I rode my first bike race early in 2016 at the infamous ‘Pimbo’. I had no idea what I was doing, and it was the first time I had seen Drops, also in their first year. It was amazing, the distinctive Miami Green coats lined the start/finish, the team car looked so professional, it was a huge eye opener into the world of cycling. Drops rode as stylishly as their outfits, dominating the race and winning with Lucy Shaw. Fast forward 4 years and I’m now riding for Drops, my first UCI Team, 5 years after learning how to ride a bike!
There’s something I’ve noticed in the women’s Peloton, and girls in general, and that’s the ‘when did you start?’ conversation. It seems like the less time people take to get where they are going, the better, it’s as if it should earn you some kudos. I agree, if you’ve got there quickly, then I take my hat off to you. Two sayings that can be applied to every race, training session or power test are: ‘The race is long, and at the end of day it’s only with yourself’ and ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. These are two sayings I have to regularly tell myself. It seems in life we can get lost in the bigger picture, rather than our own journeys, of where you’ve come from and where you are going – after all, you’re the only one in your shoes, living your life, so what you do has to make you happy, and has to be your fulfilment.
So, in a nutshell, in 2018 I took the plunge to take a career break from pharmaceuticals sales to see how good I could be. I didn’t want to be one of those people who would look back and think ‘oh I could have been this good’ or have any regrets. My ethos in life is ‘it’s much better to try and fail, and experience something incredible, then to never have tried at all’.
I had done this with a British domestic team, but an opportunity came to join ‘Isorex No Aqua’ – it was a mega year, with so much experience gained in UCI races and national races in Belgium. This year of living, racing and surviving a season in Belgium was one of the things that stood out to Bob, and I can’t recommend it enough if you want to progress on to the next level of road racing. I personally don’t think that UK results alone do enough, you need the experience and to be seen by other teams and show you can survive those longer races against the best in the world, not just the UK scene.
My Drops experience started at the much-anticipated camp in Cambrils, it felt like the first day of school. I was scared, and excited all mixed into one. Would I be good enough? Would everyone like me? Will I fit in? Major excitement and mild anxiety filled my body. I was so excited to meet everyone – there were a few riders that had come from incredible world tour teams, so I was already in awe of them. I was conscious not to be too much of a fan girl, or have too much word vomit with questioning, wanting to know all the cool stories, and what it was like riding for some of those incredible leaders etc, and also praying I wouldn’t be miles away from them when we started training and riding. Then you had the girls I kind of knew like Anna Christian, British hitter, hoping she’s thinking I was worthy of being good enough to be on Drops, after she lost a lot of her mega-talented team from the last couple years, with several girls either moving on, retiring or focusing on the Olympic track programme.
It was just incredible – I held in the word vomit, and BOOM – we all clicked so quickly! Bob did a mega job of pairing us up in adjoining apartments, so we could all mix, and huge kudos to him choosing girls who massively complement each other on and off the bike and with the great personalities too! I’m sure Sara loved being with two mad heads in myself and Majo! It was like Christmas when we got to our rooms – POC bags – full of goodies – jackets, hoodies, t-shirts, so many sunnies, coats, Sidi Shoes; someone once told me, you’ve made it when you’ve got a shoe sponsor. The added touch for me, was that everything was personalised with our names on – I felt so special and excited!
I had to wait in anticipation to meet my roommate as so many flights had been cancelled due to the crazy storms that were going on at that time, but it was well worth the wait – I kind of had my serious head on, thinking I must sleep lots to be fresh for tomorrows training, then BOOM – ‘she came in like a wrecking ball’ – MEET MAJO! What a legend – she was so bubbly and loud; I loved her straight away! Full of energy, even after a day of delayed travelling and with the biggest smile, and even more excited than me! Majo had missed the grand kit unveil, so we spent the next hour trying on the amazing 2020 Le Col kit – there went my early night!
Every year Drops keep the kit secret from everyone and save it for the ‘Grand Reveal’ – so Finja, our gorgeous young German rider and youngest rider on the team, revealed the kit to the rest of us. We sat excitedly waiting, nervous to see what we would be wearing all year. WOW – it was completely different! When she first stepped out the room was quiet at first, as it was so different to other years, however we loved it, and each day during the camp we fell even more in love with the gorgeous Le Col kit – kudos to Tom – awesome design work!
