Sunday morning dawned and it was going to be a good day – The Tour of Witheridge Moor promoted by Exeter Wheelers for 3rd and 4th category riders – an opportunity to stretch the legs and open the lungs. It was a return to old school racing; two 25 mile laps and over 4,000 metres of climbing and fast technical descending – a day for the brave. I’ve not had an opportunity to race too much this year, mainly velopark circuit racing and a ridiculously fast Masters road race champs, so I was expecting the day to be brutal.
The Mid Devon had a crack team lined up against the might of the Exeter Wheelers and Plymouth Corinthians: Prowse, Gratton, Combe, Weddall, Bushnell and Johnston, names to conjure with and all would feature. Turbo trainers lined up, a whirring of wheels and a whiff of liniment.
The race started fast and continued fast, a sort of steady fast, but generally just fast. During the day there would be two solo attacks each gaining a maximum of 30 seconds and that was that, but it was fast, 24mph fast on a hilly course that featured short steep climbs and a couple of two mile long brutes.
Something’s changed. I’m not sure when it happened, I noticed it creeping in four or five years ago and it’s a pattern that’s repeated in most 3rd and 4th and even 2nd 3rd and 4th races that I see – people riding fast. Initially I thought it was the SKY effect that had trickled down to regional events, attritional racing, riders lined out in the gutter, with the action taking place out the back door rather than off the front, a selection and a short but polite sprint at the end and a shake of hands. Then I wondered if it was strava. It’s very popular and people often see it as the root of all evil. Turbo trainers and power meters, riders hard wired to look at their watts and measure their efforts? The decline of the traditional racing club and club runs? Gone are the years of learning your trade, wise words passed from father to son, whispered conversations at café stops and the “school of hard knocks”. In reality it’s probably all of these and more, it’s a changing world out there and nothing stays the same.
The race was great – a really challenging new course, no accidents, everyone was very polite, no one swore, minimal disruption to the public, a worthy winner from the Plymouth Corinthians in a long 300 metre sprint over the crest of the hill. Promoting club Exeter Wheelers placed three riders in the top 10, good cake, top banter with the lads and Gareth Bushnell who came 5th invited us all to the pub for a pint. A good day’s sport for us all.
But I can’t help thinking that the next generation of grimpeurs, barouders, domestiques, gregario’s, passista’s, puncheur’s and rouleurs missed a great opportunity to learn about themselves – their strengths and weaknesses and develop their craft. To soar like Bahomontes “the Eagle of Toledo” or launch that suicide break 50 miles out like Jacky Durand, to win with your arms in the air solo, point to the sky and savour the moment or to crash and burn with 200 metres to go – it’s all part of the learning process and keeps you moving up the ladder to your eventual goal.
Me? I’m developing the art of “punching tickets and collecting numbers”. I watched it all unfold. I could have told you the format of the race weeks ago, it was steady fast. Not too sure of my form I laid low, sheltering from the wind, never once hitting the front, overtaking a few riders when the pace eased, gaining a place here and there, a tap on the hip of the rider in front and I’ve wriggled through a tiny gap, occasionally following the faster riders up the group tucked under their armpit and hidden from the elements. On the flatter sections I followed the biggest rider I could find, on the climbs I multi tasked following the rider who tapped out the steadiest rhythm and “punched the tickets” of the riders getting dropped whilst collecting their numbers. Nobody invited me to do a turn on the front and if they had I would have declined. There’s no extreme surges in pace, no mad attacks, on a good day. I can surf the wheels for hours, take the armchair ride, work my way up to the front in the last couple of miles, put my elbows out in the sprint and get in the placing’s. On a great day I might put my arms in the air. But today I had sore legs (4,000 feet of climbing sore legs). With the group whittled down to 25 riders and a long drag to the finish I rolled over the line midway through the group, job done.
Modern racing is great, you’ve got to move with the times – it’s all about the block of energy or burning candles and I like it.