What’s it like to take your riding to the next level and join a team? After nine years of racing, this is Maryka’s first year racing as part of team. In this piece, Maryka reflects on her journey in women’s racing and how the landscape is ever changing.
“I write this as I sit on the ferry from the mainland to the Isle of Man, heading over to race the National Time Trial and Road Race Championships. This is my eighth season of racing in nine years (taking only 2011 off to have my daughter) and 2017 has been an eye-opener for me. After so many years racing mostly solo, I have finally joined a “proper” women’s team in Fusion RT Fierlan. I have teammates, a manager, financial and practical support, and team car for races.
It’s been a real pleasure to take to the start line and look around at several jerseys the same as mine, or be in the middle of a race and see a friendly face next to me. Whilst I wasn’t able to make it to our team training camp in Portugal, our pre-race rides and general banter at the hotel and at team meals means I’ve felt like a welcome addition to the team.
The Changing Peloton
At the age of 43 with my best years pretty much behind me and having had much of 2016 off with injury, I have been pleasantly surprised at the standard and quality of riders in the national elite peloton this year. Whereas a few years ago I would have been able to play a role as one of the stronger riders in the bunch, now I am surrounded by riders like that.
My teammates have remarked the same. The women’s peloton has grown in leaps and bounds since last season even, as the addition of UCI-registered teams and talented domestic riders has lifted the standard in fitness and competition higher than ever before. This increase in quality at the top of the pile has dragged up those at the bottom as well, with many riders having coaches, a training plan, training camps, powermeters, and top of the line bikes and kit. Basically the entire women’s field is now a full step higher.
Sponsors and Technology
Back in 2009 at my first Team Series race, I was lucky to see a handful of riders on deep section wheels; now you’re lucky to see a handful without them. Teams have become a professional affair with sponsorship, team cars, full-time (or near enough) racers, and a sense of commitment to excellence and results that simply did not exist when I started racing.
There has always been a fast-track for those who enter the sport at the bottom and immediately display talent. Now that track is even faster with the likes of Strava (segment chasing) and Zwift (virtual racing) making it clear almost immediately who has the potential to race at a high level domestically and beyond.
What else has changed between 2009 and 2017? This is the first year that I can recall the National Women’s Series title and rankings being chased by several riders, all committed to turning up at every race in the series.
Races such as the Lincoln GP are setting entry records (150 entries!) whilst those like the Cicle Classic have put up huge prize funds, something that was unheard of in domestic racing even 2 years ago. The women’s National Time Trial championships has a full field of 50 riders, compared to only 43 or 44 for each of the men’s races, and this with the champs on the Isle of Man in the middle of the week. The standard just continues to grow and the riders continue to respond, as do the race organisers and the fans and journalists who follow the racing.
Pushing ‘Til The Last Mile
So with that in mind, I am happy to reflect on what for me may be my last “serious” season of racing and the opportunities that have been given to me to race at the highest level in the country – and indeed at nearly the highest level in the world at the Tour of Yorkshire. I’ve seen racing grow from a handful of women at my local weekly circuit races to dozens at several races each week. The riding at the National Series races is attacking, tactical and team-oriented, and the courses themselves are demanding and tough. The commitment to training and racing is obvious in each and every rider who turns up at the start line. I know that the moment I let up and stop training, I will be left behind by the current peloton and nobody will notice.
I’m already being left behind, as women more aggressive than I are happy to push me out of the way and take that spot on the road if I hesitate for even an instant on a descent or around a bend. And that’s how it should be: the top level of domestic racing should be the very top level, with everyone battling for a result and recognition and license points, and nothing is a given or a guarantee.
What’s next for racing?
Where does this leave me? As a veteran rider juggling family, training, and a post-graduate degree, I know that 2017 is my best and last chance to prove to myself that I’ve put my all into racing and done the best that I can.
“Retirement” looms but what I will leave behind is an established and secure sport with a bright future, which is a far cry from what it was when I started. How do I know? Because I can see that hunger in the eyes of my younger teammates, that desire to improve, to get results. They want to have a go at being a full-timer and see where it takes them. Ten years ago or maybe even five years ago that would have meant giving up life in the UK to live on the continent for access to those high quality races and rider fields, stumbling by with basic Flemish or French, and hoping to get noticed racing kermesses. Now that opportunity is right here at home.”