which all made for a new dynamic with a different racing style to the Euro norm. It was definitely cool to be racing in the US and the tour itself had some exciting courses which made us all pretty motivated from the outset, not too long but packed with interesting features. A 10 kilometre gravel section was the highlight in Stage 1, Stage 2 featured an 8 kilometre climb at 2500m through a luxury gated ski resort community, and the finale was a brutal Downtown Denver circuit race in true American crit style with 38 degree temperatures. It was a pretty successful outing for the team, winning the overall teams classification with Omer placing 3rd on GC after a 3rd on the queen stage. I was stoked to nab a 4th on GC after a 4th on the literally breathtaking mountain climb, and came away from Colorado pleased with how the altitude treated me. A whirlwind trip to the SRAM offices in Chicago followed and I then found myself taking an impromptu and last minute four flight, 25 hour trip straight into France for GP Plouay… but we can save that next chapter for another time.
Thank you for following my Zwift blogging journey, I’ll be representing New Zealand at the world championships in Yorkshire, Great Britain, so until next time, happy riding! Ella Harris

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BRETAGNE.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BRETAGNE.

TROIS CHOSES A SAVOIR SUR LA BRETAGNE.

Difficult to not be aware of where I come from, as I’m bothering everyone I meet about my region: LA BRETAGNE.

Difficile de ne pas être au courant d’où je viens, étant donné que je le rabâche à toutes les personnes que je croise : LA BRETAGNE

To be a Breton(ne) you need: or to be born here or to live there and to prove you love it more than any other regions in the World. Choose your side! 

Pour être Breton(ne) vous devez : où être né ici ou y vivre et prouver que vous l’aimez plus que n’importe qu’elle autres régions du monde. Choisi ton camp !

On this blog I wanted to give you 3 reasons for discovering the best of this amazing place.

Dans ce blog je voulais vous donner 3 raisons de venir découvrir le meilleur de ce superbe endroit.

  1. We have some of the nicest treats of the French Gastronomy.

Nous avons quelques unes des meilleures gourmandises de la Gastronomie Française.

As a rider, I’m always looking for good and quality food, and I’m lucky I’ve access to many good producers around home.

En tant que cycliste, je suis toujours à la recherche d’une nourriture seine et de qualité et j’ai la chance d’avoir accès à beaucoup de bons producteurs autour de chez moi.

If I have to pick one of the most typical dishes between kouign-amann, kig a farz, cheese, beer… I’ll choose the first meal I eat when I’m back home after a race: a good complete “galette bretonne”! Not a crêpe, A GALETTE! I find the best ones in a little take away shop, where you can see the “crêpier” making them.

Si je devais choisir un des plats les plus typiques parmi le kouign-amann, le kig a farz, le fromage ou la bière… Je choisirai la première chose que je mange en rentrant de course : une bonne galette complète ! Pas une crêpe, une GALETTE ! Je trouve les meilleures dans une petite boutique « à emporter », où vous pouvez observer le crêpier les fabriquer.

What’s the differences ? 

Quelles sont les différences ?

  • One is made with normal wheat and the other one with gluten free black wheat. 

Une est fabriquée avec de la farine de froment et l’autre avec de la farine de blé noir sans gluten.

  • You’re normally eating crêpes with sweet topping when in a galette you’re adding salty stuffs. 

Les crêpes se mangent habituellement avec des suppléments sucrés quand dans les galettes on ajoute plutôt des choses salées.

You’ll rarely see a Breton eating it outside of Bretagne like Italians with gnocchi and I can proudly say it’s one of the best things I can cook.

Vous verrez rarement un Breton manger des galettes en dehors de la Bretagne, comme les Italiens avec les gnocchi et je peux fièrement dire que c’est une chose que je cuisine le mieux.

  1. We have some of the nicest tracks to ride your bike.

Nous avons quelques-uns des meilleurs circuits à vélo.

Many people are asking me if I won’t prefer living more south for better weather conditions… My answer is always the same, my favorite place to ride my bike is home.

Beaucoup de gens me demandent si je ne préfèrerais pas vivre dans le Sud pour de meilleures conditions météo… Ma réponse est toujours la même, mon endroit favori pour rouler c’est à la maison.

Of course, it’s not the ideal place if you want to climb for hours as we don’t have big mountains, but as a classic rider I never felt the need to move somewhere else. Bretagne is a land of cycling, you cross it from East to West and you have the feeling to change of landscapes every 100kms.

Évidemment ça n’est pas l’endroit idéal si vous voulez grimper pendant des heures car nous n’avons pas de grande montagne, mais pour moi qui suis plutôt une coureure de classiques je n’ai jamais ressenti le besoin de déménager. La Bretagne est une terre de cyclisme, si vous la traverser d’Est en Ouest vous avez l’impression de changer de paysages tous les 100kms.

I leave in the middle between the Channel and the Atlantic Ocean, close to the mystic Broceliance forest, a place where many champions were born as Louison BOBET, Jean ROBIC or Bernard HINAULT.

