The (Almost) Comeback Kid

The (Almost) Comeback Kid

Words by Kirsten Sjovoll - Day 4 of Women's Week 2017.

Yesterday was not a good day. It started so well – just one mountain to climb, albeit both sides and the mountain is that little HC climb known as Col de l’Iseran. But I felt good, climbing steadily, in the front peloton, ticking off the km markers. The altitude felt bracing but the summit arrived far quicker than I thought it would. We descend. The temperature is creeping up as we fly down. 25, 28, 30, 35 degrees.

Lunch is hastily consumed out of the 1330 cooler box. I’m trying to enjoy the sunshine and relax with the girls. There is an air of excitement and achievement in the air after 4 days of col conquering; smashing expectations and pushing our lungs. But I can’t concentrate. The familiar voice of doubt starts to chatter, quietly at first and then louder, until it’s all I can hear. I decide to push off and start the second – steeper – ascent from the south side. Tim – patience of a saint, jokes of a dad – has volunteered to ride up with me. Oh, my God, it is hotter than hell. And steep. The first few km are relentlessly 9 and 10%. After about 20 minutes of climbing I can bear the sound of my disc brake rubbing no more and we stop to sort the mechanical. I see the other girls ascending, gaining time, and one by one they pass. My doubt-ometer is by this stage off the charts and all I can think is how much less fit and how much fatter I am since my glory* days of stage race mountain climbing two years ago.

“I’m not sure I can do this” I whine anxiously to the ever patient, ever chirpy Tim. “Just see how you go” is his reply. And with that, and a “pro” push to get me started again, we attempt the remaining 10 or so km of the Iseran. 

It is at this point in a motivational story that I would like to be able to offer an inspirational montage of good humoured suffering, a second wind, and a glorious push to the summit.


It. Was. A. Sufferfest. There were points I thought I was track-standing I was going so slowly. Doubtometer voice was screaming only marginally louder than Tim’s Rob Brydon impressions and I was in a serious world of pain. The mountain is stunningly beautiful but I couldn’t appreciate it. Even the flatter bit was ruined by a headwind. And then I saw the final 2km sign. Something clicked. I remembered why I ride. I started cycling after my mum died and I found a release from the pain in my head by emptying my legs on the road. It was a way of releasing the loss and it’s taken me to new (literal) heights. It’s brought me new friends, it’s brought me love, and it’s brought me back to life (although sometimes after breaking me right down first). And I ride because I can. Because my legs will carry me wherever my head allows them to and because I am stronger with every pedal stroke.

One km to go. I can do this. My legs felt empty but my head felt strong. There was no way this mountain was going to beat me. Then the summit. There were tears (I take pride in making grown men cry) and there was a new resolve inside.

It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t fast and it wasn’t even the longest or the toughest ride I’ve done but the feeling of achievement after those 1 and a half hours of pure suffering was something completely new.

This is why we ride.

*disclaimer – glory is all relative and it wasn’t as if I was Lizzie Deignan or Emma Pooley at any point in my cycling life.



Keen to race? How to start...

Keen to race? How to start...

Words by Helen McKay (Team Les Filles Queen of the Mountains) on Bike Racing in the UK and how to get into it.

After the ride some of the girls were asking about racing. The first event I did was a low key sportive. There are lots that are very achievable (I'd say start small and then take on more and more challenging ones). My first one was in March in the Chilterns. I loved that someone had taken a photo, and that I got to see how many men on race bikes I got to beat (on my hybrid with flat pedals)!

