Journals

Journals 2022: introducing… Alice Lethbridge

The inspirational AWOL O'Shea rider tells us about juggling road racing, e-racing, teaching, volunteering and more

We are welcoming a new batch of journal contributors in 2022. We have so far revealed four of our new ‘signings’: Ollie HucksFlora Perkins, Nathan Hardy and Abbie Manley. Our fifth is AWOL O’Shea rider Alice Lethbridge, a full-time teacher, expert time triallist, GB e-racer and UCI road racer…

Alice Lethbridge is an inspiration. An outstanding time triallist, she holds the national time trial records for 100 miles and 12 hours. She is a top-level e-racer, recently selected to represent Great Britain in the forthcoming UCI Cycling Esports World Championships. A recent convert to road racing, she went from taking part in her first National A road race, her first UCI road race and then her first Women’s WorldTour race all in the space of a few months last year, all at the age of 36. She also dedicates herself to running a large Zwift team and is a deeply involved member Kingston Wheelers. All of this while holding down a full-time teaching job in secondary school in Surrey.

Hopefully, me getting my first chance at the age of 36 can encourage other riders to keep pursuing their dreams until they become reality too

We were therefore delighted when the 37-year-old AWOL O’Shea rider agreed to become a journal contributor for us this year. Before she opens her journal account, we asked her to give us an insight into her remarkable story…

Alice at the Women’s Tour. Photo: Hugh McManus

Tell us how you got into bike racing…

I was an elite runner suffering lots of injuries. In the summer of 2012, I was once again confined to the gym, cross-training whilst I waited for surgery on my foot. I went to watch the Olympic time trial and road race as I live down the road from the routes and I thought it looked really good fun. I had a cheap road bike but I’d never considered racing before. Epsom CC got me out to some time trials which (apart from the first one where I went off course!) I did quite well in. They didn’t have any women road racing though, so I joined Kingston Wheelers and tried some crits.

By the start of 2019 I’d managed to burn myself out, having not found the right balance between trying to perform at a higher level whilst also facing more demands at work

I joined GB Cycles women’s team in 2015, but I struggled a bit to find my feet in the road racing, whilst my confidence was soaring in the time trials. After being let down by a women’s road race team at the last minute at the start of 2017, I found a slot on Drag2Zero and ended up focussing on time trialling for a few years. Unfortunately, by the start of 2019 I’d managed to burn myself out, having not found the right balance between trying to perform at a higher level whilst also facing more demands at work. After some unhappy TTs, I took a break from racing and started just going out on group rides with the male racers at Kingston Wheelers. I was enjoying it and they encouraged me to do some Surrey League handicaps with them, which were brilliant fun. So at the end of 2019, I decided I wanted to give road racing a proper go for the first time the following season.

How would you sum yourself up as a rider?

I’m honestly not sure about this one at the moment as I’ve not yet had a full year of road racing. I’m most well known for my time trialling, but I feel like it’s now been a good three years since I raced a TT bike in anger. The road season was so condensed last year, and such a whirlwind for me, going from my first ever National A race, to my first UCI race, to a Women’s WorldTour stage race in the space of a few months (whilst also moving to a new school to work) that I just felt a bit like a rabbit in the headlights! I did the best in hard, hilly races, and I very much dislike flat crits and sprints, but I think I’m still to find exactly where I fit best.

Alice at the Women’s Tour. Photo: Hugh McManus

I understand you work full time as a teacher. Tell us a little bit about how you juggle work with training and racing…

I think the main thing is learning to accept I can’t do all the cycling I want to! I love racing, and I love being part of a team, but there are times when work is just too busy and I have had to learn to sit out. I’m as passionate and dedicated to my teaching as I am to my cycling and it’s not always possible to do both well simultaneously.

