Set up in April 2014, The Racing Chance Foundation is a charity that has set out to provide the necessary infrastructure and support for women to take part in – and enjoy – competitive bike racing. While the racing calendar is looking ever more healthy when it comes to women’s events, the charity’s approach is to provide an alternative route into these races so that participants take the necessary skills and confidence with them to the start line.
Having never raced before, the The Racing Chance Foundation is something I heard about from a clubmate during snatched conversation on a chain gang in the depths of Winter. She had been to one of their first race training days early in 2014 and couldn’t recommend it highly enough, so I added my name to the list. Taking place in mid-January the weather was pretty Baltic with 30mph gusts, so this was definitely a case of jumping in at the cold, deep and turbulent end.
In terms of vital statistics, the session cost just £20 for five hours of tuition and took place at the dedicated Tameside track at Ashton-under-Lyne just east of Manchester. After registering and warming up, our group of 23 huddled together for warmth at what would be our start line for the day while the four coaches briefed us on how it would unfold.
We got started just after 10am and the first main block of training was spent on riding skills and getting used to moving along in close proximity to other cyclists. What this actually resulted in was quite a few loops of our bit of track with arms and feet sticking out into the air, followed by ‘formation’ riding with your hand on the shoulder of the person next to you. On the relatively compact circuit, this was something that took a bit of getting used to but our lines were soon moving smoothly around the track and through the corners.
Riding regularly with a club I’m pretty used to having other cyclists in what might usually be considered personal space, however this is usually in a pretty orderly fashion when it comes to chain gangs and weekend rides. Here, the next section of training was especially useful: to prepare you for the unexpected and promote communication so that you don’t get someone popping up in a space you presumed was yours to move into. How much to signal and vocalise was something I’d always wondered about when it comes to racing as it obviously promotes safety, but can also give away a surprise attack. Having engineered scenarios to practice this sort of thing and everyone being in the same boat, the answer was actually rather more straightforward than I’d thought.
The main component of the day that I wanted to pick out from a skills point of view is cornering. It’s one of those things that is quite individual when getting into cycling, with pushing yourself out of your comfort zone being something that is usually done pretty gradually. In comparison, the Tameside track has one or two tight left-handers and here the approach was to simply attack the same corner 20 times or so, aiming to put the coaches’ advice into practice and successively improve on both lines taken and speed carried through. While this can take place relatively subconsciously over many months on a familiar training ride, really focusing on the same bend meant pushing both your technique and trust in the bike to pretty new levels! This is probably the element that I found most useful from the entire day as it’s just not something you get to try on a blind corner when your chosen line may take you into the path of oncoming vehicles.
Once we were done concentrating on our own confidence levels while getting around a corner, we were split up into teams to simulate cooperative group riding. This featured both the through-and-off style of your usual chain gang, plus some impressively slick team time trial efforts from all of the groups – including a massive (and successful) solo effort by one rider who lapped the field when this exercise was turned into a race. A day for tactics, as well as skills!
Towards the end of the afternoon we had two short races to put the contents of the session into practice, with these not only being valuable training, but also a good example of why a race briefing is absolutely essential. Following a subdued couple of laps we had a two-lap race and after hearing the bell after one and sprinting for the line, I looked around to see that the race was apparently still on and went about squeezing any last bits of energy out of my tired legs until we were called in. The confusion was down to a misunderstanding on a windy day and the race should have finished at the line, so better to eliminate any doubt from your mind at the start and pop your hand in the air.
The last race saw the end of the track session and after a bit of a warm-down we headed inside (finally!) for a cup of tea and debrief. Doing those last couple of circuits however, I remember thinking just how much our hugely varied group had taken on from those few chilly hours and how comfortable it felt to be riding in the wheels of someone you’d only met a few hours earlier. I got the impression from the training as well as the last few months riding with my club that racing in the North West was going to mean seeing a lot of the same faces – but with more women getting involved all of the time.
During the final hour when everyone had layered up and thawed out we had a great session on the fundamentals of training, ultimately providing a bit of a pathway for where each of us could look to next as a focus. I’m incredibly guilty of just going out and doing the same sorts of rides so found the part on training and recovery really interesting, which I think was definitely the case for the rest of the room – especially since prizes were being given out during Q&As.
We left the Tameside track just after three with slightly tired legs, registration forms (for British Cycling and The Racing Chance Foundation membership) and a much better idea for what racing actually involves. Now it’s just a case of putting it into practice through getting some serious training in – and waiting for the Summer to arrive with its bounty of events.
Membership of The Racing Chance Foundation is available for £5 per year with some great benefits – both for yourself and the promotion of women’s cycling. Get involved today: racingchancefoundation.com/join. Male and female riders should also check out their series of races this season, with a good smattering of events available:
All photos gratefully borrowed from The Racing Chance Foundation