7th March. LVRC San Fairy Ann Criterium at Gravesend Cyclopark
The sun is shining, temperatures are rising, bulbs are starting to poke through into the bright spring daylight and the grass is starting to grow once again. Tiz the time for cyclists up and down the land to start mowing and trimming. No, not the grass or the hedges. We are cyclists – it’s the racing season and we’re far too busy for that kind of thing now don’t you know!
No, it’s time to tackle those gorilla-esque hairy legs ready for some “sun’s out – guns out” action. As the hirsute covering that that has been cultivated this last five or so winter months is removed, the scars of previous battle damage are once again revealed. Last year’s encounters with the tarmac are still pinkish while those from more ancient history have long since been bleached white. And of course the ever present tan lines, although faded from full summer glory, remain intact. These provide a handy minimum “low tide-mark” for the razors work – although the tricky question of quite where the “high tide” mark should fall is more problematic and subject to personal good judgement. With a family trip to Centre-Parks only a few weeks away and the swimming pool beckoning, shaving to a line just above the tan-line for the full-on “Wookie Shorts” look would probably prove too mortifyingly embarrassing for my teenage daughters! So I trim a little higher – dressed in a stout pair of under-pants to avoid any unnecessary temptation to trim too close to any areas that could be particularly susceptible to razor damage!
Anyhow, enough of such matters. To the race! With Anthony Wallis signed on I warmed up well expecting his customary attack on the first or second lap. First lap be damned. The flag dropped and Anthony and a blue polka-dotted rider sped off the front of the bunch at a blistering pace. Before I realised what had happened, it was too late. I accelerated to give chase and was joined by Marco Coppola. We did a couple of turns after which is was painfully apparent that we weren’t going to make it and were soon swept up by the bunch. Attempts organise a chase were pretty futile with only half a dozen or so guys prepared to do anything.
With a couple of laps covered Sheridan Bridal from the promoting San Fairy Ann club launched a blistering attack up the climb and quickly established a gap. I was badly placed and there was no way I could have gone with that move. I figured that he had precisely no chance of catching the Wallis express. If we could just get some organisation going, we ought to drag him back eventually. But getting a pursuit organised was proving impossible with only a few riders able or willing to contribute.
It was going to need some attacking to break things up a bit. I dropped back a little to observe from about 10 places back and to wait for a good moment to try and mix things up a bit. I didn’t have to wait long. Next time up the climb a couple of guys clipped of the front, quickly followed by another two. The four riders joined together and looked to be starting to work purposefully together 10-15 seconds ahead of the still hesitant bunch.
As we crested the top of the climb I attacked over the top and into the 180 degree right-hander at the top of the circuit. As I exited the corner I looked back to check that I had a gap. Satisfied that I did, I powered out of the turn and up the short drag and across to the four escapees. As I made the junction I again looked back and could see more riders trying to get across. Two more riders, Malcolm Jeffries and another rider, made it across but that was all. It was time for us to push on – to distance the bunch and to see what impression we could make on Sheridan.
But I was disappointed at the lack of cohesion within the group. There was still some reluctance to press on. Feeling that I was one of the stronger riders I put in a strong turn up the climb next time around to ensure that we established our move and hopefully to encourage some of the others to do the same, but it was still all a bit disorganised.
Not long after however, we somehow shed a rider dropping our number to six. Perhaps our seventh rider was genuinely clinging on for grim death. Whatever, even just one rider missing turns is enough to unsettle a group and with him gone our group harmony improved a little. It is always difficult to get properly organised around Cyclopark, what with the constant climb/descent and the sharp corners – and it was particularly so today due to the strong and blustery wind howling across the circuit. But we settled into a rhythm of sorts.
Behind, what was left of the bunch shredded itself to pieces meaning that we would not be caught. Unfortunately ahead, the Wallis express had dispatched Mr Blue Polka-dots back into the clutches of Sheridan and the pair were working well together tapping out a rhythm that matched our pace exactly. Lap after lap they rounded the corner to head up the climb at the exact same point that we headed in the opposite direction some 40 seconds behind them.
By the time that the 5 laps to go board was hung out it was obvious that we weren’t going to peg them back and that our group would be battling for 4th place. Having put in a couple of strong efforts up the climb inside the last 5 laps Mr Evans Cycles Skin Suit disappeared from our number, leaving just five of us to fight it out. I learned afterwards that he grounded a pedal at the 90 left at the bottom of the descent, gave Malcom a bit of a nasty scare, managed to keep it up right but lost contact with the group. Shame for him. One less for me to worry about.
Having sussed out my companions I fancied my chances of taking the sprint. So my tactics in the last few laps were simply to make sure no one escaped – if anyone tried then I would take responsibility to bring them back. But as we took the bell, no one had yet tried. It wasn’t until we neared the bottom of the descent that Mr Eastbourne Rovers launched an audacious move into the fast but sharp left-hander.
It was a good move. He had a gap and hit the corner at some speed. Unfortunately he had more speed than he had traction and as we exited the corner, I looked up to see Mr Eastbourne Rovers doing a bit of impromptu cyclo-cross up the outside of the road! I confess that I did have a bit of an inner-chuckle to myself at this point, mainly because it meant that I didn’t have to close that one down (I should add that Mr Eastbourne Rovers had displayed some excellent corning speed all race and by rights should have stuck that one. I suspect that the blustery wind blowing right across that corner unsettled his bike as he turned in).
And so it was all going to come down to a sprint. With the strong wind blowing from the right and slightly from behind I knew that I would be able to go long in the sprint if I needed, but that my strongest suit was likely to be my jump. No one wanted to take it on. Equally, no one wanted to get boxed in and so we rolled up the hill practically five abreast with me second from right.
With 250 metres to go, Malcom launched first up the left hand side, hoping to get a jump on us as we neared the final left hand kink in the road. Seeing the movement in my peripheral vision I accelerated to match Malcom’s pace. As the finish line hove into sight up on the horizon, I accelerated away to the right; buried my head and pounded the pedals around as I flicked the bike from side to side, swinging on the drops. Yeah, that was a good sprint! When you’re in the right gear, when you get the timing right, everything just flows, everything feels “just so”. That was one of those sprints. I surged over the line lengths clear of the others to claim 4th place and 3rd in B age category.
So what do I learn today? Well it’s only the first weekend in March and everyone is still emerging from their Winter endeavours. But I am feeling in good shape. Winter “Base” is done. The hay’s in barn on that one. I am only half way through the first Build cycle and already I am starting to feel some zip in my legs. Hopefully something that I can build on.
And finally, a bit of a personal note. I am sure that the many of you that know my Dad (Richard Parker) would like to know that he will be under the surgeon’s knife on Tuesday for a triple heart bypass operation. As athletes we may have lung capacities the size of a small zeppelin and hearts big enough to power a bison, but if your plumbing gets furred up then you need to get some pipework replaced. Good luck Dad and speedy recovery.