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Cyclist Rebecca Richardson leaning over her handlebars as she rides past a gated country property

Chasing records: Rebecca Richardson and the Brecon Beacons Circuit

Rebecca Richardson’s bid to establish a new women’s record for the RRA’s Brecon Beacons Circuit embodies Brother UK’s drive for alacrity and excellence.

The Brother UK-sponsored hill climb champion is no stranger to a challenge. A parent and business owner living the life of an elite athlete, Richardson is used to overcoming obstacles that the salaried professionals of the UCI WorldTour might regard as terminal to their hopes of sporting success.

Add lockdown and home schooling to the equation and even her colleagues on the domestic scene, accustomed to balancing family life and careers with training and racing, might have thought twice before seeking to establish new records. It is in Richardson’s nature, however, to explore the limits of her talent.


“I’m best-known for the hill climb, but I love attritional road races. Through this challenge, I can vicariously live the life of a pro cyclist in races like the Strade Bianche.”


A comparative latecomer to elite cycling, she has wasted little time in making her mark. A road racer with Brother UK-Team OnForm and a Brother UK-sponsored hill climber of renown, Richardson has also been the Welsh 12-hour time-trial champion, recording 212 miles on one of the hottest days of 2018.

The Roads Record Association’s Brecon Beacons Circuit is a solo challenge worthy of such a single-minded competitor. Known best for her hill climbing achievements (she is the reigning Welsh champion), Richardson has found an antidote to indoor cycling in a 104.5-mile, anti-clockwise loop from Brecon, loaded with 6,600ft of climbing.

“I’d been turbo training during lockdown. It’s a mental challenge to ride on the spot for four hours, but once I’d overcome it, I thought about taking on a 12-hour challenge. I sent a message to the time-trialist Jon Shubert, congratulating him on his 100-mile record, and mentioned a 12-hour turbo challenge. He suggested instead trying for an outdoor circuit record with the RRA.”

The RRA is a venerable institution who can name F T Bidlake, the father of British time-trialing, among its early administrators. Founded in 1888 after the National Cycling Union banned road racing and focussed entirely on track events to avoid conflict with horse riders and police, it certifies road records.

Cyclist Rebecca Richardson riding uphill on a country lane with greenery and cottages is the background

An heroic endeavour

While Cycling Time Trials has become the dominant authority for timed tests, the RRA ratifies records for set routes, times and distances. Its circuits are typically set in national parks. Richardson’s attempt to establish a women’s solo record on the Brecon Beacons circuit will be made on home roads.

“I enjoy cycling’s history. Becoming involved with an organisation of such long-standing and which is so quintessentially British is definitely part of the appeal. I was attracted too by the chance to establish a record on my home roads: an achievement that will be ratified and could inspire others,” she explains.


“The Black Mountain climb comes within the first 90 minutes when I’ll still have fresh legs. The big challenge will be to hold back. Underneath it all, I’m a hill climber.”


“The distance also appeals. I’m best-known for the hill climb, and many people don’t know that I completed a full season in the National Road Series in 2019. I love attritional road races. Through this challenge, I can vicariously live the life of a professional cyclist in races like the Strade Bianche.”

Richardson admits to nostalgia for cycling’s long-passed, heroic era. The RRA’s stipulations recall the age of the glorious amateur as much as their gruelling circuits. A volunteer spirit lies at the heart of its timekeeping operations, and procedure and protocol are seemingly afforded a greater importance than technology or reputation.

Doug Gale, one of the RRA’s army of volunteer timekeepers, will accompany Richardson’s partner Rick Bailey in the single permitted follow car, driving between each of the 15 checkpoints listed on a schedule submitted to General Secretary Brian Edrupt two weeks before the attempt. Some checkpoints will double as feedzones.

Cyclist Rebecca Richardson rubbing her neck after training for an event

Explosiveness out, endurance in

The riding too bears the hallmarks of an epic endeavour. Richardson has racked up 2,700 miles of solo training in preparation. She does not underestimate the savagery of the circuit, notably the ascent of Black Mountain and the climb into Bwlch, which are positioned early and late in the route. 

Richardson's strategy for the climbs that litter the route offer the clearest window on a mindset heavily revised for a challenge that differs wildly from her usual field of endeavour. She has ruled out explosive efforts, favouring instead a more controlled approach intended to preserve her resources of fuel and energy.


“A realistic target is a 19.8mph average, based on my performance in practice. I’d be happy with that, but happier with 20mph, happier still with 21mph and patting myself on the back for the rest of the year with 22mph!”


“The Black Mountain climb comes within the first 90 minutes when I’ll still have fresh legs. The big challenge will be to hold back. Underneath it all, I’m a hill climber, so I’ll be tempted to go for a good climb, but that is definitely not the right approach! Once you’ve burned through the carbohydrate store in your liver and your glycogen reserves, they cannot be replaced, and I’ll need the glycogen for my muscles to work later in the ride,” she explains.

“The climb at Bwlch comes late in the attempt, after a series of drags. It’s a short, sharp climb that could take three minutes or 10 minutes, depending how I feel by that stage in the ride. I’ll definitely need to dig in on that one, so the opposite strategy to Black Mountain. After that, it’s only ten, relatively straight-forward miles to Brecon.”

