A silver birch with red and orange leaves. Its skinny trunk dancing to the wind. It stands alone and proud, soaking in the last of the autumn sun before winter comes. A rain storm the night before has left the air feeling fresh and the sky blue. There is a big group heading out for a long ride into the hills and I’m going to join them.
But before then, the final race of the season, the nerves, the anticipation, the last pedal strokes in anger.
World Championships can change your whole season in one race. A good day means finishing the year on a high. My heart would love to win but my head knows it’ll be extremely difficult.
Over the last decade Great Britain has won grand tours, world titles and Olympic medals by the bucketload so when I put on the red, white and blue jersey I feel the pressure. Unlike many women’s races, this one is televised so the whole world can watch. Knowing my grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends are at home watching gives me an extra motivation to be aggressive and race my heart out.
Last year in Bergen was my third elite World Championships and I will always remember it. I felt good and didn’t want to hold back. The course was challenging but suited my riding style, and I loved every second [Hannah animated the race’s finale with her strong riding to finish in 14th place]. I was overwhelmed with the comments and interviews after the race. I felt that it was the first time I had been recognised by the national media and it gave me great motivation for winter training.
The racing season is long and an emotional rollercoaster. One weekend you could have a great race but the next weekend you could find yourself struggling to stay with the peloton so finishing Worlds and the final race of the season is a relief. Afterwards, I just want to celebrate with the rest of the women’s peloton. For the majority of us, it’s the first opportunity in a long time that we can let our hair down. We don't have to worry about what we eat or drink, or what time we go to bed – it’s all rather bizarre.
I sometimes wonder if I enjoy the off season too much. It’s a time to recover physically but also, possibly even more importantly for me, to recover mentally. Cycling is my profession, my love, my whole being, but the month where I don't put a helmet on, calibrate my power metre or fill my water bottles is my favourite time of the year. I can live a little, enjoy seeing my family and friends, go on crazy late nights and eat a big pizza followed by a bowl of ice cream.
This month of freedom flies by and soon it’s time to squeeze back into lycra and start building my fitness ahead of next season. I’m not going to say I enjoy the first slow rides back because I don’t. I spend them hating my bike, but I know the only way I’m going to start feeling better is to keep riding.
Once I start to feel fit I am in love with cycling all over again. It doesn't take me long to get back into the routine of training well, eating well and sleeping well. My first two weeks of winter training doesn't need much structure so the length of my rides are often decided with companions. I enjoy being an adventure cyclist, discovering hidden roads and climbs, relishing the freedom of the long social rides.
I slowly start incorporating intervals into my training. The off season is officially over. The summer combination of shorts and jersey is long gone and the layers of merino are increasing with each week that passes. My mood doesn’t change. I love this time of year. The roads are quiet, mornings start with a bowl of hot porridge and there is no feeling of panic about form. There is no worry yet about power numbers or how your legs are. Then Christmas comes and feelings of apprehension for the coming season slowly appear along with the harder training plan. It’s winter. The new season is nearly here.
HIDDEN LEAVES COLLECTION
Designed in close collaboration with Hannah, the collection’s striking geometric pattern traces the outline of a fallen leaf while the colour palette draws inspiration from the bright colours of autumn, from the deep greens of September to the rusty reds of November.