5,4,3,2,1...as the commissionaire counted down there was one thing on my mind, get off the start ramp and through the first technical few hundred metres without any problems, but that kind of sums up my season.
I received the first email about selection in August while I was in Spain. That morning I was talking to one of my teammates (@harrisonwood888 on Instagram!) about selection, it was a day spent refreshing the emails because of this. When it landed in my inbox I was afraid to open the attachment, I re-read it three of four times and it confirmed I’d made the long-list, the first step.
The next step was to ‘get on the plane to Austria’. At La Philippe Gilbert road race in Liege I spoke to Stuart, the junior coach, and he asked if I’d mind just doing the TT, obviously I didn’t, this was all hypothetical as the selection was still to be made. The all-important part came when I was at school. I was told the decision would come in the next few days so I was constantly checking my emails, I’d just come out of lesson to afternoon break, updated my emails and it was there. There was an email with an attachment which tells you whether you’re in or not. I was physically shaking as I opened the attachment, read it over and over before walking out of the room and ringing my parents and messaging James and Alex (my coaches). I was ‘on the plane to Austria’ now I just needed to get a result.
As our selection confirmation came pretty late I’d already been training for the TT. To be 100% honest, my training was like a rollercoaster. There were days I was feeling amazing, there were days I physically couldn’t finish the session. They were all TT based sessions on the TT bike (obviously) however there were points my body couldn’t handle it. There was a session I remember looking at my Garmin, I was 22.5-miles away from home, I’d just failed a 40-minute interval, I’d done the full 40-mins but about 50-watts down. I pulled off the road, got my phone out and rang James, I was a week and a half-out from world champs, absolutely broken after not completing my intervals! It was in these weeks building up that James and Alex were both coaches councillors where they guided me through the highs and lows (and a small illness scare the week before) to get me to Austria in peak physical fitness.
The journey started Thursday night where I stayed in a Premier Inn at Manchester Airport. A 5am start on Friday, I met Monica, the GB Women’s Junior Coach at the airport and we flew out to Munich airport before driving an hour and half to Innsbruck. The journey was an experience in itself as we ended up with a car that was nicknamed ‘the ambulance’ but that’s a blog for another day. I was the first rider to arrive at the hotel, and therefore the first rider to wear the new GB kit out on the road. I headed straight out for a ride with Alan Murchison (@performance.chef), who was the team chef, and an all-round great guy. We went exploring, just climbing the most beautiful of roads up and up past ski-resorts, we found a 28% climb; simply, it was beautiful.
The days leading up-to the TT were pretty standard. By standard I mean we recced the TT course, did our activation rides etc. What wasn’t standard was riding past the Sunweb Team, having a fully closed off last 2km lined with barriers, and a radio on for our training rides. To add to the abnormal stuff, on the training rides I was the only rider who hadn’t won a rainbow jersey, and on Sunday night we had two of the newly crowned Canyon-Sram World TTT Champions at the dinner table. I broke all cycling rules by shaving my legs the night before the race, obviously using all the VeloSkin goodness…free watts!
Considering it was The World Champs, the biggest race of the year, it weirdly felt like a normal race until I started warming up. An early-ish start trying to force down as much porridge as possible and checking the kit bag five times before leaving. The only difference was, it was a GB skinsuit in my bag, and I had a UCI Rider Accreditation around my neck.
When we got there, the mechanics already had everything set-up, our bikes had already been checked in the jig. Literally all we had to do was get changed and warm up. The first of three problems on race day was the skinsuit. I’d chosen a size 2 skinsuit in the hope it’d be faster, the only issue was, whenever I stood up it would unzip, not something I’d realised in the hotel room. Luckily, I had a size 3 in my bag, the times had been meticulously planned and I didn’t take into account a skinsuit change! The second issue was my Garmin, typically, it didn’t turn on. A fresh 520 was produced and I set about pairing my power meter, setting my screens etc, just as everything was ready on the new Garmin, mine booted up and could be used. Typical. Off the turbo, radio into the back of the skinsuit and a quick check. It was time to go to the start house.
