Welcome back to our PRO SERIES, where we take a peek inside the lives of women in cycling. Today’s esteemed guest is Abby-Mae Parkinson (22) who, this year, split her season between road and Cyclocross (CX). The former Drops rider recently joined CX team, Trinity Racing, and will start her 2020 road season with Belgian team, Lotto-Soudal.
Abby-Mae, you started the season riding on the road and have ended it with a new team racing Cyclocross (CX), how has that transition between the two disciplines been for you?
Yes, it was quite a shock at first, I had my off-season holiday after the road season in Ibiza and then did my first cyclocross 2 weeks later, so the first couple of races were about building my fitness and getting to grips with some cyclocross skills.
For those who may be new to CX, can you explain the similarities and differences between the two different styles of riding?
Women’s road races are generally between 100km-150km, they are usually point to point, whereas cyclocross races are always 45mins around a short circuit; usually around 6 laps. On the road, there are lots of “on and off” moments, where it's really full gas or you are just cruising in the middle of the peloton, but with cyclocross, for me especially, it's just 100% full gas from start to finish. And there are no tactics (for me), if I get gridded at the back then my plan is just to keep moving up!!
Watching CX racing on TV, there's one thing that stands out: in a road race, the peloton would generally finish with a sprint for the line, but in CX races the start is always a hectic sprint for position before settling down. Which of the two do you prefer?
Oooo, tricky one! As I’ve not done many cyclocross races, being gridded at the back makes the sprint at the start really tricky. Positioning is key in both scenarios, so I think I prefer a sprint for the line at the end of a road race because if you can get into the right position coming into the sprint, you’ll definitely get a better result. I think I also I have room for improvement on my standing starts too!
We now see a lot of riders in the female peloton splitting their season between road & cyclocross. The likes of Marianne Vos, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Jolanda Neff all choose to compete through the winter rather than use that time to recharge their batteries and focus on the upcoming road season. Do you see the season now as being 'all year round', and do you worry about fatigue or 'burning out'?
I’m fortunate I have a really good coach in Dani Rowe and we work together to make sure the balance in my training is there. The intensity from the cyclocross is really helpful for the key parts in the road season too, you really can’t go as hard in training as you can when you're on the start line of a race, and cyclocross is amazing for bike handling skills -you never know when you'll need a super speedy bike change.
Which of the two disciplines do you get most enjoyment from?
Cyclocross is super fun, it's short and intense, with lots of obstacles, which makes the race really exciting. Although it's really muddy and wet…and cold. Being new to a lot of skills in cyclocross, like riding in sand for example, it's frustrating when you keep getting things wrong, but super rewarding when you finally master a corner or a steep uphill section! On the road, I love the aggressive racing (especially on a good day when I’m feeling strong haha), but sometimes, if the race is just rolling along it can be a bit boring. On the whole, I like the balance of the two!
Are there a lot of differences between the kit you wear in road and CX?
Not really. On the road it's important to eat and drink a lot due to the long distances, so we have back pockets in our race suits, whereas in CX there is no time to take your hands off the handlebars! If it's bad weather on the road, it's important to keep warm and dry, but in CX we would still just wear a skin suit, because you get so warm from the intensity…baggy rain capes not allowed!
Do you have a preferred piece of kit when racing Cyclocross?
I’m super fortunate to have a pair of MAAP custom zip off bottoms - that makes life 1000x easier on the start line; you just whip them off with 1 minute to go! I also love the fit of the long sleeve jacket, it's a lovely race fit and super flattering.
You currently live and train in the South of France, and are racing a lot of the CX races in Central Europe (mainly Belgium & Netherlands) - how do you adapt to the temperature changes and which pieces of clothing help you stay comfortable on the bike?
The temperature change is always a shock when you get off the plane at Brussels airport, but I soon get used to it; I’m from Yorkshire so it's just like coming home really! I make sure I always have my buff, winter leggings, thick gloves and a quality rain cape with me when I go to the cyclocross, it's always going to rain in Belgium. Don’t get caught out by some sunshine when you leave for your ride, I’ve been fooled many a time!
What's it like being in the Trinity Racing team with Tom Pidcock and Cameron Mason? How much do the two guys help you? Generally, the women's races come before men's, so perhaps they learn more from your advice...?
They help me a lot, especially with the psychological side. They talk me through what the course is like the day before - I always arrive at the race before them and I do the recon, then get back to the camper, and if I’m worried about a certain section, I’ll let them know. Then they will go out and do their recon, and when they get back they'll give me tips, tell me what side of the course I should ride on etc.
