You might not have heard of Francesca Rust yet, because as she explains below she’s only been cycling since last year – but VO2 Bikes, a new women’s team, has already signed her up to race with them in 2015. That’s a meteoric rise by anyone’s standards, so expect to hear much more about her once the new season gets under way.
I asked Francesca if she would put together a guest blog recounting her first attempt at competitive cycling which, as is the case with so many new riders, was a time trial. With low entry fees and so many being organised by local clubs that have a real enthusiasm for bringing more women into the sport, time trials are one of the most accessible routes into racing, but the time trial world is a secretive one that can be daunting when a rider makes her first foray into it – Francesca is ideally placed to give other women who have been considering putting themselves to a test against the clock can expect to experience.
A bit of background about me, I only started cycling last year after being easily persuaded to do the London to Paris charity bike ride in aid of Ormiston. The 310 mile ride was quite possibly the best decision I have ever made as it gave me the platform to join my local cycling club, meet new people and join in the fun! I had one go at our 9.5mile timetrial last year of my make-shift TT bike. I just put clip-on bars onto my handlebars and suddenly I was “aero” like the rest. Result. I didn’t do too badly (in my opinion – what really counts) but I was hooked. I was itching for more but had to wait for the spring to have a proper crack at it.
With winter over, I have spent most of this year having a go at my local club time trials, they vary between 5 miles and 21 miles, some flat and some “undulating”! I had set myself a goal of trying to win my club’s TT league, but with few women turning up I was racing against myself most of the time but improving nonetheless.
Nearing the end of the year, I volunteered to help out at the E2/10 race with another lady from my club. This was the one down the A11 from Six Mile Bottom. Handing out rider numbers and chatting to a few, I was kind of gutted I couldn’t do it. After a brief discussion with John from Chelmer, he told me that there would be another in a couple of weeks on the same course and I should enter it. Me being me, unsure of my own capabilities, I asked what the times were and if I even stood a chance! Thinking about it now though, who cares what my time is, I am racing against myself and it would be my first “proper” TT against cyclists outside of my club.
I literally had no idea how to do it – the application that is. The cycling, well it’s a case of just keep pedaling! I was lucky that I had a number of guys in my club who were very supportive in helping me sign up – what sites I had to register on etc. Signed up via Cycling Time Trials, paid my sign on fee (much cheaper than sportives that’s for sure), guessed my 10mile time – I had never done a 10mile, only 9.5 or 11. They use your best time on the distance to work out your handicap (I found out after).
20th September 2014 arrived. It was E2/10 day. I was incredibly nervous, but also very excited. I had two of my London to Paris cycling friends (Jo & Sue)coming to do it too which made the event even more exciting. They are both so very supportive and as we hadn’t done this kind of TT before, I guess we were all in the same boat – SCARED. Arriving at the HQ, signed on, we decided we’ll drive the course. It was a good decision as it made us realise just how long 5 miles out and back was, realise it’s not a flat road – like it feels in the car doing 70mph and also terrify me with the amount of lorries and cars on the road. With anxiety already at peak, it started to rain. Oh joy! I’ll be honest, between the three of us there were a couple of comments about still doing it – surely they’d cancel.
We got down to the start line to have a warm up. It was raining quite a lot now. Already soaked from standing in a puddle I pedalled off up the road, getting about 2 miles out then realising that I really need to raise my saddle. I was borrowing a bike from Aprire (London bike company) which I hadn’t ridden before (error no. 1) getting back to my car and realising I didn’t have any allen keys (error no. 2) I borrowed one off a nice couple and raised it slightly. I stopped to check it with one of the guys from my club also doing the TT and said I was starting in about 15 minutes so very little time to tweak or even warm up for that matter. Jo my L2P friend was also having technical difficulties – her gears weren’t working. She was starting a minute after me so was having a bit of a flap too. Jon put me on his turbo and just said spin the legs. This is where I found out that you need different skewers to use on a turbo! I had about 9 minutes. Having a panic I thought ok I‘ll take a gel, this was probably more for the confidence boost than the actual energy as it wouldn’t have fully kicked in by the time I was half way round.
Start line. Jo behind me. Jon supporting from the side. I pushed off up the A11. If I had a heart rate monitor on, I dread to think how high it peaked at that point. Surprisingly though, once I negotiated the transition onto the road, I secured my place in the worn line – on the road, not on the white line which I had originally thought was where you were supposed to ride. Overcoming that fear was a big change point. I was well and truly in the line of traffic. Most of the ride is a bit of a blur, all that was going through my head was my friend Bob saying I could do it in 23minutes. I joked at him and worked out what speed I would need to do to do it in that. Laughing I thought I would never be able to hold 26mph for 10 miles. Never. Coming off the A11 and onto the roundabout was a bit hairy to say the least. And inconsiderate driver undertook me and then stopped in front of me. I had to brake hard and then didn’t have time to change my gears to pull away easily. I wasn’t used to the gears being on the front – I normally ride a road bike with clip-ons remember! Pulling away again round the roundabout sitting upright was hard. Going back down the slip road to join the A11 again, 5 miles to go now. I reluctantly checked what average I was doing, 25mph ish. No way! This gave me a boost. I looked across the dual-carriage way and saw Jo in her bright green Chelmer kit. Another boost – my friendly fear was that she would overtake me. I was also closing on a guy in front. Just keep pedalling. I over took the chap. My average was going up. I could see the finish and just kept trying to push. With my legs not wanting to go any faster I just focussed on crossing the line. A lorry came by very close and blew me onto the white line. Panic and adrenaline kicked in and I dug in. legs burning and eyes (or visor) slightly blurry from the rain. Finish.
Thinking about it now, it was one of the best TT’s I have done. It was out and back. Simple. It was scary, but there was so much support from everyone, the volunteers at sign-on, the guys at the push-off, and at the finish. They explained everything to me.
I came 4th with a time of 23.37. Sue came 1st and Jo came 8th (on a road bike). Unfortunately I didn’t get a handicap win as I hadn’t done a 10mile before so they use a rule figure which made me faster than others. Next time I might get it. But for me, finishing and overcoming the fear of a dual-carriage way TT was a win for me. I cannot wait until next year to do it again (when it’s not raining)! I would highly recommend anyone to give it a go, you don’t need a TT bike, you don’t even need to be a member of a club, just register on Cycling Time Trials and find one near you, ask friends for advice and get pedaling!
Words and photographs © Francesca Rust