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Keeping Up with Phoebe & Nat

WORD & PHOTOS | Nick Archer


Back in Spring 2021, Nick was put through his paces when he joined Phoebe Sneddon and Nat Cresswick for a Spring ride and a rather breathless chat.



Shards of stone and grit scatter across the undergrowth, the front tyre slicing through the gravel like the bow of a ship breaking against the ocean. The sign at the top has said Cyclists Are Advised Not To Descend. It is safe to say that this has been suitably ignored by Phoebe. Her is head down, fingers wrapped around the drop-bars, eyes focussed on every minor change in gradient or surface as they present. Mere feet behind her, Nat sways effortlessly left and right across the track, picking up speed as though there will never be enough of it.


A few hours earlier, the crispness of the early autumn morning has been replaced with a baking sun when I catch Phoebe and Nat pedalling towards me up the High Peak Trail as Middleton.


It's hard to miss them. Their bright orange lycra with the Magspeed logo emblazoned across the front, orbited by their sponsors own printed brand, sets them apart from the civilian cyclists who are wrapped up in parkas and hats amidst an expectation of fall chills.

I have met Phoebe only briefly before in June '21, joining her group ride from Matlock up the Monsall Trail to Hassop and back. My first social ride, it was an amazingly chilled and pleasant experience, a testament to the ethics and approach that she brings to the table. Phoebe introduces me to Scott, her husband, along for the ride, and her long-standing partner in crime, Nat. Both are warm and friendly, they seem to be genuinely happy to have me along on their coffee and cake run out to Tissington. It is clear that today is simply for fun; there is no training agenda.


Phoebe has not long gotten back from the epic Scotduro, an epic chase across 200 miles of Caledonian wilderness between Inverness and Glasgow, with over 5 thousand metres of climbing.


It is the second year that she has done it, and admits finding the first one was incredibly difficult. This time, although still very hard, she was much better prepared for it in terms of resources and expectations. Still, it was a gruelling endeavour that shows her character as someone willing to push her own boundaries, as well as those of the cycling culture. As a doctor who is almost a consultant, she speaks with effortless articulation and confidence whilst never sounding arrogant or boastful; there is a passion for her work and her cycling that shines through her cool reservation with a warmth that's nothing short of inspiring.



Nat is unstoppable once she gets in the saddle, and I see this first time as we hit a few hills. The more the incline increases, the fasters she seems to go, at least from my perspective, like some pedal-powered redshift. Chatty and bubbly, with that subtle hint of seriousness born of her love for the sport, she immediately endears as she regales me with the tales of her journey, and I find myself taken along with her. She has always been active, coming originally from a childhood background of dancing. Ballet, tap and modern seemed to satisfy her need to be constantly moving, only climbing onto a bicycle to commute to her various school-age sports like track and hockey, then joining the rowing team at University.


Adversely, Phoebe not only had very little interest in cycling as a child but actively disliked it, thanks to her father's penchant to 'mince about in lycra'. It was only when Phoebe was a little older and started following her father on rides out to pubs and cafes with his friends, that perhaps the seed was quietly sown. Around 2010, Phobe went with her first husband to watch and support his cyclocross racing and yet ended up doing the opposite.


Disinclined to simply stand and watch, she wanted to get involved; the sight of the intensity of the race, the slick mud and fiery determination were a potent mix that saw her join the Mule Bar Girls. Here she embarked on her journey of competing in road racing and cyclocross and would eventually meet Nat.




After University, Nat moved to London to write a blog on a triathlon event. As part of the deal, she was given free coaching and a wetsuit in order to facilitate her competition and to give her insider insight into her pieces. Nat bought herself a road bike, and threw herself into the competition, ultimately winning it. It was a 70.3-mile trace that included a 1900-metre swim and a 50-mile ride.


After taking first place, Nat became aware of the fact that she was a terrible swimmer, and an okay runner, but was really very good on a bike.

She started entering frantic crit races, getting hooked on the sense of direct competition and excitement, eventually racing for Twickenham CC and representing them in Europe for Rapha Condor stage races and the german UCI Arbus Nutrixxion. Unfortunately, Nat suffered a horrific crash that resulted in a back injury that was so severe, she wondered if she'd be able to ride again. A slow recovery saw her tentatively join the Mule Bar Girls.





Both Phoebe and Natalie have vocations that make creating time for cycling a full-time job in itself. A paediatric doctor working in Emergency Medicine, Phoebe deals daily with anything from babies with sudden illness to teenagers suffering stab wounds, and Nat's own work with children on Childline makes for having a life outside of those careers a juggling act. Fortunately, they both have supportive family networks that help schedule time with their partners and families and shoehorn races and events across the world.



