Hi, I am Caroline Soubayroux, I am 30 and I live in London.
Can you tell us how and when did you start cycling? I discovered cycling almost four years ago, cycling to work on a Santander Bike (the London equivalent of Velib). My now husband saw me riding and decided I needed to get a road bike: the best decision ever. Growing up, cycling never appealed to me as I thought it was just for men pros and MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra). I wish I had known earlier how amazing it is and how much more there is to it!
Do you have a training routine, or do you do it according to your current wishes? When I started to cycle, I was simply riding to work and back daily, so it made it easy to ride every day. A few months in, I started to ride with my club Lea Valley CC on Sundays, and it motivated me to push harder and go further. After 6 months I started racing and going on cycling holidays in Ventoux, riding Les Cinglés. Nowadays, I try and ride at least 400km a week, and I adapt my training to the events I am preparing for, such as a big ultra versus a series of criterium races. To me, it is important to have a clear training cycle and have my key training rides scheduled every week to make sure work or other things do not take over. And then any spontaneous ride I can do is always a bonus!
How have you progressed in cycling? Did you join a club, get a coach, make friends? Joining a club was key to my progress. It gave me confidence, better bike handling skills, taught me how to ride in a group, and it also properly introduced me to the very rich and complex world of cycling. There is so much to learn: mechanics, bike fit, different types of bikes, different types of gears, race strategies, new routes, new challenges, etc. Although I love cycling on my own and cycling can definitely be a solo sport, I think it is only through other cyclists and their experience that you can truly become the best version of yourself.
Cycling is a sport that requires resilience, what resources do you use when you are at the end of your strength? Resilience in cycling is of course physical, but I think that it is first and foremost the mental resilience which is key. For that, I have three things that help me when I struggle. First I am very inspired by other cyclists and athletes. When I ride and I feel I am not on form, I can think of incredible people like Chris Froome or Alex Zanardi or Chrissie Wellington or even Michael Jordan, and all the pain they can take, all the resilience they have; and it pushes me to try and emulate this and be the best I can be. Second, I try and dig into my own experience in all areas of my life. I tell myself: “If I could finish this ultra-running race in South Africa, surely I can finish this cycling race? If I managed to get over this hard job interview, clearly I can get over that mountain” etc. When doing this I clearly visualize myself going through this past difficulty and overcoming it: it is almost an out of body experience. Finally, I always remind myself that I am the luckiest ever: I am healthy, I have a loving family, I am free, and I am pursuing a passion. It does not matter if I am in pain: it is nothing. So many women in the world are not free. So many people cannot ride a bike. I can choose to keep pushing: all I have to do is move my legs, shut up my brain, and keep going. And sure enough, moments later, the pain will no longer seem insurmountable.
How do you define yourself today as a cyclist? I see myself a bit as an addict. I wake up in the morning, and most days, I just think of cycling. I think about it when I eat when I rest when I work. I don’t think I have ever loved and enjoyed something so much! I am a road cyclist mostly, but I also enjoy gravel and track a lot: I never want to stop discovering. All I want is to share my passion, work hard for it, and see how much further it will take me.
What does the woman, the cyclist Wilma, mean to you? It is a woman who is free, passionate, and shows courage in her choices. The Wilma cyclist loves to ride her bike, in her own way, and she pushes herself and others to be the best they can be. She loves cycling above all: it gives her self-confidence and it empowers her. She respects cycling and respects everyone in their own practice of the sport.
Have you made any changes to your diet or lifestyle since you started cycling? My lifestyle has changed. I go to bed early, before 22:00, and I wake up very early around 4:30-5:00, to go riding. I stretch often, do yoga, and work on my mental resilience. I never smoke. I only drink on rare family occasions a couple of times a year. I eat however way more than I used to! I try to eat quality food, but I must say I just enjoy what I eat this day and try and fuel my body with what it needs to perform without worrying too much about it.
What advice would you give to a woman who wants to start cycling? First, accept the risks and go for it. I was so scared when I started: scared of falling, scared of cars… But fear itself is way scarier than what the reality is. Second, find a cycling club, and don’t worry too much if they are mostly men there: you are making the change happen! They will drop you at first and it’s fine: everyone gets dropped, this is how you get better! Bit by bit, you will gain confidence, you will learn, you will meet new people that motivate you, and you will discover through others a wealth of events and adventures you did not even know existed. Soon you will register for a sportive and book a training camp – guaranteed!
What is the most beautiful spot where you have ridden? Hard to choose! I have grown very fond of the rolling lanes around London and the Alps are of course a constant inspiration. I love cycling in Tenerife as well, especially when it is overcast at the bottom and then you climb up at dawn and the sun rises: on top of the volcano you feel like on a moonlike island floating over a sea of clouds; it’s magical. During Race Across France, I also discovered the area of Vercors which has absolutely breath-taking gorges and precipitous cliffs: I plan to go back there for a cycling holiday!
Can you share with us the cycling memory that you enjoyed the most? I have many great memories on the bike. In less than four years I have experienced so many amazing moments; it feels like I have been cycling my whole life. One of the memories I love to recall is meeting random cycling on the last day of the Race Across France. It was a very hard day: the cut off time was coming up and I only had slept one hour. My mood was low because my GPS had stopped working that morning and in my half-delirious state I had cycled backward, adding 16 extra kilometers to my ride. On the road, a cyclist came next to me though: his name was Cedrik and he told me he had been following the race and would like to ride a bit with me if I did not mind. He told me of his experience in cycling and how much he was admiring what all the racers had done. It was a simple chat, quite similar to the ones I would have on a Sunday ride with my club. Cedrik had much more experience than me, and hearing him being so supportive and impressed made me realize what I was accomplishing. For the first time, I realized that I really had become a true cyclist: it did not matter if I only had discovered the sport so late; it truly defined me now. After talking with Cedrik, I knew I would finish the race on time: it started to rain, I barely felt it. I just kept on going and kept on pushing and I finished. It was one of the best days of my life.
And the last question for the community when you go cycling in your area, do you have any nice refuel addresses to recommend to us? Contrary to many, I am not too keen on the café stop (I know, terrible!). I generally like to pack my snacks with me and eat light on the bike, only stopping on very long rides and very often just buying a sandwich and some snacks in a corner shop and hanging on the roadside. But I must say, I love to do a 100-mile ride from London to a place well-known to cyclists called “The Blue Egg" in Braintree: they are super nice to cyclists and the portions are massive! Hard to cycle back after eating there!
Can you tell us more about you, things you would like to share? I used to dislike myself and get very depressed. I would never have thought that in my late 20s I could still change so much. I am a different person now: I have a positive mindset, I take risks, I challenge myself, I open myself up to others. A lot of it, I owe it to cycling. This sport has changed my life and I will forever remember it.