"Don’t worry about speed or results – enjoying your ride is what matters."
This is the advice from Trek-Segafredo’s Abi Van Twisk, to any women getting into cycling.
I caught up with Abi while she was in London on a break from her racing schedule. She was keen to highlight the enjoyment of cycling, rather than the competitiveness, and encourages people to try various types of bike riding.
Abi, from Peckham, started cycling at her local club in South London, training regularly at Herne Hill Velodrome and cycling in the local lanes.
Sometimes she has to pinch herself when she races in big international events like the Women’s Tour or the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race in Australia with her team which includes the likes of Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini.
Abi worked hard on her cycling, and steadily moved up the ranks, but it was important to first and foremost to enjoy her bike riding.
“I would say definitely just enjoy it fully. Don’t worry about results; don’t get het up about coming third or fourth in a race. I think definitely try all of the disciplines because you never know which one you might like.”
The former Drops racer feels it’s important to try different types of cycling, as some disciplines can help in the way that you ride, and improve bike handling.
“Cyclocross is really coming up so you could even make a career in that. As for the skills, you learn so much when slipping and sliding on mud! BMX is also is really good for bike handling things. When you get into a big peloton it really comes in handy.”
I certainly remember seeing Abi at the London League cyclocross races quite a few times, as she lapped me at every race, and watching how she danced across the mud was inspiring!
Abi is as happy doing group rides with men as she is on women-only rides, since cycling isn’t just about men and women; it’s just about getting out on the bike.
“I recommend going around with the boys. You don’t need to stick to rides with just girls. Going around with the boys is good because you can then go faster and even practice skids and stuff!”
After an initial period of injury earlier this year the 22-year old now has a busy schedule which has included racing at the Women’s Tour, the National Championships, Ride London Classique, and the Bene Ladies’ Tour.
It’s pretty cool because most of the riders are the best in the world
When she does get time off Abi enjoys returning to her native Peckham to catch up with friends and family.
“I love to get back to Peckham when I can. It’s a bit different from Girona, where I live now; it’s not good for cycling, but good for everything else, and it’s pretty cool.
“I do get some odd looks sometimes when I’m fully Lycra’d up rolling out of Peckham, as people aren’t that used to seeing bright yellow kit!
“When I come home I also love going back to Herne Hill Velodrome, as I know many of the people there from when I was growing up, so it’s nice to see them.”
Riding in local cycle venues like Herne Hill Velodrome, and the Cyclopark in Gravesend, Kent, makes for a blast from the past, and it was a surreal moment racing at the Cyclopark alongside the best riders in the world at the Women’s Tour earlier this year.
“I used to do races at Cyclopark quite a while ago and sometimes you forget the kind of the journey you’ve been on to become a professional racer.
"Sometimes I do take a step back, like at the Women’s Tour. I was thinking to myself on the start-line ‘I always used to come here to do the little races, or sometimes the London Cyclocross Leagues were here, and now this is pretty cool’ – one of the biggest races in the world and I am now racing at the place I used to go to as a kid.”
Being in Trek-Segafredo with many experienced riders offers a chance to learn a lot more about racing, and raising her game.
“Watching the way they [Lizzie Deignan, Ellen Van Dijk, Elisa Longo Borghini] race, you pick up bits of advice and just being in that environment you find yourself doing things differently or a bit more professionally.
"It’s pretty cool because most of the riders are the best in the world.”
If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it!
Racing in the Women’s Tour this year was special because the team was fighting for Lizzie to get the win, especially as this was her first stage race since returning from maternity leave.
“None of us really knew what to expect obviously because it was her first stage race back after giving birth. Everyone was really excited coming into it, just to see what we could do, and be aggressive. By stage four, which Lizzie won, we thought ‘we could do this’.”
It was very tight, which made it exciting but also it meant that every bonus sprint counted, and every second counted. So we had to look out for everything and every attack.
Having Lizzie in the group gave me that extra bit of motivation… extra strength to fight for the green jersey. Obviously on day six everyone was pretty knackered but just to ride on the front and stay so focused just spurred me on.
The other noteworthy aspect of the Women’s Tour was racing in pouring rain through the English countryside.
For this, Abi kept warm wearing Santini.
“I really like the Santini thermal rain jersey [Editor note: Abi referred to this as the Gabba]. I use it as a jersey or have it over an ordinary jersey – with arm warmers if it’s cold and wet. It’s good because you can just take that off during the stage if it warms up, and it’s waterproof and keeps you warm. Sometimes I wear a Santini waterproof gilet or vest, which is really good because it’s got a tail at the back that keeps my bum dry.”
The team’s clothes are manufactured by the Santini sisters – Monica and Paola – based in Bergamo, northern Italy, and they are regularly in touch with the riders.
“The sisters are really cool. I love how it’s a family-run business. I did the Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini in Italy. There were 4,000 people and it was run by Monica and Paola.”
Although the route had to be diverted away from the Stelvio Pass due to snow, the new itinerary, still in the Italian Alps was no less spectacular.
“We did a slightly different route but it was so beautiful. I’ve never ridden those parts before and even where we were staying in Bormio was literally stunning. And with all the switchbacks, it was a beautiful day.
“There are so many types of cycling you can do. You can do anything, so just enjoy it.
"And if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it!”
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