Not long after finishing her first Cape Epic, Tiffany Keep jetted off to the UK to join a new team and begin her European season. Her racing schedule has been pretty full for the last two months. Her results are very impressive.
This year we’re back racing abroad on the road, for the same team, but in a new pink outfit, and with a few new team members. This is the start of my 2023 Racer Blog Series – a bit of an insight into what it’s like to race bikes for a few months halfway across the world and chase that endless summer lifestyle where I strategically avoid (most of) Winter for another year.
For those of you who are new, let me briefly introduce myself: My name is Tiffany Keep, a 22-year-old cyclist from Stellenbosch, South Africa, and I race bikes for team Hutchinson – Brother UK, a British-based women’s Elite Development cycling team traditionally with its roots in London, and currently one of the top British women’s teams in the country. This is my second season racing abroad with the team, where I did a four-month stint with them last year in 2022, as part of my split season between South Africa and the UK. This year will be close to six months with them by the time I go home in October, which I’m well excited about and have thoroughly enjoyed my time here so far! Let’s get into the racing.
April 21st | The day I left South Africa to fly to the UK, as well as the day I officially parted ways with my South African team, Valley Electrical Titan Racing. Together, we’ve enjoyed much success and many good times over the last four years. They played a pivotal role in my development as a cyclist throughout my U23 career and the backing from our sponsors has given me the opportunity to race my bike all around the world. For that, I’ll forever be grateful.
It did feel a little scary to take this leap into the unknown, to pursue a goal I’ve had since I was 10 years old. But, stepping into a familiar and healthy team environment over this side of the world only sharpened that focus. Much like road cycling is all about moving forward through the bunch in a constant game of chess, finding the gap and filling it, life is about spotting opportunities and pursuing them. I think Thomas Edison’s quote rings true here, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Arriving just over a month earlier than last year also meant that I, unfortunately, had to endure winter hanging on with some rather cold days, and subsequently used all the winter kit I own on almost every ride. Being South African automatically means we generally don’t have the most expansive winter kit wardrobe, anyway, especially being a South African from Durban. So, I can assure you that reading 2 whole degrees on the thermometer in the kitchen did not exactly fill me with much joy. Only dread of venturing outside and wondering how many layers I was going to need that day. Most of the time the answer was, all of them! Thank goodness things improved since then, the temperature started to climb, and the number of layers required declined. Although I am still patiently waiting for real summer to begin, or maybe I just have unrealistically high standards for this country’s climate. I guess time will tell.
Aside from the weather, I was very excited to be given a new bike to ride. Our team bike for the year is the Liv Langma Advanced Pro Disc 1, in a sparkly blue colourway which I think is just beautiful. The bike is light and is super fun to ride, especially with a set of Parcours Strade wheels on, the wide rim profile makes for a smooth and comfortable ride. I got introduced to our new team van too, which we’ve aptly named Barbie, and the team car, Ken. Our team setup is dialed this year, and it translates into added morale and another level of professionalism. We’ve had some new riders that have joined the team, and I could immediately feel that the level has risen within the group and made me motivated to start off my international season on a good note!
April 29th | Exactly a week after arriving in the UK, I was already lined up on the start line of my first race in Hutchinson – Brother UK kit; the UCI 1.2 Leiedal Koerse Road Race in Belgium. It was a bit of a harsh introduction to international racing with a stacked field of 150 riders, including a few big World Tour teams and some very classy bike racers whom I’ve probably watched on TV growing up. The race included a few famous cobbled sectors, such as Oude Kwaremont and the Paterberg, which meant I was in my absolute element. Being quite nervous about riding in a big bunch again, I was pretty excited to find myself in the front group after the first major split, arriving at the finish in the chasing group behind the breakaway and in a bunch sprint for 10th position. To finish 21st at this race, being in the mix right until the end and rubbing shoulders with some of the greats, was a very cool experience! I was happy with the race I executed and although there’s definitely room for improvement, it made me even more motivated for what was to come!
