Thursday, 31 May 2007

Oh, those Corners !!





The good news is I finally managed to get out and do a road race. The bad news is that it was on a very technical circuit and I couldn't manage to stay with anyone. It's been a while since that happened to me.

The plan had been to break myself back into road racing gently. To start off by doing races on non-technical circuits, probably with 3rd and 4th cat men. The racing would certainly be fast with them, but the fact that I'm in with the blokes means that in racing terms I have nothing to lose. I'm not expected to win or earn British Cycling points, so it doesn't matter what I do ! I can experiment with things, or just practice riding my bike fast and getting comfortable in the peloton.

The Surrey League handicaps are always a good start point. The courses are flat and non-technical. They set riders off in groups of similar abilities, and you all work together to stay ahead of the faster groups. As the slower groups get caught the peloton becomes bigger and you do less work as the drafting effect is stronger. So by the end of the race you're whizzing along at near 40km/h without too much effort. Real exhilarating stuff.

This week's handicap took place in a new venue. The Mercedes Benz World site at Brooklands, near Weybridge. I had no idea what it would be like. I'd assumed it would be another racing track circuit like at Goodwood, or Thruxton. It would be pan flat, though maybe a bit windy, and apart from one chicane, non-technical. In fact it was only one of the above ! It wasn't windy, there was no chicane, and it was very technical. It was flat though. The fact that their web-site describes this place as somewhere to come for great driving experiences should have given me a clue that there would be some fun and games on the course !

My train from Esher, near where I work, was late, so I ended up getting there in a mad rush. In fact, I missed my group start, so just set off with the next group. I hadn't recced the course, though was not worried. But then I suddenly came up to a 180 degree bend, followed by another one, then two 90 degree bends, and another 180. What was going on ? It was like being on a fair ground ride. Was someone taking the p1ss ?



I'd set off with Dave, a guy from Team Trisport News and we got chatting. But the chat didn't last long at all as he very quickly dropped me on the bends. Once on the straight sections I was able to push a decent speed, but very soon we'd hit another series of bends, and I would slow down again and lose the people I was with. Many of these riders will have raced the tight corners of Crystal Palace or Eelmore so will have grasped the principles. Today was my first bit of serious cornering this year. And it was a baptism of fire. If you're good on corners this course is a bit of a tester. If you're ok, this course is challenging. If, like me you are rubbish on corners, you might as well pack up and go home. Many people came past me. And although I was able to keep with them for part of a lap, sprinting out of the saddle to keep up with them, I would soon tire myself out and lose contact.

I resigned myself to this "race" becoming a cornering training session. Where else would I find this many corners in a one mile circuit ?
I was pleased to finish the race (many didn't) and spectators commented that my cornering improved during 75minutes of racing.

The race didn't finish with the characteristic massive peloton, like other handicaps - instead it was just various groups of riders, as the course had done a good job in shattering the peloton.
Hopefully we will come to know and love this circuit in the coming months !

(photo of me courtesy of Dennis Sackett - DGS Cycling Photography)

Monday, 28 May 2007

Bank Holiday Washout !!!



It's so typical. Warm weather during the week while we're stuck in an office and not able to do much in the way of outdoor activities. Then comes the long bank holiday weekend, and we just get loads of rain.

Saturday wasn't too bad. I managed to get down to the track and do a session at Herne Hill Velodrome in the morning. But by Saturday early evening the heavens had opened. It was a bit annoying but it didn't stop Him Indoors and I from going out for a meal. However, when it was still raining on Sunday morning things went beyond a joke. Yeah, I'm a bit of a fair weather cyclist at heart. I'll go out if it's spitting or drizzling. Fair enough, if it's a race that I've pre-entered I'll show up regardless of the weather, so long as the event's not cancelled. But why should I choose to go out on a training ride when it's bucketing down and I've got a perfectly functioning turbo trainer at home ! Hats off to those who do ride in all weathers, but I'll just leave them to get on with it !

For all the bad weather Him Indoors and I did manage to get out and do a 2hour spin around Kent during a gap in the showers.

