20-year-old cyclocross specialist Abbie Manley is focusing on the road this year, with her new Belgian Isorex-No Aqua team. In her first journal post, Abbie looks back on her transition to the road after a busy cyclocross season, and her first senior-level UCI road race experience…
Racing multi-disciplines in both cyclocross and road leaves little room for off-seasoning, this year in particular. With my road team camp planned for the first weeks of February, I finished the last round of the HSBC UK | Cyclo-Cross National Trophy and had just under two weeks to relax.
For a really long time in cycling the majority of riders focused solely on one discipline and coaches drilled into youths that this was the way to be successful. Fortunately, my local club was the complete opposite.
Our weekly sessions were as follows: Tuesday- Runway road session; Thursday- MTB ride/ CX ride; Friday- Calshot track sessions; Saturday- CX or MTB skills; and on Sunday a short road ride. I was very lucky to be encouraged to try all disciplines with qualified coaches that really let us have fun on the bike.
I am excited to see how my off-road skills favour the gravel and cobbled sections of road racing in Belgium
Thankfully the mould of being single-disciplined is being broken by so many at the top of our sport, demonstrating that a multi-discipline approach can be a massive advantage. I for one am excited to see how my off-road skills favour the gravel and cobbled sections of road racing in Belgium and also how my speed and endurance from the road season will serve at the start of a fast, dry CX season.
My team training camp was in Calpe, much like every other cyclist this year; from tourists to professionals, the roads were filled with teams. This was my first time meeting all of the team and with that came a lot of anxiety around the potential intensity of the riding; two-week off-season with a lot of tasty food consumed (mainly cake) was not the ideal preparation!
Also, being part of a Belgian team I wasn’t sure if I would spend every meal sitting twiddling my thumbs struggling to understand the language whilst munching on paella not really understanding a thing. This was not the case, everyone on the team included me and spoke English frequently which I am really grateful for. I would like to add that I am trying to learn the language and thanks to DuoLingo I could navigate my way around a supermarket but in-depth Flemish conversations may be for later in the season!
When climbing up La Vall d’Ebo and Coll De Rates our heavy breathing was masked by some very upbeat Europop for true cyclocross beer tent vibes.
Hard training commenced with long rides, big climbs, and many miles covered although one huge benefit of being a Belgian team meant that when climbing up La Vall d’Ebo and Coll De Rates our heavy breathing was masked by some very upbeat Europop for true cyclocross beer tent vibes.
At the end of the camp, selections were made for the team’s first UCI race of the season- the Trofeo Oro in Euro – and I was excited to find out I was a part of this squad, although slightly apprehensive that the race was less than three weeks away, far sooner than I anticipated starting my road season.
That meant three weeks of hard work in the glorious UK weather which included a number of named storms. So thank you to Dudley, Eunice, and Franklin, you tested my character multiple times!
Before I knew it I was at Gatwick Airport en route to Italy. Usually, I walk through an airport enduring many stares and looks of curiosity as to what is in the big Bike Box Alan. Not this time, however. More than 30 bikes were on this flight all destined to the Strade Bianche either as a spectator or for the Grand Fondo; the Italian quasi-monument was being held the same weekend less than an hour away from where we were racing in Tuscany.
Our race route consisted of five smaller flat loops and two large loops with a steep narrow climb in it and a QOM gantry which lured you into a false sense of security as the climb continued after the gantry at a 25% gradient!
It has been a while since I have done a big road race … So starting the race with 148 professional women, including WorldTour opposition, I felt very nervous
Now it has been a while since I have done a big road race after the pandemic-hit 2020 season and an injury-filled 2021. So starting the race with 148 professional women, including WorldTour opposition, I felt very nervous. The race was very fast from the start with no let-up in the first 60km followed by a crash at the bottom of the climb which blew the field to pieces. Having no idea whether I have the potential to be a mountain goat, I followed the wheels of some big teams up the climb and held on for dear life on the pothole-riddled descent.
In the end, I was happy with my performance finishing the race with a very clear benchmark of where I am, where I want to be, and how to get there.
To celebrate our first road race of the season and ahead of early morning flights home, we headed out to sample some local cuisine. It would be rude not to have pizza and gelato in Italy, wouldn’t it?
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