Following on from Belgium, I had two more weekends of racing, and plenty more time spent traveling through the Eurotunnel as we headed off to the Netherlands for a double-header race weekend in the first week of May. My first time in this country, we arrived in Rotterdam after a very long day in the car, improved significantly after a short spin along the incredible bike lanes alongside the river. Saturday proved to be a successful outing for me at the Promobility Road Race, where I bagged my first win on European soil, surviving a race marred with crashes that unfortunately involved a few of my teammates. Thankfully no one was badly injured, and spirits were high for the 74th Standaartbuiten Kermesse the following day, where I found myself in an early breakaway and managed to finish second in a drag race for the finish line; wrapping up a fruitful weekend abroad!
Leading on from a good time in the Netherlands, it was time to race back in the team’s homeland, for the second round of the British National Road Series; the famous Lincoln GP. This race is iconic because of its steep cobbled ascent up Michaelgate, which always provides a real spectacle for the crowds, and some explosive racing. I absolutely loved this race, mountain bike skills coming in handy to ride hard up the climb every lap, subsequently splitting up the bunch behind. The team rode a great race as a unit, the atmosphere was amazing, and we finished with two riders in the top ten. I was proud of my effort and to finish off with an 8th place, by far my best result in a British National Series race!
May 25th – 28th | After a nice week of traveling and spending some time pedaling round the beautiful Suffolk countryside, we were already on the road again, this time to another new country for most of us; the Czech Republic for Tour de Feminin UCI 2.2 Road Tour. A four-day tour through the green rolling hills, and with a stacked field of riders from UCI teams across the continent. This race is seen as a coming-of-age tour for a lot of riders and was one I’ll never forget. The stages included an individual time trial and three road stages. The queen stage containing nearly 2500m of climbing packed into 115km and its on the final day. Needless to say, the other days weren’t exactly flat either. A punchy, but technical 12km time trial put the team’s GC hopes on the back burner as we knew we couldn’t match the speed of the other Time Trial bikes on our road bikes.
We put in our best efforts, and I was content with my time, being my first time trial of the year, it was a good indicator of what I can work on for the future. Stage 1 offered a glimpse into what I could be capable of at this race, where after a chaotic day along narrow, tight and twisty roads, I finished in 27th in the front group, which filled me with some good confidence leading into the rest of the tour! Stage 3 was a memorable day, where I found myself in a small group that broke free from the peloton at the top of the last climb leading into the last 5km of the stage. There was a lot of shouting and a rush of organized chaos to do some turns and ensure we stayed away, the peloton hot on our heels. We turned the final corner onto the cobbled finish straight and I squeezed through a quickly diminishing gap between a rider’s lead out and the fence, crossing the line third! I couldn’t believe what had just happened; my first UCI podium! Hearing my name being called out at the podium ceremony, along with, “The first time a South African has been on the podium in this race’s history.” Was just awesome. Everyone back at the team car was going crazy, a really proud moment for the team, and a day etched in my memory for the next while.
The final day of Tour de Feminin, the queen stage, really lived up to its name. Fullgas from start to finish, it was a relentless course and I made it all the way until the last 10km with the front group, where about 17 riders clipped away and I finished in the group just behind them, in 30th position. A max heartrate of 205bpm revealed I did dig really deep to be there, and I was stoked to wrap up the tour on a good note, with so many positives to take from rubbing shoulders with some of the best in Europe. Leapfrogging from 80th on GC on the first day to 28th overall by the end of the tour was pretty cool too. It was an awesome way to wrap up my first month of racing across the pond!
All in all, I’m super stoked to be here and having the opportunity to race abroad so frequently is a big plus, being exposed to different types of racing helps to make you are more complete a bike rider, and I’m loving the process of learning as we go along. Personally, I feel like I’ve made some big steps forward in my progression as a cyclist in the last year, and the positive team environment we have here, with all my teammates being so encouraging of each other and their own journeys is a massive contributing factor towards that.
The Summer weather is starting to roll in ahead of a busy June and July of racing. Balancing recovery in between all the racing and traveling is going to be the aim of the game to have a successful season here. But much like anything in life, it wouldn’t be as rewarding if it wasn’t a challenge! Stay tuned for more racing updates coming soon. Cheers, Tiff.