The start house was sponsored by Tacx, so after making use of the toilet facilities, I had the option to jump on the rollers, I went for the wooden chair and sat there having some time to myself, I went through the course in my head. Sitting in this study period at school writing this blog I could still probably talk you through the course. When the guy two in front of me went off, I moved to the wooden bench next to the start ramp, desperate to avoid the same problem as the day before (Google Charlie Tanfield if you’re wondering, sorry Charlie). Up to the start ramp, onto my bike with a minute to go, one last radio check and it was time to go. Just me and the bike for 28km (well plus Keith Lambert in my ear but apart from that…
I navigated the first few hundred technical metres without any issues and got onto the open roads that suited me. Constant instructions in my ear, ‘move left it’s a shorter route’…’wide right to take the corner at speed’… The first 10km I felt like I was on my knees, I struggled big time and remember thinking ‘I can’t climb off, this is worlds!’ The third issue of the day was my power-meter, it was reading abnormally low, which had managed to get to my head, I was on my limit and apparently pushing 250-watts, once I’d put this out of my head and accepted it was broken, I rode on feel and started to get better. Into the time-check Keith said he wouldn’t give me my split if it wasn’t going well. It took a good minute for that split to come through my radio! Once I had the split I was 40-seconds up and, although in a world of pain, I felt strong.
In the last 10km, I remember thinking of the Nuns Corner Chain gang, my local group who have brought me on from when I was 15, all of those ‘character building’ rides I’d been on, I remember thinking about school, my mates told me they would be watching and it was little things like that which drove me on. A little altercation with the Belarusian on the last climb, he started 90-seconds ahead, and once I caught him, he came back past me...I got the order in my ear to keep to my own pace and came back past him after choosing the correct line around the roundabout. The last 2km was the longest of my life. I was in pieces. 2km is a long time when you’re on the limit. The 1km to go flag was hellish and the last 400m you could see the finish line, but it seemed to take forever. After dying a million deaths, I was done.
‘Catch me’ were the first words I spoke. These were aimed to Phil, one of the BC carers who was there to look after us riders post-race. I collapsed onto the floor, was told to wipe my face, clearly I didn’t do it quick enough as the picture of me as a mess still lives! I took a minute or so by myself, downed the Fanta, and turned to give my parents a hug. A bit emotional to say the least.
The world champs hot-seat, the coolest place I’ve ever sat? Probably. Scratch that… absolutely. Sitting in the chair with Dura-Ace shifters as arms, I knew to savour the moment because it was only a matter of time before I was knocked off. We had a TV we could watch the footage while on the podium, so we knew the race situation. There were a few people I picked out and waved at in the crowd, and I generally just enjoyed life sitting there, I should’ve been in school after all! Eventually I was knocked off my podium, I took one last look and then made my way back to my bike.
So back onto my P2, it was time to go back to get changed. But where do you go and get changed after Worlds? The Team Sky bus of course. I dived into one of the luxurious seats, put my feet up (there’s a button for that when you ride with Sky!) and watched the live Eurosport coverage of the race. We watched Remco absolutely destroy the race, and when the results came in, I finished 8th. 8th at my first worlds, not bad, not great. Not the best result in the world, literally, but the best race to end my years as a junior. Plus, my 8th place meant I got enough points to be a 1st cat!
Thanks to everyone that helped me this year, you have all helped in your own little way to get me into a position where I could compete for the rainbow stripes, and for one tiny moment, I was on top of the world. Special thanks to VeloSkin. I applied to be an ambassador back in December 2017 on a whim, and they’ve been really helpful since. Their stuff really is decent; riding TT’s on the rivet requires assistance when aiming for comfort and they certainly help with that, not to mention the free watts, thanks guys!