Actually, once I told Tom about a good line to run on through this muddy field, he said he tried it and moved from 10th to 1st in that section…so now that’s my biggest claim haha!
On race days, do the guys keep the camper nice and tidy? Or are you the messy one in the team?
I’m definitely not the messy one, I like to keep my things altogether. The boys aren’t so bad, sometimes I think their area is a little chaotic, but it's organised chaos. Tom always knows where everything is and can find me a spare pin in 2 seconds! Luckily we have Kurt and Xenia who make sure the camper is always dirt free too!
Do you have any particular goals for the remainder of the season with Trinity Racing?
I have Nationals in January and it would be nice to get a good result there, but before that I have another 3 races in Belgium, one of which I did 6 years ago in Boom. I’m hoping my boyfriend will be there to watch and think it would be cool to get a result there!
You finished 4th in the British Road Racing Championships this year in Norwich, missing out on the podium by one place. Would it be equally as sweet to stand on the podium at the British Cyclocross Championships later in the year?
It would be insane to get on the podium there, I last did Nationals 6 years ago and I was 4th in the elite race, but I’m under no illusion it will be easy. The UK cyclocross scene is on fire and competition is a lot higher than when I last raced it!
You missed out on selection to represent British Cycling at the European Cyclocross Championships earlier this year, even though GB had no elite women representing on the start line. Will you be aiming to start the World Championships in Switzerland representing Great Britain?
Yes, it's a shame GB didn’t take anyone for the elite womens' race! The big cyclocross races weren’t really on my programme coming into the season, but the more races you do, the more you get drawn into it! At the moment the world CX champs aren’t really on my agenda, I think it's unlikely I will be selected!
In Qatar 2016 you represented Great Britain at the World Championships while racing your road bike. How was that experience?
That was a dream, I was the youngest in the race at only 18! It had been a real rollercoaster season off the bike that year, riding for an Italian team, so to have my results recognised and to be selected, I was delighted. I was also overwhelmed by the professional set up of the team when we got there, it was a totally new place to race and a huge difference from the Worlds in Richmond USA - the year before that I rode as a junior.
In 2020 you will race for a new team, having signed with Lotto-Soudal after spending the last 3 seasons with Drops. Are you excited for the new challenge ahead and where do you feel you can contribute to the new team?
I’m hugely excited for the challenge! Lotto-Soudal is super professional. We’ve already got a day of testing booked into the calendar, which I’ve never done before, so even that in itself makes me excited! I'm looking forward to pushing myself into new roles, helping the girls as much as I can. There are some incredibly talented riders on the team so I’m sure I will learn a lot from them.
Your boyfriend will also race for Lotto-Soudal next season, is that going to get confusing in terms of packing race kit for races and doing the laundry at home?
I’m just glad that I’m the smaller one… if I pack his skin suit to go to a race at least I will fit in it… I'm not sure anyone wants to see Jon (190cm tall) in my xxs skin suit!
Now that you've announced you'll be joining Lotto-Soudal for next year, that means you will have worn three different cycling apparel brands in the space of twelve months. Do you notice a difference between brands/kits as a professional racer?
Yes, you always notice quality. We basically live in cycling clothes…almost every day you put a pair of cycling shorts on, so having kit that stands up to the test of time is important! Not having kit that you are comfortable in can have a negative impact on training. It’s great that MAAP have kit with such a good fit for women, and I’m very lucky that my Lotto-Soudal kit is a custom-fit too. I think if you love the design and style of your kit, it really gives you the added motivation to go out in the morning too!
Off the bike, you are also influenced by clothing and fashion, what are your favourite brands and items of clothing and do you see any similarities between the fashion world and cycling apparel?
I do see similarities. If you look good you feel good! I just love coats and jackets (my Yves Salmon coat is my off-bike winter staple) and I really think that’s the same on the bike. A simple, warm, but fitted winter jersey! Comfort is also a key point, I love to travel in my cashmere tracksuit (bargain of the century may I add, I’m a professional at sniffing out a sale!) I think comfort on the bike is paramount!
However, my main love is shoes…I have so many that Jon doesn’t have any space for his. I think a statement shoe is key. One of my favourites is my pair of bright blue metallic patterned Gucci loafers, they spice up any outfit! On the bike, I have custom painted cycling shoes with a Yorkshire Rose and a lion (I’m a Leo), but I’m going to be trying out the MAAP cycling shoe collab next year, which I’m super excited about!
Thank you, Abby-Mae, it has been a pleasure getting to know you and hear your story. The Velominata team wishes you every success for the remainder of the season and in 2020. We will be rooting for you!