Jenny Holl and five other cyclists are keeping rider journals for The British Continental this season. The 20-year-old Scot is currently in her third and final year at the Great Britain Cycling Team Senior Academy rider. In Jenny’s second journal entry, she looks back on the national track championships, which took place in January this year in Manchester
The nationals is a very full-on few days
There has been some time now for the dust to settle and for me to review things, so I thought I might walk you through my weekend at the national track championships at the end of January.
The nationals is a very full-on few days. We ride all four of the endurance events: the individual pursuit, the team pursuit, and the two bunch races, the points race and the scratch race.
For some riders, nationals weekend begins on the Thursday with individual pursuit qualifying, trying to meet the qualifying time to actually race properly. Thankfully I had already met the qualifying time at nationals last year, so I managed to dodge riding 12 laps in an empty velodrome. I can vouch for this being possibly the least atmospheric place in the world when you’re trying to meet a time. The individual pursuit continues on the Friday, when anyone who pre-qualified joins those who qualified the night before.
I went into my individual pursuit feeling optimistic but nervous. Generally, I do my pursuits with three other people to help me out. 12 laps feels a very long way without those teammates. Pursuit is all about the pacing, and it is something that I find pretty difficult. One of my teammates, Josie, who actually went on to win the pursuit, has this incredible ability to just hold a pace basically forever. It is just incredible. I, however, have not yet cracked this. My graph from my pursuit looked like the sign you see at the top on a 25% descent in Yorkshire: a very steep decline. It was super frustrating. The time itself was disappointing enough, but the inconsistency of my pacing was the most disappointing part. One to be moved on from quickly.
Saturday is the really big day at nationals, involving both the team pursuit and the scratch race. The team pursuit was up first and, for our squad. this was the first time we had ever raced with this particular combination of riders. We always view the team pursuit at nationals as a good opportunity to try things out, things like different orders of riders or different turn lengths. We rode qualifying with the aim of doing a really good technical ride, thinking that if we did that, a decent time to qualify us for the gold-silver ride should come too.
I rode the qualifying, but after struggling a bit in the back end of the ride, was swapped out to give one of the other girls a chance in the final. This means I was in the position I haven’t been in for a while of getting to watch my teammates race the final, and flipping heck, they looked amazing. Chasing after another team, they were like bloodhounds. It did feel very strange to be standing on the top of the podium getting given the jerseys. Having not ridden in the final I felt like a bit of a fraud. I kept trying to tell myself that I was being ridiculous, but I really didn’t feel like I should have been there.
If you can’t win yourself, being beaten by only your teammates is definitely the next best thing
However I may have been feeling about the team pursuit, a quick turnaround was required to switch the pursuit bike for the bunch bike and get ready for the first bunch race of the weekend. In recent years, the scratch race at the nationals has been a race of two parts in a way, with the podium programme girls fighting it out for the win at the front, and everyone else fighting to stay in the race at the back. But with the podium squad having events elsewhere, it felt like the pressure fell to the academy riders to make the race. That’s not to say the absence of the podium squad diminished the level of racing. If anything, the slight evening out of the field helped to make for a more exciting race. I had high hopes for the scratch, and came away with a bronze medal, being beaten by two teammates. If you can’t win yourself, being beaten by only your teammates is definitely the next best thing.
By Sunday morning everyone is feeling tired. It is a draining weekend and dragging myself out of bed for an early sign-on was possibly the last thing I wanted at that point. And then it got even better (sarcasm, just to clarify): as there only 24 riders had signed on, we didn’t need the qualifiers that had been scheduled for the morning. So instead we all spent the next five hours just hanging about the track waiting for the final. I can’t speak for everyone, but hanging about makes me nervous. I don’t like to be rushed but if I could rock up to the track, get straight onto the turbo to warm up and then jump straight up onto the track to race, I probably would. Spare time just gives me time to overthink and get stressed, which at more than one international event has resulted in tears on the start line. Not ideal.
We eventually got to race time though and, finally, it was points race time. This ended up being a super exciting race, with Anna Shackley pulling off an amazing ride that involved being sat half a lap ahead of the bunch for what felt like forever at the end of the race. Being joint leader with one of the junior riders when Anna went solo was not fun, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so lost and stuck in a race before. One minute I was thinking I had the race in the bag, the next minute I had no idea what I could possibly do to salvage the win, or if I was even going to make it onto the podium. In the end, Anna had timed it to perfection and I lost out by one point. Looking back a few weeks on, I am super happy with how I raced. I think it was a step up in my bunch racing performance, and while at the time I was full of disappointment, now I can be happy with the weekend.
So that was nationals for 2020. A big weekend, requiring a big lie-in the day after. Coming away with a jersey and a medal in each colour surely has to count as a good outing. My own expectations going into the championships were the thing that ruined it slightly for me. I had such high hopes that even three podiums didn’t live up to them.
That feels like a bit of a downer note to end on but really it’s not all bad. To me, nationals signal the end of winter and time to get back onto the road and get some sun on rides and most importantly – when the lockdown eventually ends – some more racing.
Featured photo: Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com. HSBC UK British Cycling National Track Championships 2020. Jenny Holl, points race
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