Team Work Makes the Dream Work

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Recently, four of our CC London girls took the long trip from London to Diss in Norfolk to compete in the Diss CC Road Race. A flat, fast Road Race on a small technical course. Knowing they had a strong team for the event, and wanting to get result, they discussed tactics and came up with a plan to hopefully ensure that they didn’t work against each other and all come out with the result they were looking for. After the race each one wrote a race report of their own personal experience of the race. It makes really interesting reading what each one wanted out of the race and how they went about achieving their goal.  Even with one Road Races rarely go exactly to plan, but without one they definitely wont and you can waste a lot of energy you don’t need to to finish at the back of the bunch.

And the fascinating thing about these stories are that nearly all these girls are in only their second season of racing. And one is in her first. Hopefully it will encourage more of you women or men to have a go, which if it is what you would like to do, you definitely should.

Here are their reports of the day.

Viv Tomlin

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So I have done a few road races in my short 2 seasons of racing, but never really felt the confidence in my ability to really want to give it my best shot! Let’s say I always wanted to give it my best shot, but always doubted that I would be anywhere near to achieving the goals in mind. With a little more race experience in my head and a bit more training in my legs I was quite excited about this one.
Of course, the Sunday morning nerves soon kicked in and a few too many toilet visits to get settled. Luckily the women race was a reasonable 2pm start (although the weather later would soon change the word reasonable!!)
We all set off from London – Emma kindly collecting myself, Gina and Fran, and then we took to the bleak motorways up to Norfolk, chatting about our race plans whilst eating some of my homemade peanut butter balls (recipe to follow)!!
Gina was the instigator of the ‘race plan’, a really good team idea. One we have probably tried in the past but as she said it is always good to have a plan, it may not go according to the plan but it is good to have one! (I have to admit I was not that confident even then in my ability to be able to execute the plan and work as a team…….) So there we sat discussing our team tactics and our desired outcome…..that made the journey go quick!! Arriving in time to assess the circuit – which was now sliced in half due to temporary traffic lights being installed – so 10 laps it was to be that day! We also cheered on the boys as they finished off their race. Tom Elwood getting a tidy 4th place and his comment was – it is just headwind and wind everywhere!!!
So the time comes for us to set off – after a bit more faffing and a few more toilet visits!!!! As soon as we turned out of HQ the heavens opened. It really did rain LOTS!! That black cloud that had been looming really did let it all out. The flag went down and we were in the race, a little acceleration but it was just so wet everyone was slightly cautious , corners – eeeeeek very slowly we go round! I literally could not see for the first few laps so no clever moves going on!!
We start to execute the plan – that is to get Fran/Gina into a break, myself and Emma to hold the bunch back. I go on the first attack, stringing people out, then Fran attacked and then Gina. I try again up the finishing straight, just rode really hard up the slight incline to get them working. Then we all settled back together. There was just 18 started, so a relatively small field for a road race. The bunch seemed to stick, Fran and Gina tried to get away, and myself and Emma block but they took a few stragglers and so the break did not stick and to be fair the chasers put on a good strong effort. So after a few attempts I sat back and suggested this was going to be a bit harder than we thought. Some people were of course shy of going on the front and so there was lot of weaving around and the pace slowed a lot as people shied off doing any work towing us along. At this point Emma just kicked off and accelerated and before long had a huge gap and a solo break. She stormed it . It took a few minutes for the others to realise and then the chase started, she was away for nearly a lap before we got back together and it was a solid chase. Then we settled into the riding together again rhythm. We had about 2 laps to go and the sun was now shining !!!!!
I think it was just about at this point that Fran went for it….a solid attack – and a solid break away. Catherine Coley from VC Londres, followed, but no one had the chase left in their legs and between myself, Gina and Emma we got at the front and annoyed everyone by just keeping the pace just too slow for anyone to catch them. A solo rider had gone on the chase but got stuck in no man land ( with that headwind that must have been no fun) – and soon we swept her up! It worked!! The Plan finally worked. The break got away……and so we are in the final lap.
As we came up to the last corner, I got nervous for the first time in a Road Race I had felt confident, raced as part of my team, worked really hard, felt good (well type 2 good) and here I was ready to be in with a chance in the sprint!! I was not sure how much my legs had left. We hit the bend and then it splintered, I was perhaps slightly too hesitant on the corner, but I powered up the incline, and at about 200 hit the gears and assumed the sprint position, I just had to give it all I had . Where is the finish – just let me see it, is all I could think…. And then I was passing a couple of people and there it was – 5th place nearly up for grabs. The HSS girl saw me coming and swerved slightly, wooooah, I was not about to get involved in a clash of wheels so I just eased nicely into 6th place. I did it, and more importantly WE did it. Our teamie Fran won the race – won the break!! Gina got a nice 7th and Emma – 9th
I really can’t tell you how much this has improved my confidence in my ability and in about racing and just how awesome it is working with some great teamies. So the rain didn’t stop play either……it did actually make it more fun and it is a story to tell.

