Q & A: Geoffrey Butler Cycles Ladies Racing Team


Talking to Iona Sewell, Sandra Mackay, Stephania Magri, Linda Young & Karen Poole of the Geoffrey Butler Cycles Ladies Racing Team

RST Cycle Clothing & Trigon Bikes

The Geoffrey Butlers Ladies Racing Team is going into its 3rd year in 2014. The team was put together after a conversation with George Clare, owner of GB Cycles.co.uk. The idea was to promote women’s cycling, raise the profile of the shop at National and International races, but above all, to have a team of dedicated, happy cyclists, keen to work for each other. The team was selected from all over the country, a decision made to ensure the right mix of riders.

GBCYcles Bedford TTT

The GB Cycles team in the Bedford Three Day Team Time Trial.

We have raced in Austria, at the Remax stage race, the Tour Ta Malta, The Jersey Criteriums, and the Ras Na mBan in Ireland. Future plans include going to a new stage race in Holland, and a possibility of seeking entry to the Tour de Bretange Feminin. The Women’s Team Series, and the National Series of Road and Circuit racing. We also hope that Stephania Magri will defend her Maltese National Road Race and Mountain Bike XC titles she won last year.

With one of our riders leaving the team this year, we are hoping to recruit a couple of new riders to improve the all round abilities of the team. We have an active social life outside of the races, with regular training weekends taking place in various parts of the country, all organised by the girls themselves.

I think we have managed to put together a team that people want to ride with, judging by the number of riders wanting to guest with the team at various races. Our team ethos is to help as many riders as we can to experience riding within a team environment, and having full support at all races. The Team car, and back up provided, enables riders to concentrate on just riding their bikes at races, knowing that they will be well looked after on the day.


Karen Poole and Iona Sewell

We would not be able to function without the fantastic support of GB Cycles, and our other major sponsors, a vital part of what is the GB Cycles Ladies Racing Team! Going into 2014, the team consists of: Iona Sewell (York), Brit Tate (Ilkley), Sandra Mackay (Suffolk), Stephania Magri (Malta and Surrey), Linda Young (Leicestershire) and Karen Poole (Horsham)

Here’s what our girls have to say about all things cycling.

What got you into cycle racing?
Sandra Mackay: I got into cycling as I had played rugby to a high level for many years and after trying to retire, I wanted a more low impact sport that I could go on with, but one that would still involve that team feeling.

Iona Sewell: I used to row at York City rowing club, but when my brothers joined Leeds Mercury Cycling Club, I thought why not join them! Better than sitting in a boat in the freezing cold in the middle of winter!

Stephania Magri: My bike …ups sorry trying to be silly there… I used to be a long distance runner but at one point I got plantar fasciitis and while recovering from the injury, I started cycling and never looked back!

Linda Young: My friend Tim lent me a road bike a couple of years ago as I was thinking of doing triathlon but after a few rides I was hooked! We joke about it now because it was an old battered Peugeot with a racing cassette so I was slogging it out! I was riding with a group of Dura Ace, full carbon boys. I only had a limited idea about nutrition so bonked on the ride, but something must have gone right because I’m still riding.

Karen Poole: Until I reached the grand old age of 35, I competed internationally at orienteering, racing in a number of World Cup races for the British team. I very nearly made it into the World Championships team twice (in 2007 and 2009).

After missing out again in 2010 after putting my all into it, I decided it was time for a new challenge. My husband Chris was booked onto a Pyractif Coast to Coast trip in the Pyrenees, so I bought a bike and went with him, as well as entering the Helvellyn Triathlon. Needless to say, it appeared that I had been born to ride a bike, and the rest is history.

GB Cycles_Malta 2013 092

How long have you been racing?
Sandra Mackay: I started out doing sportives, and dabbled in the Team Series as a single rider maybe five years ago, then just TT’d and did the odd crit. Then I had time out due to work etc and really got back into it properly when I joined GB Cycles three years ago.

Iona Sewell: My first full season road racing was 2009. Before that, my first ever Women’s road race was in 2008, and only my 2nd ever road race. It was at the National Road Race Championships held in Ampleforth in North Yorkshire that year. I only entered as it was on my doorstep!

