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Skills and Thrills at Hillingdon

Our annual skills day at Hillingdon is a chance for members to learn some new tips and tricks under the guidance of British Cycling coaches. Big thanks to Coach Watto, Jasmijn Muller, Lloyd Grose and Natalie Creswick who put on a great day of activities. Here’s an overview of the day from some of the members who attended.

Olly Wright (organiser)

The sun was shining, the track dry. You couldn’t ask for a better October afternoon for our Skills Day. All that was needed for success were riders, rider role models, coaches, photographers, volunteers and cake. And my were we spoilt!

I arrived at Hillingdon with trepidation and excitement in equal measure. Would people turn up? As with any cycle event, bring cake and they will come. 63 raucous riders, four coaches, two photographers and one coffee van – the latter probably the real success story of the day.

It was my first time taking on the organising responsibility for the event. After two years without a skills day, the added lockdowns disrupting group rides and a plethora of new joiners to the club the pressure was on. I received great support from others in the club including Andy Edwards – big shoes to fill after his own successes running skills days. Jas provided great input on what the coaches needed for the day. As with anything in the Wheelers, you’re never on your own and there’s support wherever you look. After the intro there coaches coached, the riders rode, and I drank coffee. Brief respite before the cake break, after which many learned the important racing skill- don’t race after cake. Four hours later and there were still broad smiles all round.

After Hillingdon we headed to The Park Brewery for more (zero coached) skills. Principally, how to carry three pints down a metal staircase in cleats. The final exercise ended with a certain few taking on domestique duties, with fours in the pockets and crisps stuffed into jerseys for the return home.

Overall great fun, fantastic to see so many new and returning faces and the day brought a true sense of what it means to be a wheeler. A hobby creating new friendships, lighthearted banter, and safer, better riders.

Jody Hatter

The skills day was brilliant, I’m glad I gave it a go. It was great to meet so many new people and put faces to people I’ve interacted with on the forum. I loved the way we started with the basics of bike maintenance – something that’s easy to overlook! I’ve never really been taught how to descend properly. I’ve just copied what I’ve seen others doing on Broomfield Hill during Wednesday laps! But now thanks to Ian (Coach Watto), I feel so much more confident to lean into bends and leave my brakes alone. Thanks for an invaluable opportunity to learn important skills that’ll keep me safe for years to come!

James Turner

With myself sitting at the lower end of the natural ability scale I was keen to see what the coaches had planned for the day, it started off with a pep talk and the coaches introducing themselves, the attentiveness with which everyone listened made me draw two conclusions; these were well respected people with heaps of knowledge or people just couldn’t wait to get out on the bikes. First up for my group was the water bottle grab, which included a very useful pre-ride ‘W’ check to make sure your bikes are road worthy lead by Lloyd. Moving round to cornering by Coach Watto and last up was balance skills with Natalie. All of which gave a well rounded experience. Now it was onto break time and this is where I realised my previous two conclusions could be wrong, was everyone really here for the cake? Although it was a well earned treat, I don’t think delicious cake was the only reason. Kingston Wheelers is full of knowledgeable, welcoming and fun people to be around. A great day with a mock race at the end was the cherry on top.  

Abby Dickens

Whilst I’m a relatively new joiner to the club, I’m not new to cycling. However, I’m a firm believer that we can always improve ourselves. The skills day was a great way to spend a Saturday. The cornering, chaingang and paceline experience was invaluable. I’m still building confidence in this area and to ride on a closed course and have the watchful eyes and direction of more experienced wheelers and coaches was fantastic. I particularly liked the straights on the course where I could build up a bit of speed and feel the burn in the legs. My takeaway was that communication and organisation in a group is key. In order to work effectively and safely as a group you must think, communicate and act as one. Trust within a group is also crucial. Cycling as an ‘individual’ in a group just isn’t optimal. The event was a great way to meet up with wheelers I already know and meet new ones along with putting faces to names with others. The skills day is a must do in my opinion. Thanks to all involved!

Jasmijn Muller (coach)

From joining the Kingston Wheelers in May 2011 and joining my first club skills day and first crit race at Hillingdon later that year, to becoming a cycling coach and having the pleasure to deliver the club skills day some 10 years later, I could not have envisioned a better way of ending my years riding with the Wheelers. 

After many months of limited opportunities for riding or meeting in bigger groups and with many new riders having joined during lockdown, it made sense to focus a bit more on building connections and confidence this year, yet still ending the day on a high with a handicapped race for all. It was good fun delivering the session with fellow coaches Natalie Creswick, Ian Watson and Lloyd Grose who all were a delight to work with both in preparation and on the day. 

We clearly had been way too ambitious about the amount of slow and fast skills we had hoped to get through on the day (time flies!), but hopefully the condensed version was still a good mix of skills for all, whether you have been riding and racing for years or only just joined the club. The pictures from the day showcase how much talent we have in our club. Awesome crit leans, impressive balancing and slaloming skills and one guy was so ‘hot’ in his emergency stop, I could smell the rubber..! Yet, even some of the most experienced riders were thrown a bit when asked to clip in and start with their ‘wrong’ leg, proving that practice never ends for any of us. After a delayed coffee break (sorry!), the chaingang and paceline drills quickly became pretty smooth, resulting in a fast but safe handicapped race. No spills, just good old fast fun and an ongoing debate about who won that sprint…

Seeing everyone having fun in the sun and sporting the pretty summer kit, definitely was a nice bonus over those cold November skills days I recall from the past. Please order the same weather for next year and I will happily return from Wales to help deliver another skills day next year. Meanwhile, any Wheeler in search of some hilly fun (on or off-road) is most welcome to come and visit me in the Brecon Beacons. Thanks Wheelers, it has been a great decade of cycling with you. Now who is up for a LBL (London-Brecon-London) Audax?!

All photos by Ali Cigari.