Gina Heiss

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I did not think about goals for Diss before Saturday night, until chatting to Alicia. We had a look at the start list and she assessed the field as ‘not very strong’ and people would be scared of a break. She said we should team up with someone one lady that was the only Cat1 one and without team mates to get a break going. So this was the rough plan and the my idea was to develop a strategy with the team in the car on the way up.
We got chatting and Fran was up for it (she really wanted to win!), Emma and Viv warmed to the idea to work as a team and do some blocking to help the break get away.
We made this rough game plan (Liz was providing input via text, thanks Liz!) talking through scenarios and roles and we wanted some input on the course from the guys racing in the morning. It sounded easy enough in theory.

When we got there we shared our plan to Watto and of cause he had some ideas to enhance it! He suggested to do a few ‘fake breaks’ to make them work and cause some confusion. We also talked about a few points where it would be good to attack and how far into the race. Catherine from VC seemed open to the idea to work with us when we spoke to her before the race too.

I felt excited about the plan and couldn’t wait to execute it.

We huddled up race HQ for the race briefing and rolled out to the start. And as we hit the course the skies opened and it was pouring down with rain. The first few laps felt chaotic as it was very hard to see and everyone was trying to get good positioning. I wasn’t drifting around at the beginning and trying understand riders (read the race as they say). Viv did a small attack at the beginning of lap 2 and some youngster immediately started to panic and encourage everyone to chase her down. Perfect!
I felt strong and my legs didn’t seem tired. Once the rain stopped (i think it was lap 3) the game was on. We were aiming to try our first attack on lap 4 and Fran and I got into position to go for it on the slight incline just after a tight turn. Fran went for it and I managed to follow, so did 2 others. We did a pace line for about 1km but got caught just before the end of the lap. It was disappointing but there were 7 more laps to try again. This was followed by a few uneventful laps with the field lined up behind each other with no-one wanting to do any work at the front. Incredibly frustrating! A few small attacks attempts here and there but nothing was sticking. At some point Emma was so bored by the slow pace that she went for it and held the break for a full lap, all by herself. Very impressive effort and courage by Emma in her first ever road race!
The lap after we caught her i though it was my turn toI launched an attack for a break at the same spot as we tried before, I started sprinting and Fran got on my wheel but something made me think that it was not going to stick and I slowed down. At that moment I realised I was not really believing in myself that day (If I had been honest to myself I never really thought I could win, but somehow thought by saying it it might be possible) . Eventually Fran got in a break with the girl we approached before the race. I was gutted to have missed it and made one last attempt to get away. When that didn’t stick I settled to making sure that the pack was not going to catch Fran. Blocking turned out to be more active than I thoughtMy it would (I have never actually blocked in a road race before). It required getting back to the front over and over to slow down the field. Obviously they don’t just let you do that and stay behind you 🙂. Anyway that was my role for the rest of the race…
When we got around the corner on the last lap I wasn’t ready for the sprint and focus on giving it my all (i am nor really confident in my sprint anyway). I started way too late and ended up 7th, just behind Viv and shortly followed by Emma.
I was nevertheless very happy with the race, because CCL won! Thanks Viv, Emma and Fran for being up for a race strategy and executing it so well! Cant wait for the next one…

What I learned:
1. Blocking is not a passive thing. We had to actively go back to the front many times over and over and subtly slow down without making it too obvious.
2. Set more realistic goals for myself, try a lot more and learn
3. I don’t think that the Cat1 racer we ask to help with the break was really in and didn’t really help getting away. So it’s better to work with teamies and don’t rely on others if possible.

