My first road race in about eighteen months. The reason being 'I wanted to try some new things' during 2014, however I really missed the racing. So after all those months of doing those new things and consequently a stone heavier I've ended up here. A 'D' cat racer on a steel bike lined up next to Bob Downs....ex pro.....ex Great Britain....and currently with Rapha Condor JLT. What I'm saying here is that it doesn't get any slower as you get older, far from it.
I've had a good warm up and find my place in the bunch. Don Parry gives us a brief talk and I take care to listen. He points out the fact that the worst pot holes are on the right, so staying left will be the safest thing to do, okay.
The lead car sets off and we follow, after a short roll we turn left and the hammer goes down, I mean Jesus it really goes down. Don't panic, yeah I'm not in form, nowhere near, but my race craft is pretty damn good. So then why am I stuck over on the right when the wise money is single file in the left lane?
I've only gone a few miles and I'm gasping into this headwind, I really need a wheel before I go out the back. As it isn't a Sunday run no one is going to let me in so my only option is to ease off and get on the last man. I'm on, but now I'm clinging onto the dragons tail. This is not good.
To make maters worst I notice the back half of the group (the bit I'm in) is becoming detached. Think think, sod everyone else just survive, but then some brave rider breaks to bridge the gap, I'm on his wheel in a nano second. We bridge the gap and a quick glance under my arms sees me leaving a small group behind. I'm on and trying to recover.
Though all too soon we turn left onto the first climb, so I'm not out of trouble yet. I couldn't recoup on the headwind incline and this climb marks the start of another attack. It's so fast that climbing in 53t is the only option. Finally it levels out and the wind is on my shoulder and I start to feel my legs coming back.
But then! we dive into a tight muddy left hander where the marshal is frantically waving at us to slow down. It turns in single file to start a furious descent, the downside is that the narrow lane doesn't allow for any passing so I'm near the back of a large single file express train that's about to hit the biggest climb on the circuit. My only chance for survival is to pass on the climb and get in the bunch, which I do manage.
However lap two is more like round two, I've been well and truly hammered and now the lead group is about to deliver the knock out blow. We're on the incline fighting a full on headwind and it's here the pace goes up a notch. I know what's going on, the lead bunch is working to shrink the field, I'm pretty sure that if I can stay on, the bunch will break then steady up. But I can't, I can't keep on a wheel as I'm so far down the line doing so would mean staying in the opposite carriageway. I slip off.
I'm now alone with a small group just dots behind me. I settle into a steady pace and soon I'm caught by the group behind. It's easier to recover in the small group, and after a few hundred metres I'm ready to tow the group. We work together and pick up shelled out riders as we continue around the circuit.
By lap four I feel strong again. I do a long stint on the front and no one comes to help. I make the assumption that they are tiring, after all we have agreed to work together. I tow for most of the fourth lap so it comes as a bit of a surprise when two of them attack on the climb just after I've pulled all through the headwind. There's no way I can respond.
By now I'm riding for honour, sorry racing for honour. Quite a few encourage me on from the roadside including Dave Brown, but I can't help thinking if there's a lantern Rouge prize?
But the last lap throws me a challenge, A dot up the road becomes a target, a place to be gained. I have about two kilometres to make the catch. The dot turns left out of sight, when I turn left the dot has become a rider clad in light blue. We approach the tight slippery left hander with the busy marshal. I ignore the gestures to slow down and cut in tight right across the mud and stones thanking the Gods of cyclo cross.
Now the rider in light blue has a face and he keeps looking back at me. One kilometre to go and I'm close. He gets out of the saddle pushing to the start of the main climb and the finish line, but I'm on him. I go wide and don't take an easy option gear wise so push out of the saddle to the line. There's no response so I roll over the line to finish my first race in well over a year.
It's not a blinding result, but I'm more than happy. It gives me confidence and a base to work on to be ready for the crits that start in May.
Virgin Active RR next.