What has been a real pain though was the rain today. Wall to wall precipitation. Really annoying, and grim. The track omnium that I was meant to do at Herne Hill was cancelled due to the bad weather. Because it's an outdoor track the circuit is affected by rain, and it's not possible to use it in the wet. Unfortunately the track omnium scheduled for the Mayday Bank Holiday was also cancelled due to rain. In fact, of the 7 omnium events that have been scheduled for May, only 1 has taken place - the one I did last Wednesday. There's meant to be more track racing this Wednesday evening. We can only keep our fingers crossed that the rain stays away.

Friday, 25 May 2007

London by Bicycle - Part 1









London may seem a bit of a scary place to be on two wheels, but when you get your kit on and start pedalling around, you'd be surprised how straight forward it is. At least that's how I felt when I first began commuting to and from work 6 years ago. Motorists are getting more and more used to seeing cyclists, especially at rush hour,
so they tend to be more aware. In recent times various factors such as the Congestion Charge, delays on public transport, and fear of terrorism have meant more people are taking to their bicycles.

Up until recently my commute would be roughly 10 miles - from Crystal Palace to Central London. A fairly straight forward route, up through Dulwich, Brixton, Oval, Westminster etc. In the summer it was like being on an unofficial organised bike ride, as masses of people were making that same South to North trip ! People would even get to race each other along the long straight stretches. As a girl on a bike I would suddenly find myself in a spa-ing match with some bloke who was a bit miffed I'd passed him - all you could hear was a clicking of his gears and heavy breathing as he went into power mode trying to catch me ! At the traffic lights he would sit there not making any eye contact, trying his utmost to look cool and unfatigued. But in fact he was knackered and mulling in his mind tac-tics on how to get ahead of me. All I was doing was just riding around at a steady pace trying to get to work ! All good fun.

I've now started a new job in Hampton Court. And now with a 16 mile commute I get a bit more of a work-out ! It's quite different to the Central London ride. Going East to West, through the suburbs has a more relaxed feel. Not so many people are riding that way, and they are probably not mad enough to ride that far ! I tend to see people riding in the opposite direction - especially around Wimbledon, Raynes Park and Kingston.

It took a while to find a route that I enjoyed. Some of the roads, especially around Mitcham and Colliers Wood get completely snarled up, and there are no bus lanes to use. But the Transport for London and the London Cycle Network maps take cyclists along quite a pleasant route, with most of it being on quiet roads and through parks. In fact, even though I now have further to ride I actually prefer it to the Central London commute. South West London seems to be a very cycle friendly area, with lots of direction signs for cyclists, dedicated cycle paths, and pelican crossings for bikes. And my journey always finishes on a high with the sight of the River Thames and Hampton Court Palace in all it's regal splendour ! It's very easy for me to say all this. The weather's been warm, and even sometimes sunny. The days are long, and I haven't had any punctures. Maybe I'll have a different opinion come November ! Ah well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Why I like Track Cycling



I feel so much fresher knowing that I don't have to race. I'll just ride my bike when I like, how I like and with who I like. I feel really free, especially given that I'm not part of a team that's counting on me to do specific races.

Funny that, just when you feel free and under no obligation to race, what do you do ? You race. So yesterday, I dashed out of work promptly to get to Herne Hill for 7pm, where they were holding the track omnium league.

There's something quite refeshing about track cycling. I don't know exactly what, but I do enjoy and find it quite unthreatening. I know alot of uninitiated track cyclists find the whole no brakes, no gears, fixed wheel thing a bit daunting. But once you've done your initiation session (on any Saturday morning between 9 and 10.30am) you wonder what the fuss was about and you actually get to enjoy it.

It's a much less complicated affair than road cycling and road racing.

The bikes are fairly simple. No gears or deraillers to worry about, very low maintenance. When bunch riding you don't get people suddenly slamming on the brakes as you might get on a club run on the road.

