Welwyn Wheeler all set for Great Britain cyclo-cross bow

PUBLISHED: 09:57 28 October 2016

Welwyn Wheelers' Elspeth Grace on the podium after winning the junior girls' race at Derby. Picture: VeloUK

Welwyn Wheelers' Elspeth Grace on the podium after winning the junior girls' race at Derby. Picture: VeloUK

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When Elspeth Grace was first approached by British Cycling to ride for Great Britain in this weekend's UEC Cyclo-cross European Championships in France it didn't take her long to make up her mind.

She had just jumped off the saddle following a sixth-place finish in the elite and junior womens’ race at the National Trophy Series in Derby earlier this month when she agreed to donning the red, white and blue of GB.

This will be the Welwyn Wheelers rider’s first time representing her country at any level and a first taste of riding cyclo-cross abroad so she is merely looking to get some experience under her belt on the continent in Saturday’s womens’ U23 race.

Grace told Welwyn Hatfield Times: “I’m in my first season as a junior (U18) rider, and at the Euros I will be racing some of the best U23 women in the world.

“I will be hoping to learn lots, not only from the racing but also my fellow team-mates, many of whom have spent many seasons racing at the highest levels internationally in comparison to my three winters in the Eastern League.

“The racing will attract the biggest names in European cyclo-cross and I’ll be up against riders from the real powerhouses of the sport, like Belgium, where they start them [riders] young.

“Some of the U23 women will probably have been racing since before I was born.

“I’m also looking forward to meeting the other riders in the team as they’re the iconic, leading figures on the growing UK cross scene.”

The 16-year-old, who holds Isla Rowntree – national cyclo-cross stalwart and founder of children’s bike specialists Islabikes – as a cycling icon, has been swotting up on the intricacies of the Pontchateau circuit ahead of the race weekend.

She continued: “Pontchateau has been used in the past for World Cup cyclo-cross events, so I’ve been able to do some YouTube research.

“It looks tricky with plenty of technical sections to split the field up.

“The conditions will change with the weather so until I’m on the circuit I can’t predict much more.

“UK racing has given me plenty of experience in riding in the cold and wet but the forecast looks fine.”

Grace enters the event in cracking form having won all seven regional cyclo-cross events she has rode in during 2016 as well as picking up some other notable finishes.

Grace said: “For me, this year has been a huge breakthrough.

“I had my best road season yet, with a second-place finish in a national [event] at Scarborough in August, and my first experience of racing abroad at Assen, Holland.

“Due to my moving up an age category, I went into the cyclo-cross season without many expectations.

“Finishing first junior and sixth against the best women in the country was a real surprise and I think testament to the training offered by Welwyn Wheelers.

“Representing GB was always an aspiration for me, but I never considered it a real possibility. I don’t think I will fully believe it until I pull on the Great Britain jersey.”

She added: “I’ve trained hard for the past three years since I started riding and due to the mixture of demands, improvement is always possible.

“To succeed, you need not only fitness, but also the specific skills for the course like dismounting to jump hurdles or climbing stairs with a bike on your shoulder.

“Sometimes it’s tough to motivate myself for a session on a wet Wednesday night but I’m always happiest on my cyclo-cross bike.

“I always come away from training feeling like I’ve developed as a rider.”

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