Sally Bigham is a TORQ-fuelled Marathon Mountain Biker, riding professionally for the Topeak Ergon Team. Sally has had an exceptional 2012 season producing some of her best career results. Here’s Sally’s review of how the season unfolded.
This year has been the best of my cycling career; ten race victories, including four stage race wins, and three 2nd positions across ten different countries. My life over the last 4 years has changed beyond recognition – had I been allowed to see into a crystal ball I’d have sceptically dismissed any possibility that I was looking at my future. A pro-cyclist? Me? Never.
Two years ago I decided to put my academic job on hold and give professional cycling a go for one year – it sounds easy phrased like that but it was actually one of the toughest and scariest decisions of my life. In some ways it was a risky frolic but I was happy to gamble for a year, safe in the knowledge that my job at the University was held open for me. That year quickly turned into 2 years and now I’m continuing with Topeak Ergon Racing Team in 2013 but this time my academic job isn’t waiting for me. Now I rely 100% on pedalling for my money. And I love it!
The one major advantage of riding professionally is that I get quality recovery time; instead of jumping off the bike and landing straight in the office, I’m now landing comfortably on the sofa, happily scoffing carbs and protein. I wouldn’t say that I train more but rather that I rest more than I did when I was juggling University work and riding – 10 hours sleep is now my staple nightly requirement. Although it might sound like life is easier for me, I wouldn’t necessarily agree. This year has been long and hard; I’ve spent little over 90 days in my own bed, with the rest of my time on the road in various hotels. My first race was at the end of January and my last was the middle of October. It was hard to keep going for so long and I did have a ‘blip’ in July/August when I adopted the life of an insomniac for a month! Training and racing without any sleep was certainly challenging and it was a clear signal to slow down, which I did, and after a month training at home my pistons were once again powerfully firing!
Riding professionally is hard, physically and mentally , just as any job can be when fulfilled by someone with a perfectionist personality like mine. I do feel incredibly lucky to have been able to turn my hobby into my profession, however. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how lucky I am, especially when I’m in the middle of a hard block of training and racing. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had time to reflect and, now that I don’t ‘have to’ ride, I’ve caught myself realising that I don’t have a conventional job and just how amazing that is! I genuinely feel like I’ve won the cycling lottery and I am eternally grateful to Topeak Ergon and our team sponsors for standing by me.
In many ways, I’ve had the perfect year but there are a couple of races that I look back on and wish things had gone differently. The first is the European Marathon Champs where I narrowly missed out on Gold, taking Silver just 1 second behind Pia Sundstedt (Finland). This left me asking myself questions for many weeks – I could have and should have won.
The second is the World Marathon Championships, where the conditions and circumstances were simply terrible; biblical rain in the weeks leading up to the race turned large parts of the course into an un-rideable mess and the merging of the men and women at a critical point in the race directly influenced the results. Finishing 5th was, in that race, a result that I can live with, but now my quest for a podium finish continues…
One final race that I’d like to change the outcome of is the Leadville 100, where I was the only woman to be sent off course by a marshal. This, I believe, cost me the opportunity to fight for the race win, a fight that I would dearly liked to have had.
There are many high points though and winning the Cape Epic for the second year was certainly one of them, as was winning my first Trans Alp and the Dolomiti Superbike, to name but a few.
Since my last race I’ve been riding trails with friends, which is definitely a part of biking that I miss. Normally my training is very structured and typically on the road, so to blast around trail with no agenda before munching on cake and drinking coffee has taken me back to why I initially started riding mountain bikes. Next week I’m heading off on a beach holiday for 2 weeks, which will be my first non-biking holiday for 3 years and my quest is to get rid of my cyclists tan while windsurfing, surfing and drinking rum – all at the same time! Let’s see how long it takes me to miss my bikes! Serious training starts again on December 3rd in South Africa. Whoop.
A genuine part of my success lies in the sponsors that have stood by me. I don’t have many personal sponsors for one reason, and that is that I only use products that I truly trust and believe in. After 5 years of using Torq Nutrition, I wouldn’t want to be fuelled by anything else, especially now that they have a hot cocoa recovery drink. Elete electrolytes are part of my everyday hydration on and off the bike – I don’t drink water without it. You’ll usually find me walking around in Compressport products because compression is a big part of my recovery routine. My cycle shoes are always Northwave because they are the most comfortable, lightweight stiff shoes that I’ve worn. I never fly without my BikeBoxAlan because you can never trust baggage handlers to treat your bike with the same care as cyclists do, and I use Purple Extreme chain lubricant because it lasts ages and means that I don’t have to listen to a dry chain.
I’ve developed unrecognisably as a rider over the last few years and, armed with all of the knowledge and experience that I’ve gained, I intend to make 2013 even better than this year.
Happy winter training!