Then I decided Sportives were fun, but I wanted more of a challenge. I wanted to unleash my competitive spirit. I wanted to race. 
To race a British Cycling crit (race on a short circuit) or a road race you either need Membership AND a day license, or Membership (gold or silver) AND a full 1 year license.
I only got a Gold membership when I was going to race abroad a lot during that year, otherwise Silver covers everything.
A day license is the cheapest option, but you don't get to keep any points you gain in that race. I dived straight in and got full licence. It just depends how sure you are you want to keep racing or not versus the cost.
There are some winter series races for Cat 3/4 women (everyone starts as a Cat 4 and then if and when you get points you move up to Category 3, 2, 1 and finally Elite) which would be great introduction to racing. I think it's a good idea to do Cat 234 or E1234 local races to witness and get a feel for tactics from those who've been a round a bit longer. I also recommend starting with crits over road races because its important to learn racing skills, without traffic, before adding that extra element in. Crits tend to be 15-20 miles long (45-60mins) and cost £15-25 per race.
Easiest circuit is Hilllingdon in West London - trains from Paddington to Southall - or ride. No hill, not too technical. Favoured by sprinters.
Also Velopark - East London - bit of a turn which is mildly technical and hill which can help make the race more challenging. 
Cyclopark - Kent but trains stop 3 miles? away. Flat, windy, more technical than Hillingdon.
Hog Hill - has a hill that after 8 laps stops being a joke. Best training out there!
Can find races on British Cycling website. Some events are on Rider HQ. Best to pre-enter but lots you can enter on the line.
Time Trials
Time trials are a different kettle of fish. They are run by Cycling Time Trials. You have to enter at least 2 weeks in advance. This is annoying but unavoidable. Never enter a BC and CTT and then blow out one for the other - they get peed off about that. If you can make both on the same day fine, but don't do one and tell the other you're sick/away/dog ate your homework. They will know. CTT events Expect to pay £8-£15 but get up at 4am to get to them. No tactics. Just pacing. Own ride over the distance to get quickest time. Sounds easy but you just feel sick the whole way. Not for everyone.
Cyclocross is a fun wintersport. Very friendly. It's basically done on a bike that looks like a road bike but has fat knobbly tyres. You can do it on a mountain bike instead.    
Training and nutrition
Don't worry about it for now. Just ride. Just race. That alone will get you fitter.
Energy can get high in races. It's important that what happens in a race, stays in a race. Most people didn't mean anything and they are usually sorry or there's an explanation for what went wrong. 99% of people are great and we can all make mistakes. Men passing in their race may also shout, its better to shout and avoid an accident than to say nothing and suddenly boom - again it's just what happens in a race. Nothing personal. And if they are stupid, #helpfuladvice can be offered to them too. 
Helen McKay is part of the Les Filles Queen of the Mountains Racing Team. She has been racing for a number of seasons in the UK and often rides abroad in France as well.

How to plan a mini cycling adventure

How to plan a mini cycling adventure

When you work in an office all day, 5 days a week the weekends become a precious oasis. As a cyclist it becomes a time of freedom that can be spent outside, enjoying good weather and time for riding. Whether that is club rides, solo rides or mini adventures. The joy of being a cyclist is that the journey becomes the adventure. You no longer need to take a train somewhere, instead we ride!

For me, weekends are a perfect opportunity to have an adventure, from a one day 2 wheeled adventure to one that starts as I leave the office on a Friday to Sunday evening.

Following a few simple steps, you too can plan a mini cycling adventure that will transform the way you live your weekends and holidays going forward.


  1. Make a list of places you wish to visit

With so many weekends, bank holidays etc you want options. A trip for a regular weekend needs to be nearer home than those over a 4 day weekend. Make sure you have a mix of places that you can ride to/get the train to/fly to, to cover off all length of trip. What I would say is, start with a small weekend or single day adventure. My first was London>Brighton>London. Some might call that just a long ride but I did it solo in January – and it was definitely an adventure. Decide on your first destination, then….


  1. Pick a date

Don’t go too far in advance. The joy of using is a weekend is that you already have it off work. Choose something between 2 - 4 weeks away. Block it out and if you want to go with someone make sure they do too.


  1. Commit

Book whatever is required. Whether that’s a train, accommodation, a restaurant for dinner. Once this is done, it means there is no going back. Obviously if you are planning a single day adventure this is harder, but maybe book a lunch spot, or plan to meet a friend, whether it’s for the ride, at the destination or even at the start line.


  1. Plan your route

Hopefully you will have a rough idea of distance from step 1, I usually create a mass of routes on Strava when I am brainstorming adventure destinations. Some end up being feasible, some I park for 6 months, a year or even further down the line. If you want to start ‘weekend-adventuring’ I cannot recommend Strava premium and the route planning function highly enough.

Plan your route – checking roads on Google Earth is a great way to ensure you don’t end up cycling on horribly busy roads all day.


  1. Equipment

When you are heading out further afield it is crucial to have the correct equipment, whether it’s super light packable camping kit, powerful long lasting lights and bike bags to put it all in. This can prove a minefield and expensive. Not ideal, especially when one of my main reasons for cycling adventures is because they are usually affordable. However, investing in some good kit is crucial and you will end up getting a lot of use out of it. Or if like me you have a lot of cyclist friends you can usually pool equipment from them, as long as they aren’t coming with you!


