Panning for gold
The picture that pops into my mind when I think of gold is an old timer sitting on his haunches beside a small river bed, his face creased and weathered, a straggly grey beard haywire like the insides of a computer thrown into a recycling centre. His pipe hangs from the edge of cracked lips as he’s dressed in dirty old clothes with a hole in the knee. There’s a gentle sound of swirling as he spins a pan full of worthless gravel, his trained eye focused on the dirty water hoping to find a small nugget of bright metal that will reward and inspire him to carry on. His back started aching years ago and there is no guarantee what was once there still is, however in silence hunched over he believes it is, to give up hope would be to fail.
As we headed to Maniago Italy with the biggest squad I have seen from British Cycling’s Para Road team I was not in a good place. I was not thinking straight and wasn’t sure how this trip which included two World Cup rounds would pan out. I had worked hard since the start of this year but was yet to be measured and wasn’t really sure I wanted to be. People say all you can do is your best, but when you are racing at this level you feel hollow if you think you’re best isn’t going to be good enough. Especially only 15 odd months out from an Olympic cycle. The pressure was on and we had to pull a ride out of the bag. We had managed that in the past but never on the World stage.
The competition was as hot as the weather in Maniago which is about 1 hour north of Venice. There had been a couple of european races earlier in the season which we hadn’t attended due to crashing on a training ride. We had seen the results of the races and knew which bikes were in form and they were who we would be measured against, the best tandem bikes in the world.
I remember getting of the bike after the TimeTrial, I was wasted. the support team threw ice cold towels over me to lower my core temperature and start the recovery process, it was welcomed. I inhaled with the shock of cold touching my skin. We had started first out of 25 tandems so now it was a waiting game as we started to watch the other tandems finishing the hard 16 mile course. With 20 bikes finished we were in second place 10 seconds slower than the Polish. The last bike came through and our names dropped to 3rd place. We were on the podium! I couldn’t believe it at first and didn’t want to get excited until we had the official times from the UCI officials. We had worked so hard over the past 6 weeks after our crash and now we had the reward. Standing on the podium was surreal, I bowed my head to receive a bronze World Cup medal something I wasn’t sure this trip would deliver.
Two days we had the road race. A flat course which we thought would suit us and it did, although during the race you wouldn’t had thought it as we spent most of the day chasing the lead group. It was ridiculously hot hitting 38 degrees and we suffered. Exhausted sitting in 11th place with three laps to go some people may have given up, not us and not today. Road racing is a funny thing as things can change, tyres can puncture, crashes happen, people hit the wall of endurance. With a lap to go we were back in the lead bunch of 8 bikes and we attacked the group. My legs have never hurt so much and we managed to get a gap with 2 kilometres to go, we had a Polish bike with us and we drove as hard as we could. We came out of the final corner onto the cobbled finishing straight and sprinted past the Polish tandem to a Silver medal. We had backed up our time trial performance and again after a hard race we were standing in front of a Italian crowd to take our medal.
We finished to trip with two medals a 5th and narrowly missing another podium spot in the final road race after a strong ride on a hilly course taking 4th. After such a long time away from international road racing we had come back and stamped our mark. I was proud of that. We still have a long way to go to hit the top step but now I believe it’s just there and I know we have it in us.