There seems little to link the demands of a grinding effort lasting up to six hours with the explosiveness of a hill climb. Richardson says a sizable aerobic base is necessary for both. Anaerobic efforts of a minute upwards are more achievable by the athlete with a well-developed aerobic engine.

Four years of coaching for elite competition have raised her aerobic capacity over four-hour efforts by 50w. She has, in effect, closed the gap between her aerobic endurance and anaerobic intensity. While Richardson’s training has been modified from her hill climb regime, she maintains that stamina and intensity go hand-in-hand.

Cyclist Rebecca Richardson leaning over her handlebars as she rides uphill on a country lane with greenery in the background

Accessiblity and Inspiration

No such synergy exists in the psychological preparation. The mental demands are entirely different. Richardson makes no secret of her dislike for the emotional state required to excel in a hill climb or the attempt to jump start the flow of adrenaline, often begun days in advance of the effort.

By contrast, her attempt on the Brecon Beacons Circuit record will require sustained concentration rather than unwanted emotional turmoil. Mental drift is the enemy of the long-distance time-trialist: distraction that might cause a drop in pace. Happily, Richardson has tactics to guard against the body’s constant exhortation to “chill out”.


“My personal motivation is to showcase accessibility in the sport. By seeing a picture of someone attempting a record on a road bike, hopefully people will think: ‘They haven't had to buy a time-trial bike. That could be me.’”


She will set “lap times” on her on-bike computer, ensuring she remains constantly focussed on an hour-long performance window. The technique served her well during her successful attempt to win the Welsh 12-hour time-trial title. Besides monitoring her average power and speed, she must also focus on eating and drinking.

A nutrition strategy formulated on a Zoom call with hill climber Andy Nichols of The V02 Project will ensure an intake of 90g of carbohydrate every hour, achieved with a mix of carbohydrate drinks and solid foods, supplemented by energy gels. The solids will take the form of cereal-and-marshmallow squares.

“They’re light and compact, sweet and tasty, and don’t break,” Richardson explains. “Critically, they don’t contain much fat, which only slows the body’s absorption of carbohydrate.”

Richardson’s hill climb pedigree means she is no stranger to elite cycling’s technical frontier or the importance of equipment choices. Logic, and CDA-informed estimates from online tools like My Windsock, make an emphatic case for a low-profile time-trial bike. Richardson, however, will make the attempt on a conventional road bike.

Her decision aligns with the RRA’s spirit in promoting record attempts that can almost be made from the rider’s doorstep. Accessibility is key to Richardson’s attempt and to a new time-trial series for competitors using road bikes, in which she intends to fly the Brother UK colours later this year.

“My personal motivation is to showcase accessibility in the sport. The hill climb, of course, is very accessible. Sometimes, when you read about a record attempt, you look at the accompanying image and think: ‘Oh, but they’re riding a time-trial bike.’ Hopefully, by seeing a picture of me on a road bike, people will think: ‘That’s accessible. That could be me.’”

Rebecca Richardson looking exhausted as she sits by the roadside with other cyclists after completing a challenge

Alacrity and excellence

With preparations complete, schedule submitted and a nutrition strategy quantified to the last gram, Richardson is ready to tackle the RRA’s Brecon Beacons Circuit and establish a record at which other women can aim. Her practice attempts suggest a formidable average speed, but conditions in April will not be optimal.

A further, if minor complication might exist in the 'reopening' of Wales to visitors from across the English border, following a period of lockdown. A self-confessed early bird, Richardson intends to rise at 6am, breakfast on banana pancakes and begin her attempt at 8am. She hopes to finish by 1pm.


“Rebecca is a superb ambassador for Brother UK. She embodies the alacrity and drive for excellence that exists inside our business.” Phil Jones MBE, Managing Director, Brother UK


“Weather will be a big factor. It’s not yet the ideal temperature, which would be about 15 degrees, and the forecast predicts 7mph crosswinds on part of the course. Ultimately, I want to look back and know that I paced it well and left everything on the road.

“A realistic target is a 19.8mph average, based on my performance in practice. I’d be happy with that, but happier with 20mph, happier still with 21mph and patting myself on the back for the rest of the year with 22mph!

“I’d love to finish within five hours. It will come down to minutes.”

Certainly, everyone at Brother UK will wish Richardson the best in her attempt. The UK division of the Japanese technology giant, headquartered in Manchester for more than 50 years, has been at Richardson’s side for three years since she joined the now-defunct and much-missed Brother UK-FusionRT elite women’s road team.

A blossoming relationship has extended to backing for her successful solo endeavours in the hill climb. Further, when FusionRT concluded, Managing Director Phil Jones MBE recommended to Simon Howes, the manager of Team Brother UK-OnForm, that Richardson would be well worth recruiting for his women’s team. The rest is history.

“Rebecca is a superb ambassador for Brother UK. She embodies the alacrity and drive for excellence that exists inside our business,” Jones says.

“Our ultimate ambition, whether it be staff development or cycling sponsorship, is to provide platforms for people to perform. By supporting Rebecca, I hope that Brother UK plays a small role in helping her to achieve her ambitions and establish a new women’s record for the Brecon Beacons Circuit.”


Images by Larry Hickmott and Tony Wood
 

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