  1. Know your limitations

As with anything, an adventure can grow and develop from a sapling into an oak. This is why it is crucial to remember it is only a weekend and understand what your limitations are. I would always say push yourself, but equally don’t overstretch yourself. After all this is a holiday and the point is to love every second!


  1. Get excited, get others involved, get the lowdown

By now you have a plan, everything is booked, your route is created and your equipment is borrowed or bought. It’s time to get excited, invite others if you want, or get them to celebrate your achievement with you after. Do any extra research on the destination you want to do, places to eat/drink/visit.


  1. Be flexible and enjoy!

On the day, remember the plan is not finite, be flexible, especially when it comes to the weather and listening to your body. More importantly though – ENJOY it. Even through the darker patches when you are tired and dreaming of a hot chocolate on the sofa, remember you are having an adventure, you are making memories, living life and on Monday when asked about your weekend – just think of the story you can tell!


MY Top Destinations (some done, some still on the list)

Day –



Tunbridge Wells



Surrey Hills


Weekend –

Surrey (this might be where you often do your long cycles, perfect then for your first weekend/camping adventure if you are a bit anxious about going further afield)

Somerset (incl. Cheddar Gorge, Glastonbury Tor)




South Downs

New Forest




Longer -



Lake Annecy

French Alps

London > Amsterdam



Lake District


Peak District






My clothing recommendations (for a 1 day / overnight adventure) - 

Comfortable padded cycling shorts, a quick-dry cycling jersey (3 pockets absolutely required), a mesh base layer (to be worn under the jersey), windproof Gilet, waterproof jacket (packable), arm warmers and cap (to keep the  sun out of your eyes and face).

Any other recommendations, please share and HAPPY ADVENTURING!

Queen of the Mountains Ambassador, adventurer, blogger and keen cyclist Helena (aka The Fit Advisor) cycled to Bruges for Easter solo.

Finishing 18th in the Elite Women's Race, Nicole's love of the London Nocturne continues

Finishing 18th in the Elite Women's Race, Nicole's love of the London Nocturne continues

Written by Nicole Oh, racing for Les Filles Queen of the Mountains

For years this has been my favourite race on the calendar. Every year I think it will be my last. That the next year I will be (just) a spectator and join in the off-bike festivities (i.e. drinking and cheering!) Then right after the race has finished I am buzzing with excitement, already committing myself to “one more year”.

The problem (maybe a good problem) with being in the Elite Women’s race is that it's the second last race of the program, usually around 8.30pm, by which time all your friends and supporters have been getting stuck into the beers for the last 4 hours! I'm never really sure if they want to stay and watch or make their merry way home by this time.

Personally, I've never done so well at the Nocturne. After all, the line up is generally pretty daunting. These days it involves a scattering of pros, Olympians, and World champions. I’ve never been close to sticking with the lead group and in my first few attempts, I’m sure I was lapped. Luckily none of this really fazes me. Somehow I seem to be getting either faster or smarter with my advancing years, so I had high hopes that this year, I might just stay up there.

Like most other city centre crits, a bad start can ruin your race. Hence why the “neutralised” lap is pretty much the scariest lap of the whole race. EVERYONE wants to be up the front, and with 70 riders, that just isn’t possible. I’m not very good at the neutralised lap, which generally requires being able to go from 0 to 100 at the blink of an eye, get the elbows out and play chicken on who’s going to give way on each off the corners. This year I found myself 3 rows back on the start line. I managed to clip in first go, but two girls in front of me failed to do so and with that 5 second delay, it meant that I had to chase from the word GO!

There is something to be said about the new course around St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the City. I agree that it is not as atmospheric as the old Smithfield circuit, but it is less technical and far safer in my opinion, although a few people still managed to put themselves into the fence. It also means that if you have a bad start, there is some chance that you can rescue your race, as there are long straights and a few corners where you are able to make up ground. I tried not to panic, to be patient and gradually move myself up through the group. I looked around for other riders that I knew were strong, and could perhaps be in the front group and I tried to follow their wheels as they moved up. Don’t get me wrong, I was still going pretty much full gas - my HR was around 176 (of max 182) and at one point I thought I might vomit - but I don’t think I ever completely emptied the tank past the point of no return. I guess this tactic worked, as eventually, I made contact with the front group.

However, this wasn’t to last long. The pace picked up from a sprint lap (the sound of the klaxon made my heart sink) and I was off the back and chasing again. This is how the rest of my race went - just yo-yoing on and off the rear of the front peloton with a few familiar faces. Just one near miss - we swung round a fast right-hander to find riders on the ground so I pulled my brakes, my back wheel lifted and landed sideways, but to my surprise I was still upright, so carried on (quickly).

