This is Troy, my little red bike. (The seat is a lot higher now, this was when I was still a bit nervous last year)
Troy was only given his name this time last year, but I’ve had him for 15 years this year. He was built and given to me by my dad so I could get some vital rehab done after my climbing accident in March 1998. At the time, cycling was easier than walking and also proved excellent for rebuilding the strength in my wasted right leg.
In his previous life, he sported some very smart star-spangled banner handlebar tape, Lance Armstrong style. After I moved away from Manchester though, my poor bike sat outside ignored in the garage until early last year, when he was called back into service for Nightrider 2012.
This time, he was given back to me with blue handlebar tape. By this time, the doubts were well-known about the integrity of said Mr Armstrong, although the full story hadn’t come out. By the time it did, I was very glad to have new handlebar tape (choice of colours – blue, blue or blue).
He’s named Troy after Troy Bayliss, all-round super Ducati rider.
I was already besotted with him, a lovely smile and beautiful blue eyes and gutsy riding was enough for that. I knew he was a big cycling fan, but when he won the WSB championship in 2006 he wore a set of customised rainbow jersey leathers with a matching helmet. That was me, head over heels… although I did slightly go off him after I saw how scrawny his bum was after he showed the TV cameras his recent bike crash scars on the MotoGP coverage at Assen in 2007.
So when I started riding again, I decided Troy would be named Troy. His only performance-enhancing mod has been the addition of two lucky turtle stickers. When I raced motorbikes, I decided that since Valentino Rossi had turtles for luck, so would I. Before my first triathlon, I figured I needed all the luck I could get, and had two stickers left in my toolbox.
Depending on your opinion, they either brought me no luck at all as I didn’t do very well, or they were very lucky indeed as I survived a big panic in the sea thanks to the RNLI at Clacton.
I’ve been running lots recently, but I hadn’t ridden since New Year’s Day when I did the triathlon in Edinburgh. Just as when I haven’t ridden my motorbike for a while, I get awfully nervous and jumpy about going out and so I tend to wait and wait for the right moment.
Cycling is in my blood, thanks to my dad. He is a hard as nails road cyclist, as thin as a whippet, and he has been riding for over 50 years now. My childhood was spent watching him race across the south east of England, and every July we would gather round the TV at 6pm every day for the Tour highlights on Channel 4.
Words such as peloton, tete de la course, maillot jaune, King of the Mountains, maillot vert, Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, Champs Elysees are as much a part of my vocabulary as the Italian musical terms that come from my mother’s influence.
On weekends when my mum was away playing in concerts, we went to see the Milk Race and the Tour of Britain.
One year he took me to watch the Paris Six Day races at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy. I’d never seen track cycling before and it was quite a spectacle. There was a crazy accordion player in the centre of the velodrome, and when a sprint was on, the siren would go to signal the start and he would play and dance faster and faster with his band until it was over. I saw the Men’s Pursuit Final from the Beijing Olympics, and of course as much of the London Olympics as possible, and they were very exciting but nothing has quite matched up to Paris for me. I couldn’t speak a word of French and only recognised a couple of rider names – Tony Doyle and Laurent Fignon being the two I remember, but I loved every second. And of course, I am a daddy’s girl so the fact that I saw all this with my dad made it extra special.
So when I get out on a bike, I feel like I can’t just get on and have a little trundle about. It’s the same as music for me, yes it’s fun but it’s also so much more than ‘just’ getting on your bike or playing your instrument. It’s part of who I am and I take it terribly seriously.
I now live in very serious cycling country, where you cannot escape hills wherever you go. No slogging up Tenpenny Hill (in Essex) and being done with any more.
The cyclists I’ve met on my rides have generally proved to be much more friendly than the runners I’ve met. When I’ve been passed, it’s always been with a bit of a chat. I know no-one bats an eyelid how fast I’m going, but I really really care and it really bothers me that I’m not very fast and I’m frightened of the inevitable falling off process that comes with wearing proper shoes, so I’m still wearing my trainers despite being on quite a tasty bike.
Today the perfect moment finally came, I finally managed to shut my head up, and I had a good spin around the roads near my house. Nothing terrible happened, unless you were the poor Asda lorry driver that had to wait an eternity for me to climb the hill into Bardowie.
In fact I really enjoyed my ride today. As in many other areas of life recently, I’ve relaxed a lot and calmed right down. I like hills. I like the fact that there is only one way to beat them. I like that if you stop, it’s harder to get going again so you might as well just keep going. I find them agonising but in a sick way, I really enjoy them. Today I stayed relaxed on the climbs and it felt brilliant. I wouldn’t say I breezed up them, but they felt so much easier than the last time I’d been up them.
A few of months ago, I entered a competition to win a place in the Etape du Tour on 7th July. This is an amateur cycle event that is basically a stage of the Tour de France, before the main event occurs. It would have meant some serious training, but I was up for the challenge and I live in the perfect area to give it my best shot.
Unfortunately I didn’t win, but I had hoped to take part in the Rapha Women’s 100 on the same day as the Etape du Tour. This is a worldwide event aimed at getting female cyclists out on the road all on the same day and completing the same distance – 100km. I’ve ridden this far before, on last year’s Nightrider event. My procrastination was making this look unlikely, but today went well and so I have decided to definitely do it (unless it is honking down with rain). I missed out on my half marathon in March because of my knee injury, and suddenly the thought of another big target is very appealing.
And so, over the next couple of weeks I will be making a more concerted effort to get out and do some proper hills. Granny gears or not. At least I have a good excuse for riding like a girl.
I’m also finally going to have my first go up the Crow Road. It’s not the same one as my favourite Iain Banks book, but it seems like as good a time as any.