Robin Parker reports…
7th August. LVRC Region 9 (London & South East) Road Race Champs. Blackmore, Essex.
The weekend’s race was the LVRC Region 9 (London & South East) Road Race Champs on the Blackmore circuit in Essex. 7 laps for a total of 56 miles, with a draggy head-wind finish. But the story of my race today starts a week or so back when I crashed out of the final Surrey League Handicap Road Race. In that race, with a mile or so to go and with all of the groups having merged into a single bunch, I was fancying my chances in the sprint. But with a mile or so to go there was a coming together of some sort and I had a rider dive across my handlebars from my right. I went down hard on my left hand side; rolled over on my back and end up on my right hand side. I instinctively curled up in a ball as riders ploughed in from behind.
Those of you that have done much road racing will know the sound of a crash. The sound that rider and bike make as they clatter off the tarmac sickens the stomach. When the noise abated there was a moments silence before riders start to untangle themselves and assess the damage. I laid still and waited for someone to lift a bike off the top of me. The paramedic (thankfully there is always a paramedic ambulance following Surrey League events) touched my shoulder – “are you alright mate”? “Yeah, I think so”. I slowly got up to check the damage. The usual points of contact are knees, hips and elbows. I had managed to collect a full set with scuffage to both knees, both hips and both elbows! With my left side taking the brunt of the impact, the gashes were worse on that side. Then I retrieved my bike. I went to spin the front wheel – but it didn’t. Then I noticed that the axle was bent and snapped – and then finally I spotted that my front forks had snapped. Damn!
Having ridden out to the event I had to borrow a phone and call home for a lift. It was the call that Jen (my wife) dreads every time I go out on my bike, but especially when I go out to race. “Don’t worry, I’m OK, a bit scuffed but my bike is broke”.
How the tour riders get up and ride the next day following a crash, I don’t know. It was four days before tentatively ventured out again. And it took me a few more days to get back in the swing of it. But with wounds healing nicely I decided that despite the gap in training, the best medicine was to get back out there and race…
And so to today’s event. My legs felt pretty good surprisingly, but I knew that with the time off and reduced training over recent weeks, that I was probably going to struggle over the distance. So the plan was really just to get around and get some more race miles in the legs. To this end I needed to sit in; conserve energy and then see how I felt at the end.
Well that brilliant plan last all of about 2 miles when the attacking started! At which point, this being a race after all, I couldn’t resist getting stuck in – following the early attacks and counter attacking myself when I got the chance. I was feeling good. I didn’t quite have the legs to go with the break when it went, but pretty good none the less.
But as predicted, those good legs didn’t last for long. By lap three I could feel my legs starting to twinge with cramp. As the bunch got themselves organised to give chase, I could do nothing but sit in. It was a spirited chase and I felt guilty at not being able to contribute. But I needed to tuck myself away and keep eating and drinking if I was going to survive to the finish.
Coming up to three laps to go there was the unmistakable and sickening sound of a crash from behind me to the rear of the bunch. Given my recent experience I was particularly thankful not to have been involved this time. I assumed that the crash was caused by the usual touch of wheels. But apparently a deer leapt out of the undergrowth and straight into the bunch! I’ve seen some things over the years, but that is a new one on me. Unfortunately one rider didn’t look too good (was concussed I believe) and was ambulanced off to hospital. Hope he gets well soon.
Meanwhile, I was feeling more tired with each lap that passed. But after a few laps of chasing and with the gap to the break refusing to drop below the two minute mark, the chasers finally gave up and the pace in the bunch eased. This was somewhat of a relief for me as I had been starting to wonder if I was going to make it to the finish!
We took the bell with the five break-aways now over four minutes clear and I had decided that I was definitely now going to just sit in and ride around to the finish. Another great plan that lasted precisely until the last lap attacks started – and once again I couldn’t resist the urge the join the racing!
A couple of guys nipped of the front of the bunch with a couple of miles to go and dangled nicely to incentivise the bunch to chase. With a draggy headwind finish, I knew that I needed to be near the front. But not too near – with those right at the front sure to die into that wind.
I surfed nicely up the outside of the bunch as we passed the 1km to go mark and as people tried to make their move, I jumped from wheel to wheel, inching ever further forward. Unfortunately with my legs cramping horribly I was completely unable to sprint. Ordinarily this would have meant that I had no chance in the sprint. But with the headwind and people dying a thousand deaths around me I was able to follow wheels to the 200m to go point and then do my best seated “pseudo-sprint”. This was good enough for about 3rd place in the bunch sprint, giving me about 8th or so overall in the combined A and B cat race.
With a number of A cat riders and I think a couple of riders from outside the London & South East region (and hence not qualifying for the championships) ahead, I was surprised to find that I had won the silver medal in the B age group. Given how little work I had done, I was somewhat embarrassed to be receiving a medal for what I considered to be a pretty weak ride. I thanked the organiser and stuck the medal straight in my pocket.
As ever, driving home is a chance to reflect on the race that has been and on what has happened so far this season. On reflection, I figured that all is fair in war and road racing. Earlier in the year at the British Cycling Masters National Crit Champs I rode like an absolute lion and came away with nothing. Indeed, as if to add insult to injury, I was even listed as DNF in the official results of that race. Today I rode like a lamb and came away with a silver medal. I figure that somewhere the road racing gods decided to even things up a little. So when I got home I put my medal on and proudly paraded it around the house. Needless to say, my daughters were enormously impressed with my medal – not! But I’m now quite pleased with it. It’s earned its place in my “special box” with my other favourite trinkets.