Je vis en Centre Bretagne, entre la Manche et l’Océan Atlantique, proche de la mystique forêt de Brocéliande, un endroit où beaucoup de champions sont nés : Louison BOBET, Jean ROBIC or Bernard HINAULT.

You can choose between many cycling circuits, and my favorite one is definitely “Les Monts du Mené” or “Menez” in Breton which means mountain. As the name indicates, this area situated in The Côtes d’Armor is pretty hilly and looks strangely like Belgium. A real mix between Ardennes and Flanders, with some small and steep climbs, tricky roads and much much wind! 

Vous pouvez choisir parmi beaucoup de circuits différents, et mon favori est définitivement « Les Monts du Mené » ou « Menez » en Breton, ce qui veut dire montagne. Comme son nom l’indique, cet endroit situé dans les Côtes d’Armor est plutôt vallonné et ressemble étrangement à la Belgique. Un vrai mélange entre les Ardennes et les Flandres, avec leur bosses étroites et pentues, des routes escarpées et beaucoup, beaucoup de vent !

Riding there make me feeling free and spiritually connected with myself and the nature.

Rouler ici me fait me sentir libre et spirituellement connectée avec moi-même et la nature.

3. We are an example of Environmental Protection.

Nous sommes un exemple en matière de protection de l’environnement.

This is a topic I find super important, as I try every day to be more and more careful of my impact on our planet. 

C’est un sujet qui me tient à cœur, j’essaie d’y faire attention tous les jours et de réduire mon impact sur notre planète.

I’m always super mad on people throwing their garbage on racing, wasting food or energy and I’m super proud of my region to be the most cautious region in France in term of recycling and protecting our nature.

Je suis toujours très en colère quand je vois des gens jeter leur détritus en course, gaspiller de la nourriture ou de l’énergie et je suis très fière que ma région soit la région de France la plus dynamique en termes de recyclage et de protection de la nature.

Of course, everything is not perfect and the Region is trying really hard to accompany cities, villages, industries and farmers to make the change to an ecology transition. 

Évidemment tout n’est pas parfait et la Région essai d’accompagner au mieux les villes, villages, industries et agriculteurs pour effectuer leurs transitions écologiques. 

There is a real awareness and I wanted to underline and support it as a nature lover and also for you future visitors to respect and participate.

Il y a une réelle prise de conscience et je tenais à le souligner et le soutenir en tant qu’amoureuse de la nature ainsi que vous futurs visiteurs afin que vous respectiez et souteniez cette démarche.

Until next time, thank you for reading, Audrey Cordon-Ragot

Dealing with injury

In my previous blog I spoke about my first experience leading my team, as our team leader was absent, and the unpredictable nature of being a pro cyclist expecting to be away for 3 days, but turning into a month 😅

The final race of this block abroad with the team was the Tour de Bretagne. This would be my longest stage race so far- 5 days- but for me it was 4.1days…

The tour got off to a great start; our team leader came 3rd on the first stage and I won the Queen of the mountains (QOM) jersey! I was very pleased to have finally won a jersey, I’d been fighting for QOM in Bira Women’s World Tour (WWT) race, and have been close to the ‘best young rider’ jersey. My team allowed me to go for this, so I really committed and won the QOM 🙂

A successful day for the team was followed by good vibes round the dinner table, replying to lots of messages then unwinding with lovely massage before bed.

The next few days were OK, but we wanted to try and get the win on the 5th and final day. We all warmed up as a team on the turbos, before the heavens opened and we looked like drowned rats standing on the start line.

The whistle blew and we were off. I wanted to be attentive at the front from the beginning, 1) to avoid crashes, and 2) to help the team cover early attacks.
I did just this, and chased after the first move of the day… The girl on my left had the same idea, but she decided to do so by sprinting after the attack full gas, head down… Fair enough head down to be more aero, but please keep your eyes up on the road infront and ears open for the policeman blowing a whistle to warn us there’s a bollard coming up!…


Yep, she crashed straight into the bollard, her bike flew to the right and I had nowhere to go but hitting into her bike sending me flying over the bars. I knew when I hit the deck it wasn’t good, but my initial reaction was to try and protect myself from being run over by the oncoming peloton of 100 or so riders. Soon it was just quiet, I was lying on the road, crying and a bit hyperventilating with pain on my left hip, shoulder, elbow, neck and yet another cracked helmet. One of my first thoughts was that I hope nothing is broken because the British National Championships were in 3 weeks and in my home city, so I really didn’t want to miss this.
My team manager Thomas came to see how I was and thankfully stopped some guy from trying to move me; he was going to roll me on my left side but that’s where all the pain was! I do wonder sometimes if medics are actually trained to deal with injured people! Oh wait, I think that’s the job title 😅

Other than that, the French doctors took good care of me and it was a pretty cool experience travelling to hospital in a ‘camion de pompier’, fire engine! This was because they needed another ambulance for a crash which happened up the road only a few minutes later.

