After another frustrating trip to Halfords the bike is loaded on the car and kit is being packed for my first road race. All the usual kit questions go through my mind, skinsuit, winter gear, jersey, shorts, tights, whatever happened to those baggy shorts I regularly ask myself? Throw in whether i should use my new Velo coloured helmet or the trusty battle scarred one, prizm lenses in the glasses or photochromic, its enough to make a certain old pro shake his head in disgust or Rebekah (my Wife) for that matter. I decided to take all my summer kit and none of my winter kit for racing in March, yes I have made this mistake before.
This time I had also managed to get the family involved to make a weekend of it so as well as packing my 2 course pre race breakfast I had to make room for luxuries, clothes, swimming costumes, barbies, children etc. Luckily for them the turbo folds pretty small otherwise toys would have been kept to a minimum.
Finally after some M6 Friday afternoon action we get to the stonker of a hotel I have booked. Rebekah says I have finally realised what the required standards are and we are living large. Family stuff takes precedence over the next 24 hours with just an hour course recce for me on Saturday morning to see how flat and windy it’s going to be, very to both but I am happy. I also have to go and buy better gloves as it turns out Cockerham is bloody freezing and my fingers were numb after 1 lap never mind 4. This is one lesson I may never learn but there may be some good kit on offer every so often.
Race day sees me up at 6am for my 2 course breakfast, Weetabix, Honey and Banana followed by Beans on Toast. I normally spread this over a whole morning pre race but with a 9am start time, needs must with me not trusting myself to mess with gels/bars mid race. I had to eat fast though as i was breaking the 3 hour digestion rule but prioritised sleep this time. I then chilled out until getting on the turbo at 7:20.
Turns out a turbo and cleats on a wooden floor in a first storey apartment makes a fair bit of noise but hopefully the presumably delighted people downstairs thought it was just Rebekah walking around in high heels and doing the washing. Warm up done, sweat cleaned off the floor and i said bye to everyone and rolled down to Cockerham to meet ‘Mr I love a Puncture’ Will. The kids ran after me to give me one last hug as i was leaving and left me hoping their 6th sense was off and we didn’t need such a big goodbye but it was nice. It really helped having them there as it took away the guilt of missing time with them to race.
After finding Will at HQ and his last minute puncture repair (And panic he had the short valve inner tubes for deep wheels) we got numbered up, completed warm ups, attended the riders briefing and were ushered into the starters pen – aka the car park for the rolling start. I was a little back after toilet stop 931 of the morning but spotted Will further up and managed to sneak in behind him. This was it, a rolling start behind a lead car with motorbikes and everything. I was properly racing and this was going to be great was what was going through my head as the peloton rolled down to the start!
BOOM! We crossed the line and this got real! The rolling peloton became a surging animal, speed doubled, space shrank and there were bikes everywhere and my legs had disappeared. I spotted Will moving up through the peloton but I was fighting to hold on and slowly sliding backwards. All those thoughts yesterday doing the recce of possible attacking places were replaced with ‘I am getting dropped 5 mins into my first road race!’ A stern word with myself made me pull up the big boy lycra and I moved up the outside of the bunch with a calculated gamble on the white line to get into some sort of decent position that earned me some shouts from the ‘Mr Play by the rules whilst it suits’ crowd.
I spotted Will and got in the wheels, realising I had to race smart. Sticking out in the wind had allowed me to move up but had cost a lot of energy. I needed to shelter or the wind would be sending me out the back. Whilst I had been realising this was a race a small break of 3 went and fair play to them as they impressively stayed away all day and smashed it. Halfway around the 12 mile lap we turned and had the first taste of the tailwind, now it would be cruising on the wind. Wrong again as the speed clocked up to 30mph. I was in the game now though and emptied myself when I needed and drafted to recoup energy when that was needed. I also spotted an ‘experienced’ rider drifting around the wheels and followed him and learnt a lot in the next 24 miles, unknowingly to him this was probably my best move all day. The last 3 miles of each lap contain the only lumps in the race with 3 small rises. Everyone was smashing into these and slowing greatly at the top but I kept cadence high and crested each, carrying good momentum through and conserving energy. This formed an ill advised plan in my head whilst we smashed through Cockerham and back into the headwind.
Laps 2 and 3 went by pretty smoothly but were still hard work, sprinting, hiding, sprinting, hiding, little panicking and so on. Another small group of 4 got away but i was a little back at the time so unfortunately missed the break without being able to do much about it. By this time I felt like I belonged and I was really racing, even returning a few of the shouts I had been given out just because I could!
The last lap had me battling to stay up near the front and I followed a few attacks but unfortunately nothing stuck so I finalised my plan for the hills. I was going to hold back slightly and attack over the top to get up near the front with my extra momentum. I knew I had to wait to at least halfway up the last as there was too much road and headwind to go earlier. My plan kind of worked but when it slowed someone completely blew in front of me and as I had not positioned on the outside I had nowhere to go, by the time I had got around the race was gone. I chased for a while but alone in the wind i was not catching the sprint. I sat up and watched the sprint for the line as sprinting for 30th place is not a cool look. Being in the mix for 7th for 49.5 miles will do for my first race though so I am happy.
It was also great to share the experience with a fellow Velo racer. Having a coffee and cake ‘debrief’ (Told you i felt like a real cyclist!) with Will was great, talking all things bike and how the race had gone was a nice ending to the event. After the Time Trials with Robin has felt very similar and brings a real enjoyment and camaraderie into all the hard work.
Looking back now my plan was pretty stupid as i have intervalled School Hill to death and hills are generally a strong point for me. I should have trusted my legs and the work i have put in to ensure i was always right up there and give myself a chance, that is one lesson i will learn!
Overall feeling is that I am very happy, I was at the business end racing for top 10 for all the race, raced pretty smart, matched sprints and did alright. Work is needed to get really in the mix but I will do as much as I can and even if I don’t manage it I am really racing! A great weekend in a fantastic part of the world, I rode my bike really fast (50 miles at 24.3mph and also spent time with the family, PERFECT!
Ride safe and if you fancy giving it a go be brave!