My second time at the “Crits at the Park” series (at Cyclopark, Gravesend) and again the sun was out – a blessing after the weather earlier in the week! A good field of 14 on the start line made for a promising race, and importantly we were racing for the full 10 points, meaning I had to finish 8th or better to get the final 2 points needed to earn my 3rd Category license. It seemed achievable.
I was advised to do a good warm up, and start out near the front. I managed both of those things. I took my turbo trainer to warm up on so I was able to control it better than just doing a few quick laps of the circuit, and was relatively quick off the line to position myself 6th in the group for the first tight bend.
The benefits of being near the front of a group going round corners is vast.
The lead rider generally takes a fast line, carrying speed out of the corner while the riders behind aren’t able to choose the best line, meaning they need to accelerate out of the corner to keep up with the leaders.
There were a few unsuccessful attacks in the first half of the race, where riders near the front of the group saw potential opportunities on the climb or out of the tight 180 turn at the bottom of the circuit. For the first few laps I was in the top 5 positions, but gradually found myself slipping backwards in the group as other riders moved to the front. About 20 minutes into the race in an attempt to get back to the front of the group, I moved up the outside to the front and took my turn leading. When on the front, I chose not to put in much effort but keep a sensible pace, and taking advantage of getting the best lines round the corners – no sprinting required! My lead only lasted half a lap before another lady who was yet to take a turn came through. For the next 15 minutes or so I kept slipping back to 8-10th position all the while attempting to move up.
The “5 laps to go” board went up. With the board, up goes the pace. One rider ahead of me was particularly cautious on the corners, meaning she would always have a large gap to close coming out of the other side, and worse still, so would those of us unfortunate enough to be stuck behind her.
I managed to get past several times but her club mates leading the group would always make space for her in the line ahead. With 2 laps to go came a strong attack from a Welwyn wheelers rider, who was chased down by another from Islington. The front of the group were unable to respond immediately and by the time those of us further back had worked out what was happening it was too late, we’d missed the break. So we flew round the last 2 laps attempting to chase them down. I was at the back of a group of 8 hanging on for dear life and thinking “if I can just hold on to this group, I can get a point”. Into the final straight my lungs were screaming, still hanging on as last in the group. As the finish line came into view, I told myself “just one last push” and dropping a few gears whilst ramping up my legs to a full sprint, I came around the rider in front of me with enough momentum to get past her and four other riders, to claim 3rd place in the sprint and 5th overall.
So in summary – managed to get my 3rd cat license but still a lot to learn!