Stephania Magri: 9 years road and mtb

Linda Young: Since 2012. My first ever race was an international stage race in Austria, 3 months after I’d had my collar bone plated; maybe not the best race to start with! Nothing like throwing yourself into it. I learnt a lot on that trip!

Karen Poole: I did a couple of Women’s Team Series races in 2011 with Primal Europe, mixing cycle racing with Triathlon, then two full seasons of cycle racing in 2012 and 2013.

GB Cycles_Malta 2013 091

Have you noticed any changes to women’s racing in that time?
Sandra Mackay: Yes a much larger number of women racing and giving it a go, down to the brilliant effort of others promoting women’s racing. It’s great to see. Used to be 20/30 on the line at road races and now well everyone knows it’s more than that now.

Iona Sewell: Yes, compared to when I first started racing and the only local race I could enter was your local men’s 3/4 cat race, in which I would enter, get dropped, but plow on till the end, determined to finish! Now there are plenty of local crits for all category’s, and a great way for those new to racing to learn. Here in York, we have a new purpose built cycle circuit, which would have been ideal when I first started racing.

There are so many more women’s races on the calendar now too, with more and more starting to show some sort of televised coverage, how ever brief it might be!

Stephania Magri: Yes, more women on start line both in mtb and road races.

Linda Young: Some of the races have been filling up really quickly this year, which is great for the sport.

Karen Poole: I think when I started racing, anyone who could ride a bike reasonably strongly could do well at any level. Just in two years I think the training ethic in the women’s peloton has changed dramatically, so that only those who follow a structured training programme do well, and those who don’t have been left behind.


Iona and Brit racing in the North

What has been the highlight of 2013 for you?
Sandra Mackay: Racing with my team, and being totally happy with my performances each time
Iona Sewell: Not one specific highlight, but probably stage races abroad with the team.
Stephania Magri: Winning the Maltese National championships both road and mtb.

Linda Young: I’ve really been getting into circuit racing this year, being relatively new to the sport, I’ve been able to learn about riding in the pack and just gaining experience really. The circuit races allow you to get that experience without other variables that you can get in a road race.

My highlight was ending the season with a win at a circuit race in Lincoln. I crossed the line and had to ask the rider in second if I got it! I was buzzing from that and it’s really encouraging when you feel strong and can see how your training has been paying off.

Karen Poole Three key moments for me stand out – finishing 11th at Cheshire Classic despite getting brought down on the hill with 2 laps to go; being in the breakaway with the best of British and national team members from Luxembourg, Canada, Ireland and Denmark on Day 2 of Ras na m’Ban and finishing 14th on the stage, and doing the most amazing time (7h 22mins) at Marmotte Gran Fondo in July. Finishing 5th in UCI World Masters Road Race on summit of Monte Bondone in the Italian Dolomites was also pretty special.


Iona getting stuck in at the Bedford 3 Day at the awesome Millbrook Circuit.

Which race has been the best one to do?
Sandra Mackay: For me it’s got to be the Ras na Mban, and Oakley (near Oxford), just down to suddenly realising that working far too much has an affect on performance, and when you can step back, how much better your training and racing is and also how you pre focus and think about the race prior to racing it. I’ve had a lot of sport psychology in my early training days and it’s also training the mind!

Iona Sewell: Ras na mBan has always been one of the best races to do, it’s well organised, with a strong international field growing year on year!

Stephania Magri: Commonwealth Games 2006 road race and World Cup sprint eliminator mountain bike race in Czech Republic 2011

Linda Young: I’ve really enjoyed the Mallory circuit races in Leicestershire this year, it’s local to me and I got to as many as I could so you get to know a few of the other riders which is good.

Karen Poole: National Championships is very exciting, particularly the one in Glasgow this year. The UCI World Masters races were a great experience, and I would highly recommend them to other Brits.


Do you coach yourself or have a coach to help structure your training?
Sandra Mackay: I do have a coach, as I started out training as if I was playing rugby, and it didn’t work…. So my coach is Steve Hall , he’s based out in the south of France and I get a weekly training program and have weekly contact with him, and he understands the demands of my work. It works for me.

