BLOG POST: Sabina takes Silver at the UCI Gran Fondo World Series Finals

An incredible result from Sabina Hickmet, finishing in 2nd place in her age group at the UCI Gran Fondo World Series finals, Trento Italy Sep 2022, here she shares her riding journey... 

I wasn’t expecting to be on a train travelling to Trento... Like many other Brits competing in the UCI Gran Fondo World Finals in Italy this year, travelling plans had to be rearranged in order to actually get to the start of this massive annual international cycle race, organised by age category and in each group, the possibility of being a world champion.

My Easy Jet flight out of Gatwick to nearby Bergamo Airport was cancelled due to French Air Traffic control going on strike. I got there after work with just 12 hours' notice. After a stressful couple of hours, I managed to secure a very expensive BA flight to Verona meaning lugging my very large soft bike bag and a suitcase onto an airport bus shuttle, doing a 130km train journey and then a taxi ride to get to my hotel.

I had booked my travel through a cycle travel company with a stress-free transfer included but this was now non-refundable because it was less than 24 hrs' notice, this was not the start I had hoped for.

I got the bike assembled in record time which was expertly checked by the Ineos mechanics on hand – their services were included in the hotel deal. They work with the best cycling team, so they were great.

During Friday night, thunderstorms and heavy rain meant that our pre-race recce of the start line and the kilometres leading to the base of the first 22km climb was postponed until late morning.

Our group leader was Andrea Ferrigato, ex-pro cyclist, stage winner of the Giro in the 90s and winner of multiple big races.


Before we started out he gave us some advice on how to manage the race – basically, don’t go too hard at the start or push too much on the first climb because the third one is very steep and to take care on the final steep and very fast technical descent.

We had a scenic bimble back through the fertile fruit valley with its apples, pears and vines against a backdrop of snow-laden mountains.

Upon our return, all the bikes were washed by our friendly helpful mechanics. Mine was definitely a lot newer-looking!

I'd trained hard for this event, riding short and long rides, TTs, weekly progressive hill reps and turbo work. For nutrition, I followed the advice of a (bike racer) sports nutritionist keeping to the recommended macronutrient quantities that they advised which was harder than it sounds!

Finally it was Sunday, race day had arrived and with it, the sun!

As in any Gran Fondo you have to wait in the pen for a long while. All around riders were astride their bikes sporting their national jerseys. I met other GB representatives from other age groups. It’s an exciting time with the adrenaline pumping – no warm-up is required for the gruelling 55-mile race with 8000ft of climbing for the ladies over 50 and men over 60. The younger riders were doing about 90 miles and 3000ft more ascending.

Having won my age group, 65-69, at the qualifying round at the Tour of Cambridgeshire in June, I was entitled to a place at the front of the start grid. As we were beckoned to advance further towards the start line, I was squeezed into the barriers and ended up in the second row. It didn’t really matter because they set off at such a pace I was dropped very soon by the front runners and then, contrary to the advice given, rode too fast for comfort in a small train of 5 riders along rolling roads not far behind.

Before I knew it we were at the base of the climb – 1450 metres of ascent for 22 km along typical twisty Alpine roads in full sunshine and an average gradient often in double figures.

It took about 20 mins of pushing through the agony after the mayhem of the start until I found my rhythm. I’ve often heard cycle race commentaries, ‘This is where the race is decided. And so it was. The first three to the top were the first three at the finish!

I’m not built for racing up a mountain as anyone who knows me can tell. The discipline and consistency I put into doing increasingly harder weekly hill reps really helped mentally as well as physically. That first climb had long stretches of ascent in double figures – like 5 miles! Some of it in the baking midday sun and some through thick pine forests. There weren’t many segments giving respite from the arduous slog.

I kept pushing one pedal and then the other, and the eventual winner, from Finland, came up beside me and started a conversation (!). In hindsight I think this was a tactic because I lost my rhythm and then she rode past me. It wasn’t long until I passed her along a less steep section. And so it was for a while until she showed me her strength and moved ahead.

At this point, I had no idea that we were the early group leaders.

I’d estimated the climb would take over 2 hrs so I was pleased to see I’d summited in 1hr 52. After all the pain, I was suddenly filled with some hope! I was about 20 mins ahead of schedule!

I only managed to get a quick snapshot from the top through my eyes of the incredible snowy views on the other side of the valley – that will remain an outstanding memory.

