With a couple of road races under my belt I was starting to think that I might be able to get competitive again in the longer stuff after a spate of crits and time trials over the last few months. This circuit is one that I have mixed feelings about to be honest. While the main circuit is fairly rolling and suits my sort of rider, the finish is far from ideal, a 2.5km climb with a few sharp ramps over 10%! Previously I’d done a couple of variations, one of which involved going up the finish climb 3 times in 45 mins! That hurt, a lot. Today thankfully was just the once.
August is a funny time of year really, its late enough in the season that many have lost interest, its peak holiday time, and generally it usually means fields are smaller. All of those factors meant that we had 50 riders in this race vs the usual 70-80. I wasn’t complaining, there were still plenty of decent guys so it was not going to be easy by any stretch. I thought the winner would likely come from Richardsons Trek as they had 4 or 5 guys riding, and I know from the Lee Valley races that they’re pretty strong guys.
Anyway, we got off to a start, and the first 20-30 mins was almost comical, it was so easy, I think people were wary and reluctant to show their hand. The course was a tail of two halves (sorry), half of it was super fast downhill/flat where you were always over 30mph, the other half was not only uphill, but it was into a disgusting headwind. Getting away today was going to require some hard riding, for sure.
After a lap or so I recall a coming together, which sadly put Rhys Howells out of action, he is one of the strongest blokes about so I guess he will have been a bit annoyed about that. While normally in these races a fairly large move goes clear, in this race it was actually a couple of ones and twos that attacked and got away, a Trek guy, Harold Evans from Cadence, and a couple of others in ones and twos. It was clear that the bunch had little interest in chasing this back, and a couple of attacks were the only thing that spurred the group into going a bit quicker. At about the half way point I thought I would chance my arm, the lead bunch probably had a minute or so at this point, and they were barely in sight at any point on the course despite a few long straights. Anyway, I thought it was worth a go, worst case was that I got brought back, but I was hoping to get away and have a few come over to me to help try and join the front group. I attacked on one of the faster sections as it happens. I got a decent gap then set about drilling it to extend the lead. Some 15 mins later I was well clear and was just about out of sight of the bunch at most points…then I hit the headwind section. Wow. It was horrid, properly slow, even pushing out 400w barely saw me break 20 mph and I wasn’t really even climbing! After another 5 mins of grinding away the bunch had picked up their pace and were coming back to me, I knew it wasn’t to be this time. I eased off so I didn’t go straight out of the back!
At this point the bunch had thinned a fair bit and there were probably 30 guys left. A few attacks went and I followed the wheels, nothing stuck initially. Then back on the fast section a chap from Trek and James from Dynamo went, it looked good I was still getting my legs back at this point, another couple then went from Meudon, Rich from Southdowns (who I went to Ireland with) and Brixton and I thought I may as well try my luck again, then carried on through a straggler and carried on alone again, it was not long before a chap from 34 Nomads came over to me, we got a decent gap and started working well togther to start to reel in the VCM and Brixton and Southdowns guys. After probably 10 mins we got him back and were now 5, we now looked good, gap was decent and everyone was pulling through. Probably another 15 mins passed and Colin Parry of Solidor joined us and was also straight into the through and off routine, at this point we saw that James Local had punctured, so up the road were 5 in the front group and the lone Trek rider James was with. Probably 25 mins had passed since we got away and then I notice a shot of yellow, Will Pratt from Cadence had ridden over solo on the headwind section and was quite vocal in getting things moving. I didn’t disagree with him, we needed to ensure the gap was good enough to stick. We had 1.5 laps left and I didn’t want to be back in the bunch. It must be said that Will was very strong. So much so that with a little effort on one of the drags we lost I think 3 guys which whittled out group down to 5 as we had caught the lone trek rider.
It was now a case for me of getting to the finish as part of this group, Will tried a few more digs and I ensured I stayed with it. When we were within 5 miles of the end my legs were pretty wrecked, I’d done the last 2hrs 15 over 300w with a hard 20 min effort on my own, it was hurting. We got to the foot of the climb, and even trying to keep Wills pace was cramping me, so I tapped up at my own pace to take 10th? Or 11th maybe? Unsurprisingly Will had ridden away from our group to take 5th or 6th. And I understand one of the trek boys won from the front group.
It was a good race in that I think I probably spent the least time in a bunch during a road race that I ever have, and I felt pretty good. And of course we stayed away which is always good. Bad in that I had utterly nothing to give when I got to the end. But I think there are finishes that I will be competitive on, and there are others where its not all that likely. This is bordering on the latter. Had this ended on the Gimber finish I’d have likely had the legs to be well into the top ten from our group, but that’s life.
A few more road races remain, its looking like I’ll probably at least retain my 1st cat this year despite racing very few RR and being off for that period (and having one race cancelled, flatting in another, etc etc, not been my year in that sense) with the injury. I am confident that I can go on and get a proper result in a Nat b, but it will be likely next year now, rather than this.