Iona Sewell: I coach myself always have. I believe that if I know what training I should be doing then, I shouldn’t need someone to tell me to do it!

Stephania Magri: Steve Wright, GB Cycles team manager, has been my coach for over 6 years now. Its great to have someone experienced like Steve to assure me we are on the right track. Our training plan compliment my busy life. He is very sensible to work with and life stresses and usually plans my training accordingly. I wouldn’t have come this far without his guidance.

Linda Young: I coach myself although have some knowledgeable friends that are always around and happy to give advice.

Karen Poole: I’ve always had a personal coach, ever since I orienteered. I have been working with Garry Palmer for the last two years, and the improvements I’ve made since starting to work with him are amazing. I certainly wouldn’t have achieved what I have in 2013 without him.

2013_Bedford3day_Stage5 LindaY

How many hours a week would you train on and off the bike?
Sandra Mackay: I guess depending upon the time of year, during the week it can be about 8 hours and then the weekends throughout the winter, you’re fitting in your longer more endurance rides which can be long, but enjoyable with your buddies….

Iona Sewell: In summer, I usually manage 10-15 hours a week depending on work commitments. Racing weekends and maybe a mid week race, and evening chain gangs, with a longer road ride mid week if time permits!

Stephania Magri: Depends on the time of the season however I do target 6 days a week and one rest day.

Linda Young: On average, I train six days a week with one rest day but it depends if there’s a race coming up and what type of race it is. I’m thinking of adjusting my training a bit this year to see what I can do at the longer races.

Karen Poole: My training is periodised so varies throughout the year. Winter is there for long steady miles, so I do have weeks where I do 12-15 hours, many of which are early mornings or after work on the turbo. I still like to do some orienteering so I do 1 or 2 runs a week over the winter as well. I tend to have 2 rest days a week.

2013_Bedford3day_Stage5_GB Cycles

Do you work full time / part time, at home looking after family or a full time bike rider?
Sandra Mackay: I own my own company so very much full time, and it can be a real struggle leaving home at 5:30 or 6:15 of a morning and not getting back until 6 at night to then muster up the energy to train, but it has to happen otherwise I’m not a happy person…. But needs a must with work!

Iona Sewell: I work as a Nanny for a family, so it’s quite helpful that the family are very understanding of my training! They try to be as flexible as possible allowing me to be able to make it to evening races or chain gangs on certain day’s!

Stephania Magri: I am a full time PE teacher

Linda Young: I wish I was a full time bike rider! I work full time, I teach maths and ICT and a bit of Art part-time too. The cost of all these bike parts add up!!

Karen Poole: Definitely full time, in senior project management role for Network Rail. There is certainly no let up and it is incredibly stressful at times.

What is the best thing about racing bikes?
Sandra Mackay: The people you meet, and my team…..

Iona Sewell: Working well together as a team, when everything goes to plan and you achieve the goal.

Stephania Magri: Racing with my team mates when I race on the road and pushing my limits when I race on the mountain bike

Linda Young: The buzz

Karen Poole: When everything comes together and you get a result. This is made even better if you’ve helped a teammate or a teammate has helped you.

And what is the one thing you enjoy least?
Sandra Mackay: I guess the amount of travelling I do during the week to then travel at weekends too, it just gets a tad tiring

Iona Sewell: Ice in winter, when you want to ride and are stuck indoors on the turbo!

Stephania Magri: Cleaning the house…oh sorry do you mean on the bike? Sitting in and waiting for the right moment!

Linda Young: Being so nervous at the start and checking my quick release a hundred times…what do I think is going to happen!! But saying that in one race I was riding behind someone and her quick release wasn’t closed. I shouted up to her and she said she wondered why her gears weren’t changing properly. She had a lap out to sort it.

Karen Poole: Am I allowed two? There are still too many crashes in women’s racing, and I think this is partly because riders still don’t get enough bunch riding experience before putting themselves into the big races. I also hate that the winner of the race isn’t always the strongest rider but the one who hides and does nothing at all until the final sprint. I much prefer races where the terrain splits the peloton because then it comes back to being riders against the road.


