Journals Riders

Rider journals 2021: introducing Charlotte Broughton

Racing for a UCI team for the first time next season, the former national champion is our fifth journal contributor for 2021

We are lucky enough to be welcoming a new batch of riders to our rider journal series in 2021. We have picked ten riders to give us an insight into life at the Continental and elite-levels of racing, both at home and abroad. We’ll be introducing each rider through December. So far we have revealed Abi SmithRed Walters, Charliiy Berry and Joe Nally. Rider number five is Charlotte Broughton…

2021 will represent a new chapter in Charlotte Broughton’s racing career. For the first time, she will race for a UCI Continental team. The details of her team have yet to be announced but, all being well, it will provide the Cheshire-based rider with the opportunity to test herself against some of the best riders in the world.

Cycling is all I know, and I really mean all I know. I cannot remember a life before bikes

Charlotte has spent the last four seasons racing for the Awol team, run by Partick Hayes. She’s only 22 but, with a racing career that goes as far back as her pre-school years, she has amassed plenty of experience. Wins too. Charlotte was a ten times national champion as a youth, with national wins on the track, in cyclocross and in circuit races.

Before she opens her journal account, we spoke with her to find out more about her cycling journey so far. As you’ll read, it’s been a challenging year for Charlotte and she talks very openly about her mental health struggles, something we very much admire. Hopefully, with support from her boyfriend and coach Matt Gibson, she will be able to turn a metaphorical corner in 2021.

Tell us how you got into cycling…

My older brother, Sam, had raced at our local cycling club (Leicester Off Road Club) since I was a baby after my uncle Graham had suggested to my parents that Sam would enjoy it.

At first, I just enjoyed the whole atmosphere of watching all the kids and adults racing. Then after a while, I asked my Dad if I could race too as everything Sam did I wanted to do as well. So I learnt how to ride my bike in order to race.

At this point, I was around three or four. I remember every Friday night we would go to the clubhouse to race alongside my friends. It was a lot of fun and I very much cherish these memories. I am very lucky to have been immersed in cycling culture from such a young age. From there I carried on progressing. I started to enter bigger races and became more successful as time went on.

I’ve experienced some incredible highs and the lowest of lows in cycling, but I am still so in love with the sport

I’ve experienced some incredible highs and the lowest of lows in cycling, but I am still so in love with the sport, even at 22. Cycling is all I know, and I really mean all I know. I cannot remember a life before bikes; it simply didn’t exist. As well as racing and training, I have worked in the cycling industry since I completed my A-Levels. I also volunteer with British Cycling as a coach; I believe it’s important to support young women in sport. Too many people are all talk when it comes to the issues of equality and being proactive, and that just doesn’t sit right with me.

How would you describe yourself as a rider?

Punchy, aggressive, powerful. I also enjoy a good corner or two. 

Charlotte after winning the pursuit at the national championships (Youth A) in 2014. Photo: Dawn Fry

What is the achievement your most proud of in cycling so far (and why)?

Gosh. I’m quite pessimistic and critical of my race performances, even in the few I’ve won. I always feel I could have won in a more convincing way. 

It is a very close call but I would have to say my proudest moment was when I broke the national individual pursuit record as a Youth A girl to win the national title way back in 2014. I hadn’t really been training much and my uncle had just died so I wasn’t very motivated. Truth be told, it was a very turbulent time for me and I’d been struggling with my feelings about life and why I existed. The circumstances meant the win and the record took on far greater meaning. It demonstrated what I could do despite it being an emotionally-challenging and mentally-taxing period. 

Another achievement, which comes in a very close second, would be finishing third place overall at the Tour Series back in 2016. Throughout the Series I was riding for my teammate, who was second overall, so it was a total shock when it was announced I was third after the last round. Again that season was also tainted with a plethora of unfortunate personal circumstances and another loss: my Grandma.

I think it’s fair to say I’m quite good at carrying on through challenging times

I think it’s fair to say I’m quite good at carrying on through challenging times; unfortunately, I’ve never really experienced a clear run, as it were. 

Charlotte with boyfriend Matt Gibson. Photo: Calvin Cheung

From a cycling perspective, what were the highlights and lowlights for you in 2020, and why? 