Emma Bentley

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From the drop of the flag, the race kicked off at what felt like a pretty rapid pace for a 44-miler (definitely a sign of my lack of experience). At the same time, the heavens opened with the most extreme rain, as though the clouds were conspiring to make it as difficult as possible for us to race hard. If only Oakley did teeny windscreen wipers… On top of that, about 100m of road had flooded with manure-y field water – it’s really hard to ride fast whilst keeping your mouth closed!
I had very little faith in my old brakes on my old carbon rims and slick tubs, so I took it easy at the back for the first few laps to take my time on the corners. During this time, there were a number of attacks, all of which were short lived in the wind, including a pre-planned attempt from Gina and Fran in the 4th lap and a cracking burst from Viv.
When it became apparent that no one was getting away for a while, it felt like the bunch got way too relaxed and at one point the pace dropped to just over 16mph. This soon got pretty boring.
Having spent most of my few crits wondering what would happen if I tried something, I decided to have a crack at a solo break to drive the pace up a bit, see how long I could stay away and hopefully learn what my legs could handle for future races. There was one sharp left handed leading up a hill to the finish so I got to the front for that and attempted to smash it up the hill with 3 laps to go. I soon got about a 12sec gap (I think everyone knew it was a fool’s errand so let me go) and stayed away for the rest of the lap, getting caught going up the same hill.
About half a lap after regrouping, Fran took the opportunity with Catherine Coley from VCL, shortly followed by another chaser. Viv, Gina and I were perfectly positioned to block any chasers and for a while managed to control the bunch before anybody twigged that we weren’t working! The third rider never made contact and fell back into the group, with Fran and Catherine quickly getting over 30 seconds and staying away for the last lap and a half. By the sounds of it, Fran finished like a pro, forcing Catherine to lead her out and then powering past with her dominating sprint. Only wished we could have seen it!
In the meantime, the bunch were manoeuvring for the final corner and ended up pretty spread going up the final hill. Viv, Gina and I finished 6th, 7th and 9th respectively and promptly celebrated the team win!
For my first road race, that was extremely fun. Hats off to Gina for pushing a team strategy in the car – it paid off. It was a brilliant feeling to work together and I can’t wait to do more of that as part of CC London. Go Team!

Fran Cutts

Fran Win

After a negative Bovingdon crit on Wednesday, I was looking forward to the road race on Sunday. I rode this race last year but had a disappointing finish dropping my chain in the sprint. It was a long flat circuit last year with a few short uphill sections and I felt this year that with more confidence and experience I stood a chance at doing well. My plan for Sunday was to get away, stay away and ultimately win. The news that the circuit had to be cut in half on Saturday night dampened my plans slightly. I wouldn’t know the course and I thought a shorter circuit with more corners and less long stretches of road would make it harder to get away. Despite that, I was still very excited to doing a road race which I have always enjoyed more and wanted to give it my best shot.

Emma had offered us all lifts to drive us there and very kindly did the rounds on Sunday morning picking us all up. Once we were all in the car Gina asked us what our goals were for the day. We established that both Gina and I wanted to be in a winning move, Viv wanted to be in the action and Emma wanted to experience her first road race to the full! We started to chat about team tactics and how we could get away and stay away. It was really exciting to put a plan in place for Gina and I to attack whilst Viv and Emma would block. With input from Alicia and Liz, we decided that with other big team series and national races on the same day the field for this race wasn’t too ‘strong’. If we managed to get away, the chances of an inexperienced bunch forming an organised chase quickly to catch us was lower. We decided that we would let Catherine from VCL in on our plan and ask if she wanted to come with us.

We got to HQ in time to see the finish of the men’s race, unfortunately Watto hadn’t finished but Tom was still racing and looking strong at the front with the last few laps still left. Once out of the car we assessed the weather conditions – it wasn’t that warm, it was very windy and a huge dark cloud told us there was a definite chance of rain. Watto gave us an overview of the course – the road was nice, corners were nice and flowing and yes it was very windy. It was going to be hard to get away. We watched the men’s finish where Tom came 4th. His overview of the corners was slightly different saying they weren’t ‘raceable’ and a bit gravely. The wind was mentioned again, nothing in the men’s race had managed to stay away. We took everything in and headed back to HQ to sign on and get ready.