I had scans of my ribs, head and shoulder, but thankfully it was a ‘nice’ as far as the word nice goes, broken collar bone. I say nice because it wasn’t poking out of my skin, and was pretty inline so this is an OK injury.

My soigneur and I drove through the night back to the UK, where he went to work with the team at the Women’s Tour of Britain, and I got collected and finally taken home where it was nice to be in my home environment for some recovery.

I was eager to be back on the bike ASAP, as I imagine every cyclist is, so was pleased to be on the turbo 4 days later. I spoke to my coach and I definitely wanted to train for the Nationals, and would ride on the road as late as possible just to test the shoulder, and if all feels OK then I’d race.

In my next blog I’ll update you on the Nationals situation and my road to recovery.

Happy riding! Sophie Wright @sophiekwright8

Case of the Disappearing Discipline

The team time trial is one of the most beautiful cycling disciplines. Cycling is a team sport, but normally only the winning rider stands on the podium. The TTT is the exception to the rule, where the entire team celebrates together on the podium in victory. Some of my worst and best racing experiences have been in TTTs. The worst was a horrible crash with an entire team, and the best was winning a World Championship title.

 

A great TTT squad needs to work like a well-oiled machine. The fastest teams have figured out how and where to use each rider’s strengths in the best possible combination. A smooth team is a fast team. I remember how smooth and machine-like we were that day Team Sunweb surprised the cycling world to take the TTT victory in Bergen, Norway.

Vargarda – Sweden – wielrennen – cycling – radsport – cyclisme – Team Sunweb pictured during Postnord Women World Tour Vargarda TTT 2019 – photo Anton Vos/Cor Vos © 2019

Sadly, since the UCI changed the format to a Nation’s TTT at Worlds this year, the discipline has almost disappeared from the race calendar. For perspective, last year there were six TTTs (Healthy Aging Tour, Giro Rosa, Sweden, Norway, Madrid, Worlds), while this year there were only two (Giro Rosa and Sweden). The Giro Rosa event was also almost entirely uphill, so not the best representation of how well a team can work together.

 

Last week at the Sweden Vargarda World Tour race, we joked a bit that it was like the unofficial TTT World Championships. Trek-Segafredo won over Canyon-SRAM, while I finished third with Team Sunweb. The anticipation and speculation about potential winners felt different this year without other events leading up to the race for comparison. In the past, the Vargarda race was a good indicator of the teams doing well leading up to Worlds, and it was part of an entertaining season-long racing narrative for fans to follow.

 

The competition was fierce last season with seconds separating rival teams at many races. I think the discipline really pushed women’s cycling teams to raise their game in terms of fitness, technique, equipment and technology in order to target GC goals and compete for the ultimate World Championship prize. Most top teams organized specific TTT camps during the season to train the discipline, raising everyone’s level since the efforts to train this event are very difficult! In the last few years, more races featured TTTs, as this was a good way to draw teams to their event and gave everyone the opportunity to improve their game. 

Vargarda – Sweden – wielrennen – cycling – radsport – cyclisme – Trek – Segafredo Women – Canyon SRAM Racing – Team Sunweb pictured during Postnord Women World Tour Vargarda TTT 2019 – photo Anton Vos/Cor Vos © 2019

 

As I am not opposed to trying new things, I will keep an open mind about the new Nation’s TTT until we see it executed at the upcoming World Championships in Yorkshire. The new format consists of teams of three men and three women from each country completing a lap of the course as a relay. The final times are measured after the top two riders complete each leg of the race. I foresee a challenge in teams preparing properly for this new format, as it is difficult to train together with national teammates if you live and race abroad. 

 

I would love to see the return of a separate trade team World Championships at an accessible event location so as to overcome the cost to teams, which I believe was the reason why the event was removed from Worlds. Maybe the Sweden Vargarda event could be the official TTT World Championships in the future? I just hope that in the hunt for innovation that this beautiful discipline that was driving positive change in the sport doesn’t disappear completely from the calendar.

Thanks for reading, until next time, Leah Kirchmann

Bergen – Norway – wielrennen – cycling – cyclisme – radsport – Team Sunweb pictured during the Team Time Trial 2017 World Road Championship womens cyclingrace on September 17, 2017 in Bergen, Norway – photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2017

FACING INJURIES

Hello everyone!

It’s been a while since my last blog and a lot of things have happened in the meanwhile.

Our sport is beautiful, but sometimes it can also be dangerous.

On June 12th I crashed out of The Women’s Tour with a dislocated multi fragmented wrist and for the first time in my career I had to face the challenge of dealing with a broken bone.

I remember that, while I was in the ambulance on the way to the hospital after the crash, I was already thinking “Will I be able to still compete in Giro Rosa?”. Not that it is my favorite race, but this year it would have been a special Giro for me as the peloton passed through my home town and finished in Udine, the city where I attended school and where many friends of mine live.