If you could change one of your weaknesses into a strength which one would it be?
Sandra Mackay: Learn how to sprint

Iona Sewell: My bunch positioning

Stephania Magri: Being impatient in achieving good results

Linda Young: I think there’s always room to be more focused although maybe that’s a positive as it’s what drives you forward. I could do better with my race preparation, warming up properly. I’ve yet to master rollers, I’m going to at least try them this year. I love the mountains too (I got a QOM, strava fans will know what I mean, for one of the routes up Mont Ventoux this year).

Karen Poole: If I was going to stick with bunch racing, I would have to learn to sit in and work less, or get into breakaways more often.


Do you have a winter bike?
Sandra Mackay: I have 6 bikes and 5 live in the house, and they all have names, 2 winter bikes, called turby and turby b 1 cross bike, called Paul, 1 retro MTB, called GT, a TT bike called Abe and Cerveee my racing machine.

Iona Sewell: Yes, i ride a Kenesis, a winter bike is a must, full mud guards, none of that race bike with clip on mud guard rubbish here, that wouldn’t be allowed!

Stephania Magri: Yes

Linda Young: No but I do have a shonky (but loved) Peugeot that lives on my turbo trainer.

Karen Poole: Yes, I have a Van Nicholas Yukon called Whitehorse. Titanium frame. He replaced my well loved Trek that was written off in a collision with a car commuting home from York to Northallerton back in February 2011.


Who chose the bike you race on and if so, why that specific brand and groupset?
Sandra Mackay: Me , Dura Ace…..just love Cervelo

Iona Sewell: My race bike is a Trek Madone, with Dura Ace groupset. Not sure why that specific brand other than my local shop is a Trek dealer, and I went with the bike that seemed to have the frame size I needed, no other reason!

Stephania Magri: I chose to ride hand made Italian custom built bikes produced by RDR Italia. About 4 years ago, I decided to give larger wheels a go and ride a 29er but there were no companies that made my size. RDR Italia took my measurements and developed two bikes that fit me perfectly. On my mtb, I chose a mixture of lightweight components including KCNC and Sram while on my road bike a mixture of FSA and Campagnolo.

Linda Young: Well because I’m quite new to road biking, I didn’t want to spend loads but wanted a bike that was value for money and got great reviews, so that’s why I have a Planet X super light pro carbon with Ultegra groupset.

Karen Poole: I have two bikes that I use in races. In bunch racing I use a frame that was given to me when I rode for a different team last year – Cello Elliot , from Korea. I set him up with all the same components that I have on my other bike – Shimano Ultegra. For Gran Fondos, I still ride the bike I bought back in 2010 for the Pyrenees trip, which is a Ridley Orion. The only upgrade he has had is a lovely new set of Fulcrum Zero wheels.


Is yours an off the peg unisex bike or a women’s specific model?
Sandra Mackay: All specific models

Iona Sewell: It’s a women’s specific model that I’ve had since 2009, and so now if I was to change bikes I would never buy women’s specific again!

Stephania Magri: Its a custom built so Steve and I chose all components that suited me best.

Linda Young: It’s an off the peg man’s bike. The women’s bikes seem to have a higher price tag for the same model so I’d rather change things like the stem to get the right fit

Karen Poole: All are men’s frames, but not necessarily with the off the shelf componentry. I, like Iona and Linda, would never go back to Women’s specific frames as they’re just not worth it!


Are there things about cycle racing that women need to understand that men don’t?
Sandra Mackay: Hmmm tough one, think I may refrain from answering that

Iona Sewell: Some need to learn how to ride in a group before they start racing, simply deciding to enter a race as a way to learn, is not a great combination!

Stephania Magri: Would be great to have women’s road races split in categories. And maybe offering skills to beginners on how to ride safely in a bunch with the aim to minimize crashes.

Linda Young: I wouldn’t say so, racings racing, I ride mostly with a group of men at home and it doesn’t bother me either way, we’re just people all the same who are out on a bike ride.

Karen Poole: There shouldn’t be.


