In the midst of National Series racing, GCSE exams and general life, I get a message; “Would you like to join our Junior Team?” Wow! Being totally honest I hadn’t even thought about it. I hadn’t had much time to think about anything … this was a curveball!
I felt flattered; I had been approached as I was identified as a good rider and it was nice to be wanted. However, it came with pressure, so I needed to take my time and think about what mattered. I had to think about the future, decide what mattered and make decisions.
Priority Number 1 was to concentrate on Exams and Races and then find amongst this some space and time to think about what my next two years would bring. Thinking about junior racing was not something that had honestly crossed my mind. We are encouraged increasingly to live in the moment to deal what is in front us and not worry too much about the future. I often relate this to the days when I played Rugby. Our coaches would always talk to us about playing ‘head’s up rugby’, this was dealing with what was in front of us, reacting to the ever changing dynamic of the game, being flexible and able to change moves and plans and also to be able to play in many different positions. To have strong all round skills to be either a scrum half or a prop forward!
This learning has been valuable in bike racing, the ever changing peloton, the attacks, the lulls, all mean you have to be dynamic in your decision making. This for me was probably the most relevant in the Tour of Scotland. When racing as a team, trying to win, defend and then reclaim the yellow jersey. It was certainly ‘head’s up cycling’. I sort of imagined that this was what junior racing was going to be like. Honestly; what I hoped it would look like, was the team lined out, all in matching kits, ramping up the speed for a lead out, to then blaze across the line, arms aloft!
In the task of making informed and reasoned decisions on my future I found out it wasn’t going to be the Pro-peloton! So what was it going to be like and what did I need to know? I began asking questions:
What should I be looking for in a team?
I spoke to coaches, past and present, officials, team managers, ex-racers and parents to really understand what I should be looking for and here is what I found:
* A strong race programme, ensuring that I got races that would suit me, but also take me out of my comfort zone.
*. A chance to gain experience, the opportunity to experience different types of races and take on different roles within the team.
* Support for development in the team, mentor support, team support (mechanics – physio etc).
* A chance to have team mates, people to ride with, allowing me the chance to enjoy the two years of junior racing that was to come and probably more critically, mates to support each other on the long Z2 rides in the winter!
* Safeguarding, a team that would look after me and ensure that my welfare was number 1 priority
* Fun, it has to be fun, otherwise, why do it?
So knowing all this did it help with my decision making? …
I felt I had to wait to really take heed of all of the thoughts and advice. In the mix I also had the London 2-day, a big target for me on home roads and the Nationals at Scarborough, slightly less of a target due to the size of me versus Oliver’s Mount.
The first of my big races in July was the London 2-day, a GC race held at Redbridge Cycle Centre in North London and Cyclopark in Gravesend.
The first stage was a prologue, one lap around the Redbridge circuit. My home circuit, they have ridden more times than I can remember. I was off near the start, and took the early hotseat, holding on to it until the very last rider came through, beating my time by 4 seconds, meaning I had taken my first national
podium! I was very pleased with this, but I had to stay focussed for the rest of the weekend.
Stage 2 was an hour-long race, finishing atop the famous Hoggenberg. The attacks started from early on, and getting in the right one would be difficult. I missed the one I thought would go, so I attempted to bridge across to it. A couple of laps later I was caught by the bunch, before the break was reeled in shortly after. From there I just picked up bonus seconds in the primes. The final break to go was the one that stayed away, leaving me to win the bunch sprint to take seventh and seventh on GC, and the combativity jersey.
Stage three was a 30-minute hit out round the Cyclopark circuit anticlockwise, meaning the run in to the finish was slightly hillier, as it kicks then plateaus a couple of times. Five guys escaped and stayed away, and I used the kick I seemed to have found to take sixth.
The final stage was an hour the other way around the Cyclopark circuit. It was a pretty uneventful race, the only highlights being a break of two left out to dry, the leader of the GC ending up a minute and a half behind after puncturing, and a winning break of two containing the winner of the overall in the end. I came second in the bunch kick, leaving me with fourth on the stage, seventh overall,
and the only person to be in the top-10 in every stage. Overall, it was a great weekend, with good results, quick racing, and no crashes on my part.
Next up was a big one. National Championships in Scarborough. Nine times up an 18% hill stood between the riders and the stripy jersey. My size isn’t an asset when climbing, so taking the win would be difficult. Spoiler alert- I didn’t win. I stayed with the front group for the first couple of laps, before a mechanical on the hill meant I dropped back into the second group, mostly made up of strong lads who weren’t pure climbers. We stayed as a group all the way to the finish, and I took the
sprint from our group for 13th. If someone had told me it finish in the top 15 at Scarborough, I wouldn’t have believed them.
So with some of the big racing and exams over, time to make a decision…
It was hard and on paper all of the teams looked really good. The programmes were excellent, the development opportunities exciting, the support amazing so it came down to who I would be riding with and what ultimately my heart said. So I decided to stay with Lee Valley and joining the junior ranks. I have loved my Youth racing with them, they have encouraged, motivated and supported me through my formative years. I felt a big sense of loyalty to them, almost as you would to a family and I felt that it made sense for me.
I am very much looking forward to the racing, it is, as I now know just youth racing but on bigger gears, but I am still excited about being part of a team. I am looking forward to racing again in Belgium. But also going to Holland and the Junior Tours of Wales, Ireland and the Mendips. I can’t wait for the Road races, the feed zones, the team cars and the best bit the post-race dissection of the race with mates.
I would like to thank all of those who helped me decide on the next steps, for all the wise advice and support, thank you to the teams for being interested and finally thank you to the ongoing support from all my sponsors: Highway Cycles, Saffron Walden Round Table, Fosters School wear, TLC Live Tutors, Matts Auto Repairs and Pedal Potential.