New bikes, new kit, new friends, everything was just unreal. I fell in love straight away with my Cannondale System Six – the aero beauty. Every morning we met at the team bus, something which I hadn’t experienced before, such a luxury, chairs lined up outside for us to get ready, with bottles and food ready – more luxuries. Our support team and staff were just mega. We had the very best ‘swannies’ (soigneurs). Jodie – overall legend – needs no introduction, as everyone in the racing world knows Jodie, as she has worked with some mega teams, such a funny Welsh goddess, amazing masseur, stands no shit, best sense of humour ever, and even went ‘jogging’ with Bob every morning. Nick, our other swannie, who literally couldn’t do enough to help you, whilst little glints of his previous headmaster career shone through, mixed with stories of ‘this one time when I was in the alps…’
Having a team mechanic was another thing new to me – Simon is our lead mechanic, and he certainly had his work cut out building everyone at least one new bike, some two. Simon’s military background came through strongly, multi-tasking his fast-paced work, with a mega sense of humour and the most detailed explanations you can ever imagine, another one who can’t do enough to help you. He worked tirelessly to make sure my position lined up with my old bike as well as coping with ten other demanding girls.
Every training ride we were accompanied by Bob in the team car, with various special sponsor guests, depending on who was there, as well as the very talented and extremely unassuming ‘Winnie’, another legend aboard the Drops team. Winnie, the down to earth ‘Welshy’, helped Simon wash and check our bikes every day, and sorted any mechanical issues we had whilst out on the road. Bob even got Winnie and his hairy legs out of retirement for the lead out drills, little did I know his palmares, and how many inspiring women he had already worked with; ridden the Giro, worked with the British women’s Rio Olympic team and British women’s track team, and now us, wow!
The level of professionalism throughout the camp was incredible, it’s something I’ve never really experienced before, but I felt so lucky and professional myself throughout the whole week. We had sponsor meetings most evenings, it was incredible to see how much our partners are helping us as brands, and how invested in us they are. The level of commitment from our sponsors is fantastic, especially in women’s cycling, with collaborations on research and development, and marketing campaigns throughout the year. There is definitely something special about being the only women’s team to be sponsored by POC. I adore everything too – if you haven’t already checked out their range it’s a must – from glasses, to the safest, yet famously stylish helmets in the world, to the jackets, caps and personalised kit bags which are my ultimate favourite. We also enjoyed additional sponsor visits and presentations the following week at Setmana Valenciana, our first race of the season.
Rest Day on camp wasn’t really very ‘relaxing’ as we had the usual café ride, which ultimately takes as long as a proper ride, by the time you’ve delayed the grand depart, found the café, minced there and back, and indulged in several coffees basking in the sunshine by the coast. After lunch we had an afternoon of photoshoots and bike fits – not that I was complaining at all. Ultimate cool kid and our amazing team photographer Dan King, from Breakaway Digital, was more than happy to do a shoot with myself and Anna, giving us enough cheesy content for the year ahead. Flare for ideas and patience to go along with our stupid ideas produced some serious and rather amusing photos as we swanned around like absolute divas for the afternoon in our gorgeous Le Col kit.
After the photoshoot it was my turn to visit Jake Yarranton of Precise Performance for my bike fit. So essential when getting on to a brand-new bike, as no matter how much you build up each bike, each brand is slightly different in geometry, so I’d highly recommend a bike fit. Jake was so thorough throughout, we started with a body flexibility check, went through previous injuries and he spent lots of time on me first, which I’ve not really noticed before in bike fits. No dramatic changes were made, enough for me to try and continue riding hard throughout the week without causing any injuries, with plenty of recommendations to try out.
The first stage of my Drops journey was incredible – after several group get togethers and a ‘one to one’ meeting with Bob, we all left with solid new goals, with fire in our bellies; one team with the same vision. I felt empowered as an athlete surrounded by so many strong and inspiring women, so many cultures brought together, so many attributes, and strengths in depth – making us so strong as a team. Honesty, passion, trust and support, were just some of the core values I encountered at camp and even now in these unsettling times this lives on. When the 2020 season recommences, we will be ready. I for one am so grateful to have such a strong network of help and support through this time.