I only raced the one local race this year but the high of 2020 has to be spending more time riding and working alongside my boyfriend, Matt. He’s my coach too so it was great to be able to have him there supporting me through a really consistent and tough period of training throughout the summer. I had increased both my volume and intensity yet I was handling it just fine, which gave me such a surge in confidence. 

It was an all-round great summer of training which has made the fire and hunger for success increase tenfold for next season and beyond. I also managed to up my intake of food, which I acknowledge may sound trivial to some, but to me has been a huge turning point for me considering my previous, as well as current, struggles with food and body image.

The lows have to be the uncertainty about Matt’s job [Ed: Matt had a challenging period looking for a contract for 2021 before signing for Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling] and crashing on the motorway, consequently writing my car off. The latter occurred a month or so after finding out about Burgos BH didn’t want to renew Matt’s contract. 

This caused a huge amount of stress as we were unsure where the money would come from to pay our rent. The financial uncertainty was horrible and caused a lot of sleepless nights. I feel passionately that the UCI and teams need to protect riders more, especially professionals once they’ve made it passed a certain level.

There was a lot to take in during this period as I was also diagnosed with anxiety and depression after being emitted to A&E. I was so emotionally burnt out, struggling to an unexplainable degree. I felt like a lost child in IKEA: so alone and scared with no clue where to turn or how to get out. I wanted so desperately to not be me. I felt like my head and heart were just utterly broken beyond repair. 

I had a few weeks off my bike which I must admit made me feel very guilty. But I discovered a newfound sense of urgency to ensure that every day is lived to the fullest. I could have died in that crash but thankfully I walked away. So something, maybe someone, wanted me here. 

I have to do what sets my heart on fire in this life

I know it’s cliché, I apologise, but it’s made me realise my purpose and I now realise that I owe it to myself to follow my heart and ensure that I’m loyal to my own desires first and foremost. I’m now currently receiving Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help make the most out of me and life. 

I have to do what sets my heart on fire in this life. I have to live my life for me and try to let go of the things that I cannot control and everything that’s been: we cannot live in the moment if our brains are still caught up in the past. 

Photo: Calvin Cheung

What can you tell us about your team for next season?

Unfortunately not much – sorry, I really wish I could! What I can say however it that my team next season will be a new British UCI Continental team. 

For me, finally getting onto a UCI team feels like a long time coming; it’s a huge deal. Due to my age, I’ve constantly missed out on so many amazing opportunities that lots of young female riders in the UK (and to a point Europe) have been lucky enough to experience. When I was a junior, for example, we didn’t even have our own stand-alone national road race championships. I feel like I’ve personally never had the right environment nor opportunities to prosper as an athlete. 

But hopefully this is the lucky ticket I’ve been waiting so desperately to receive. So here’s to new opportunities and hopefully the start of something very special!

What might your race programme look like?

I have viewed my provisional race calendar with my DS recently and, COVID-permitting, all I can say is that it’s going to be an incredibly busy year which will include a lot of travelling. 

There’s a really good mix of races and a few big stage races which I’m aiming to target. It’s all a bit surreal and crazy as once upon a time a race schedule that big and full of such prestigious races would have made me feel so anxious but now I’m overcome with excitement and motivation. Let’s go get it! 

Photo: Calvin Cheung

What would a successful 2021 look like for you?

I am aiming to podium in a few National Road Series races as well as hopefully gain a few top ten positions in some UCI races which would, in turn, gain me some UCI points. 

I have spoken with my DS for next year already about the type of races that I will be aiming for and we are both confident that once I’ve got my body into the swing of racing, as well as assuring my head is in a good place, that I’ll be able to execute this goal and even potentially surpass our original expectations. 

I accept and appreciate how complex life can get, so I’m not going to put any extra pressure on myself

I accept and appreciate how complex life can get, so I’m not going to put any extra pressure on myself. Some people are lucky enough to have the right conditions to succeed: their life off the bike is fairly uneventful and steady. Unfortunately, mine never seems to turn out that way due to juggling work life, home life and bearing the stress of Matt’s highs and lows as well. 

It gets really tough and lonely at times and this can massively affect my energy levels and ability to race and train. And unfortunately, sometimes I cannot physically attend races due to work commitments or not having any more holiday allowance. It’s therefore paramount I find a better race/training to work balance to help provide the platform for a successful racing year.

Find out more

Follow Charlotte on Twitter.

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