Hello and welcome to the new James McKay Blog! Over the past three years I balanced the life of a university student and bike racer, albeit unequally! But after graduating last summer, I decided to take 2019 as a year to solely pursue my cycling obsession and race for a team full-time. I had my degree now, and with my 22nd birthday on the horizon, time is ticking on my cycling career.
I had set my eyes on mainland Europe; the UK isn’t the place to be a full-time bike racer. I knew first-hand that across the channel I would find racing on closed roads, more generous prize money and harder races in which to sink or swim.
I’d first gone over to race in Belgium with John Barclay as a youth and continued the pilgrimage throughout my Junior years and with TBW-Bottecchia, the U23 team I’d ridden for over the past two years.
However, although I like a good kermis I favour longer races with lumpier parcours. I turned my eyes a little further south, to France.
I contacted Simon Carr, another young brit, who has lived and raced there for the past few years. With a good grasp of the language and team structure, he kindly agreed to help me translate my CV into French and gave me some advice about where to send it.
After emailing a list of DN2 & DN3 (second and third tier) teams, I received interest from ASPTT Nancy, in the northeast of the country.
After provisionally agreeing to their offer of accommodation and paid living expenses, they sent me through a dense 24-page contract to read and sign. This provided extremely good practice for my French vocabulary!
Meanwhile I started working part time in a local café; with my developing plans for 2019, I had plenty of motivation to get up for early shifts. Although I wasn’t turning down the free espressos either!
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In December I spent several weeks in Spain with teammates from TBW-Bottecchia, training in the sun whilst the British winter really set in.
After banking some solid hours on the bike, I spent 10 days skiing in the Alps with family – a perfect opportunity to mentally recharge before eight months of racing.
But before I knew it, I was driving across Northern France towards the Lorraine region. Upon arriving in Nancy, I was welcomed by Yordan Andreev, a Bulgarian rider who would be one of my housemates for the year.
I was pretty astonished to find a brand-new, fully furnished apartment. The fridge and kitchen cupboards were rammed with food and someone had even made up my bed for me.
Once I’d had far too much fun unwrapping the large bag of team kit, the DS arrived with my own set of keys and my team bike.
I couldn’t be happier, especially given some of the horror stories I’d heard about some rider’s setups in France. I was paid for the month in cash the next day, not that I had anything to spend the money on.
The weekend was the first chance to meet the whole squad. Saturday started off with a 140km team ride, which was effectively a smash-fest/chaingang in very northern European weather.
Once we’d dried off back at the team service course, the beaming DS congratulated us all. He was impressed – it must’ve looked pretty savage from the team car behind.
We had a few hours to kill before the team presentation in the evening, which involved a photo shoot followed by shaking countless hands over some drinks and quiche Lorraine.
My final housemate, Wesley Phipson, arrived from South Africa the next day. The DS and his wife came to greet him and treated the three of us to several bottles of champagne along with yet more quiche.
For three lightweight cyclists at 1pm on an empty stomach, it went straight to our heads and we had a very merry end to the weekend.
The following week was spent tinkering with bike positions, exploring the local countryside and learning French from food packets.
It’s now Friday and tomorrow we leave for the Var region near Marseilles. It’s straight into racing with the four-day Boucles du Haut Var, but we’re going to stay on a few days afterwards to get some big miles in on sunny roads.
I’ve had to back off my training in the last week due to a cold, and given the 10 days skiing in January I’m certainly on the ‘fresher side’ but hopefully the racing/training camp down south should drag up my fitness.
Until next time, James