Q & A: Ffion James (Hope Factory Racing)

Final National Trophy this weekend and Ffion James is second in the Women’s series – we quiz the Welsh rider about her ‘cross season – super Answers from Ffion! Thank you … 

Q & A: Ffion James (Hope Factory Racing)

Two points off the lead in the series before York and a winning effort in Wales, has 2019 been your best Trophy series?
Ffion: It’s definitely a season I’m happy with but I wouldn’t say it’s my best one yet… The last two years I’ve managed to win two rounds each season and have been close to winning the season overall.

This year has been good, but I’ve only managed to win one round and that’s without the competition from Beth and Anna who have both made a step up to international level this year. It can be tough thinking that you’ve made a step backwards rather than forwards from one season to the next, but all things considered I’m pretty pleased with how the season has gone so far.

What did winning at home in Wales mean to you?
Ffion: That win felt so good! It’s usually only my Dad who comes to the races with me, so to have my brother, my sisters and other family and friends watching was a really nice feeling and gave me extra strength on an incredibly tough course!

I’ve obviously watched my sisters race a lot in the past on the track, so it’s nice now they’ve retired that they can come and support me for a change. These are the people that also know how hard you’ve worked and what you go through outside of racing, so they understand how much a win like that means to me.

Did you feel pressure before the round in Wales to do well in front of family/friends and supporters?
Ffion: Oh yes definitely! I don’t get so nervous before races these days, but I felt the nerves this time. The fact that I was probably the favourite coming in to the race didn’t help either… but part of being a good bike rider is learning to perform under pressure.

What were your goals prior to the start of the 2019 Trophy series – Which round has had the toughest course so far?
My aims this year were to try and have a similar season to last year, in terms of the races I’m doing and the results. This sounds like a bit of a disappointing aim, but I’m in my final year of uni so I’m trying to be realistic with my goals.

The workload has picked up slightly and the last thing I want to do is regret not working a bit harder on my studies for one year, when I’ve got the rest of my life to work hard on my cycling! However, I couldn’t help but have a few big goals to aim for, with the National series overall being one of them and hopefully making a step up in some international races over Christmas being another.

The courses have all been pretty tough this year, but I’d say Pembrey was the hardest. There were six times a lap you had to get on and off your bike and along with steep banks and sand sections it made for a really tough course, even just to ride around.

Which course has been the most fun to race?
Ffion: Can I say Pembrey again LoL!  I think it was such an awesome course with the sand, steps, banks; it really had everything. I love the tough courses and this one especially reminded me of the kind of courses you get in Belgium, tougher physically and technically than in the UK.

I also loved Crawley as well. Everyone loves a bit of mud and Crawley definitely wasn’t short of it! I love the races where you have to change bikes every half a lap and your pit crew feels like a massive part of the race. It makes it all the sweeter when the race goes well and it’s considered to be a team effort.

Which do you prefer, the mud fest or a drier faster course?
Ffion: Definitely a mud fest. It doesn’t always give me my best results, as I think I’m most suited to a slippy course rather than a slog with a lot of running, but as I’ve already mentioned, it becomes more of team effort and I’m pretty sure all cyclists will agree that there’s something special about winning when the going gets tough.

Do you go into a trophy race with a set strategy or is it a case of staying at the front and trying to control the race from there?
It often depends on the course and which riders turn up. I’m a pretty good starter, so I’m confident I can get to the front if I want to, but I don’t think every course is suited to being led out from the front.

It varies slightly every race, but I usually try and get in the top couple of riders so I can at least try to go with the moves. I usually go hard on the first lap, but not flat out. It allows me to get an idea of who’s having a good day and where their strengths and weaknesses are and from there I can work out how I’ll ride the rest of the race.

Having said that, most cross races are just flat out from the start anyway!

One of Ffion’s goals is to bunny hope the hurdles!

How many bikes do you use in a muddy race? Two or three?
I ‘only’ have two bikes for a muddy race. 95% of the time this is completely fine, and it’s only really the very top riders who have 3 bikes to prepare for that 5% of the time when the third bike may be needed. I guess it just takes a bit of pressure off your pit crew and if anything went horribly wrong with your one bike, you can still continue to change bikes, which is pretty essential in a muddy race.

Who chooses your tyre pressures pre-race and how important are they? Crucial?
I usually choose my own, but often after discussion with other people and after testing out some different pressures. Before course practise, I’ll set my pressures to around 18-20 psi depending on conditions and then work from there. They are pretty essential! Even half a psi can make that difference between being able to stay on your bike or not.

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Has the women’s series in the Trophy changed much in the years you have been doing it with more and more women doing leagues?
Oh yes definitely, especially in local leagues. The number of women on the start line has increased massively – they had over 150 riders on the start line at one central league! It’s also great to see most leagues now with women only races, which is definitely encouraging more riders to take part.

Also, the standard has increased a lot recently, from when I started racing nationals about five years ago, the races are so much more competitive and it’s great to see more riders making that step up to racing internationally too. If you can build it up from the bottom, it will increase the number and standard of riders at the top.

Being a winter event, how do you keep warm without over heating in a cross race?
It’s more about keeping warm before and after the race rather than during. The racing is so intense that your body heats up so quickly and there’s also not much time to think about it. Before and after the race keeping warm is essential, to ensure your muscles are ready for the intensity before and to ensure you recover properly after. This is where really good planning and preparation is key.

Are you are a rider who likes to do a lot of pre-race riding of the course or can you use your skills to adapt to a race as the event progresses with little pre-race course riding
I’m usually pretty happy not doing too much course practise, as you can definitely overthink it and tire yourself out before the race even starts. Also, most courses are very similar year on year, so after racing on a course two years in a row, I almost know it off by heart anyway.

When do you start your training for the CX season?
I usually start thinking about preparing for the cross season mid-summer, but I won’t get on my cx bike until late August/September, as I don’t see the need and you get the skills back really quickly.

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Do you do a lot of skills work for starts/hurdles etc before the season starts?
Not really anymore. Every week at my local cross session we’ll incorporate some skills between the efforts, but it’s not really a focus of mine. Skills have always been my strength, so with limited time for training, I focus on improving my strength and fitness instead. However, at some point soon I want to learn how to bunnyhop hurdles – every year more and more women are doing it and before long it will be a disadvantage if you can’t.

If there was one skill to pick out as crucial to do well in CX, what would that be?
I’d probably say cornering. It sounds like a basic skill that everyone can do, but when you have 100s of corners per race, losing one second each corner is way more than the difference in just one or two positions. Cornering in CX is so varied, as you have to be able to adapt to varying conditions, surfaces, gradients, tightness of the corner, and many other things.

– Finally, after the CX season is finished, what will be your goals for 2020?
I’m going to give time-trialling a go for the first time properly this year! There’s a really big scene at my uni so I thought I’d give it a try. Then I’ll probably do a mixture of both road and MTB races, with MTB likely to be my main focus as I’m riding for Hope this year, but it all depends what fits around my uni work and my exams in June.

At the moment I’m thinking more about my long-term goals rather than this coming season and I’m struggling to decide exactly what I want to do post my degree. Obviously I’ll still be cycling competitively, but I need to work out exactly what I want to focus on and how much commitment I will give it. Whatever happens, I look forward to the seasons ahead!


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