Aged 48 and still going, Catherine Coley comes from Worcestershire and is based some of the time in London. She got her first road bike in 2011 to compete in a local triathlon, and did her first tentative race in 2014. In 2016, she did 19 crits and 14 road races, with five wins including the Welsh Road Race Championship and her category in the National Masters Crit, as well as the crit stage of the Manchester two-day stage race in August 2016. Having ridden with Ludlow Brewery Race Team in Shropshire and been a Herne Hill regular in London for three years, Catherine is going to try the track this year and has joined the VCL.
When and how did you get into cycling? What was your first bike?
I am such a late convert to the sport – wish I had found it earlier! I joined a triathlon club at the age of 42 after my fourth baby, as going out for a run was my only chance for any peace and quiet. Doing triathlon was a challenge as it involved learning to swim, and obviously I needed a bike too, so I found a little aluminium-framed racing bike with a triple chainring at a local bike dealer.
I loved cycling immediately, the speed, the space and the fresh air, it reminded me of riding horses, which I did when I was younger, but with less hassle. It was hard work keeping up with the men on my heavy little bike and I wasn’t that fit, so I bought a lovely carbon bike over the phone from Dolan in 2013… and that is when I really began to enjoy cycling.
What is your favourite cycling discipline and why?
I’ve tried most of the road disciplines now and love them all, and even have a cyclo-cross bike, but haven’t really ventured into the mud. This year I’m beginning to race on the track after nearly four years of going to Herne Hill Velodrome in London for the amazing Wednesday ladies and vets session. There’s about 1,000 years of accumulated experience in that session, and the VCL vets who run it have seen it all! My favourite race is the scratch race, probably because it’s one of the less complicated ones.
What do you love most about the sport?
Apart from all the fresh air, it’s the people I’ve met and all the beautiful places I’ve been to for riding or racing – including nearly every corner of England and Wales. I’ve found people to be so generous with their time and advice, it seems to be one of the unwritten laws of cycling, and it’s so important to newcomers.
Which bit of your racing kit is most important to you?
Racing-wise, my favourite piece of kit is definitely my Zipp 202s, which I got last year, they are light and lovely, and I don’t get blown sideways on descents with a crosswind! I race on them nearly all the time on the road.
What’s great about riding for VC Londres? Why did you pick them and what do they do to support women’s cycling?
The VCL is an exceptionally supportive club and I doubt that I would have raced at all without those Wednesday sessions – more or less everything I know about racing I learned at Herne Hill. Last week the VCL lent me race wheels for the Welsh track championships and gave me a masterclass on sprocket whips, chainrings and gear ratios – where else could you find that? There are some really strong women riding for the VCL, and a team riding in the pursuit in the national track championships in February, which is always an inspiration. The club inspires a lot of loyalty, and some people say that Herne Hill, of which the VCL is the main user, is the UK’s top cyclist manufacturing facility!
What should the UCI and British Cycling be doing for women’s cycling?
It all starts with the grass roots… if only there was a Herne Hill in every town! Back in Worcestershire we are lucky to have a circuit at Stourport which is safe for juniors and beginnners to ride on, and this has produced a surge of interest in cycling and racing locally. It’s done masses for women’s cycling – my first races were done on that circuit in 2014, and last January for the same series of crits there were more than 30 women of all ages on the start line for each race, despite the cold and rain.
It is this involvement and these facilities which really bring people into the sport, and which I think deserves most support from British Cycling. Well done to John Ireson of Mamil Cycling for being so supportive of women’s racing at grass-roots level… but race organisers deserve all the help they can get. This year I’m organizing a road race in Shropshire, so this will give me a very good picture of the worries faced by organisers and the generosity of the volunteers who give up their time to help.
Tell us a bit about your off-season training regime. Do you have a winter bike or do you stick with your usual trainer? What’s the best way to keep motivated through the winter?
I keep going on my second-best bike with mudguards… I ride with a couple of clubs in Worcestershire and Shropshire at weekends, and the Sunday club 50 (in nearly all weathers) is one of the highlights of my week. It’s still usually all men – though they’d love more women to come along – and the terrain is hilly, so it’s never a walk in the park. At this time of year we’re looking forward to the weekend reliability trials, which can be tough depending on which group you are in. If it’s icy I don’t go out and stick to the turbo or the rollers. Zwift has been helpful in the depths of winter, and if there’s the chance of an SQT session indoors at a velodrome, I’ll take that too! I find the best way to keep motivated is to ride with other people, there’s something quite life-affirming about being out in truly foul weather.
What were your favourite race, highlights and hardest race in 2016?
Probably the highlight of my year was winning the Welsh Road Race Championships in June. It was a fast race on a blisteringly hot day over three laps of a hilly course, with the Cat. 4s, veterans, junior men and women racing together, which led to some interesting race dynamics. I managed to stick with the chase group, though it was painful on the hills, and this won me the race. It was probably my hardest race of the year too, we covered the 51 miles in 2hrs 11mins. And as I love riding anywhere in Wales, it was probably my favourite race as well.
Describe your warm-up routine.
I’m a fan of the rollers and the bog-standard 20-minute British Cycling warm-up routine, all conducted in one gear, and after an interesting experience with rollers on the grass, on a nice hard level surface. I’m often pretty nervous before the start of a race but this goes once we’re under way. Come to think of it, I still have a frisson of nerves just getting on the rollers! There’s plenty of music in the car on the way to races, but not when I’m on the rollers.
What does the future hold for women’s cycling? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
I’m not sure how long I’ve got left in cycle racing, though I see inspirational women like Isla Rowntree, Jan Birkmyre and Jayne Paine, and think maybe there’s a year or two left for me yet. But it is great to see the junior girls coming up through the ranks, particularly the track and cyclocross juniors who have the most awesome skills. I’m pretty optimistic actually, and my seven-year-old daughter loves her bike too!
There are still some people out there who think women’s racing isn’t as interesting or competitive as men’s racing. What would you say to convince them otherwise?
I’ve just spent the weekend at the Welsh track championships and can assure you that the women’s races were every bit as hotly contested and skilful as the men’s, and were rightly given equal billing. And any doubters about the competitiveness of women’s races haven’t met the feisty peloton of the road races I’ve taken part in! But we could definitely do with more women road racers.
What are your main aims for the coming season?
This year I’m looking forward to racing on the track and doing the crits, time-trials and road races I enjoy – anything in Wales and the West Midlands, as well as the Masters’ Championships and one or two of the Team Series events. The LVRC also run some epic events, with very hard racing, and it is great training to ride in such an experienced peloton – but with the LVRC you aren’t going to win… unless there was a separate women’s race, of course.
A ten-year-old comes up to you after a race and says she’s just starting to race. What one bit of advice would you give her?
Well done, you will love cycling! Join a club and find some riding buddies, and try the track or cyclocross. And the same applies if you are 40 or over – you might be surprised at what you can do.
Finally, here’s the keys for the Neutral Service time machine – you can use it to go for a ride with anyone in cycling history, past or present. Who’s it going to be?
It’s got to be Beryl Burton really, she was quite astonishing, though maybe not the easiest person and probably not given to chatting much on rides!
(All the photos used in this interview, with the exception of “VCL at Herne Hill,” were supplied by Catherine for use by Neutral Service and remain coyright of their respective owners)
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