I’ve been riding for a few years now, enjoying it more and more, and when 15 years of racing yachts came to an end last season, I felt that if I were to ever race a bicycle, this year would be a good time to start. I therefore began to take the first steps towards working out what was necessary to achieve a target I had set myself for this first year – a Category 3 racing licence. Ironically, I managed to get to this target by coming second in the Colin Lewis GP Category 4 race at the Velopark on June 10th, in conditions so wet and windy that the experience of those years of yacht racing actually came in very handy.
The following weekend saw weather that was quite different – swelteringly hot and windless, for the Gillingham and District Wheelers Category 3 & 4 Summer Road Race, starting from Henstridge Airfield. The only other road race I’d participated in before had been quite an education, in that I got mercilessly dropped from the bunch about a quarter of the way in, so the aims for this one were quite simple – don’t get dropped, drink enough fluid, and definitely, definitely don’t get dropped.
The race itself consisted of eight laps of a 10km circuit which is mainly flat, but with a short steep climb, a section of twisty, narrow false flat, and a wide well surfaced descent about halfway round. A full field of sixty riders started very rapidly, and the pace was upped further by the first meaningful attack, an audacious and blisteringly fast solo effort from the only other MDCC rider present, Steven Jones. The ensuing chase shelled a few riders from the back, and brought out the bigger teams – Bristol RC, Latchem Sunwise, Tri-Uk and Gillingham Wheelers, together with some other strong riders in the field.
After Steven was brought back, there were a few other moves as the race progressed, mainly over the climb, but always pursued and caught by the field before the descent, and then with three laps to go, a break of six threatened to stay away, but again was chased down by the bigger teams that weren’t represented. By this time, I was just fairly elated at not having been dropped yet, aware that the now scorching temperature was having an effect on the other riders, and beginning to contemplate that racing is a bit like playing chess against fifty nine people at the same time – at a heart rate of 170+bpm, and at 40km+ per hour. I was obviously getting a bit dehydrated and delirious too.
The penultimate time up the climb, I made what felt like the same effort as I had for the previous few laps, and by the top found myself floating up to about 7th wheel. In the subsequent false flat section I went past a couple more riders who were breathing pretty hard, before a left turn and the descent. Here I got some speed up, got into the most aerodynamic position I could (probably not very pretty) and took a rest. To my bewilderment, I then drifted past all the riders ahead, into first wheel and face into the wind- uncharted territory. Now what?
I took a quick look around, expecting a seething mass of bikes to be swarming behind, but there was no one on my wheel, and as the road became flat I put in a little effort. It even crossed my mind that I could try to solo to the finish – all of about 12km – before I realised that I really must be delirious, told myself off for being so stupid, and after about ten seconds of effort began to soft pedal, and wait. Very shortly after, someone in a Bristol RC jersey came steaming through, and I jumped on his wheel. Looking around again, we still had a gap to the bunch, and instinctively began working together. As we crossed the line to start the last lap, there was still a gap, and also there began the longest 10km of my (admittedly very short) bike racing life.
Simon Ward, the Bristol RC rider with me, and the eventual winner, was incredibly strong, and I actually thought he might drop me in a couple of places. However, I grimly hung in there, did as much work and as I could, and waited in that dark, dark place for the bunch to come thundering through and swallow us up before a sprint finish.
It didn’t happen. We got round, somehow. I got comprehensively out sprinted at the end (nothing new there), but very importantly, the target was achieved – I hadn’t been dropped!
To complete a good day, Steven Jones, after apparently doing his best to hold the bunch up as they chased us on the last lap, also produced a great sprint to finish in 5th place. This also meant that Mid Devon came away with more points than any other team.
Picture courtesy of Eamon Deane – check out his site www.localriderslocalraces.co.uk