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British Track Nationals

Illi Gardner

A few weeks ago I flew over to Manchester for the British track nationals. Most of the winter was spent doing track-specific workouts (a lot of time in trainer hell) rather than long base miles. We signed up a few months ago – I’m unable to compete in the US nationals as I’m not a citizen so we decided to just go for it. It seemed like a crazy idea then and was an even crazier experience but I’m really glad we went.

The level of competition in the UK is high. There is a massive focus on track in the BC system and everything is very structured. They were all experienced and relaxed while I was freaking out about warming up next to Katie Archibald (and trying not to fall off the rollers).

This was (slightly worryingly) one of my first track races. I started doing track in August for the Bi-National games in October, which I loved, but the field was small. We went down to the LA track a few times, which is similar to Manchester, but nothing could quite prepare me for this!

The first few days were spent adjusting and testing out the track. I got to join a team GB session which was quite scary but very cool! I also had the opportunity to test out the starting gate, which I had never used before.   

My first race was the 3k individual pursuit on Friday. I was terrified. I had a good start for the first time ever but ended up completely fading (first lap was 23 seconds instead of the usual 25…then 17…a few 18s…and into the 19s by the end…). It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. I know better for next time.

The next day was the scratch race. Qualifiers were in the early afternoon and finals in the evening. The top half of the two heats moved on to finals. There were twenty-something people in my heat and throughout the race I made sure to stay relatively near the front. Qualifiers were half the distance of finals; 20 laps, which took five minutes or so. With five to go it got a bit out of control. I found myself right at the back and panicked. I was desperately trying to move up, but so was everyone else around me. Suddenly there was one lap left and I was definitely not in the top half and so wasn’t as careful as I should’ve been. I’m not entirely sure what happened: we were at the first turn and I think I was trying to get in the same space as the girl next to me and we bumped shoulders. Phew, stayed upright–or not. I hit the wheel in front (really? How did I manage that?) and went down along with two others. Physically I was alright but really embarrassed. There was no reason to crash, and I obviously couldn’t finish the race because it happened in the last fifteen seconds. To fly all that way and waste everyone’s time, money and effort…I was really angry with myself. I broke my helmet but managed to borrow a spare – everyone was very supportive.

Next, and last, was the points race. My positioning was terrible; I left giant gaps and just wanted to make it through upright with yesterday’s crash still on my mind. Hopefully with experience I’ll be able to move on from things like that with less difficulty. It was a pretty fast heat but I could’ve done a lot better.

We watched finals which was fun. The velodrome was packed. I wish I had gotten to ride in them but it was all down to me so I can’t complain!

Although my results weren’t good, it was a crazy and fun experience. I got to race with those at the highest level, meet lots of nice people, and learn a massive amount.

We wouldn’t have even been there if it wasn’t for Beth and Jakroo – her help with training and support during the trip was amazing – thank you! I will learn how to do all the bike maintenence soon, I promise…

Now on to the road season!

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