18.05.2020 16:00

Cycling and Community- By Rebecca Charlton

The first thing to address is my previous blog. That didn’t age well, did it? One minute I was writing about drumming up motivation to get out of the door in winter and within days we were facing a pandemic, a global lockdown and a heat wave. We’d never been more desperate to get out the door. 


Rewind to the beginning of the escalating covid-19 crisis and I was preparing to present the coverage from Sixday Manchester when some difficult decisions were set in motion. We were readying ourselves for rehearsals as riders and colleagues from all around the world, including Australia and New Zealand were arriving. If it hadn’t been so serious I would have likened it to a bride or groom making the decision to flee the altar. The guests have arrived, the flowers arranged but you know it’s a mistake to keep going. No one ever wants to make these painstaking decisions but the brilliant team behind the racing decided to put the health of the public, riders and staff first and so we all made a swift u-turn and went straight home unless it was absolutely necessary to stay on site to help. It was a strange feeling on that journey home - the reality was becoming increasingly apparent. 


What really struck me is that not one person uttered a word about themselves, no unnecessary questions, no moaning, just quiet acknowledgement and offers of help. 


Another race I’m really proud to present is The Women’s Tour who announced that week that they wouldn’t be able to go ahead in June to the same response. There was an almost unanimous public understanding that these would be the decisions that could save lives and allow some certainty for the riders involved. I think it was brilliant they were so decisive and stuck their heads above the parapet at the crucial time. 


From that point onwards I received more and more confirmations daily of cancellations or postponements until it was announced, as we’d predicated by then, that the Olympics would be postponed until 2021. I spoke to a number of riders around that time and once again, every one of them acknowledged the brave work of health workers, minimising spread of the virus and saving lives before discussing their own disappointment. 


We’ve heard it said a lot lately but these really are unprecedented times, throughout which I’ve really seen the best of the cycling world.


Media, pro and amateur riders are feeling connected in new ways and the cycling community has come together like never before. We’ve been fundraising on Zwift, Instagramming live with the best riders in the world and there’s a strong feeling that we’re all in this together. Geraint Thomas invited us all to join his NHS Zwift shifts - three back-to-back 12 hour days in the saddle to match an average hospital shift, along with an incredible number of virtual charity rides. Commonwealth medalist Charline Joiner has been offering free sessions as part of her three hiit wonder programme - an all inclusive program - no we don’t get a cocktail and a buffet half way through, although that would be nice - but she’s devised plans that we can all benefit from, whatever our level. Nathan Haas has been sharing dance routines, we’ve had women’s specific rides galore, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio has been inviting me along to ride with her and many more riders have closed that gap between pro and amateur. We’re all being encouraged to embrace what positivity we can while there’s so much devastation around the world.  



What is not so lovely is the vitriol some people are experiencing online - I’ve seen statistics to suggest that trolling on social media has risen since we’ve been in lockdown. I appreciate there’s a lot of worry, anger and stress out there but I can’t understand how that is productively channelled by getting into a Twitter spat.


In a time when so many people are prioritising kindness, it’s beyond me how we have to waste our energy with the stress of added online harassment.


There’s a huge contrast between the overwhelmingly selfless acts of kindness I’ve seen and the people that are spending their days insulting people on the internet. Two of my closest friends work for the NHS - one as a nurse, the other a paramedic. The risks I know they are personally taking on the front line are a daily reminder of the reality out there, beyond the lock down bubble, for so many people. I really wish that the negative minority would remember how easy it is to be kind …. always. 


Right, that’s the rant over. Picking up where I left off last time, am I still procrastinating since sorting my kit into categories? This is the all-important question I promised to revisit. I must admit it’s been easier to get kitted up quickly, not least because I’m only riding the turbo. No overshoes, no arm warmers, just a vest and bibs. In fact I’ve really committed to this whole vest thing - I started detailing which turbo vest I was wearing and I realised I was committed for the rest of the lock down, I feel like a disappointment if I ride and don’t mention my vest choice now. Well, it’s keeping me occupied at least. 


So, the procrastination. Well, that went out the window at the start of lockdown, in fact I went completely the other way. At first I said yes to everything; Yoga, HIIT sessions, Joe Wicks’s PE, two Zwift sessions and an Instagram fitness challenge, all before lunchtime. I might be exaggerating there, but it wasn’t far off...


I felt guilty for saying no to anything and I think we all had this fear of being unproductive while staying at home.The fear of having nothing to do meant many of us went into some sort of overdrive and did 10 times more.


Lockdown removed the vast choices I spoke about in my last blog post. We were suddenly going to the nearest supermarket, having very limited durations and ways we could exercise and this plethora of options was reduced to a much simpler process - each day at a time. We can’t tear off and make ten different plans and procrastinate over the best option - most of us have reverted back to much simpler ways. I think it’s changing a lot of perspectives and potentially will continue to, in the ‘new normal’.



I’d commentated on and hosted Zwift broadcasts for around 18 months but for the first time I had a Zwift station set up slap bang in the middle of my living room. I was arranging meet-ups left, right and centre but the routine calmed me down on the other exercise fronts and I settled into the idea of daily turbo training, getting me up and active in the morning. 


A lot of people have asked me why I’m on the turbo so much and not riding outdoors, a few years back I became so unwell with pneumonia that I developed sepsis and had a few hospital stays - it’s put me into a bracket of people that are advised to stay home so I’ve been embracing Watopia and it’s been brilliant, leaving me feeling very fortunate. 


So as we face lock down ‘loosening’ around the world there are still many people very seriously affected by the virus - for many, social distancing seems to have gone out the window and I’m sitting inside on a sunny day tapping on the keyboard with the breeze blowing through the windows, thinking about those poor families affected.


My colleagues and I have been left without work on the whole, riders are facing an uncertain calendar but the collective cycling world is trying its best to reinstate some stability, the sense of community has never been stronger, and for that I’m immensely grateful.