My team, who have always supported me in the best way and this time even more, straight away told me “Elena, you will be back only when you will be totally healed and when your bone will be again in one piece”.

The suggestion from the Doctors who did my surgery was to ride my bike on the road after 5 weeks and to start racing again after 6/7 weeks. No Giro for me then.

On and off  my bike, I am the kind of person who loves to have a clear plan in my mind and, at the beginning of the day, even better of the week or of the month;  knowing what I am going to do and at what time is important to me.

This help me to have control over my life, I don’t like unpredictable things.

But this time was different. A couple of days after my surgery, I clearly understood that I would not have been able to plan my recovery. The only thing I could do was waking up in the morning and check how my wrist was doing. Try to move it and see if it was better than the day before or not.

The first 10 days after my crash were the easiest one. I had so many things to think about, so much people coming to visit me and so many messages to reply to  that I had no time to be upset or worried. Not having to train meant catching up with friends I didn’t see from a long time, walking with my dog and spending a lot of time with my parents, which has been absolutely lovely.

Then, I had some very bad days where I really didn’t know what to do. In that days I really understood boredom can be so frustrating and somehow kills your happiness. 

Luckily, when I really started to miss my bike it was almost time to restart with some training on the rollers, which I really enjoyed despite the heat and the grit required to practice indoor training while outside the sun is shining and the only thing you would like to do is riding your bike into the mountains.

Indeed, I reached the highest point of happiness when the Doctors gave me the green light to ride outside with the only limitation to keep my cast on. 

Felling fresh air in the face and sun on my back is something I will never take for granted again.

Being healthy is the biggest gift life can give us. Now that I am healthy again, even the pain in my legs feels sweeter.

Everything happens for a reason and in the last weeks I started to appreciate again the fatigue of trainings, the travels to the races, being surrounded by the people I love and who trust me.

With a metal plate in my wrists refreshed mind and a lot of dreams in my heart I am ready for the last part of the season! Bring it on!!!

My next races are: GP PLOUAY and then Tour of Ardeche (and hopefully Worlds).

Elena

High, but low on oxygen

It seems the list of “firsts” does not end that fast after turning pro:

First stage race, first doping control, first team camp, first WorldTour Race, first spring classic, first lead out, first jersey win….an almost endless list of things I experienced for the first time during my journey in the last 1,5 years and a lot of those experiences I shared right here with you in my Zwift blog on Voxwomen.

So it’s just following up a matter when I share my latest of firsts with you: my first altitude camp followed by a stage race on altitude!

In my life before cycling, I had short visits on altitude and never really liked it. Actually I detested it. Altitude meant headache, nausea and swollen limbs to me. So the idea of staying there longer than a few hours sounded like torture to me. And so was my last short trip to altitude during our “epic ride” in our December teamcamp. We rode up to the Sierra Nevada, Spain, which is around 3200 m high. When I arrived up there my blood oxygen was down to 74%.
(For scale: Normal oxygen level is inbetween 95-99%, a oxygen level lower than 85% is interpreted as a high-grade hypoxemia… ) Kind of scary but at least it explained my lack of brain function up the climb and during the following hike. Speaking English with no oxygen in your brain cells can be pretty demanding.

On the other hand I was always curious about how my body would react after a longer period up in those heights and how it would feel being back on sealevel afterwards. So spotting the “Colorado Classic” on my race schedule, a race with stages on 1600-2400 hm, made me feel a mixture of excitement and anxiety. The excitement overtook the wheel, as soon as I started to plan the preparation.


My first altitude destination on my way to new horizons was in Switzerland. I spent the time there with my teammate Hannah Ludwig. We were based on 1500 hm, and climbing up to higher highs during our rides. For me a good level to start with, since I felt an effect on my body, but it didn’t make me feel uncomfortable. However my first observation was, that I was always hungry. My metabolism was simply through the roof. I was eating and eating and still lost weight. For sure also a lot of water since dehydration is one of the obstacles altitude brings.
In general we were supposed to ride mainly “easy”. But I have to admit that an easy pace is actually impossible if you are riding with Hannah. My youngest teammate, who just won the U23 European Champion title in the ITT, just loves to ride with a steady high pace. After some days of acclimatization we also started with some efforts. You start your effort just like you are used to, but at least after the second repetition, you have to painfully realize how much your recovery is prolonged and how much faster your fatigue. Gladly a big problem on swiss altitude are cows blocking the road. So you might be lucky to get some extra rest if one of them decides to cross the road in the middle of your interval.


We were heading to the BeNe Ladies Tour in Belgium right after and what can I say… Back on sealevel I felt like a motorbike. And our results confirmed it. Finishing the stage race with our teammate Lisa Klein winning the GC plus Hannah in 6th and me in 5th overall showed quite a good effect from our short trip up the mountains.

