Jessie Walker is now writing a regular rider diary for VeloUK. Here is the first diary where Jessie reflects on 2014.
Cycling is a very emotional sport with constant highs and lows but it definitely makes you a stronger person at the end of the day. Looking back at 2014 I feel it was a massive learning curve for me in several ways. I learnt so much from every single race I did and on a personal level it was a big year as well.
At this early part of my racing career every year seems so important compared to normal life where most years blend into one. If you ever ask a professional cyclist about a certain year of their racing career they will always have something that sticks with them, whether it be a crash that wrote them off for the season or a big achievement that will never be forgotten. I think 2014 was a big year for me because I feel that improved so much. I finished 6th form college in 2013 which gave me more time to train so I managed to up my hours in the winter that year. Then hearing that Matrix Vulpine had a place in the Friends Life Women’s Tour was extra motivation for me in training. I knew it would be massive for women’s cycling so I wanted to make sure I was part of that.
I’d say that the Women’s Tour was the highlight of my year, a sentiment that was echoed throughout the peloton that week. It was the hardest week of my life but one of the best as well. Going into the race I had no idea what to expect. It was my first UCI 2.1 race so I knew the standard of racing would be on another level to what I had already experienced but the thought of racing with the likes of Lizzie Armitstead and Marianne Vos was so exciting. As a whole the race made me realise how much I loved racing and how much I wanted this as my career. Words cannot describe how I felt crossing the line on stage 1. Being in the sprint finish with the worlds best is just an unbelievable feeling and I was on such a high for the rest of the day. I’d set a personal target to place top 20 in a stage so to finish 18th on this first stage gave me confidence for the following days.
The next race that sticks in my mind was the National RR Championships in Wales. Again this was a hard course and I knew from the level of top riders we have in the UK it would be a tough race. After Lizzie’s first attack I made it into the break and couldn’t believe I was there. I guess this race made me realise that I do have potential and also showed me how much I need to improve to be at the level of the top pros. But I definitely finished on a high.
After the Nationals the team travelled abroad to France to race the Tour of Brittany. This is one of my favourite races because I love racing in the hills and sunshine. Also because looking back over the past years I’ve done it, I’ve improved massively. I first raced it as a junior and was only just finishing every day compared to 2014 where I finished 8th on stage 1.
From France we travelled to Belgium for some kermesses. Racing in Belgium is completely different to the UK. The racing is much more aggressive, making it a lot faster. It is also great practice for bike handling as Belgies aren’t afraid to shove you about in the peloton. I surprised myself and came 2nd in a Kermesse having attacked in the first half of the race then staying away. I must admit I was proud of myself that day because the race wasn’t my sort of race. It was flat and windy and full of sprinters so I knew I couldn’t take it to a bunch sprint so took my chances and attacked. It gave me such a confidence boost that I took the risk and it paid off.
Going from highs to lows, I’d say the National Criterium Championships was a low point of my season. I was on top form going into the race having just spent some time racing in Belgium so I went into the race with a good chance of getting up there. Our plan was to attack from the start as we had the biggest team and it worked as the race split to pieces. However coming into the finish I wasn’t clever and messed it up for myself. I kept attacking which was tiring myself out and that cost me in the finish. I don’t know what I was thinking really. Part of me thinks that it was a lack of self belief but I’ve learnt massively from that race.
I finished my season off at the Ras na mBan in Ireland where I was kindly invited to ride as a guest for a local team called the Lakeside Wheelers. It was my first time in Ireland and I was made to feel very welcome. The weather was surprisingly nice and warm and the courses every day were exceptional. The views were unbelievable; it’s a shame that I couldn’t appreciate them at all as all I saw was the road ahead. I didn’t start the stage race in the best way as day one I made a massive mistake and thought the race was 66km instead of 60km. I had already had a look at the finish and knew that I had to be top 3 going into the tight left hander at the finish. I was positioned perfectly then suddenly realised we were heading towards the final corner but it was too late and I was way too far back to contest the win. I’ll never make that mistake again!!!!! I progressively got better finishing 5th and 6th on the later stages however I felt I made a few little mistakes throughout the week that cost me a stage win.
Just to top the year off nicely I decided to follow tradition and do the Monsal Hill Climb. The crowds are always spectacular so it would be a shame not to support it. Then that was my season done.
So bring on 2015!!!!