Sportsister’s Ironmum masters strategic braking in the Pryenees and is nearly stranded due to one pesky volcano.
After my Rudy Project TT win on May 9, I headed to the Aude region in the south of France. I wanted to get a final week of miles in prior to the specific preparation I am doing for the National 10 mile Time Trial on May 23. So, I joined up with Stef and Helen Wyman who were already in the town of Limoux. I spent some of my time training with Helen and getting some advice on improving my descending skills.
When I arrived, the region was in prep mode for the arrival of 18 pro women teams for the Tour de L’Aude, the biggest women’s stage race on the calendar. For me, having aspirations to ride the race one day, it was fantastic to ride on the roads used over the past 26 years of the race’s history. With the race known for its hilly profile, it was a great way to test myself on the twisty descents and work out how, despite an awkward braking system, I could keep the wheel in front and maximise speed through the corners.
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When I arrived, the region was in prep mode for the arrival of 18 pro women teams for the Tour de L’Aude, the biggest women’s stage race on the calendar. For me, having aspirations to ride the race one day, it was fantastic to ride on the roads used over the past 26 years of the race history. With the race known for its hilly profile, it was a great way to test myself on the twisty descents and work out how, despite an awkward braking system, I could keep the wheel in front and maximise speed through the corners.
Braking for small-handed people
My braking system is different to most other people. Without a left hand, I have to be able to pull both brakes on the right hand side of the bars. Some riders have a system where they pull the brakes independently, with both levers mounted on the one side. This system is usually favoured by people who have a hand big enough to pull one brake with the first few fingers and the other with the last few fingers.
For me and many other women the answer is to have both brakes mounted through a cable splitter and then routed into just one lever. My brakes are mounted using this system and then the back brake is mounted to come on a fraction of a second sooner than the front, so that an emergency stop won’t catapult me over the handlebars!
On twisty descents where bike speed needs adjusting to negotiate corners, hairpins and other technical aspects, effective braking can be the difference between staying with a group or dropping back and losing time. Normally the front brake is used for killing speed quickly, whereas the back brake is used for feathering the speed and minor speed adjustments. For a rider like me with both brakes connected to one lever, I have no choice but to pull the brakes independently. Touching the brake will always kill speed as the front brake has to come on as well as the back.
During my time in Limoux we worked on different ideas to see whether I could maintain my position on a wheel. Confidence plays a huge part and as my week with Helen progressed, I felt better about sitting close on descents and was able to carry more speed through corners. I wasn’t hitting my brakes as often and even got to the point where I was actually enjoying going fast downhill! Normally my preference is to go up!
Touring the scenery
Being based in Limoux was perfect for getting out on some of the routes being used during this year’s tour and also for some of the routes used in previous editions. The markings on the roads direct you to the roads that the tour has used and it was great to spend time traversing the climbs and passing between the villages. I managed to get carried away with the awesome views of the Pyrenees in the background of every ride and always came back having gone a little bit farther than planned! The weather was pretty good too and the fields of poppy flowers lining the routes were very beautiful.
My week wasn’t solely about riding big miles. Every third day I did a shorter session with higher intensity, using some short hill intervals to press on my top end form and work at elongating my ability to dip into high power sections. The roads around our base were perfect for this type of training. I had two different shorter hilly loops that allowed me to do repeat efforts on every lap, whilst riding to recover in between. I like to do an active recovery on varying terrain and so recovering on a climb really adds to the session and the ability to recover at higher powers.
Homeward bound, eventually…
The week ended with a short extension to my trip, thanks to the wind moving the volcanic ash cloud over the UK and closing airports at home. Initially I had been due to fly home in time to attend an evening at the velodrome with the Pennine Chapter of the Young Presidents Organisation, but my attendance was put in jeopardy thanks the flight cancellations. Fortunately, at the last minute I was able to get on a flight to London Stansted and driven to Manchester in time to attend the formal part of the evening.
With just a few days to go prior to the National 10 I will do an evening 10 mile ride at home, get some massage and physio maintenance work done and then head down to the course for a few days and train in advance of the race.
Back soon with the race report.
For more on my trip, visit: www.onthedrops.com
Sarah Russell, Sportsister
The Women’s Sports Magazine