In the week I’ll get up at 5 am to squeeze a 60-75 minute session in before work and I’ll have to keep weekend rides short as there’s inevitably a lot of planning and marking to do

Term time is incredibly busy and I have to be careful not to get really run down, but the holidays are amazing as I can play full-time-athlete / part-time-teacher. My training volume is much lower in term time as in the week I’ll get up at 5 am to squeeze a 60-75 minute session in before work and I’ll have to keep weekend rides short as there’s inevitably a lot of planning and marking to do. This year, I’ve been able to add in the occasional evening session too though as I gave up my role of responsibility as Head of Year.  In the holidays, I’m in my element, and I like to get out on long rides as much as I can or do double days because I just like riding my bike. I also use the break to catch up on sleep, and to try and ‘get ahead of myself’ with lesson planning and prep so that I will have the space to spend weekends away racing once the season gets into full swing. 

And you’re very much involved in Kingston Wheelers too. What’s your role there? And does it leave you with any free time?!

My role at KWCC has varied over the years. I joined the committee originally to help with getting more women into the sport, then I took over as Time Trial Secretary for a few years. I then took over organising the introductory rides for new joiners and trying to coordinate volunteering in the club. I had to step back a bit in September 2020 as ‘blended learning’ took off and the demands at work increased greatly, so at the moment I mainly try to help with female membership (recruitment and racing) and will help organise road races and CTT events where I can. I also help run a large Zwift team, which takes up quite a lot of time, and have been working with British Cycling South East to improve racing provision for women and girls in the region.  I really enjoy seeing other riders make progress and enjoy themselves, so helping out is something I will always find time for.

You joined AWOL O’Shea last year, a move which gave you the opportunity to ride the Women’s Tour. What was that experience like?

AMAZING! I genuinely get a buzz every time anyone asks me about that week. It was definitely one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. Lining up on day 1, I just didn’t want to let anyone down, and despite making a mistake and letting too big a gap open up on a descent with about 20 km to go, I was so amazed to make it over the finish line only three minutes down on the leaders that I burst into tears of happiness and disbelief at the end. I genuinely didn’t think I’d make it past day 4, as that was the only stage I’d done a full recon of and I was convinced I’d ping off through all the twisty bits, so to then make it to the end and finish with the bunch the last few days, I was just so happy. I have always been sporty, and as a little girl, I dreamt of being a professional runner but injuries and life meant I thought my chance to compete with professionals might never come. Hopefully, me getting my first chance at the age of 36 can encourage other riders to keep pursuing their dreams until they become reality too. 

Alice at the Women’s Tour. Photo: Hugh McManus

And overall, how would you rate your 2021 season out of 10? And why?

Well in terms of race results and the points I accumulated, I didn’t achieve any of my goals, so if I were to focus on that I wouldn’t be rating the season very highly. But 2021 was not a normal year by any means, and if I assess the season in terms of the races I rode in, the learning experiences I had, and the progress I made as a rider between day 1 and day 6 of the Women’s Tour I would consider the season a big success.

The last few years have taught me that setting my heart on specific results in specific races doesn’t work for me most of the time

What would a successful 2022 look like for you, from a racing perspective?

Overall, to be happy, to enjoy myself, and to support my teammates effectively. The last few years have taught me that setting my heart on specific results in specific races doesn’t work for me most of the time because I can be in excellent physical shape but things out of my control at work will leave me mentally exhausted.

I plan to race the National Road Series races and I would obviously like to get some good results there. Beyond that, I’m not entirely sure what I will be racing yet. As one of the newest and smallest UCI teams, we often get ‘late’ invitations to races, so we don’t have our full race calendar yet, and add in my complexity of having to pick and choose very carefully what I ask school to release me for, I have to adopt quite a flexible approach to the season. I’m currently very lucky that the Acting Head Teacher is a huge cycling fan so fingers crossed I’ll get to go to some big races, but it will likely be the same as last year in that I will have to decide between UCI events and the British National Championships. Whatever I end up racing, I’m really excited about the upcoming season

Featured photo: Hugh McManus

Find out more

Follow Alice on Instagram.