'I hope I have many more years of racing in Europe ahead of me' - Welwyn Wheelers' Elspeth Grace on Great Britain cyclo-cross debut

PUBLISHED: 10:54 11 November 2016 | UPDATED: 11:22 11 November 2016

Welwyn Wheelers' Elspeth Grace in aciton at the 2016 European Cyclo-cross Championships in France. Picture: Cyclephotos

Welwyn Wheelers' Elspeth Grace in aciton at the 2016 European Cyclo-cross Championships in France. Picture: Cyclephotos

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Welwyn Wheelers' Elspeth Grace made her Great Britain debut at the 2016 European Cyclo-cross Championships in Pontchateau, France, at the back end of last month, racing in the U23 junior women's race.

Here she documents her experience in the western town, from checking out the course to smooshing with GB members.

“When we arrived in France on Friday, we met the team and immediately headed out to familiarise ourselves with the course in Pontchateau.

The ground was dry, the course fast and technical, featuring many difficult sections – two sets of steps, a double hurdle immediately after a steep climb, a sharp downhill and many tight corners.

After riding a few laps under the guidance of the GB team including Helen Wyman, who has won cyclo-cross titles both nationally and internationally, I understood that the course was harder than anything I had raced on before.

Despite my apprehension I was excited to pull on the GB skinsuit and give it my best effort.

Early on Saturday morning the team bus took us straight to the course, although our race was not until 2pm French time.

A last ride of the course and bike check was the only job to be done, with most of the morning then given over to sitting and waiting.

I made the most of the time, soaking up the atmosphere and watching what happened in the GB enclosure.

The mechanics were really busy, ensuring that our bikes were spotless and race-ready, while also making sure the riders were happy and comfortable.

After a short warm-up on the rollers, I headed over to the start line for gridding.

I was impressed to see that our bikes were even checked for motors at this level of racing, nothing was left to chance.

The race started on a gun, and the bunch sprinted for the first corner.

I was expecting them to ease off but it appeared that it would be full-blown effort for the whole race.

I put my head down and got on with my own race, being sure to put into practice all that I had learnt from the day before.

After seven laps, 49 minutes of the hardest effort I could manage, I finished proud of what I had achieved.

I now have a greater understanding of what it takes to race at the highest level and, as one of the youngest participants, I hope that I have many years of racing in Europe ahead of me.

Despite my lowly finishing position of 24th, the short time gap between me and the winner of the U23 category (less than four minutes) proves that, given time and more training, I could be capable of racing at the highest standard, and the weekend should stand me in good stead as I look to continue pursuing my goals.

It was great to spend time with the team, with congratulations going to Tom Pidcock (fellow GB rider), who won the junior men’s race, but commiserations to both Helen Wyman and Nikki Brammier, both of whom crashed out of the elite women’s race within metres of the start.

I’d like to say a massive thanks to British Cycling, for appreciating the value of experience, to my parents who supported me through this whole adventure, and to Welwyn Wheelers whose coaching and expertise made it all possible.

I’m really lucky to have been able to take part, and I hope my experience will inspire others to try racing, whatever their level, as even coming last can leave you with a sense of accomplishment and desire to improve.”

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