12th June. LVRC London and South East Region Crit Champs. C, D & E Categories
I had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast for today from before last weekend, hoping that the met office had it wrong. But they were persistent in their forecast of rain, and sure enough, when I woke this morning it was persisting it down outside. Still, it’s the same for everyone and if it makes it a bit tougher, well that can’t be all bad! And rain or shine, I have had a good feeling about this race all week.
The drizzle that greeted my arrival at the Hillingdon circuit developed into full blown downpour before I headed out for my warm up. Even with a cape on, I was decidedly wet in no time flat. But it wasn’t cold. And even better, my legs are feeling awesome. One of those days where, as the saying goes, it feels like I’ve forgotten to fit a chain – the pedals just whir round. Hmmm, thinks I. Confidence is increasing.
The opening laps are fairly uneventful. Perhaps the torrential rain is dampening everyone’s enthusiasm. I stay close to the front and mark pretty much anything that moves. I am having no trouble matching any of the accelerations and if a small gap opens, I am having no trouble jumping across. You can get a pretty good sense of who has the legs today in these opening skirmishes. Anyone with any intentions of getting a result, needs to be paying attention and needs to be at least marking these moves. So far so good.
As ever, I am fairly confident in my sprint so I don’t need to force a breakaway. But sprinting from a smaller group is a lot less complicated and the odds on taking the win are that much better. The one thing that I absolutely must not do is to let anything escape!
Around the 10 minute mark I put in hard attack up the drag at the back of the circuit and force it round the bends at the top of the circuit. I succeed in creating some gaps. But not enough to force a breakaway. Legs in the peloton are still too fresh and people are still being attentive. Everything comes back together.
The toing and froing continues until around 20 minutes when Toks Adesanya attacks. There is a hesitation and Toks has a gap. I had noted a strong surge from Toks earlier in the race, so he is obviously going well. But surely he can’t last out there all alone for another 50 minutes. On the other hand, all the time he is out there, he is dangling like a carrot temping someone to jump across.
We keep Toks in sight. He is never more than 15 seconds up the road. All the time we keep him pegged like that, I am not concerned. If the bunch backs off, then I’ll need to make a move. But for now I am confident that things are under control. For the next 20 minutes or so, surges in the bunch bring Toks back to within touching distance – and then we ease off and the gap stretches back out. I feel like I could jump across. But I am happy that our lone breakaway is keeping a lid on things. The laps are ticking away nicely and the fatigue will be gradually building up in people’s legs. The time to make a move is nearing.
Around the 50 minute mark, Hugh Vivian attacks coming down the home straight and gets a gap. Hugh has been one of the stronger animators of the race and this is a serious move. We round the corner at the bottom of the circuit and start the climb up the back straight. Ahead, I can see that Hugh has joined forces with Toks. This is getting very serious.
On the climb, John Alderman also sees the danger and attacks. They’ve let him go. John has been pretty much single handedly been driving the bunch along all race. Whoop, whoop. We’re at Defcon 5 people. But rather than react, as we round the corner before the finishing straight, riders sit up and fan across the road. Now an attack down the side of the bunch is relatively easy to see coming and to react to. But as riders fan across the road, I see a gap opening up in the middle of the front row of riders. I don’t need a formal invitation. I jump hard and dive between two riders, hoping that no one will follow.
Success. I have a gap. I pour on the power and am quickly up to John’s wheel. I give John a shout, freewheel a couple of revs to make sure that he’s on-board the East Grinstead express train, and push on immediately. If John can give me a turn, we’ll catch the two leaders in short order.
I keep it in a big gear and power it up the back straight. We’re gaining nicely. I flick my elbow and look to John to give me that turn. But there is a shout of “no” from behind. Damn. I know that John is a good honest rider and that he’d give me that turn if he could. This one is going to be down to me to bridge. If it’s going to be done, then it needs to be done swiftly. I push on. Round the turn and down the finishing straight and finally we make contact. Phew, that lap hurt. But I am back in the game and back in the driving seat.
The four of us work well together. At no point in the race so far has the bunch been able to organise itself into a decent chain-gang style pursuit. So I am hopeful that this is THE move. We just have to keep tapping out a good pace. As we reach the hour mark, the 5 laps to go board comes out. Excellent, just another 10 minutes or so until I can sprint.
Four laps to go and Toks stops working. I’m not surprised that he is starting to feel it a bit as he was out on his own for around half an hour. I guess the others figure the same and the three of us continue sharing the pace.
Three laps to go, this is all looking good. No sign of the bunch and we’re still keeping up a nice pace.
Two laps to go, and still looking goo….. Suddenly there is a whoosh of Addiscombe yellow as Toks launches a violent attack from the back of the group. Now I wasn’t expecting that one! And it’s a proper full on attack! I need to respond quickly or he is gone. I attack over the top of John and set about powering up the back straight. I glance back. What was just a few seconds ago, a compact working group of four riders, has now exploded. We are now four individuals fighting to claw our way up the drag. It takes me the whole back straight and round the bends to latch onto Toks and we take the bell.
John and Hugh are still distanced. Do I press on with Toks or do I wait? I momentarily contemplate pushing on. But the plan is good. Stick to the plan. And the plan is to kill them in the sprint. So I wait…
Toks flicks his elbow and weaves across the road asking me to come through. I am sure he understands that after the move he just pulled (and it was a good one!), I’m not having any of that! I freewheel behind him. This gives Hugh and then John the chance to catch us up as we round the bend onto the back straight.
Perhaps fearing a counter, Toks keeps it steady up the back straight. As we take the bends at the top of the circuit, Toks pushes up the pace. I am watching over my right shoulder to see if anyone is going to open up the sprint early. But there is nothing.
As we hit the 200m mark, just before the final bend I jump hard and shoot past Toks. It’s a good sprint. I am quickly up to speed and heading for the line. At the 50 m mark I look around for any signs of danger. But there is none. I have a good gap and enough time to sit up and get my hands in the air to saviour the victory. Yes!