And so it was already time for destination number two: Boulder, Colorado!
We traveled to the US almost two weeks ahead of the start of Colorado Classic. First of all to adapt, but also to get some good training in. The nice side effect: we also got rid of this awful jetlag.

I heard and read a lot about Boulder. I guess in almost every endurance athletes biography this town is at least mentioned once. Now that I’ve been there, I do understand why. This place is simply amazing, stunning, beautiful and perfect for training.
One part of our Colorado squad was preparing in Boulder(Christa, Ella, Hannah and me) while Tiffany chose Livingo for her prep and our 6th member Omer got herself ready for racing in Durango.

The scientific side of the altitude experience increased this time since we had a pulsoximeter with us, to check our blood oxygen in the morning or during rides and to hopefully detect our adaption.
It was pretty interesting to see how different every single rider reacted. Ella for example didn’t feel a big difference and also her oxygen level wasn’t affected. While Christa and I struggled a lot in the beginning and Hannah found herself somewhere inbetween. On our second day we climbed up to 3100 hm. I was quite nervous to end up like in teamcamp in December, but actually with 82% my hypoxemia level wasn’t as bad as expected. Since we did the same climb again on our last day we had a great comparison and I actually ended up super happy with a 91% blood oxygen.


Last day of training also means: race day is close! After two easy days in Denver, the first stage was about to kick off in Steamboat Springs on 2200 hm, followed by the 2nd stage in Avon on 2400 hm, a lower 3rd one in Golden on 1700 hm and the last stage back in Denver on around 1600 hm. So not a walk in the park!

While training or efforts on altitude are one thing, racing on altitude is still another. So we were all pretty nervous ahead of Stage 1. It felt completely unpredictable  how we would perform even after our good preparation. As I can only talk about my own experience, I have to say that it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. But still the combination of altitude, heat and the profile made especially the first two stages pretty demanding for me. Your normal moves to jump, bridge or chase are way more limited in amount and also depth of efforts you can put in during the race.


My average power throughout the races was around 20-30 Watts lower than on a normal level. And staying hydrated was probably one of the biggest challenges for me. In stage 3 and 4 I was the supported sprinter and I could save myself a bit more except of two all out sprints for the prime and the final. Yet another first time of my hopefully never ending list 🙂 In the end I’m  taking home one prime and two fourth places. We won the best team and have two girls up in the top 4 in GC.  Even though I missed the podium twice, I was actually pretty happy to get this chance and to be there in the final mix.

After all I can say that the altitude and me, we made our peace. Now I hope for some more motorbike feels, when I’m back on sealevel in a few days.

And i just can’t wait to breath all of that sweet sweet oxygen!

Until my next blog, thank you for reading, Tanja Erath

Nutrition is fuel

It’s common sense that quality nutrition and diet go hand and hand, with what you put in heavily influencing how much energy you have to perform on the bike, the result you ultimately get out and also how you recover post riding. Food serves as fuel for training, but not all foods are equal in terms of quality and level of nourishment. There is not one singular food that can make you a stronger, faster and superior athlete, but there are many that can pack a real nutritional punch and be highly beneficial to health. Eating the right foods to fuel daily activities is vital for everyone, but this is amplified for cyclists when it comes to meeting the additional fuelling needs that riding provides. 

I’ve been having a break at home in New Zealand for the past month, and it’s been really nice to have access to all sorts of ingredients and foods that you can’t find easily or at all in Spain. New Zealand supermarkets are generally bursting at the seams with various organic and whole food options compared to in Spain where seemingly standard products such as frozen berries, nut butters and basic baking ingredients are very difficult to find. It has certainly made for a lot of trialling and recipe testing while I have ready access to all sorts of goodies, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say that a significant proportion of my riding time is spent pondering what I will whip up for lunch afterwards… or when I can consume another experimental homemade training snack. So while much of my spare time at home has been spent studying up on new ingredients and cooking ideas, before travelling to the supermarket from my kitchen and return, I thought I would share some of my favourite foods that I like to have stocked up in the pantry to incorporate into my everyday diet. These are not only for nutritional benefits, but also for their versatility, simple preparation and taste – which goes without saying really.

Tofu 

I’m not vegan nor am I even vegetarian, but more often that not I will forgo a meat option and instead have tofu as my protein source for dinner. It’s inexpensive, packed with protein, calcium and iron as well as numerous other nutrients, and is very versatile. You can fry it with seasonings and vegetables before serving with carbs and salad, use it in stir-fries, scramble it as an alternative to egg, blend it into a sauce or even use in smoothies for a richer, creamier texture. Tofu can often be disregarded by many due to the unusual texture and lack of taste, and while it seems pretty bland in a raw state it absorbs flavours very well and has a wide variety of uses.

