This month we talk to Jacqui Stone, manager of Essex Rural Training, who represented Britain in the 2017 UCI Gran Fondo World Championships in France this August, just three years after getting her first proper road bike.
As a kid, I used to do a kind of triathlon, I loved being on my bike then and we’d cycle eight miles to swim in a lake, and then run off when the farmer chased us and cycle back home. At school I used to run a lot, I did cross country and entered triathlons and found that the bike was the best bit. I worked as a teacher, and then took on a more challenging role with IBM, running their education for maths and science projects for 11 years. I had a mountain bike and a hybrid, and used to do potters on the Flitch Way with the kids, and one holiday we did the Tarka Trail on heavy mountain bikes.
Then on 23 May 2012 I got a rare infection in my left eye from my contact lenses, and spent four weeks in Broomfield Hospital, then another 12 weeks in Addenbrooke’s. I had various operations including two corneal transplants. The drugs I was on affected other organs and I had two cardiac arrests. I finally got out minus my left eye, and my Christmas present that year was my first prosthetic eye.
It took me a year to rehabilitate. I started running again, just alternating walk, run, walk, run. My kidneys took the longest to recover, as well as judging distances. Pouring stuff into a cup, you miss regularly, and stairs are tricky, as well as descents and cornering on a bike. I went back to teaching, but it just wasn’t working, with 32 students to keep an eye on, so in January 2014 I started work at RCCE (Rural Community Council for Essex) as I wanted to challenge myself again. They have a time trial course where I was based, at the Essex and Suffolk Water treatment works in Layer. I was always seeing these bikes doing time trials at lunchtime, and I really wanted to have a go, and there was a reservoir to reservoir challenge in August, from Abberton to Hanningfield, so on 24 June 2014 I got my first proper road bike.
Paul, the site manager, and my colleague James helped me decide what to get. I had a budget of £500 but went to £700 for a Formé Longcliffe 3FE. I got it from Lobb’s Cycles in Halstead and rode home seven and a half miles to Braintree. And wow, what a rush of adrenaline, why didn’t I do this before, I felt so free, and it was so quick. On the Tuesday I went out to do 10 mines and did 20 miles. The following Sunday I did Lobb’s charity ride starting from the Halstead Empire, with laps of nine miles. I thought I’d do two or three, but got into a group of six cyclists who worked well together, and we did the maximum of six laps, at an average of 16mph. I was the first female, and sixth overall, at an average of 18mph. Paul had got in a bit earlier and was really surprised to see me back so soon.
I had been cycling regularly with Lobb’s social ride group, who average 13/14 mph, but found it wasn’t challenging me enough, so Paul Pritchard at Lobb’s said I should join Team Branocs in Braintree. It’s a free club with 150 members, lots of rides to choose from, and they never drop anyone. And on the first ride I fell in love! There were only six of us, and one of the riders, Ian, explained that I needed to be on his left side as he was blind in one eye, the left eye. And without Ian I wouldn’t have been able to go to France, he’s my mechanic as well as my partner.
Since then I’ve been doing a load of rides, 22 this year, and I knew I was in good form at the Essex Air Ambulance, so I decided to enter the Tour of Cambridgeshire (ToC) which is a qualifier for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships. It was only a sportive and I didn’t have a racing licence, but I did the ToC in four hours, at an average 20mph. When we left Peterborough, there was a problem with the seat post on my carbon bike. We took it into Rutland Cycles where they spent 10 man hours trying to fix a severed DIT cable. They let me have a demo Bianchi, and charged me just £30, and Ian jokingly said if you qualify I’ll buy you the bike!
Just a few weeks later, I was invited to take part in the World Championships in Albi. It was less than five weeks’ notice, but a great honour to represent your country, so I booked a room on Airbnb and had to get someone to do the driving and look after my 11 year old son Bradley who’d be coming with me. Ian couldn’t get time off work, so my colleague Paul stepped in, and we set off with three bikes – my race bike (Rebecca), and my Specialised (Sabrina), which was my first carbon bike bought four months after Rebecca, and the turbo trainer.
The race was ridiculously hard ….
As for the future, I’m booked in the race pen, the more formal peloton at the front of the ToC qualifier on 3 June 2018 - and my hotel is booked for the World Championships in Italy on 2 September.
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