Racing and Training in Spain so far...
In this blog I will give a general idea into my experiences of racing and training in Spain so far in my cycling career. Not only is Spain an amazing place to be, but I also could have the opportunity to race for them once I get my Spanish passport (I am part Spanish).
Racing in Spain
I am so grateful I was given the opportunity to race in Spain several years ago. It has enlightened me to a totally different type of racing to that I had done before in the UK and Holland and I believe I have developed into a better rider because of being here.
I first started racing in Spain as a first year under 16 for Arabarrak (a team based in the Basque Country), and I have been going every year since, racing around the northern regions. They are such a friendly and supporting group of people who really made my introduction into Spanish racing as welcoming as possible. A special thank you to Eder, Yeray and Javier!
It was so surreal going to a country where no one knew who I was; it was like I was starting afresh. After a couple of races I became known as the ‘English girl’ and riders seemed to catch on that I like to attack, which challenged me.
What I found most obviously different in Spain to the other racing I have done elsewhere is team roles, in that there are many teams that have riders doing specific jobs, such as chasing the attacks, to save team mates from doing any work. It is clear in races which are the more dominant teams; the ones that can control the race, always having riders on the front of the group. Something I found really challenging was bringing other attacks back because if the riders at the front of the bunch have a rider up the road of the same team, then they will do all they can to slow down the group and eliminate counter attacks. Although this is challenging, it mentally pushes me to think about the moves I make, to make sure the timing is correct and also be aware of the attacks going to see if they are worth following.
All the road races I have done have been on rolling road closures, which is great as it improves skills in all areas, from descending on slippery, open, twisting descents, to being aware in the group for road obstacles, such as roundabouts or traffic bollards. Additionally the skill of going back to the car for a bottle or waiting for a spare wheel after a puncture and then chasing on through the convoy. Another skill element that I have adapted to is the larger group sizes in Spain that was especially evident for me as a youth where the start line consisted of multiples of that in the UK (at least for the girls). In extension from the riders in my age group as a junior, many of the races I’ve done here have been mixed with other categories, such as under 23 and elite (which was not the case as an under16). These races have really pushed me with the increased demand for speed and duration and have also shown me the reality of future races, where over 100 may start, but only 40 finish. All these aspects will really aid my future in being prepared for bigger races.
I applaud the race organisers in Spain for making every race feel so special and grand. I would say the combined aspects of crowd fencing, road closures, bunch size and prize presentations in their regional races, would compare to national races in the UK.
A reason why I love to race in Spain is that the scenery is so beautiful, whether we are riding through historic pretty towns, along straight open roads or up mountains taking in breathtaking views, it makes racing that much more memorable and enjoyable.
I would say some of my biggest results in Spain would be 3rd in the Copa España in Eibar as a second year under 16, 2nd in the last stage of Vuelta a Cantabria as a first year junior, and a few minor podiums in between. Last year obviously due to Covid, there was a real lack of races and opportunities to show for all the hard work I put into that winter and therefore this year I plan to make the most of the races available to me.
I cannot recommend enough for other British riders who want to develop as a cyclist or try racing somewhere new, to come here to race, as I don’t know where I would be without it in my annual calendar. I am sure I could point you in the right direction if you were struggling to find a team.
Training in Spain
The same as last October and November, I’m back in Cadalso de los Vidrios (near Madrid) training with my coach. I am so fortunate to have been able to get across to Spain at the moment with the new Brexit and Covid-19 restrictions on the borders, as it is now more difficult than ever to travel. I was also lucky enough to get out when I did because although we have had a few wet days, temperature generally is always over 10 degrees here so no ice unlike home, and I am just trying to make the most of the nice weather before I go back.
My coach Cesar Neira is ex Para Olympian and world champion for Spain so he is a pretty good mentor for me to grow and progress with. I cannot thank him enough for the amount of time and effort he devotes to my development as a cyclist.
Being in Spain, I feel I have really progressed especially on hills. I have never had any attraction towards hills/ mountains (put nicely), although loving to descend. I was told before to do the hill so that I would get to do the downhill after but this didn’t really work for me. Instead, being here, living on the top of a mountain, the only way home is up, so I have had to accept them as another road; another road obstacle to overcome to get to where I want to be. And since then, I haven’t really thought negatively of a hill but the same to how I would feel on a flat road with a killer headwind. This is something that definitely would not be possible at home. Although the surrey hills are great in training for the ‘bergs’ and shorter climbs, they are no comparison to the mountains out here. I strongly believe mind-set and psychology has as much of an influence on an individual’s ability to perform, as that of their physical level. So after taking a different perception of hills, I feel like I am a totally different rider.
Not only are the mountains a perfect training ground, but the straight smooth roads are like a cyclists heaven! Being able to see the road ahead for kilometres allows for all sorts of efforts but with the addition of keeping safe with traffic able to see you and you see them. Something else that would be unthinkable in the UK is the ability to go the entirety of a ride without having to stop for a junction or traffic lights. The roads seem to be a lot quieter out here with less dangerous drivers and the addition of the new upcoming law saying that there must be a 2m minimum passing distance for cars overtaking cyclists. Spain seems like a much more cyclist friendly country and it shows the direction that other countries need to go in to make cyclists feel safe on the roads.
I was also lucky enough to get onto the Galapagar Velodrome since being here in Spain which was a fairly odd sensation having not been on an indoor velodrome for over a year. The session was not that long, but just to get on to do some efforts was enough for me to get back into the grooves of track riding and get me eager for more.
With everything with schools still a little uncertain at home, I haven’t made any return plans as of yet but I am ready to come home for exams should I need to.