During a race if you get dropped you can just wait a minute or so before the bunch comes round and you can tuck in at the back.
If you get tired you can just ride up high on the banking and slow pedal round while you recuperate. None of this business of being dropped from the bunch and then having to pedal miles on your own as I have had in road races !
And the races aren't that long either. Sometimes it's just a couple of laps. Alot of the time it's not more than 20 laps (4km at Herne Hill). So if you're having a bad moment you are comforted that it won't last long !

So I suppose all those reasons made me turn up and race. I use that in the very lose term of the word. I just rode around at speed ! Most of the time I wasn't in the race. But I still got something out of it - learning more about bike handling, riding at high cadence and giving myself a more interesting work-out than if I'd stayed home and gone on the turbo-trainer.

I also got to meet other girl bikers who were pretty friendly, and encouraging. Hanna from the Agisko Viner team gave me a lecture on how I should stick with it, and by coming back regularly I will make progress. Obvious stuff, but it's good to have someone tell you. So I'll be back at Herne Hill Velodrome on Monday to do the Brixton Cycles Omnium. I know I won't win anything, but I'm sure it will be fun !

Friday, 18 May 2007

Half time - Time for a Breather




We're almost mid-way through the year. What have I done so far ?
I have done 3 cyclosportives (Flanders, Amalfi Coast, and Fred Whitton), a couple of road races, plus the cyclo cross races at the start of this year.

It's true that I could have done more in the way of road races by now. In previous years I would have done 5 or 6 races by now.

But really, I think that this year has been a little strange, especially on the road racing front. I'd had hopes of doing more races, being part of a women's team and doing the Women's Team series. I had even ear-marked doing the National Series races.

But none of that has happened. Somewhere I seem to have lost my way, and have been hauling myself through the season while not feeling any pzazz or freshness about my cycling.

I believe it boils down to a combination of factors - a) the lack of freshness comes from me trying to jump straight into the road season without resting after the cyclo cross season finished in February. b) the new cycling club that I joined, which appeared to have promise has proven not to be what I thought it was. There are practically no other girls racing, so I have felt isolated from peers and anyone to bounce ideas and motivation off. Also this "team" did not have any women's sessions laid on during the winter months.

Consequently, going into the women's road racing season has made me feel like I don't have my "mojo" for mixing it with the fast girls - or even racing with anyone, for that matter.

I would love to get properly back on the road racing scene and mix with the girls I was with during last year. There are lots of races on at the moment, and it's great to turn up at them and meet the regular racers, get involved in the scrum of the race, and socialise afterwards. I miss that. But I don't want to go back there when I'm not physically or mentally ready.

What I realise I need is a breather from sharp end competitive cycling - time to just ride my bike, time to get in the miles and train progressively, time to not feel I have to show up at the races every week.

Doing the Fred Whitton at the weekend was like a breath of fresh air. I did quality miles (112 of them !) while not feeling that I had to race, and this would still have benefited my training. I need more rides like this.

I also think that changing club will not be a bad idea - probably going somewhere that I can meet friendly cyclists regularly - hopefully a few women racers - and do decent quality, enjoyable club runs.

Sounds simple and reasonable, but I haven't achieved it yet. Hopefully I can turn things around after half time.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

Fred Whitton - a real challenge



I made it up to Coniston, via Kendal, with Him Indoors. The weekend weather had not looked too good. In fact we got caught in a heavy shower on the ride from Kendal to Bowness-on-Windermere. By the time we were boarding the ferry the rain had stopped, and when we arrived in Coniston the sun was shining. It continued to shine for the rest of the day. I just prayed that it would stay dry during the cyclosportive.

I'd felt really tense about my cycling and what shape I was in, so made up my mind that I would just aim to get round the course comfortably, and safely. As long as I set off early I would be able to complete the course at a leisurely pace, and could also hopefully avoid the rain that was forecast for later in the day.

Sunday morning - race day - Him Indoors left the b&b ahead of me so that he could catch a group of his club mates to ride with. Great - so I would be on my own to ride around without feeling any pressure to keep up with the pace of any group.