Joining Mulebar, Nat was seen as a sort of 'mentor' by her peers, whilst finding the supportive, welcoming atmosphere of the team a vital part of her own injury recovery. Competing side by side, Phobe and Nat became firm friends and would spend the next 12 years riding, racing and bikepacking together. In time, Mule Bar Girls would become the Cannondale Girls. However, after a period of discord for Phoebe, owing to disagreements regarding the birth of her second child, she and Nat would both leave to find a new home at Magspeed.


The new racing team set up by Scotty Chalmers would be a mixed-gender, mixed-age group that would allow competing across a variety of disciplines from mountain biking to road racing.


Both are very happy in their new home, finding support, diversity and equality are standard, and the capacity to compete fairly is an opportunity to facilitate social growth in the industry.

Nat has recently taken a slightly new path, having left Childline to run coaching for cycling and triathlon. The idea started during lockdown, in which Nat streamed bi-weekly online sessions, and the interest received inspired the creation of Team Headset. As well as the one-to-one and group classes, Nat also organises a series of Zoom & Zwift turbo sessions. Nat will continue to race for Twickenham CC and is hoping to join next year's Grinduro and Hampshires' Battle in the Bowl.



Phoebe says that with Christmas and the new year looming on the horizon, she will likely focus more on her work for now, but has plans for bikepacking trips as well as running introduction to bikepacking sessions in 2022. Having exhausted many of the locations in the UK over the past two years, she's looking to skip across the Channel and find her way into an adventure in Slovenia.


We wrap up our chat as the sun that has been hanging low and lazy all day is beginning to dip, stretching our shadows out across the cafe's terrace. We jump back on our bikes and I fall into pursuit of these two incredible people, and although they regularly leave me behind on the hills, are always happy to wait for me at the top.


An Update in Autumn 2022:


With it having been over a year since I chased Phobe and Nat along the trails of the Peak District, I thought it was worth reaching out and seeing what they'd been up to in the months since our afternoon of cake, coffee and cobbles.


Phoebe

"Since we last caught up I’ve had Torben. He’s 3.5 months old now. I’ve managed to continue riding my bike through my pregnancy and got back on the turbo when he was 5 days old. Thanks to a combo of good antenatal prep, strength and conditioning and some medical knowledge I returned to riding outside when he was 2weeks old and now I’m dipping my toe into a bit of cyclocross racing. I’ve also been towing torben around in the trailer on some gentle gravel rides which he seems to really enjoy. Getting back on the bike after pregnancy so quickly isn’t for everyone and no one should feel pressured to do so. I found doing a small amount of easy exercise really helped my mood and made coping with a tiny baby much easier. There’s a lot of scaremongering out there and bad science/info so i wanted to make it clear that if you’re fit and healthy and it feels right for you you can keep doing what you love.


Looking to the winter I will do a few cyclocross races but I’m trying not to put any pressure on myself as there’s just so much to juggle. Just enjoying the bike and taking the plunge to race if I fancy it. Next spring I will look to some longer events and hopefully some more bike packing adventures, probably with the trailer in tow!"


Nat "Since we met last spring I've been focusing on long distance riding. GBDURO had been on my radar since its inception in 2019 and I finally plucked up the courage to enter it in 2022. I was really pleased, and terrified to be offered a place so headed to Lands End on a hot summer's day in August to start the ride to John O'Groats. Training for such an event takes a lot of time, and the kit and training events all cost money, plus the environmental cost of a lot of travel, so I was determined to do everything as locally as possible. The King Alfred's Way goes almost directly past my front door so riding this with all my GBDURO kit and unsupported was one of my training rides. When it came to the race, I made good progress for the first couple of days but a mechanical and gruelling knee pain meant I scratched 1000km in. My pace was getting slower and slower as I had to walk up every single incline. On my last day I managed to travel 30km in 7 hours as I mostly had to walk. It was a tough decision to scratch but one I quickly made peace with. I still can't feel the tips of my fingers from nerve damage so I'm glad I stopped before my knee became irreparable. Cycling is too important for my physical and mental health to risk it all just to get to a finish line. I saw a lot of sunrises and sunsets in 2021, every single one of them beautiful. I have no regrets. As to 2023, I've signed up to do London-Wales-London. At 400km and on tarmac, I was intrigued to know how this would compare to off-road. I've a few other things in the pipeline, I'm just eagerly awaiting entries to open. And GBDURO? I feel like I have unfinished business there but not for next year. The impact on my family was huge. Every spare moment they were refreshing dot watcher to make sure I was still moving. Waking up in the middle of the night worrying if I was ok. Plus taking two weeks out of work is a big chunk of holiday time that's sadly not possible to do for consecutive years. I'm certainly not saying never again though."



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