Chloe Paton: How cycling has opened new doors

From beginner to gravel racer, GCN’s Chloe Paton shares her inspiring story on her journey into the sport and the rewards that cycling has brought her

Clock09:15, Friday 8th March 2024
Chloe Paton with husband and GCN Tech presenter Alex Paton

© GCN

Chloe Paton with husband and GCN Tech presenter Alex Paton at last year's 100-mile gravel race Big Sugar

This story is part of our series celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March, and exploring how the theme of ‘Inspire Inclusion’ can fit into women’s cycling, racing, tech and more.

Last year, we challenged Chloe Paton to take on her biggest cycling challenge yet: the 100-mile gravel race at Big Sugar, starting out as a beginner gravel rider. Alongside her husband and GCN presenter Alex, we documented her training process, preparation for the race, the day itself, and her immediate reactions in a series of videos.

However, Big Sugar was only one part of Chloe’s cycling journey – there was the journey to get there, and the one she’s been on since completing the race in Arkansas. From a gravel beginner to a Big Sugar finisher and now a budding local crit racer, Chloe tells us how her life in cycling has changed for the better.

I learnt to ride a bike as most kids do, but from about the age of 10 or 11, I probably didn't ride a bike again until I was in my early twenties when my brother and I entered a sprint triathlon. My dad helped me choose my first road bike, a fairly cheap Merida road bike, just to practise on and see me through. I didn't want to spend loads of money just in case I didn’t enjoy it as I’d never ridden a road bike before.

I would go out on bike rides with my dad, just getting used to it, cycling a bit further each time around our lanes and where we used to live.

At first, I didn't really understand the big ring and the little ring — on one ride we were going up this massive hill and I thought 'oh my god, this is so hard' and I got to the top and I was out of breath and I was saying, 'for god's sake, why have you made me ride up there?' and my dad suddenly realised that I hadn't put it in the small chainring. I basically had no idea. I then went from flat pedals to clipless pedals, so I practised that, and I had a lot to learn. Riding a road bike is so different to a flat bar or mountain bike, but it's probably really easy for someone who's always ridden bikes to overlook those basic things that actually a beginner doesn't have a clue about.

Read more: Kristen Faulkner: I dreamed of becoming an Olympian because of the women I saw on TV

From there my love for cycling grew and I would regularly go out on bike rides. Not long after I completed my triathlon, I met Alex, who was racing professionally as a cyclist at the time, and naturally, my interest and understanding of cycling and bikes just massively increased.

For me, having family and friends to help when it came to getting into cycling was really beneficial. It’s a bit of a minefield for a beginner and I leaned on my Dad and Alex quite a lot to teach me nearly everything I know about bikes.

As my passion for cycling grew, I moved my career into the cycling industry. My job at the time meant I needed to get to grips with what all the different parts of a bike do and what they're all called — drivetrain, cranks, all these words I'd once never heard of before. It may sound silly, but before I started my new job Alex would print off a diagram of a bike and I would practise labelling all the different components because I wanted to learn what all the terms were, and that really helped my knowledge. I didn’t want to be someone that just hopped on a bike and could never fix anything; I wanted to understand so I could go out on my own and be independent.

Taking cycling more seriously

I’ve always enjoyed keeping fit and being active. I was sporty at school and used to run competitively but I wouldn’t say being competitive comes naturally to me and I’m not necessarily someone to put myself out there. I’m probably lacking in confidence a bit, which I think a lot of people can relate to — you’re unsure of what you’re able to do until you push yourself out of your comfort zone.

So with cycling, it was always just something I enjoyed doing, something Alex and I could do together when he wasn’t racing and that was fun and sociable.

Read more: Climbing the ladder: How Human Powered Health are elevating their women’s team

I never had an end goal but as I got into it more, I started doing more structured training. We had an indoor trainer, and Alex would write me sessions, and I’d just do them on the turbo to keep my fitness ticking over. I never had any drive to do any racing but I always liked having a few challenges — riding a certain distance, taking part in a sportive or an event — and things like Strava are good for that too. If you ride certain roads you can see your PRs, if you’ve been fast or slow, and it’s a good measure of seeing how you’re improving. It can become addictive, but it’s a good way to track your progress.

One thing I remind myself is to not compare myself to others. Everyone is doing different things or has different goals, and as long as you’re enjoying what you’re doing, that’s all that matters.

Big Sugar and a boost of confidence

Last year, I took on my biggest challenge yet by riding the Big Sugar gravel race in the US. I can’t believe it's already six months ago!

GCN asked if Alex and I wanted to take part and straight away Alex said ‘Yep, we’re going to do it’ but I thought ‘hang on a minute’ because it was 100 miles on gravel, I’d never even ridden 100 miles on the road at that point. I genuinely had no idea if it was possible. But I went home and did some research, and in the end I just thought ‘I’m never going to get this opportunity again’. So I went for it.

Going into the training process, I had no idea about training for an event like this. How long do I need to ride? How many days a week do I ride, how many days do I have off? How do I fuel for an event like this? We used an AI coaching app called Humango, and having the structure really helped, because it was a completely new world for me, even as a fairly experienced road cyclist.

If you’re training for an event, I do think it’s helpful to have some advice and structure, so you can get the balance of training right. There are loads of options out there, whether that’s a coach or some pointers from someone you know, or a GCN video, so even if you’re a beginner like I was, there are ways to learn and get into training properly.

Read more: How to make your own training plan

The training process definitely kicked everything up a notch, and I’ve seen a huge improvement in my riding. As part of our training, I started joining Alex and his friends on local weekend group rides, which a few years ago I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do. That really brought my cycling and fitness on, and now that I know I can do it and keep up, having that confidence and self-belief has really helped in my cycling journey.

The biggest thing I’ve done since Big Sugar is join the ladies’ Pronto Racing team. Pronto is a local bike shop here in Frome, and they have men’s and women’s racing teams. They do a lot of local races and we’ve now got almost 20 women on the team.

I’ve never really had that racing itch — I’ve never really been that fussed — but after I did Big Sugar and it went so well, I had an amazing buzz from it. So I decided to give racing a go! I did my first-ever crit race two weekends ago at Odd Down Cycle Circuit in Bath, and on the start line of our race, there were 28 women, which was actually more than in the men’s race, which I think is amazing.

My experience with it so far is that it’s really friendly. Some people might take it a bit more seriously and that’s fine, but the main thing is that everyone really respects each other, and everyone has been super welcoming. At the heart of it, it's about having fun and riding or racing bikes with new people.

I also feel like it’s opened new doors for me, because it’s given me that self-confidence that I didn’t really have before. I always thought racing wasn’t for me or that I couldn’t do it, so I shied away from it, but Big Sugar made me think, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ You may as well try it if it’s something you want to do, and you might really enjoy it. I’ve just turned 30, and I just want to give things a go this year.

I feel really proud of myself, because looking back eight years ago, I’d just got my first road bike and I could never have seen myself doing any of the things I’ve done since then. What cycling has done for me, the people I’ve met, the opportunities it’s brought me — it’s been amazing.

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