Bananas

The humble banana is a classic choice and a real crowd favourite that can make a great addition to breakfast, be a key ingredient in baking or slot nicely into the back pocket for a mid ride snack. I would consider them to be the number one cycling food, an excellent source of potassium and loaded with vitamin B6 while providing up to 30g of carbohydrates. They help to aid digestion, replenish the body with lost electrolytes during physical activity and top up energy stores, with the best part of all being that they even come in their own environmentally friendly packaging. I personally love to use them as the main ingredient in pancakes, mash them up and stir into my morning porridge to add sweetness and a few extra carbs, or a great tip I learnt from a fellow banana enthusiast is to fry them in coconut oil (and perhaps a little cinnamon) to really bring them to life. It goes without saying but you can’t beat banana bread either, especially for the ultimate mid ride snack.

Cauliflower 

Now I will admit, cauliflower is a slightly odd choice for this list and isn’t the first vegetable most people gravitate towards while doing their grocery shopping, but it’s been becoming quite the trendy option in recent years. It isn’t exactly a commonly promoted vegetable in terms of its benefits and uses, but it’s considered to have a nutrient rich content with high fibre levels as well as potassium, vitamins B, C and strong concentrations of antioxidants. The cruciferous family, to which the cauliflower along with the likes of broccoli and kale belong, all have a particularly high abundance of nutrients even compared with other vegetables, but in fairness all vegetables are good vegetables when it comes to packing in the vitamins and minerals. The range of uses for cauliflower are enormous; it is so incredibly versatile, a great low carb option and has only 25 calories per cup. It can simply be cut into florets before being steamed or roasted and eaten by itself or incorporated into dishes such as curry and soup. It also makes for a fabulous grain substitute when blitzed into a ‘rice’, and from this form can be made into many different meals such as fried rice, a cauliflower pizza crust, fritters, mashed cauliflower, hummus and even bagels. When I’ve had a light training day and I’m not feeling in need of quite so many carbs, I’ll often opt for a big bowl of cauli fried rice full of veges and topped with tofu.

Oats

Oats are industry standard when it comes to cycling and a very popular choice for creating a filling and satisfying breakfast. They have a high carbohydrate rating and are an excellent source of both fibre and protein also. They are low on the glycemic index, meaning that the body will digest them slowly creating a regular and constant release of energy. A day doesn’t pass where I don’t have some form of oats incorporated into my day; nine times out of ten being a hearty bowl of porridge paired with a quality coffee in the morning. In fact, the last time I didn’t have porridge at all during a day was four weeks ago in hospital after I broke my collarbone for the second time in two months, but that’s a story for another time. Porridge can be prepared in many different ways from cooked to soaked or even baked, and can be livened up with endless flavour combinations and toppings both savoury and sweet. Having a mixture of different foods incorporated into your porridge such as peanut butter, a variety of nuts/ seeds and a fruit or vegetable component can tick many nutrient boxes, and the addition of protein as well as fats will increase the sustenance and satisfaction levels. I am a big fan of cooking mixed berries into my oats for flavour and sweetness, or adding grated courgette to increase the volume without many extra calories. A couple teaspoons of cacao powder can create a rich, chocolatey porridge, and even adding a beaten egg into cooking oats is perfect for producing a creamy texture while getting in a little extra protein. 

Peanut butter 

There isn’t a day that passes where I don’t have at least one generous serving of peanut butter, or any nut butter for that matter. Although rather calorie dense and probably not the best to eat straight from the jar (like I often do), nut butters are a fantastic source of protein and healthy fats which mean they are satiating and satisfying, can be spread on just about anything (probably debatable), and when paired with carbs can create a balanced meal to fuel endurance activities and make one feel fuller for longer. I always, without fail, have peanut butter on my porridge in the mornings. I just can’t bring myself to not swirl it on there, and I really feel as if it completes the breakfast from both a taste and a satisfaction perspective.

Nuts/Seeds 

Different nuts and seeds offer an array of nutrients such as protein, healthy fats, fibres, vitamins and minerals, so I like to have many types on hand to mix together and gain all the benefits that each offer. They can be easily incorporated into the diet through sprinkling them onto salads or porridge, using them in smoothies or homemade muesli/ granola. I’m also a big fan of using them in baking, you can’t beat a tasty seed bread! Not only do they all offer slightly varying nutritional values, but they add a lovely texture and flavour to meals. Although they do provide significant benefits, they are also quite energy dense so it’s good to be wary of the calorie intake by consuming too many! My favourite seeds would have to be chia, pumpkin and sunflower, along with almonds, pistachios and cashew nuts. Chia seeds are particularly great as not only do they provide substantial amounts of omega 3 fatty acids, fibre and essential minerals, they are very easy to add into everyday eating. The reason I like them is that they have the ability to absorb up to 12 times their volume, so can be formed into a gel with water or milk which can then be used as an egg replacement or simply eaten by themselves as a pudding style dish. I really like to use chia seeds as part of my breakfast, whether it be mixed in with oats or just by themselves along with berries, yoghurt and other condiments such as maple syrup to give flavour.