In all the cycling I do, I never cease to be amazed at what a small world we live in. While at the start line a man asked me if I had done a training camp in Spain - to which I replied yes. "I remember you," he said as his face lit up and he smiled. "You were on a Graham Baxters camp at Albir Garden." He was exactly right. "Gosh," I replied in amazement. "How are you ?" It was Dudley Heaton, an ex-pro road racer, who had been a cycle coach during the Baxters spring training camp back in 2000. He'd aged a little since then, but he still had the same vivacity in the way he spoke, and the Yorkshire accent. He was in Coniston helping out with the event. It was nice to see him. Ironically, when he'd seen me ride back in those days I was new to the cycling and wasn't very fast. Given the form I was in today, I wasn't going to be riding much faster !

Anyway, once I got going I felt quite happy, admiring the beautiful scenery - and the mountains. Our first climb of the day was Hawkshead Hill - just half a mile after setting off ! It was not the steepest climb by any means, but it was hard doing it on cold muscles. After that came rolling terrain until we reached another climb just after Ambleside, which was the start of Kirkstone Pass. Going down the other side gave one of the most beautiful views along the way - the sky looked wild, but the sun was poking through above the lake and between the mountains.




There then followed a fast section along the A66 towards Keswick. I managed to get talking to a local lady cyclist along the way. She gave me a brief run-down of the course profile and how to get through it. Very useful stuff. After Keswick we were into Borrowdale, another very scenic area. That took us then to a trio of energy sapping climbs. The brutal Honister Pass, Newlands Pass, and then Whinlatter Pass. There was a feed station between Honister and Newlands, and Whinlatter was not very steep. However, these climbs were long and had a few 25% ramps to negotiate. This didn't leave much time for recovery.

The course continued to follow the same pattern - beautiful scenery, lakes, tough climbs over Cold Fell and Swarth Fell. Then down into Eskdale, only to see the full horror of Hardknott Pass in the distance. The sight of cars and cyclists alike struggling up the road was a truly ominous sign.

I had already made up my mind that I would not be able to ride up it, so was resigned to walking up the first 33% section. Everyone else around me did the same. One guy did attempt to ride up the pass. He looked good as we shouted words of encouragement to him. Then suddenly we heard a bang. The poor guy had run out of strength and fallen over. Naturally he gave up the struggle, and we all walked up as a group. Descending the pass was no easier. My arms were aching from having squeezed the handlebars so tightly ! Imagine riding down a wall !

Wrynose was "easier", being just 25%. I fancied my chances of getting up this in the saddle. This time a few guys cheered me on while they walked up. But alas, I felt a sudden sharp pain down both of my quads, as they went into spasm. I had to dismount rapidly, and stop to stretch my legs. I didn't bother to ride again until the start of the descent.

Once I'd surmounted those two beasts I knew I was home and dry. I flew down the hill back to Langdale, then did the right turn to get me back to Coniston. I was just so pleased that I'd managed the ride in such decent weather, and felt happy that I'd got round ok. It was good to see Him Indoors at the finish line waiting for me.

My time of 10hrs 22 was nothing to boast about at all, but given that I felt fresh at the finish line, I know I could have ridden faster. Now that I know the course I will know how to manage my energy to get a faster time.

Back at HQ we were well fed care of Wilf's cafe, and we celebrated with some local beer. And even at that early stage I was able to say "I'll be back next year."

Fred Whitton is a challenge - there's no doubt about it. You need to be fit to get round all the climbs. Having said that, you don't need to be fast to get through it within the cut-off time. I am proof of that !

Friday, 11 May 2007

Lakeland Adventures





So here I am getting myself ready for another bike trip. It's not to do something as world renown as the Tour of Flanders, or to find some early season sunshine like in the Tour of the Amalfi coast - far from it. I'm off to do the Fred Whitton Challenge in the Lake District. And challenge it most certainly will be. This is one of the oldest cyclosportives in the UK, and it is also probably the hardest. Just hearing people mention Hardknott Pass gives me a sense of fear and loathing !

