It has felt like the longest 4 months ever since last September and yet it has felt like it was only yesterday. The relevance, last September I was invited to join the ‘confirmation phase’ for the GB Junior Academy, A true honour and an exciting opportunity. It had sunk in when I had the chance to go to back to Newport, a couple of months after my successful Youth Nationals campaign, and spend a four day camp over half term with the others on the programme, as well as the second year GB riders. It was a chance to show what we could do in the Team Pursuit and a chance to meet and see the quality that is GB. It was an amazingly hard 4 days but an amazing experience.
Then back home it was full on with A Levels as well as the waiting game, waiting for the next camp, this time Manchester. The last time I had ridden there was January 2021 when I was invited to ride with the Junior Academy, one of the highs of my young cycling journey. Although the Velodrome had not yet fully reopened, it had enough so that we could get on the track. Being there you could feel the GB presence around us, some of the Sprint Team were there and also the beautiful Hope Lotus bikes were there hanging on the rail, many of them with the names of the greats in Cycling. What an honour.
Well into November now and another Trip to Manchester, this time though I had begun to struggle with my lungs, a visit to the Doctor and he prescribed Salbutamol for bronchial hyper-reactivity, partly due to the cold and dampness that was setting in but also it was possibly a residue from a cold I had picked up. Needless to say Team Pursuit at 58kph was beginning to take its toll on a body that was not 100%. It was tough, physically and mentally. I was desperate to impress and wanted to go deep but the body wasn’t happy. The journey home was matched by the weather, overcast and miserable. I was struggling to go quick in the efforts, while still going as deep as ever, and was beating myself up whilst knowing I was not well and probably needed to rest and get rid of the cold.
I backed off a bit in training but as the School term ramped up it was obvious Post Covid that all the germs that had not been allowed to be shared in lockdown had come back with a vengeance, and me with an under par immune system, picked up a heavy flu like cold, just before the end of term and my final trip to Manchester before the Nationals.
The evening before I was due to set off for Manchester I had to make the difficult call, I spoke to my coach and said I was going to get a Doctor’s appointment and see what they advised before I headed up. He agreed. It felt rubbish, a real missed opportunity. I was sick of the cough. I was sick of feeling rubbish. It was just all a bit crap!
The next day we managed to get a doctor’s appointment and he discussed it with me, although on the outside I looked tired but not ill, on the inside I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, he said “If you were actually being sick would you go?” I said no and he said “Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean its not there!” I agreed and sadly we made the call, and my final camp was off, Antibiotics and rest were all that was left.
Christmas came and went and it wasn’t until the 28th that I was able to get back on the bike and ease my way into training. Slowly school ramped up, the training ramped up, the stress of the Nationals ramped up and thankfully the cough went and I started to feel strong again.
I had booked into some races for after Christmas, mainly to get back in the mix for Nationals but also to ‘put to bed’ the last Open Track meet I had done, I had come home early having been too ill to compete, not something I ever liked doing. So to my first ride out in the Cat 2/3/4 at the Velopark, London. The ride saw me win against an old team mate. The lunge had won it and I was able to take my first win of 2023 and as a Cat 2. I had won by pretty much the width of hair. But it meant a huge amount for my confidence. Then back onto the track and an Open meeting on at Lee Valley, Senior A’s and Oscar Nielson- Julian (European U23 Omnium Champion) as competition!
What a night, I looked for his wheel and hung on the best I could throughout managing a 4th in the Scratch, Points, and Reverse Win Out, again the confidence was rising but in training on the track I knew there was still some way to go in the kilo, particularly having missed a critical 2 to 3 weeks of full training.
So to the Nationals, in September I had no idea that my target would be the 2023 Senior Nationals. Looking back now it seems like yesterday I had the chance to join the GB confirmation phase and was told to focus on the Nationals and yet it also feels like forever; following the illness I just wish I had more time.
Thursday I travelled down and the Kilo qualifier was the first race. Newport Velodrome was familiar and it felt not that warm; even on the warm up you could feel the air moving. I warmed up on the turbo and readied myself. Into the gate I sat and waited, nervous but focussed. I went. A 1:08, disappointment, although an improvement on the week before it was not the 1:07 I had done the previous March and it was not 1:06 for qualifying. I cooled down and watched the competition, 3 qualified on the night, not a great return rate.
Back to the apartment and I knew I had to put this behind me quickly and move on. I slept and then Friday went for a ride on the Gwent Levels, in the grey and the rain of Newport my legs started to feel less heavy and I went to watch some racing on Day 1, speaking to my coach I began to feel more confident.
Saturday morning and into a warmer velodrome. The Points qualifier. Again nervous I knew I needed to score to be sure I qualified. The race started and attacks soon came. I waited. I needed to pick the right sprint, then a break and I was in it, but I quickly realised it wasn’t going anywhere so I sat up and re-joined the bunch, another sprint and patience. Then again I was in another break and this one looked good. We worked our way to try and catch two riders and we started to make inroads. Taking turns smoothly, we started to gain on the bunch and then somehow, I managed to take 5 points on the sprint. Unbeknownst to me, the head of the race had joined the bunch just before the sprint lap. This meant that I took full points and soon after gaining the lap placed me at the top of the board. Job done I came in safely and had qualified 3rd overall. Goal achieved!
Rest, recover and ready for the nights 120 lap Points race. I thought I was ready but that night was a different story. A really hot velodrome with a big crowd was ready to see the event of the evening. I rolled on to track and before long I realised it was a step up. It was fast anyways, and when the sprints went it was really fast. I hung on and on until no more. The gap in training started to tell and everything felt heavy! 79 laps and I was done. I rolled off and watched the most amazing display of power from Will Perrett who took 3 laps on the bunch and won imperiously. I had been in a race and experienced what it was like to ride a National Senior Final. At 16 this was amazing, daunting but exhilarating and super cool.
Whilst I was disappointed to have DNF’d I still had the Scratch on Sunday. I left the Velodrome and was delighted to speak to some Primary School children who had come to watch, they asked all of us for autographs and selfies, a lovely experience.
Sunday and the Scratch qualifier. Quick from the start and I knew it would get quicker. We went. I was in the mix trying to conserve energy as I knew it was only going to get quicker, then moving up the track going into turn 1, someone dropped down on me, their rear wheel nut going into my front wheel, snapping two spokes! My scratch and my Nationals over. I came off, thankful not to have hit the deck, but upset; I so badly wanted to qualify, but that was racing. I knew I had to deal with disappointment, I needed to manage this.
I pulled myself together and cooled down. Lunch and reflection on the journey. I had been excited and daunted by the task ahead when I found out in September, I struggled through November and December and wondered at times if I would make it to the Nationals. I got there in January and whilst I was undercooked I had managed to ride well in the Points and had given everything, I had been competitive and I had learnt so much; learnt about racing with the very best but also learnt about myself, dealing with the ups and down, the triumphs, trials and tribulations of bike racing, I believe that I have done what I can within my control, I have tried to give everything I can. At times it has been hard and I recognise it needed to be, I have tried to balance life, school, training and racing and this has been an incredibly hard task, particularly when the body is being a bit rubbish, but I made it to the Nationals and it was all an amazing experience!
Who knows what’s next.