Baking

Okay, so this final item isn’t exactly a sole food as such, but rather a category which I regularly dive into whether it be through my own creations or by sampling the fine delicacies on offer at the cafe. I really enjoy a solid piece of baking – cake, slice or muffin, I’m open to anything and will not think twice about indulging if I feel I deserve a treat or require a little morale booster. While at home, Sunday is bunch ride day where I love nothing more than to spin for a couple hours with other local riders before the standard cafe stop for some yarns, a coffee and obviously a selected treat from the baking cabinet. I don’t think there are too many nutritional benefits that I can rattle off here, but you can’t put a price on mental health and keeping a little balance in the diet. Compared to New Zealand stores, it’s quite difficult to find decent baked goods in Spain other than pastries and bread, so I certainly make up for lost time when at home!

I think that’s enough from me now, but honorable mentions go to kumara (or sweet potato), cacao nibs, jackfruit, chickpea flour and quinoa which I suggest you all give a try if you haven’t already! Unfortunately, I have to tone back the food experimenting and variety when I returned to Girona in mid-July, where ingredients are just a little more difficult to source. I’m in Boulder at the moment for a couple weeks of altitude training, with my next race being Colorado Classic from the 22-25th of August.

I will be back in September with another update, but until then you can find me on Instagram @elllaharrris.

Life as a pro cyclist is sometimes excitingly unpredictable.

Life as a pro cyclist is sometimes excitingly unpredictable.
I was called up to race a 3 day stage race in Luxembourg where I was pleased to feel back to my usual self again, after a bit of illness, and at the front of the race.
Expecting to fly home that evening as we usually do after races, I was told I’d be racing in Switzerland the following week. So I stayed and trained in beautiful Switzerland, which is definitely one of my favourite places; awesome mountains, crystal clear lakes, forests, clean streets and basically everything in order.
After the Swiss race, I was looking at flights home but one of my teammates crashed in the previous race so I was quickly put on the start list for a 5 day stage race in the Basque country – Emakumeen Bira – part of the Women’s World Tour series.
This was a great race where I was fighting against some of the World’s best riders for the QOM jersey and I also got the opportunity to lead the team which was a great experience as I’ve never been the team leader on the radio before so it made me extra alert and wanting to guide my teammates through the race, therefore feeling and working well as a unit.
Again, hopefully you can see a pattern occurring here… I expected to be flying home, but we flew straight to Switzerland that evening after the race, arrived in the early hours of the morning and then raced that morning! Haha! Pretty full on, but it was a good race to compete in as our title sponsors were there watching so we wanted to put on a good show! Which we did as Bigla got a 1-2!
Following this race we headed to one of the teams partners-Andermatt- which is a ski resort 2000m high in the Swiss Alps, for a team photoshoot. ‘Cuuuuttt’ pause the photoshoot, cue; adorable puppy labrador photobombing the scene. I couldn’t resist but the pause the posing and pet the puppy instead! Can you tell I’m a dog lover!? Hehe, cute.

Our short stay in Andermatt was a very enjoyable experience; we stayed in huge luxury apartments, ate yummy food, relaxed in the wonderful spa area and of course got to ride in the overwhelmingly beautiful snow capped mountains! Pretty cool team partner to have!!
The next morning I went for a useful visit to the Kross Clinic in Basel, who are also one of our sponsors, as I’d been experiencing some knee issues. The physio actually discovered I have one leg longer than the other! Consequently causing my upper back to be tight, which could be causing the knee issue. I find it really interesting the way the human body works, and how everything is interlinked. The physio did some major cracking on my back and neck which was a little scary when he suddenly twisted my body around as I thought I would snap! But I knew I was in safe hands-literally. And, who doesn’t love a good back crack!!?
Going back to the beginning of this blog where I’d planned to be away for a 3 day race, I ended up travelling to France after the Kross clinic for another few races including a stage race at the end-which I’ll talk about in my next blog.
So, as you can see from my personal  example, life as a pro racer is sometimes unpredictable and you don’t know exactly when and where in the world you’ll be throughout the racing calendar.
It’s quite exciting going away with a small suitcase for 3 days… but actually living out of it for over a month! Well, I say exciting, but having a larger suitcase would’ve made life a bit easier 😅
Stage 2 of 2019 Festival Elsy Jacobs, a 111.1 km road race starting and finishing in Garnich, Luxembourg on May 12, 2019. Photo by Balint Hamvas/velofocus.com
In my next blog I’m going to talk about the final race of my block away and how it started great, but ended with a break.
Thanks for reading, Sophie Wright.

Does it all make sense?

Most of these blogs try to tell you how great it is to be a professional bike rider. How fun it is to be on the road for most of the year. How much we like the feeling of speed and freedom while riding our bike. On how much all this can inspire everyone of you to get on a bike even if it is only for riding to the bakery.

While all this isn’t untrue, there are days where all this is untrue.