I’d made the decision not to stop – this was a race! - to put on my gilet. It was 7 degrees and with the wind chill a factor it was really cold going down. The blood in my lower legs seemed to have frozen and it became quite painful pedalling. I knew I just had to keep going down to the warm valley below. The fast open descent went on and on. I was mainly on my own, the whole road just for me. I seemed to be going so fast. I picked off a few people which also kept my hopes alive although they weren’t in my age group and mainly men; Chile, Turkey, Slovenia, Belgium…

Before I knew it I was on the next climb in the blazing sun, thoroughly reheated and legs back to normal working duties.

The race marshals appeared disinterested at this point, and I went the wrong way at one roundabout. That was pretty much the norm from then on as I raced through very quiet villages with no one around. I kept expecting someone to cross out in front of me.

Then it was up another steep unrelenting double-figure climb. I couldn’t get into my lowest gear, the cage just wouldn’t move over. I lost a lot of energy pushing the shifter over and over until finally it budged and I was using the 32 sprocket. This happened multiple times. So much wasted energy with all the expletives!

Once I crested, it was another fast descent and I began to think of the end. I’d misjudged the final climb. It went down before going up. Another 5km and 600m of climbing to do! My heart sank.

I had to use all the training I’d done to help me get to this final summit. I reminded myself with 360 metres to go it was only 3 reps of Box Hill - I could do that - just much steeper, more like 3 reps of Leith Hill! Eeeek!

In the meantime, the younger men and pros started to go past as their route joined ours. They went by so fast! How could they, with 12000ft of climbing in their legs?

Finally, it was the descent back down to Trento, the most technical one yet with very tight hairpins. I was caught in the frenzy of being overtaken on the inside and outside where there seemed no room. It was scary! I had to keep my line, keep safe and get to the finish!

And then it was the last 5km of flat city road to the finish line, a very narrow cobble road lined with barriers and hordes of people. And the race was suddenly all over!

I felt so emotional, very tearful. It had been really hard. But I’d done it and I’d got back. I held back the tears of relief.

My friend Rachel, also a member of my club, Crawley Wheelers, who was unexpectedly in the area that weekend, had come to Trento to support me for race day. She said she thought I’d come second.

I said I didn’t think it was possible that I was second and I wanted to wait for the official result. But it was true!! It just didn’t register. I didn’t feel over the moon. Just this relief that I’d finally achieved my aim after four years of trying to get a top ten finish in a world event.

I had actually exceeded my own expectations and got to receive the silver medal on the second step of an international podium with the Union Jack behind me.

To make the whole result more surreal I’d not only finished 1st Brit but the only Brit in the whole Gran Fondo race to have got a podium finish.

Unbelievable is my reaction as I write this.

My thanks go to British Athletics Team Leader Walter Hill who suggested I enter an event this year and encouraged me until I did.

Thanks to James Bonham and his Top.step Nutrition Programme for advising me for 2 months.

Thanks to the Crawley Wheelers and all the group rides and all the wheels I chased over the summer; to Chris and Denise for putting on TTs and to the members for generally supporting me with kind messages of encouragement and congratulations since I qualified at the Tour of Cambridgeshire up to and beyond the event.

My thanks also to the Over The Hill Gang with whom I do mid-week rides.

Thanks to Hunt Wheels for their 10% discount – the lighter wheels really made a difference.

Thanks to Rachel Lucas for sharing the moment with me and taking photos.

Thanks to those who ventured out with me on part or a full training ride, Rachel up Box Hill, Alasdair MaCleod for doing the gruelling Audax Tour of Surrey Hills and Walter for 1 rep of Leith Hill after which I felt so ill, I aborted and promptly tested positive for Covid. That set me back three weeks.

Thanks to my daughter Magnolia for believing in me. I often found myself repeating her ‘Mum you’ve got this’ as a mantra.

Thanks to Phil and Barbara Lefbevre for getting me into Italian cycling in the first place and Phil Callow for being there too.

Will I be at next year’s UCI GF WS world finals in Glasgow? I think not. But you could be.

My advice, train consistently and fuel well 😉


After sustaining a back injury playing club, league and county badminton, I took up cycling in 2012 and joined Horsham Cycling and then Crawley Wheelers in 2016.

I subscribed to Strava in 2015 and realised that I was competitive in my age group.

I got a coach to train for the 2016 UCIGFWS in Perth, Australia. I crashed at the Tour of Cambridgeshire qualifier breaking a collar bone and four ribs. Six weeks later I went to Trento and qualified at the Charlie Gaul Trento race. I was in so much pain from my ribs which hadn’t healed, I had to walk some sections. But I qualified! Off I went to Perth and finished 13th. Disappointed, I vowed I could do better and kept trying in 2017 and 2018 with similar success until this year.

Mother to two adult children, I now work part-time as a French language assistant in a school.




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