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Living and racing in Spain as a full time college student

In this blog I will talk about my experiences balancing being a full time student in college, while living in Spain being essentially a full time cyclist.

It is a common thing for the newly under 23 cyclist to move out and live in another country training and racing with the ambitions of eventually climbing into the pro ranks. However I haven’t got the complete ordinary story as I am only 17, a year early on the scenes while finishing my last year in college and A-levels. Due to Covid-19 and the addition of online lessons, I have been able to travel out to Spain to be with my coach to what you could call better training conditions, as it doesn’t matter what country I am in to be part of the lessons. College have been amazing in allowing me stay out here longer until the Easter holidays to train because in my case, where around 2000 students attend my college, we haven’t gone back full time yet. Additionally my A-level subjects are less demanding than some of my peers, which makes it easier for me to work online. I take Btec National Diploma in Sport (counts as two subjects) and also A-level Psychology, which is difficult with a lot of content but made easier by me only having one A-level to focus on - also coming in handy during COVID’s lockdowns because most of my work is coursework and has been continuously assessed over the past 2 years. Having lessons online has made it much easier for me to fit training in everyday and also while being here I can focus even more as to be truthful there is not as much to do, especially in the presence of a national state of emergency. As mentioned in my last blog, I am staying in a little town called Cadalso de los Vidrios on the top of a mountain in the Madrid region with my two friends Santiago Cadavid and Louis Bilyard. Being a little town, there isn’t much to do apart from focus on training and have my lessons. However I am kept busy with the other mini tasks that are required when you move out…

Food shopping, food making, clothes washing and other bits of cleaning here and there; all things while at home I gave not much thought to. Being here I have had to adapt to the adult way of living which has been a steep but fortunate learning curve that will help me when I eventually move out here full time this summer. Knowing what to buy when I go to the supermarket and gaining a greater understanding of budgeting is a great insight and something I was less aware of when at home. As the town is small, there is only one small food shop, which means I am not as spoilt for choice like at home with prices also being generally higher here. When it comes to meal making I feel I have really challenged myself and could confidently say I really enjoy the meals I make. I started off with some cooking aids such as seasoning sachets for specific meals but the supply had to run out at some point. Since then I have immersed myself into the Internet’s supply of healthy flavoursome recipes, tending to be in the form of a one pot, and without the pressure of preparing for other people I have really enjoyed it. I tend to make in greater batches and have two different meals in the fridge on the go so that I can save it for another day when I don’t want to make dinner. Although it gets boring eating the same thing a few days in a row, nothing is worse being tired from training and school to then have to cook a healthy meal. In addition to meals of the day I also try creating food for my rides and training. My recent creation has been energy balls that are small, compact and perfect for a mid ride snack to keep energy levels up. I love to bake at home and have a serious love for anything sweet, so these are perfect to continue somewhat baking and satisfy my sweet tooth.

Being in Spain really feels a world away from the UK and with this being the first time I have been away from home for this duration (around 7 weeks now and over 10 weeks in total when I go home); it has definitely been a rollercoaster of emotions. This time has demonstrated to me the importance of interaction with friends and family as otherwise you can find a way to isolate yourself from the outside world. Luckily for me, my coach Cesar is very understanding and caring, so he almost steps in as my part-time father while I am here.

Living with two Under 23 boys and being in the same town to my coach means I am never training alone and I get the benefit of training with older and faster people to help push me on further. Sadly the area I am staying in isn’t home to many other female cyclists so I don’t get to train with girls or talk to them much but its something I have got used to.

In terms of my Spanish speaking ability, I would say it is slowly but surely improving. Knowing another language is definitely a skill I would love to have but also it definitely comes in handy on race days and training. Being able to understand all words to do with cycling, whether that be during the race brief from your team, comprehending the chatter of others in a race before making their move, knowing what efforts your coach is asking you to complete, or even able to explain an error on your bike to a mechanic. These things are essential in having a smooth experience in a Spanish team.

With Covid still going strong into this year, racing wasn’t looking as positive as I had hoped, with many of the Nations cups already being cancelled or restricted for certain nations. It makes me slightly sad as it means I wont get the full appreciation of being a junior, of which I have heard is an amazing experience from friends and something I have looked forward to doing. Saying this, it makes me even more motivated to make the most of all opportunities to race that are available to me. I am lucky to be in Spain at the moment because races have already started and I managed to get my first race in last weekend, achieving a third place.

This race has been the first that my parents haven’t been there to support or take me to so it was a somewhat different experience, although I was in the company of my coach and his wife who were just as supportive.

When attending these races, many of the responsibilities are in the hands of your team manager and helpers, which is an amazing insight into future races being part of teams and allows for racers to focus solely on the race and prepare.

This first race took place in Villava, Navarre in northern Spain. This meant returning to slightly colder air and similar weather to the UK, i.e. RAIN! I don’t mind rain and am pretty confident in my bike handling which provides me an upper hand over those who are more cautious, especially coming up to corners and roundabouts. I cannot say the water soaking through my clothes felt nice, nor did my squelching shoes but coming to Spain, I never really anticipated that I would be able to race so I will take all the racing I can get!

Totalling just over 60km for juniors, we joined the Elite and Under-23 riders around 15km into their race and did the rest of the duration with them. It is such an amazing opportunity to ride with other older girls and women, as races tend to be faster and provide a greater awareness of future racing. My main goal for the race was to maintain good bunch positioning, keeping near the front, out of trouble but out of the wind. On the whole when I finished I felt I had achieved my goal although there became times where I would become swamped when the road widens and riders came around the outside, but I swiftly made my way back up. In the closing kilometres, speed started to increase with riders pushing for the same positions at the front and I knew with the smaller gearing I was going to have to choose a good wheel to follow. I was one of those successful in the top five but eventually I managed to get pushed into the wind, which meant I had to start fighting for myself earlier than expected. Not sure why but Spanish organisers love to have a speed bump soon before the finish which adds an interesting aspect to say the least… After the race I wasn’t sure where I came as all riders had the same colour numbers but I felt like I had done my best and achieved what I set out to do.

For now I am continuing to train hard out here to keep improving and hope to complete a few more races before I return home, including first the Copa España on the 11th of April which I really hope goes ahead.

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