I sprinted all the way to the line and finished in 18th! Probably my best result ever. I was super pleased.

We had 7 riders in this year’s race with some mixed fortunes. Both our Lou’s were up there in the front group, until Lou Mori had a bit of a lie down and Lou Mahe blew up. The other chicks in the team, Lyds, Suze, Tracey (TC as we call her) and Sophie all rode strong and finished in the same group between 28-34th. Just finishing the Nocturne in one piece can be quite an achievement.

And so my love affair with the Nocturne continues. You just can't beat the speed and the excitement. Especially the speed you shoot round the corners! I've reflected on the race afterwards at just how mental it must look from the sidelines. Hearing the crowds cheering and hearing your name being shouted on every corner and on every lap sure does push that little bit extra out of you.

To summarise, in the words of a still unidentified voice in the crowd, “Go on Nic, you love this sh*t!”. Yep, I sure do.

(Already in training for 2018!)

Fireflies Blog: A Love of Two Wheels and the Mountains

Fireflies Blog: A Love of Two Wheels and the Mountains

I woke up to a stunning morning. The storms from yesterday continued during the night and washed the roads clean. The last of the dark clouds were being blown out, far away from our route today. You could tell it was going to be a scorcher! I woke up feeling great which was a total surprise — I felt I slept quite lightly, waking up a few times I could feel my body and muscles were warm, almost hot, recovering and repairing itself. I didn’t feel too hungry at breakfast, a quick bowl of muslei, fruit and a crossaint and I was ready to go!

The mood of the Fireflies this morning was one of combined excitement and fear. The route today was the same statistics as yesterday, however all of the climbing was in the first 60kms. Three big climbs to tackle and then a smaller one to finish. I felt strong, but could definitely feel the effects of the Colombiere in my legs.

It was already 24 degrees at 8.30am in the morning. Ouch! Our first Col was only 8kms, a great little warm up. That was a relatively gentle 6-7% for most of the way and out of my group I managed to claim QOM/KOM (how could I not?).

The next climb was the Col des Saisies - a neat 16kms averaging between 5-8% the whole way! I decided to give this one a go. I rode it with a Belgium rider who was 53 years old, and we chatted about the Giro and various other things. That’s the thing I love about cycling. When you meet strangers on the road and you instantly have a passion to talk about: a love of two wheels and the mountains.

There were times on that climb where my legs were starting to fatigue. I definitely did not consume enough calories in the morning - I could feel I was in deficit. I knew this would make the afternoon a real struggle, because once you’re in deficit you cannot really claw those calories back. From then onwards it’s all about managing your energy and trying to get those 300 calories an hour in to the system as efficiently as possible. 

The descent off the Saisies was absolutely stunning and the conditions made it my favourite descent of the day. Sweeping, open bends allow you to fully take the road. The descent and the rush it gave me reminded me that the pain of climbing was worth it!

Another coffee and cake stop before our ascent of the Cormet de Roselend — one of the most spectacular ascents I’ve done. We climbed up through the green trees where it felt like a rain forest, so tropical with butterflies and waterfalls surrounding us. We broke above the trees and the mountains opened up with jagged mountain rocks on either side and panoramic views that made you feel giddy with excitement. No photo could do these views justice. It was magical up there. A few whispy clouds against a stunning baby blue sky. We rode up to the lake and around it, stopping for lunch at one of the small restaurants over looking the lake. (We only had to wait an hour for our omelettes! I think half the group was totally ‘hangry’ by that stage! But once they arrived, it proved worth the wait, made with their local cheese. YUM!)

The final 7kms to the top of the Roselend was a piece of cake. We tootled up in groups just admiring the view and the gorgeous weather. Still feeling the effects of the morning, I kept eating all afternoon. We descended a wonderful 20kms down the other side into the Bourg. From there it was a gradual climb of 8kms out of the valley, and in the scorching sun at 5.30pm it was a real battle! My head felt as if it were exploding from the heat. One of the guys found a fountain in a small little village and we all stopped to dunk our heads and caps in the ice cold flowing tap. It was heaven!

Finally, we rode the last 22km to the hotel. We all made it back in one piece, and earned the right to ignore tomorrow’s promise of more climbing in exchange for dinner (and some ice for my sore muscles!).