As my first junior season has ended, and we are heading into the dark winter months, I thought now would be a good time to write about what I have learnt during the season about junior racing at UK national and UCI level, and how I can use this knowledge to improve my race craft for the 2022 season.
I feel that many riders overthink becoming junior; longer races on the open road, climbs, stage racing are all new obstacles that first year riders are suddenly faced with. I hold this as my biggest mistake in 2021. I was worried that I would not have the endurance required for these races, so all winter I rode long, slow base miles to help me cope with the 2.5hrs+ durations. I only started intensity once racing resumed, and the intensity was only in the race, so I was immediately on the back foot. Come my first national at Cicle Classic, I was quickly found out, and missed the front splits. I’d say it took around 6 weeks for me to return to my level of results that I had in 2019, which was almost the whole season, leaving 2 races for me to show myself in. This year showed me that being able to push high numbers for short durations is key to arriving to the last hour fresh enough to make a decisive move. Working on intensity all year round, albeit less in winter, like in youth racing is still important at the junior level.
Another thing concerning longer races is the introduction/necessity of the feed zone, where riders take bottles and gels from a loving parent/guardian in the hopes that it prevents them from bonking in the final. Many riders, first and second years, including myself, have got feeding plans wrong this year, leading to rather unfortunate falls from grace. Very quickly, riders learn that taking a bottle every lap is a good idea, unfortunately this creates a very hectic environment in the feed zone, making it a dangerous place to be. I made this mistake in the Tour of Wales, where on the 3rd stage I missed my bottle with carbs in twice. I thought I’d got away with it, as I was feeling fine in the latter part, but as the race hit The Tumble Mountain on the 4th stage, my legs quickly disappeared, and I think this can be attributed to not feeding well the day before, which was a 140k split stage. Fuelling incorrectly on a day like that will likely have a knock on effect.
The third mistake that prevented me from obtaining better results in the 2021 season was a lack of aggression and combativity. This was partly down to a lack of confidence due to succesful attacks being a rarity in youth races, and partly down to me doubting myself in a longer range breakaway. However, with all but one road race/stage not having a breakaway win in this year’s series, attacking riding is key to being a top level junior rider. In the last two national races of the year, I attacked more, and this helped me achieve a better result in the race on both occasions. In La Bernaudeau UCI, I was outfront for over 60 kilometres, meaning I could avoid the carnage in the bunch and take the numerous steep climbs at my own pace, rather than at the lightning speed that the bunch hit them with. Unfortunately here it didn’t work so well, as we were caught with 20k to go, but once caught by the bunch, I was there to help a teammate by giving him a fresh bottle and a gel, before being distanced from the remainder of the peloton, but I still finished inside the top third of the field.
As we go into 2022, I hope to use these in racing to build on a respectable 2021, to obtain high level results as a 2nd year junior to take my cycling to a higher level as an under 23.