We lined up at HQ all a little bit nervous about the rain that was bound to come, had our briefing then we were off under the neutral flag to the course. The flag was pulled in and we were racing. Not soon after the start the rain came down heavy, nothing much happened whilst it was raining as people tried to stay safe. I could hardly see more than 2 riders in front of me! Eventually the rain died down and coming up to the finish Viv put in her first attack of many on the slight uphill. It was a strong first attack and the bunch chased hard to get her back, I sat in not helping and watching to see who was moving up. After this, the stronger riders made their way to the front to control the race, and it was these faces that we would continue to see.

There was a lot of negativity at the front of the bunch with many riders refusing to roll through and take a turn. I tried to use this to my advantage when making attacks; waiting for someone to peel off the front with no one willing to come through, the pace would drop and I would click up the gears pull out to the side from the middle of the bunch and power away. Gina and I managed to get away a few times with Viv and Emma blocking. But the riders who had joined us were clearly not as strong and couldn’t keep up the pace when taking turns. These few attempts were quickly brought back and the negative refusal to roll through and dropping pace kept on. A few attacks were put in but nothing was sticking. On the slight uphill to the finish Emma decided to attack and she gave it some welly. The bunch was definitely starting to tire now and it was taking more time to bring people back. One of the NEG motorbike then moved up to be with Emma and the commissaire was giving us splits of the time gap; 6seconds, 9 seconds, 10… 11. This gave the bunch a kick and Emma was brought back after a very impressive lap out on her own, amazing for her first road race!

With 2 laps to go I was still feeling strong and still wanted to get away. A few more attacks from Viv and Gina kept the bunch working hard and I decided that I would try again on another slight uphill that then went straight into an exposed windy road. We came down a hill, took a sweeping left hand corner and came onto the uphill section. I moved to the outside of the bunch, clicked up the gears, moved out and got out of the saddle to sprint away. This was the one I really wanted to make stick and I kept going over the top settling back down into the saddle and pushing through. I looked back behind me to see the damage and saw that Catherine from VCL was on my wheel; initially I thought that this was also the whole bunch strung out behind her, but I moved out for a closer look and saw it was just her. Wow this was it! We had got away. The gap I saw was enough motivation for me to then concentrate on powering through and getting into a rhythm to stay away. A few times I moved across and flicked my elbow for Catherine to come through and she didn’t. I could hear her breathing heavily, we both were. This was hard work. But I knew that if we were going to stay away I was going to have to take the lions share and take what respite I could when she did come through.

With 1 lap to go my calves started to cramp and I worried I wouldn’t be able to keep it up, I’ve never experienced cramp before on the bike and the pain was shocking. The pace slowed and it was at this point that Catherine came through to take a turn. My brain kicked in and I took a gel, drank some water and hoped that that would be enough energy for my calves to stop screaming. After a minute the gel kicked in and my legs felt back to normal again. The NEG motorbike then came up beside us to say we had about 30 secs on the bunch and that he was going to be looking after us now. I think at that point I realised we weren’t going to get caught and I could start to think about the sprint. I was working hard but my legs still felt good after recovering from the cramp. I had confidence in my sprint and from the way that Catherine was breathing I was sure that I was less tired than she was. With no team mates she had been chasing everything all day, whilst I had relied on the other girls to tire everyone out and chase people down.

I knew that I was going to be on the front coming to the finish, there was no way that Catherine would lead me out. We made it to the last corner, and I took it steady making sure to get round and compose myself for the sprint. We got on the finish straight and tactics started to come out. At 500m we could see the finish, Catherine was on my wheel and even though I knew I could out sprint her, I didn’t want to start sprinting with her on my wheel giving her a chance to come around me. At 200m I slowed slightly and moved around to make her come off my wheel and out. Once I could see her coming round, I was out of the saddle and sprinting for the win. I crossed the line first and was filled with happiness. Not only had I just won, but everyone came top 10! Our team plan had worked and the race had been animated by us working hard for it. We rolled back to HQ ecstatic, I listened to the girls tell me how they had blocked once we had got away and how the bunch hadn’t realised straight away what was happening. They did a fantastic job that ensured we were able to get and stay away. Team work makes the dream work.

Diss Rain

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