Curlew Cup – with Gemma Sargent

Image87wI arrived to Newcastle  fairly early in the afternoon the day before the race, because I was picking up my team mate Louise from the coach station & heading over to the hotel. I do try to be as relaxed as possible the day before a race, and so this means getting there early where possible so I can get settled.

Louise had been up at 3am to get a flight from Girona to Manchester & then a loooong coach journey from Manchester to Newcastle, so bless her she was understandably weary when I picked her up.  We headed over to the hotel where we would meet the team car & the rest of the crew.

I always get butterflies when I see other teams arriving, I don’t know why……I guess it just reminds me of the task ahead the next day.  There is so much to think about before and during a race!

Before we knew it, it was race day…..up early & Phil (Dempsey, our team manager) brought us our prepared breakfasts of overnight protein oats, with fresh fruit & yoghurt. I always struggle to eat on race day and today was no different.

We arrived at the race bright and early, got parked and started to prepare for the race. As always “we’ve got loads of time” ends up as “OMG it’s time to start warming up now” – it literally flies by!

We got positioned on the start line and I look to my left, where I see none other than Dame Sarah Storey right next to me. I said a nervous hello.  I hate the feeling lined up just before the race, you are nervous, excited, apprehensive and scared all at the same time…..each race is so different, you never really know what to expect.

Boom, off we go…….race time! Keep your head, keep your position Gemma, I kept telling myself! I was waiting for the first time up the Ryals – after that I would know how my legs were faring for this race. We were pretty much just out of the neutralised zone and then bang: all I could hear behind me were a couple of screams and that awful sound of carbon hitting tarmac… just keep going, don’t look back!!! I had no idea who had come down and no idea if my team mates were involved, but I hoped not! The peloton was already decimated.

So here it was – the Ryals in the distance. I tried to keep as calm as possible on the approach. UP UP UP; “Ignore the pain!” I kept telling myself. So, I survived the first time up & was in the main peloton, which had gone from 70 riders to about 25ish. Four riders had clipped off the front of us and were working well to get away. The rest of the peloton didn’t react straight away and I could see them slipping away into the distance. There were a few times where a chase was organised and we could see how close they were, but could never really get to them! So frustrating…

…For the rest of the race I kept thinking about my positioning and kept trying to keep near the front quarter of this depleted bunch. There was one part of the course that literally looked like it had bathed itself in gravel, so I was always cautious here & hung back a bit.

Onto the last lap, we got a time gap check from the motorbike and it was down to 30 seconds, then Charli Alston (Team 22) launched her attack: she knew there was a chance to get onto this lead group! A few other riders took up the chase – “Go with it, go with it!” I screamed to myself. Sadly it didn’t bridge across and the bunch was back together again.

Now it was all about using your head and not expending too much energy – save something for the sprint. Up the Ryals for the last time (thank goodness for that) and it was all about the next 6k to the finish… as always the pace slowed and then, the nearer you get to the finish, it builds and builds and builds. “Move up Gemma, move up!”  I was getting nicely positioned 200m to go…..then a rider comes down in front of me on to the grass verge to the right….nooooooo! I slowed and swerved GO GO GO come on legs! ………20th 🙁

The sad face is because I knew there was a better position in me, but that said, it is my best National Series Race result to date… hopefully more improvements & better to come. On to the National Road Race in Stockton-On-Tees now. Eeeeeeek!