“It’s 50 minutes for me, full gas”: Abby-Mae Parkinson on her love in the mud of Flanders Fields and a winter return to cyclocross

More accustomed to the French Riviera than the muddy fields of Flanders, Yorkshire’s Abby-Mae Parkinson is now frantically working on her Flemish.

After three years with British road outfit DROPS and five off a cyclocross bike, the 22-year-old is switching things up of late with a return to off-road this winter and a move to Lotto-Soudal Ladies recently announced for 2020.

As her road season drew to a close in the second week of September at the Giro Toscana, Parkinson was facing an uncertain future.

Her final year as an under-23 was over and she felt the need for a new challenge, there was a desire to move on from DROPS but early interest from Lotto appeared to have fizzled out.

Faced with a long winter ahead of her she signed with Tom Pidcock’s TRINITY Racing cyclocross team to mix up what would otherwise have been an indefinite training block at her home just outside Monaco.

Back on a cross bike – Parkinson was British youth champion back in 2013 – and racing the Superprestige series on Lotto’s home turf, it was there that they were reminded of her talent.

“I’d just finished my race, got back to the camper, literally had just got out of the shower and I was in my towel when Kurt [Bogaerts – TRINITY directeur sportif] knocked on the door and said ‘I’ve got a man from Lotto here to talk to you’,” she recalled.

“It happened fast over that weekend and then the following Friday I was already at the kit fittings.

“But that was over a month ago now so it’s been a long time keeping it a bit hush-hush.

“Even though I was previously talking to them, I was shocked that they actually offered me the contract – but happy.”

Parkinson is very much a product of the Yorkshire roads she grew up riding on.

Powerful, determined, attacking and not afraid of a bit of rain. It fits then that she feels most at home in the Spring Classics.

Back in 2018, with DROPS backed by title sponsor Trek and at their peak, she raced a full Classics season and showed what she could be capable of when just missing out on a top-20 finish in a sodden edition of Strade Bianche, aged just 20.

That year was as good as it got for DROPS, though, with team director Bob Varney struggling to find sponsors after Trek pulled out to form their own women’s team.

Their 2019 campaign was put together on a shoestring, and that search for stability formed part of Parkinson’s motivation to move on – with her departure officially announced on November 1, once her Lotto deal had been signed.

“DROPS is an amazing development team,” she added. “Lotto will help me in developing in a different way though, it’s a super professional team and will be better for this stage of my career.

“DROPS was great for me and it’s such a family, I’ll miss the girls so much. It’s more than just a team with those girls, we’re all best of friends so that’s definitely the hardest part of saying goodbye to them.

“But I’ll still see them at races and I’m going over to Girona in December to see them all, too.”

As an example of the professionalism and stability moving to a team that dates back more than a decade brings, Parkinson already has her training bike for the winter and has been sent a 2020 calendar with instructions to highlight her preferred races.

“With DROPS we didn’t know what races we were going to get into and I didn’t know how much funding we’d have,” she continued.

“It’s the way that cycling is at that level. It’s not the team’s fault at all, they’re doing everything they can to make it as secure as it can be.

“But it is really hard with little funding and it just makes my job so much easier if I know that I have a solid race programme.

“I’ve already been given a training bike for this winter. Whereas this year I only got given my Cannondale the day before my first race.

“It’s just little things like that, I’m already getting used to my bike for this coming year – it’s massive when you think about it.”

Travelling between her French base and the Belgian cross races this winter she has already found time to meet some of the Lotto riders and staff.

And there will be further opportunity to meet her new team during another get together in December, where the 2020 team photos will be taken.

And there will be one face in the lineup she’ll have no trouble picking out – boyfriend Jon Dibben, who signed for the men’s outfit in September.

The pair’s paths won’t cross many other times during the season, although with both likely to be targeting a full Classics campaign they will often at least be in the same country at the same time.

But Parkinson hopes their shared experience will help them settle quickly within their new team.

“Jon signed his contract so much earlier than I did. But when I was first talking to Lotto we were saying how cool it would be if we were on the same team – so for it to happen is pretty epic,” said the former British youth Madison champion.

“I’m looking forward to be matching in all our kit! We’ve already got the same bikes so it’s pretty cool.

“It’s Jon’s first time on a non-British team. I was on an Italian team in my first year but it’s still a different experience, a different culture.

“Our staff will be different to Jon’s, but it’s still so professional so I’m really excited about it.”

Dibben’s part is this story isn’t done there, though.

The 2016 world points race champion is a graduate of the recently defunct Team Wiggins, owned and managed by rider agent Andrew McQuaid’s Trinity Sports Management.

A year ago McQuaid set up TPR as a UCI cyclocross team as a home for his prodigious young client Pidcock, with the team now evolving into TRINITY Racing.

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Dibben’s agent, McQuaid, and Trinity’s head of cycling talent Jamie Barlow were there when the former Team Sky rider was signing his Lotto contract, and Parkinson’s winter plans went from there.

“Andrew and Jamie were there and they asked him ‘do you think your missus would be up for a bit of cyclocross this winter?!’,” she explained.

“Jon said ‘yeah, definitely’, so I was signed up to it then!

“I wasn’t dreading it, but at first I was very nervous as to what I’d be like, especially coming off my off-season.

“We had a couple of weeks in Ibiza, just before, and then I was straight into cross.”

While Pidcock and team-mate Cameron Mason take on a more varied and race-heavy cyclocross season, including appearances in the DVV Trofee and Superprestige series, as well as World Cups and major championships, Parkinson is using the winter more as a training base to attack the road head-on in 2020.

“Every time I’m at a cross race and I finish, I think there’s something else I need to work on and it would be great if I could do more races,” she added.

“But I have to look at the bigger picture. I want to focus on the road and I’m doing cross as an additional bit of training. I do get drawn into it though because I love it. It is a lot of fun.

“It’s 50 minutes for me, full gas. It’s so good for learning skills and I’m getting used to it a bit more now. As well as just being in a race environment.

“I really think those snappy efforts are something good to work on for me. Sometimes I think I lack that little bit of zip than cross gives you.”

It’s that zip that Parkinson will hope to rely on as she looks to make a good early impression next year.

But it’s not just on the bike that she’s be looking to impress.

“Everyone seems really friendly and the staff are so professional and really, really, nice. It’s something that you worry about, moving to a new team – I knew everyone at DROPS,” she concluded.

“My Flemish is rubbish, but thankfully they’re all fluent in English. I need to make an effort though, so we’ll see how it goes.”

And while she may not truly need to learn the language to be a success at Lotto, it is her desire to develop and fit into her new team environment that suggests a breakthrough season could be just around the corner.

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