People often talk about famous climbs that are really hardcore - Alpe d'Huez, Mont Ventoux, the Muur etc. You feel a sense of apprehension once you arrive at the foot of this intimidating climb. You start off modestly, and then you realise - this isn't too bad. There's usually one, possibly two moderately difficult sections but they're over and done with quite quickly. You realise that it's do-able as long as you're properly geared and reasonably fit. Once you've finished the climb you feel a huge sense of achievement. You may even wonder what all the fuss was about !

Well, I was very apprehensive about riding Hardknott Pass when I went to the Lake District three weeks ago, I was intimidated when I saw the climb, I was on the rivet when I started the climb, I nearly maxed out at the top of the climb, and was shell-shocked when doing the descent. I did it, but with great difficulty, and just felt relief when it was over. Having to take on a series of 30% climbs with horrendously steep switchbacks for more than a mile is no laughing matter. It doesn't matter what gearing you have on your bike - whatever you have, you will be over-geared ! I know exactly what the fuss was about - in fact I wonder why there is not more fuss made about it ! More importantly I wonder if 3 weeks has been enough time for me to recover from that awful cycling experience !

When we rode it we had already ridden 50 miles. This Sunday when we ride it
during the Fred Whitton Challenge we will have 100 hilly miles in our legs, after having done Kirkstone, Whinlatter, Newlands and the dreaded Honister passes. Oh, my God ! Well I'm not even bothering with racing pedals - spd's for me so I can walk up the road easily - as I will inevitably have to do at some point ! I've also packed wet weather gear, and have put my Continental 25mm Gatorskin tyres on, for added grip - a necessity for when coming down one of the many infamously steep descents in the rain.

Apart from that small detail of the 112mile cyclosportive, I am looking forward to the trip. This will be my second time in the Lake District this year. Before this year, the last time I had been there was in 2003.
The Lake District may have ridiculously steep roads to climb, and damp weather, but the place is still beautiful. I really loved the views of the mountains and the lakes last time around - I particularly liked the views around Lake Coniston. There was a great sense of tranquility, riding through the forest, with the Lake just beside me and the mountains just beyond the lake. The sun even made an appearance, which revealed the various colours of the mountains in all their splendour.

I shall look forward to seeing all that again, and possibly doing some walking. I might even manage to fit in a boat trip.

Monday, 7 May 2007

So Why Go to the Amalfi Coast ?





It was all a bit of an adventure buzzing off to Southern Italy on my own, with my bike and doing a bike event in a small out of the way town.

Some people wonder why I did it at all. Afterall, I could have done like alot of my peers at this time of year - gone on a week long training camp with some sports tour company, or with a cycling club to the usual places - Mallorca, Lanzarote, Southern Spain, or North East Italy. This option may even have been less hassle as they would be used to welcoming foreign cyclists, and there wouldn't have been the language barrier.

But I chose to go to Southern Italy 'cos I wanted to try something different. I have been to Mallorca and Lanzarote a few times, and I agree that they are pleasant places to cycle round in the early season. But in recent times I find that I want more from a cycle trip than just doing the training camp. I like to get a feel for the place I'm in - meet the folks from there, ride the roads that the locals ride, eat the local food, and just learn abit about life in this new place. In short, I want more of a cycling experience than just a training camp with people that I can see quite easily when I'm at home. The Amalfi coast is a beautiful area, with dramtic coastlines, spectacular scenery, and well known sites of interest (Pompeii, Vesuvius, and the Island of Capri). It's not a big destination for British based cyclists, but while out there I noted that cycling is just as big in this region as it is in other parts of Italy.

Also doing a local cyclosportive gives the cycling trip a bit of a goal. These types of cyclosportive events take place all the time in Italy. You could do one every week if you wanted ! So why not get involved. The folks are generally really pleased to see someone from abroad doing their race, and you get a warm welcome. I was even photographed on the podium for the women's prizegiving. (I had no idea this picture was for the local paper, until I stumbled across it on the internet a couple of weeks later. That made my day !)

