This Mum Rides (and rides and rides)
by Dave Land, posted 3 May 2018
Follow JRtB on Twitter @justridethebike
JRtB met Ana Orenz, recent cycling convert and advocate of things bike and participant in the Transatlantic Way race, and newly sponsored long distance cyclist.
Ana Orenz is not your average bike rider. Ana lives in England and is a single mum to her 11-year-old daughter. She started cycling a couple of years ago. She lives in the Cotswolds, and rides mostly on the road. So far so normal. We love to meet people that have just got into cycling, no matter what age they are, or what bike they ride. Only, Ana goes a bit further.
She came to cycling relatively late, albeit in an epic fashion with a ride from Portugal into northern Spain with her daughter (more of that later). But the background to our meeting owes much to her cycling mentor: her partner Alex.
He has been a training partner and advisor over much of the past two years as Ana has learned the hard way about the dark arts of hills, gears, shoes and pedals.
“Alex and I agreed to do the Transatlantic Way race in Ireland”, Ana mentions this casually.
But the statement hits me like train. Wait… what? The Transatlantic Way is not the name of road in north Devon. It is a single stage, 2,500km race. She nods, and continues:
“So, later this year I’m doing the Race Across France, but not the full one, just the challenge one.”
“The challenge one?” I’m careful not to sound too anxious, I’m worried what might be coming next.
“Yes, the middle one, which is the challenge distance of 1,100km. The headline race is 2,600km and you have to ride this fully supported. So, I’m choosing the unsupported option and riding it solo. It’s run by Arnaud Manzanini who is a leading ultra cyclist and is keen to promote this form of riding in France and generally.”
Race Across France
Is that normal? Few people have the desire let alone tenacity to take on rides of 160 or even 250km. But 1,100km? On their own? So, what makes Ana tick? A brief look at the details of the Race Across France and her knowledge of long distance cycling gives an insight. Clearly Ana relishes a challenge and has the ‘justridethebike’ bug – particularly very long distances. She is proud to associated with riders such as Manzanini and the organisers of the TransAtlantic Way, which shows a real connection and understanding with the sport at a grassroots level – something some pro-riders at a UCI level sometimes appear to lack. So this makes Ana very normal – she is at heart one of us. Albeit one of us willing and able to cycle much further.
Ana is also at once open and generous with her thoughts, whilst careful and cautious about how much she gives away. We briefly share stories about our daughters as an introduction as my youngest is the same age as hers. I say mine loves riding her bike, even more so since her latest heart operation.
“You should both do the Pilgrims Way to Santiago de Compostela.”
“Really? She’s only 11,” I say, conscious my voice is going slightly high pitched with my astonishment at this suggestion.
“My first long distance ride was along there,” she explains. “Me and my daughter, she was nine then and rode from Portugal in Spain and Santiago on hire bikes that were really no better than just shopping bikes. I know it can seem tough, but, the toughest bit is just getting going. We loved it. Once you’ve started, finishing is pretty easy.”
JRtB takes a moment to catch a breath, because that sentence probably sums up Ana’s attitude to adventure.
Leaving the comfort zone
The Transatlantic Way is impressive on its own. It is typical of ultra cycling, or long-distance races. The organisers do a lot of behind the scenes work leaving the limelight focused tightly on the adventure. And that’s the point. Rides like this, Race Across France, the TCR and other adventure cycle races are all about the rider, the bike and leaving the comfort zone of the coffee ride miles and miles behind. It’s not even about ‘racing’, it is more about just doing it and finishing. Self-supported all the way with a race tracker for those dot followers out there is all you should look for. But, even here, Ana’s story was different.
“Alex and I were working really well as a team, he in effect drafted me for the first half of the race, whilst putting up with severe pain from ligament damage in his knee. Eventually he took the hard decision to pull out. But I kept going anyway. I finished it. The last part was just unnecessarily painful – when you’re tired and you can see the finish, but the route is a zigzag, that hurts more.”
The TransAtlantic Way was won by Bjoern Lehard, with Ana coming in four days behind him, but still one of the fastest female finishers. She shrugs. You get the feeling that the shrug is heartfelt. Long distance cyclists might shrug a lot. Everything is just another one of those things – they are a breed apart and simply knuckle down to sucking up the miles.
Ana has had some support from the Adventure Syndicate. She was awarded financial support to attend one of their training camps in Girona, Spain. Girona is fast becoming hallowed ground for road cyclists. Where once the pros all moved to the Alps, they have followed David Millar’s route to a quiet area of Spain, which allows for consistent training efforts, with anonymity, from their front door.
After she returns from the Race Across France in the late summer Ana is looking forward to the hill climb series in the UK. That’s in September and October.
“I got into hill climbs after a suggestion from Luke Allen, a racer I met at the end of the TransAtlantic race. He said I’d enjoy it. I believed him, and he was right. I love it”
This again points to a difference between JRtB riding and Ana. Our rides are shaped by the fear and trepidation of certain Cotswold hills – we are not lured to them for any enjoyment or the suffering (well, maybe there is a touch of enjoyment in the triumph of the ascent but not riding against the clock). But Ana ups the game, once again,
“I’m really excited this year, because I’ll be doing it all on my brand-new bike!”
Independent Bikeworks adventures
Which is how we met in the first place because JRtB met up with Ana at a low-key launch event for Argon 18 bikes. Hosted by Jim from Independent Bikeworks, in Cirencester, UK, they are sponsoring Ana in-kind through the provision of a top end Argon 18 - her new bike. The bike is an Argon 18 Gallium, with Dura-Ace groupset and C24 wheels.
“It is a fantastic bike” explained Richard, from distributor i-ride, somewhat unsurprisingly. “This will do everything Ana needs, and we’re really pleased Jim is sponsoring her.”
I ask Ana about the bike.
“It’s a climbing bike, but it will also be my only bike. I am so lucky. I’m not sure what happened, but look at it, it’s a beauty.”
It’s hard to disagree, the Gallium is a lovely bike. But whilst the bike is important, it is the attitude of the rider that counts the most.
“Ana is ... well... She's very Ana,” Jim says warmly. “Who would go and do this kind of epic race, and then go back for more?”
That almost sums Ana up. She is not a crazy ball of energy. Rather, meeting Ana is to meet a slightly serious, thoughtful and considered middle-aged woman, who has a daughter, and has recently re-discovered her love of adventure, by riding a bicycle. She would much rather have a conversation than answer interview questions.
So, she’s maybe not crazy, but not normal either. Just on the right side of a crazy normal mum on a bike going quickly very long distances with more just ride the bike attitude than most people...
Further reading about Anna’s adventures (and other adventurers)