“It was a very awkward, silent trip home…” Rebecca Durrell winces, recalling the aftermath of the 2016 Matrix Fitness Tour Series. “We were leading the Team Classification going into the last lap and then I crashed and that basically lost us the Series.”
As the 28 year old Lincoln rider gets ready to take on the final round of this year’s series, one in which her consistency in placing herself either in the mix for the win or at the front of the chasing peloton has seen her build a thirty six point lead over teammate Annasley Park in second and forty over third-placed Manon Lloyd, it seems a good time to reflect on a short career that is beginning to bear fruit. Durrell didn’t take the traditional route into competing in the sport’s biggest races, in fact she only started racing in her twenties after a stint taking part in a charity ride and getting the bug. “I raced on a domestic team in 2015 and I was desperate to push on and try out some UCI races. Drops gave me that opportunity and I’m so grateful it’s worked out so well.”
That pathway, the stuff dreams are made of for late-blooming athletes, has seen her develop side by side with the team in its first two seasons, from the team’s first forays into European racing in Dwars Door Vlaanderen, to their first Women’s World Tour race in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, through to the team’s 1-2-3 in her home race at the Lincoln Grand Prix and the near-miss at last year’s Tour Series. “There’s still moments when I have to pinch myself”, she admits. “It’s worlds apart from having to get up every day and work nine to five and living for the weekend. I love my teammates, we have such great equipment and kit… I love my bike, I’d happily hang it up on the wall!”
So how does that late entry into the top level of the sport effect the way she goes about her job? “Overall, I see it as a good thing. There is the downside that I’m still developing my bunch skills and technical skills which are intuitive in my teammates. I’m often learning so much from them despite nearly being a decade older in some cases! The flipside of that, however, is that having that experience of life before cycling helps me keep it all in perspective. If a race doesn’t go well I can learn from it and move on quickly.” Rebecca isn’t an athlete for whom getting to the professional ranks marks the end of the journey, however. She sees herself as a work in progress with the potential to improve and develop as an athlete. “I’m still building up my fitness and my skills”, she reminds us, “That means my role can be quite versatile. In one race I’ll be a domestique and my job can be over after 70km, in another, I’ll be going for the win. For the future, I want to keep improving my technical and tactical skills but mainly just to keep enjoying it!” Has she seen the team develop at the same rate as herself? “Absolutely, there’s some big differences this year. Mainly that thanks to our incredibly supportive sponsors the riders now get paid a salary. But also, since we raced so many big races last year, there’s a lot less of the unknown. We can be a lot more specific in the goals we set and how we target races.” Talk of targeting leads us on to this year’s Tour Series. “The strength in depth and the level has improved even in the couple of years I’ve been racing and that’s thanks to the teams, the sponsors and the supporters. There are some really interesting races within races now. It’s also hard to beat the buzz of racing on home roads with a big crowd and that makes it an important goal for both the team and myself.” Leading the series with one race to go brings back memories of the disappointment of 2016 and Rebecca says that it spurs her on to “right the wrong”.
When asked how it would feel to finish the job and, even though the team already has a race win, a string of podium and top ten placings and has worn the leaders jerseys from start to finish she admits she would be “relieved and super chuffed” to come away with the overall and individual wins. “We went in with the goal of the Team Classification but we’ll take whatever we can get, we’re not fussy!” Rebecca explains the similarities and differences in the approach between a city centre criterium and the European races, “The Tour Series is fast and furious. You hammer away in your red zone almost continuously for 45 minutes on a short and usually technical circuit” Rebecca explains, “Now stretch that course out to 70-80 miles, chuck in things like an extra hundred riders, hills, mountains, crosswinds, cobbles and convoys to the equation. That gives you a typical European race! They’re both crazy in their own wonderful ways and very much teamwork orientated.”
That evening in Stevenage, Rebecca and the rest of the Drops team go out and demonstrate what they have learned in both the European version of crazy and from last year’s disappointment. A flawless ride gives Rebecca a win to crown her individual title, the team cement their dominance in the Team Classification and Lucy Shaw follows Rebecca home for a 1-2. The champagne flows on the podium and at the centre of the smiling riders is Rebecca Durrell, the feeling of letting her team down one year previously erased, her development continuing and an individual accolade to add to the main goal of the team prize. “The most important thing for me is to come away from a race feeling like I’ve done my job for the team and picked up some nuggets of experience along the way.” She told us before the race. In Stevenage, her job was done to perfection and we’re excited to see what’s next.