I was sad to say goodbye to my new found buddies at the end of my Sorrento trip, and thanked them heartily for the great event they had put on. On my return to England I felt really refreshed like I'd done something new - and not just the usual pilgrimage to a training camp.


A few travel facts :

I flew into Naples (with British Airways, who do not charge for bike carriage)

At the airport I took the Curreri bus to Sorrento - 7 euros one way (They carry bikes on the coach). It dropped me at Sorrento train station, 5 minutes from the main square.


I stayed at the Villa Elisa appartment, Piazza Sant'Antonino, in the centre of town (75 euros/night). The appartment was clean and pretty, with all the usual facilities - bathroom, kitchen facilities, dining area, TV, air conditioning. There's a nice courtyard where you can eat, and there are sun loungers on the roof. The landlady is very friendly.

The cyclosportive cost 23 euros to enter. It is possible to enter right up to the day before the event. If you are not sure of the details of the event, ask at one of the local bars and the bike hire shop around the main square (Piazza Tasso), or along Via degli Aranci, where the race goes.

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

7th Giro Ciclistico della Penisola Sorrentina e Costiera Amalfitana - Last Part




THE LONELY ROAD AHEAD

I got my bike sorted, and rode on anyway. At least I wouldn't be under pressure to ride at the pace of the peloton !
I decided I would nevertheless ride as fast as I could in order to test myself - also I wanted to be finished by lunchtime. I had sight-seeing to do !

It turned out that a number of other riders had had mechanicals (mainly punctures) as a result of the bumpy descent out of Sant'Agata sui due Golfi. At intervals I would see a rider standing at the side of the road with their team mates while he made the necessary repairs.

That made me feel re-assured to know I wouldn't be alone. The descent to Sorrento was just as pleasant as I had imagined. A few late comers overtook me at a phenomenal pace. I would've liked their company, but I wasn't ready to follow them at such a kamikaze pace. This was also the case when we hit Sorrento town and had to negotiate the traffic - mainly tourist coaches. This was worse than the City of London at rush hour ! How could they allow so many tourist monsters on the road ! Some cyclists took great risks squeezing between buses, but I was just not sure I could do so without me or my bike getting squashed ! So I just stayed where I was, preferring to lose even more time on the bunch than damage my bike or get a bruising.

I was definitely disadvantaged riding outside of the race. If I'd been with the main bunch we would have been chaperoned by the whole caravan of vehicles. The traffic would have been stopped for us, and the peloton would have had a free run. On my own, I was just another cyclist - albeit with a race number on, but that still wouldn't give me the right to a clear road through the town. In the crowded street with Sunday morning shoppers and tourists I felt a bit daft and out of place riding around with a race number on, but with no apparent sign of a race being on ! I probably had the air of a sheep that had lost the rest of its flock !

Once out of Sorrento and Vico Equense the road was largely clear. I managed to get a rhythm going on the bike and caught a few riders on the drag up to Castellammare di Stabia. The broom wagon, which was standing in a layby on the main road tooted at me as the folks enquired if everything was ok. Yes, everything was fine, apart from missing the draft of 500 people to pull me along !



ONWARDS AND UPWARDS

Shortly after Castellammare the main climb up to Agerola began. I felt comfortable doing this, as I'd only been on this road the day before yesterday. Soon I caught a guy who I'd thought was going quite slowly. I passed him, but realised he had latched onto my wheel. Great - a drafting partner for the climb ! We then took it in turns to tow each other up the hill. I found it difficult to concentrate on the hill and think in a foreign language at the same time, so kept my conversation to very simple talk. "Que Lungo, quanti chilometri ?" Near the top, just outside the tunnel, we met another cyclist at the side of the road. He latched onto the front and gave us a tow through the tunnel. That was very useful as he was pretty strong and was able to get us out of that cold dark place pretty quickly.

