LOCKDOWN! With Caroline Stewart (the Bianchi Dama)

Our next Lockdown! feature is with Caroline Stewart, the Assistant Manager and Race Mechanic of the Bianchi Dama Women’s Cycling team

LOCKDOWN! With Caroline Stewart (the Bianchi Dama)

Caroline Stewart is the Assistant Manager and Race Mechanic for the Bianchi Dama Women’s Cycling team, racing at Elite National level in the UK National road series and occasional UCI races on the continent.

Photo: David Walters

Caroline is also a qualified cycling coach so works during the week on her coaching business and weekends would normally be team/race work. This gives her a lot of flexibility and her coaching clients understand her demands during the season so she can adjust things when they do things like team camps and stage races. Caroline lives near the Berkshire/Surrey border within a couple of miles of Swinley Forest.

Your last race was (as a mechanic)?
Caroline: The last race in which we competed was the Lotto Belgium Tour in Sept 2019, It was our second year at a very hard stage race, which includes crosswinds, cobbles and the final stage goes over the Muur van Geraardsbergen (and two other climbs) three times on the final stage’s finishing loop before going back up the Muur for the finish half way up in the market place in Vesten.

It’s a tough race and a great opportunity for our riders to race against some of the top women in the world, and see how bigger teams operate too. It had come off our programme for 2020 as the organisers moved it earlier in the year and it clashed with the UK National Series. We’d love to go back, but had entries in some other UCI races sorted for this year. Let’s see what happens.

With racing cancelled, what’s a typical week on the bike for you?
Caroline: Currently it is minimal as I’ve been self isolating with mild symptoms of what may or may not be Covid-19.. As it included being short of breath and is on the chest, I haven’t ridden at all. This has also stopped us preparing the new race bikes for the season.

The riders got their training bikes a while back and I had built the first half of the race bikes a week or so before self isolation (when the other bikes arrived). Lock down has meant not travelling to build and deliver the others.

We had a great test day though with our wheel and tyre suppliers a couple of weeks ago, with the folks from Hunt and Goodyear on hand to discuss wheel and tyre choices and experiment with various tyre width and pressure combinations.

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Are you in lock down with the bike or managing to get in some fresh air?
Caroline: I’ve got all my bikes in the house with me so I could be riding, but as I’ve been ill, I’ve not been out. I hope to head into the local woods (about a 300m ride from the house) on one of my cx bikes this week. The woods nearby are still open, whereas I know that the crown estate have prohibited riding in Swinley, including the fire roads, for safety reasons.

What sort of bike are you riding now?
Caroline: My “go to” tends to be a CX bike to ride in the woods nearby, though I haven’t raced in a couple of seasons now, and my Bianchi Aria is currently sitting on the trainer for using Zwift and RGT, which I was lucky enough to be involved in the testing of last year.

What’s the hardest thing for you about the Lock Down ?
Caroline: It’s not been too hard if I’m honest. Full self isolation is a bit more of a challenge as we basically locked the doors and stayed inside, so making sure we had enough food and were sensible in what we were using to make sure we rationed it all out, as home delivery options have been minimal, especially since the lock down. But we were already in isolation for several days before the country locked down.

Besides cycling, what’s your biggest distraction as lock down continues?
Caroline: I’ve actually spent a lot of time re watching old bike race coverage. It’s been weirdly fascinating watching the races from the 90s and early 2000s knowing what we know now.

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What’s the most common issue for a rider in a race .. punctures or an another mechanical?
Caroline: As a team we’ve had a really good record with both punctures and mechanicals and I love a “quiet” race from that point of view. For example, we had only one puncture in the CiCLE classic last year.

Last season I think I may have actually had to get out of the car in one out of every three races. 2019 I was a little busier, and the worst is always getting out to respond to crashes. In the bigger ones, you do end up helping anyone who needs it. There is always a sense of camaraderie amongst the teams, when we are racing, we are rivals, when people just need help, we are all there for the same reason.

What’s the weirdest thing you have seen since this crisis began:
Caroline: Very little as, with self isolation, I only actually left the house for the first time in nearly two weeks a day ago.

Finally, are you in lock down on your own or with family
Caroline: We’re locked down as a family. I think both my partner and I are fine with it. He’s very logical and happy to follow a routine and I’m ex navy, so routine and not getting out much isn’t a huge problem.

I’d like to take the chance to thank our sponsors through this tough time, Bianchi UK, Milltag clothing, Rawvelo nutrition, Hunt Wheels, Goodyear Tyres, A-Sure insurance, Michelmores Solicitors, and Fenwick’s cleaning and lubrication products and we are looking forward to showing off the new kit and new bikes at a race somewhere near you all later in the year. They’ve all been fantastic in making sure the riders have anything they need to keep training whilst we wait to see what happens.

Thank you Caroline and we hope you are well and fighting fit by now

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