Heels on Wheels – meeting ladies who ride FAST in the French Alps

I first got a road bike from my parents when I was 17 and rode to raise money for The British Heart foundation from London to Paris. After that my bike collected a bit of dust before becoming a cheaper, faster alternative to public transport in London.

I was introduced to the mountains at a young age, my Mum did a season when she was younger and is a great skier so I have plenty of memories of building snowmen & attempted igloos when I was small.

peakSunrise in the Alps

Living & working in London was amazing, so much fun. Brilliant friends and working as a personal trainer there are so many opportunities. Although the lifestyle is full on, I fancied trying something different and headed to the Alps for what was supposed to be a single winter season.

5 years later i’m still here. I came out for the snowboarding but the longer I have been here the more I have discovered, I now own a lot of kit and have met so many inspiring people. 2 years ago I brought my road bike over for the summer as I was leading cycling trips for ladies round Lake Annecy. A whole new style of cycling opened up to me, I was used to razzing round London dodging buses, waiting at traffic lights and weaving through pedestrians. But out in the Alps you can head up into the mountains, hardly see any cars, get away from the ski resorts into little villages, conquering big climbs then flying down fast weaving descents.

anacyCycling in Annecy (Alpine Fit Club)

Its a steep learning curve though – climbing is challenging. I spent my first summer road biking pedaling up hill as far as possible then when my legs stopped working descending back to the front door. Near the end of the summer I drove to Alp D’Huez and decided it was time to try a ‘proper’ climb. It was hard 21 bends over 12km but I did it – got to the top celebrated with a beer and decided then that I wanted to get better and better and not have to relive the initial struggle to gain enough strength and fitness. From that moment on I’ve been addicted….

bridgeEmily, Colin and me. 2 of my good friends who introduced me to Alpine Cycling

Since then I have been out on my bike year round sun, rain and snow! Last summer I took on my first multi day challenge riding from Bourg to the Beach, over Europe’s highest Cols and Passes. This summer I decided I wanted to step up my riding and start entering events. I didn’t know what to expect as a girl riding mixed events. I’ve also mainly cycled with groups of men so wasn’t sure how i would shape up in comparison to other women.

road ridingWinter training in the snow

I’ve now completed my first event of the summer in Imola, Italy, entering both the 15km Time Trial and Gran Fondo. All my trainig seems to be paying off I can 3rd in the Time Trial and completed the 160km Gran Fondo in 6H15 (quicker than I was aiming for).

podiumThird place at the Imola Time Trial

I really enjoyed riding with ladies, you feel as though you are on a level playing field and are in a position to be competitive. Since being back in Bourg this summer I have joined a group called ‘ Birds on Bikes’ it really motivating to know that there are lots of other women in the Valley riding bikes, training hard and exploring the mountains. There moto is ‘ Girls in the Tarentaise valley who like to meet up for road bike rides. Boys/hubbies are allowed to join the rides provided they ride WITH us and pay for the coffees!!!!!’.

One of the ‘Birds’ and I went on a 100km ride this week and it was awesome time flew, chatting the whole way, stopping for coffees and lunch but keeping a good pace. Its reassuring to ride with someone your level and chat about bikes, events and cycling from a female prospective. There is a women’s event being held in Vercours on the 24th May which I have entered, I’m super excited to be part of a women’s only race and even more now that I know there will be some familiar faces en route 🙂

climbing

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Italian Time Trials, Gran Fondos and Pasta Parties

The chance to ride at a world class F1 and moto GP circuit is not something that happens very often, let alone one in Italy and with friends.

The first ever Over The Hill Gran Fondo, held in the Imola GP circuit was being held at the same time we were in the region just north of Tuscany and with a good friend Stefano from @saddledrunk offering to look after us in his family’s nearby home, it was an opportunity that was far too good to pass up. It also seemed like the perfect end to our month long cycling trip where all the training, riding and touring could be out to the test to see how we were really doing.

We signed up online a few days before the event to ensure that we got a space on the GF and along with the option of 102 or 162km event there was also a Time Trial option. Neither Gaby or myself had ever entered a TT before and though it might be a fun if painful 30minutes of bombing around an infamous circuit (making braap noises).

We did have one slight issue though, Gaby’s carbon bike had broken and she wasn’t able to use it. Our Charge touring bikes are built for massive mile munching and are perfect for that, but for a 15km TT they weren’t suitable so we went on the hunt for a bike to borrow!

Almost instantly we stumbled across a company called Kemo who were demoing their top end race bikes and kindly lent us 2 to have a wiz round the circuit on!

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To say Gabs was ‘off like a rocket’ was a bit of an understatement. Riding her loaded touring bike for 150km a day for the past month had clearly helped as she shot around the course with me desperately trying up keep up and putting my heart rate through the ceiling.

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After returning to the demo arena with huge smiles, panting and explaining how impressed we were with the bike, the mechanics and owner (with a little persuasion) offered to lend Gabs the bike to compete in the TT.

Numbers were hastily attached to the bike and jersey and off we went to the start line to eye up the competition!

We were defiantly the odd ones out with ‘typically’ cycling clothing and helmets…no aero ‘sperm’ lids or over socks for us and certainly no TT bars or Disc wheels.

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The girls were up first and after 10 had set off with 1 minute intervals it was time for gofastergaby to show what she was made of. 3 Laps of the 5km circuit as fast as possible. We estimated that finishing in 30minutes would be a solid time. 30kph.

After a flat out first lap and having over taken 2 people, Gabs looked in no way like slowing down, even taking time out to wave at the crowd and ‘ciao’ a few photographers on the way round. Well I suppose happy miles are fast miles after all!

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We still need to confirm the exact time but around the 25minute mark was her effort…and good enough to bag 3rd place. It also turns out that this event was a rather prestigious one as the winners received the Italian national jersey for their efforts! Next time Gabs…no waving and I wonder how she would do?

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Her prize for 3rd place…a huge Ham! Now if only more races rewarded success with charcuterie cycling would be the most popular sport in the world!

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Even though I didn’t get on the podium I was very happy with my efforts. I managed to beat 30 people with funny helmets and big carbon wheels and got a time of 22minutes over the hilly course.

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Gabs loved it, and understandably as she performed fantastically…I wasn’t so sure as felt like I was going to be sick with exertion for 20minutes, didn’t see anyone on course as I was keeping the same distance between the 2 in front and behind me and then collapsed…

…still a good day out, especially after pasta and Peronis!

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Mansell