We then sped down the hill to Agerola, where the first feed station was placed. I'd expected a long table flush with lots of food for people to stop at, browse the fare, and choose what to eat and drink. In fact this feed station was more like what you get in a road race - people stood at the side of the road handing out bottles and food that you were meant to grab quickly while you were riding along. You weren't expected to stop. As I didn't trust my food grabbing skills I stopped, picked up 3 fruit bars and a bottle of water and then arranged everything in my saddle bag and pockets. Not very elegant I know. Of course with all this faffing I lost the others that I'd been with and was once again on my tod. They had probably arrived in Amalfi (10kms downhill) by the time I was getting going again !



DOWN TO THE COAST

As I made my descent I found the 180 degree turns a bit difficult to negotiate so took them at slow speed. I was soon caught by 2 guys in yellow. "Vai con noi", one of them shouted. They'd obviously sensed I was having difficulty so they invited me to follow them. Having someone's line to follow made all the difference, and I was able to take the descent confidently at speed. I didn't have time to contemplate the dramatic coastline or the rocky surfaces, or the cool blue sea. I was just following this yellow back-side - keen to not make any errors on the corners ! We passed 6 or 7 people, during this descent. That made me feel good.

After Praiano the road started to undulate and we began climbing up to Positano. The guys in yellow shot up the climb. I couldn't keep up with them, so just settled into my own pace. I just kept a steady rhythm, keen to save a bit of energy for the really steep ramps near the end of the course. As I climbed up to Positano I realised this wasn't such a lonely ride for me, as I was constantly catching people. Some of them I passed, others I managed to work with.



THE LONG SLOG BACK

After Positano we headed inland, and so took in a few more climbs - colli San Pietro, Picco San Angelo. At the top of this climb was Sant'Agata and the event HQ. There were guys hanging around, who had clearly finished some time ago and were warming down. It was so tempting to turn left and just go up to the finish line - but I knew I had to do the remaining 12 miles, along with the group I was with.

We then plunged downhill on the road back towards Sorrento - the road we had done first thing this morning. At the bottom of the descent, instead of going straight on into Sorrento, this time we took a sharp left to Massa Lubrense. A group of riders were arguing with a policeman who had directed them the wrong way. They'd apparently missed the left turn and had ended up going all the way into Sorrento before realising they'd gone off course. The policeman was looking pretty sorry as the riders remonstrated. I couldn't imagine riders arguing like that in England.

With this group of riders joining our group, we became a peloton of around 25 riders. That was good for the morale, as I was beginning to feel a little tired, and the road began to rise up again. The road went uphill relentlessly for around 4 miles, passing through little villages - Termini, Metrano, Madonna de la Neve. The chatting that had previously been going on stopped, as people were feeling the toughness of the race, especially as the sun beat down. The peloton became strung out. I actually found myself near the front of the string, which made me feel confident. I felt spurred to dig in and make my best effort to keep with the leaders. The local village-folks we passed called out Bravo, Brava etc. from over their Sunday lunches. If only I could've stopped to join them. This was probably the longest 4 miles of the race.

Finally I saw the red finish gantry 200m away. I could barely manage a sprint for the line as the 2 guys ahead of me cranked up the pace on the final 10% ramp and left me behind. I crawled over the line, my face full of sweat and salt.
"Good ride", the finish marshals said to me. "It was very difficult", I replied in English. I made my way back to the event HQ, relieved that it was over, and pleased that I'd managed to get back in time for lunch.



PASTA AND PRIZES !!

The prize presentation, as is often the case with these Italian events had quite a lot of fanfare. Chairs and tables laid out in front of as stage, an MC, music, generous prizes. It seems they really appreciate their women riders. I finished 8th woman, and was called up for a prize. Apparently 10 women (out of a field of 700) took part, and we all ended up with prizes ! I got a box of local wines and an alarm clock (which would have come in handy earlier that day !). This was to add to my goody bag of more local wine, some limoncella, pasta, and a cuddly toy ! We were also fed a 3-course meal, and I enjoyed the company of some local Italian cyclists who were keen to chat to me ! Not bad for 23 euros !

For what had seemed like a very unsure start to events, I'd ended up having a good day out. I'll probably do this race again next year. Thanks to Federico Pecchia and Francesco Cioffi for their warm welcome and for putting on a great ride.