The cycling world lost yet another of his members this week, Bjorg Lambrecht. Cycling lost a bright star, his family and friends lost a beloved kid. Riding away, doing what he loved most, doesn’t make it any easier to accept. Quotes out of books are only nice when they don’t come along with dramatic consequences.

I didn’t know Bjorg. I only knew him like most of you reading this blog. I saw him on TV. He looked funny. He was tiny and had a funny way riding his bike. He was also impressive on the climbs. I remember asking myself who that kid was that just finished 4th on the mur, googling his name and telling myself that he might potentially be able to win this race in the future.

He won’t.

And it is on days like Monday, that everything you are doing day in day out, on and off the bike becomes utterly meaningless. Of course misfortune can happen to everyone, everywhere, but very clearly riding your bike doesn’t seem like a good option if you want to keep the risks at a lowest.

It certainly is all fun until it goes wrong.

They say crashing is part of the job, I say fuck them, it isn’t, it’s again just another quote out of the book which is funny as long as you don’t finish in hospital or worse. If you ever crashed hard on the bike you know it will follow you if not forever, for a very long time. You will never see or analyse situations the same way again. Ironically and out of experience you don’t even need to be affected personally by a crash the see your future reactions change. Seeing, hearing, feeling others pain is mostly enough to make you feel unsafe for a couple of rides.

But what I have come to realize over the past few years, is that, of course, crashing yourself hurts, but the uncertainty your family and friends are experiencing while waiting for news, is probably more painful and nerve-racking then any possible personal physical pain you could be in yourself.  We might be alone on our bike, but we aren’t the only one affected by how our journey goes. I don’t know a lot of jobs where at the end of your day you send messages to everyone to let them know you are fine and alive. That’s what I do after every race and I probably should start doing the same after every training ride, considering the amount of dangerous, frustrated and unconscious car drivers I have to share the road with every day.

2019 has been a rubbish year until know. I have seen and experienced way too much big crashes, crashes that needed to get the race neutralised because the race organizer were running out of ambulances. Two times this happened in races that weren’t broadcasted live. And twice the tweeter feed ended with #bigcrash #neutralization and then radio silence.

Imagine sitting at home trying to find out what happened but not having any news for several hours? I remember very clearly talking to Lizzie during the 45’ neutralization that day. We both hoped the race organisation would give as much info as possible so that people at home don’t have to worry or the opposite way around could worry and try to contact someone at the race. They didn’t. I wish they would understand that not knowing is worse then knowing and being able to react.

On days like Monday I ask myself if the worrying is all worth it, if it is fair towards my besties to make them feel like that every weekend just because I decided at one point the best thing I could do with my life was to race my bike as fast as possible no matter the conditions.

On days like Monday you realize how lucky you have been until now and that probably the smartest thing to do would just be to wave goodbye and get an office job.

But on days like Tuesday you sit on your bike again. Your mind might be running but your legs are turning, maybe a little bit slower and with less enthusiasm, but you are on your bike, moving forward.  The world keeps turning with one star more on its sky. And even if every cyclist had the same thoughts then I had, none of us finally decided to sign for the office job. I guess we all love cycling too much and are all really good at convincing ourselves that everything will be alright. But also on the other hand leaving and just ignoring existing problems won’t take them away for those who decided to stay. Maybe the only way of improving things and to show respect to those that left us too early is to, while in the system, try to change the system.

Rider security should be the highest priority for everyone. Of course we are talking about security during the race. How safe are the laps actually we are racing on? Does it really need to be longer, fast, more spectacular? How trustful are the cars, motorbikes riding along us during the race? Are they experienced enough or is it their first time? Sometimes I do seriously ask myself the question. I wish the race jury would put more importance checking all those kind of things then checking my sock heights.

We are talking also about communication between the riders. During the recent BeneTour I was literally shocked about how many riders actually don’t notify dangerous points on the lap. I don’t ask you to open up gaps for me in the final but showing poteholes, upcoming narrowings or stranded bottles won’t take you any energy or UCI points away, but it might just save someone’s life! It should just be an automatic behavior. Very obviously it isn’t, which is pretty sad and disrespectful.

Rider security doesn’t stop once we crossed the finish line. Rider’s health in general is also part of the game. Why not extend the use of the biological passport? Why should it only help to find out if someone is cheating or not? Can’t we also use it to see if an athlete is putting its health in danger in a different way then by taking drugs? Weight variations or low bone density, especially for female athletes, should be monitored on a regular basic. They should sometimes be reason enough to take an athlete out of the competition system and most important offer him help.

On days like today, I can only hope that Monday’s tragic event will be at least an eye-opener to everyone. We might not have the most dangerous job in the world but it also isn’t the safest neither.

But we can help make it a bit safer by doing our part of the job and we can only cross fingers that fortune will do the rest.

I would like to express, and I think I can talk for everyone in the women peloton, my sincere condolences to Bjorg’s family, friends, team, as well as to everyone that knew and loved him.

Christine Majerus