What will you doing training wise during the winter – as little as possible or a structured programme based on getting success in 2014?
Sandra Mackay: A structured programme from my coach Steve Hall

Iona Sewell: Long road miles, some winter track league, gym work, with maybe an odd Mountain Bike race thrown in for good measure! The new circuit at York means there’s floodlit winter chain gangs, and so winter training in evenings isn’t resigned to being stuck on the turbo all the time! So hopefully a good chance to get some speed back in the leg’s come start of next season.

Stephania Magri: I enjoy winter training as this gives me the chance to cross train and try different things. I don’t follow a structured plan during winter but I do focus on endurance stuff.

Linda Young: Winter training is key. I’ll be focusing on building endurance and putting in a bit more strength work this year. I also go running and yoga once a week, can I plug my amazing yoga teacher Libby: yogawithlibby.co.uk she’s great, although I must be the most inflexible person in the room but I’m working on it.

Karen Poole: I’m on a structured programme all year round.


Is it hard training in the winter with the British weather?
Sandra Mackay: No not at all, if I can’t do it outside I do it inside

Iona Sewell: The hardest thing is probably finding enough gritted roads to ride when the weather turns cold! It’s all rural roads round here and year on year it seems to be colder for longer, which makes trying to train on the road harder!

Stephania Magri: Once I have the correct clothing I don’t mind the British weather.. Some of my best mountain bike rides were riding snowy trails (on my mtb of course).

Linda Young: Yeah it can be, it can get a bit miserable when you’re so cold you can’t feel the tips of your toes or fingers but it makes you appreciate the hot chocolate and warm shower when you get in. Iit feels like you’ve really earned it and there’s something invigorating about that feeling of having conquered the elements.

Karen Poole: It’s as hard or as easy as you want to make it. Some of the best days I’ve had on the bike are crisp clear winter days where the temperature barely reaches zero. Pick the right roads and you’re absolutely fine and have a great day out. Otherwise, cross train – MTB, running or even XC skiing. Just never use the cold or the wet as an excuse, because you’re just letting yourself down if you do.


Circuit Racing or Road Racing – which do you prefer?
Sandra Mackay: Road racing

Iona Sewell: Bit of both really. Stage races seem to suit me better, but I equally enjoy the all out attacking racing that you get with crits!

Stephania Magri: I prefer circuit racing as its away from traffic and it is more similar to mtb xc races

Linda Young: It would have to be circuit racing at the moment but I think my strength may lay more on the road but just need to build up a bit more experience and stop riding at the back of the pack!

Karen Poole: I have (re)discovered my strength in Gran Fondo racing and found a way to make it legitimate in my mind.


Do you have any tips for other female riders to help with winter training? Clothing etc …
Sandra Mackay: Keep warm, get rollers and a turbo that will do resistance and program’s that you can enter yourself

Iona Sewell: Train with those that are stronger than you, and never doubt that you can’t keep up! Keep pushing yourself, set off with the fast group, each time you’ll stay with them for that bit longer!

Stephania Magri: There is a wide range of waterproof clothing out there. I find that investing on some good clothing will help you enjoy rides even on chilly days. Cross training is a great way to stay fit.

Linda Young: Be consistent with your training and follow the plan because sometimes it seems like your not getting anywhere but then one day…it all comes together and you feel wicked! Rest is also important to let your body adjust to training overload.

Karen Poole: Lots of layers and lots of clothing options. Buffs under helmets to keep ears warm. Never give up.


Do you see 2014 being a big year for Women’s racing with a UCI Stage race bringing pro teams here?
Sandra Mackay: Most definitely

Iona Sewell: The new women’s UCI race should be a great addition to the calendar, and hopefully the start of more great races to come!

Stephania Magri: Yes of course it is always great to have UCI races.

Linda Young: Yeah I can’t wait. Women’s racing is getting more coverage and followers, bike racing is exciting, whether it’s women or men racing, what’s not to love!!

Karen Poole: I have mixed feelings. It is good to have a UCI Women’s race here in Britain, but there is still so much work to do at grass roots level I’m not sure we are doing things in the right order, as very few (if any) British teams will get to race in the Women’s Tour in 2014. We need more people like Huw Williams sorting out the grassroots stuff! That’s where I want to go next.




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