24th April. LVRC Toachim Vets series, round 2. Python RT Circuit Race. Enstone Circuit.
I’ve never been to the Enstone circuit before and this is the first time that it has been used as part of the season long LVRC series sponsored by Toachim vets. It is primarily a motorsport venue, so the road surface is perfect although it was a lot narrower than any other motorsports venue I have ever been to – maybe only as wide as a single track road. It was a short (Strava says 0.6 mile) circuit with a hairpin at the top of the circuit and then some technical chicanes and a very technical turn at the bottom end of the track. The technical nature of the circuit, it’s narrowness combined with a pretty stiff cross wind blowing right across the track meant that that it didn’t take a genius to figure out that this race could be split to pieces.
With that in mind, I made sure that I got an extended warmup before the event and lined up on the front row of the grid for the race briefing. I had already decided that I was going to attack from the gun. On the organisers whistle, I clipped in quickly and stomped on the pedals. I was pleased to see that Rowan Horner, a “strong as an ox” rider from VC St Raphael had the same idea and I slotted into his slipstream as we sped down into the technical part of the course.
I let Rowan do a lap and then I attacked over the top. I could tell that I still had company, but I powered on round another lap. As I eased to see if I could get someone to do a turn, four riders attacked over the top to take a small gap. I looked round to find that I was left with four other riders with the rest of the field already distanced and looking in disarray. Game on!
With another lap completed, the front four seemed to be edging away a little. And worse. Looking ahead, I could see that they had organised themselves into an echelon. At this point there was no time to waste as there was an imminent danger of these guys just riding away. I attacked into the top hairpin and quickly bridged over to the leaders through the technical section. Over the next few laps a few more riders made it over to the front group eventually making a group of about nine or so.
In a longer road race on the open roads, a group of that size has a good chance of working together and staying away. But on this tight circuit, in these conditions, that wasn’t going to happen. People had burned a lot of matches to get to the front and were keen to miss turns. A couple of laps of attacking, splits forming and regroupments followed before a lone A Cat (“youngster”!!!) rider launched an innocuous looking attack. Everyone looked at everyone else. And he was gone.
There was a small amount more of toing and froing before disaster struck. Rowan Horner on the front eased off a little through the technical section at the lower end of the circuit. Paul Thursfield (a big strong rider who some great form right now having recently won a race out in Belgium – which takes some doing!!) overlapped wheels and came down. Hard! AS in broken collar bone/shoulder/something painful looking hard. Simon Brookes (another strong VC Raphael rider) on Paul’s wheel went for the inside line on the left – but didn’t make it. Simon came down too giving him some nasty road rash, including on his face! I was on Simon’s wheel. Fortunately my racing instincts had kicked and I veered right and onto the grass – and I managed to hold it up. The grass is always the safest option – you might not always keep it upright, but it’s a lot softer landing!
Following my impromptu cyclo-cross, I was back on the circuit, adrenalin surging and sprinting back up to Rowan. When the dust settled, there were just four of us left. Two A cats (40-44) and two B cats (45-49). We pushed on pretty hard, swapping turns and working well together. After only about 20 minutes of racing it was apparent that we weren’t going to get caught and that we weren’t going to catch the lone A cat who was having a storming ride out on his own.
The next 20 minutes passed fairly uneventfully with each of our group doing their fair share. Around about the 40 minute mark, Rowan started missing a few turns. I am not sure if this was because he was starting to tire, or if this was him wanting to break up our rhythm so that he could make an attack. I didn’t miss any turns because I wanted to maintain the rhythm and take it to a sprint. But I started discreetly soft pedalling a bit and doing some shorter pulls – just to be on the safe side!
Eventually the 3 laps to go board came out and thoughts turned to the sprint. Now this technical section was about 250 metres in length and, at speed, needed to be taken in single file. The exit of this section was a chicane that lead directly onto the slightly uphill and cross-head wind finishing straight. At about 250 metres in length, this would be a long sprint. I practiced it during the warm up and reckoned that I could take it on from the front, but that this might be risky if you had a decent sprinter in tow.
Two laps to go and Rowan, not fancying his chances in the sprint, went for a long one. I let the other A Cat respond to this, and slotted into his slipstream. Rowan was quickly brought to heal and we rolled round to the bell still in formation. All race I had been eying my companions cornering technique and decided that none of them looked overly confident. So as we headed towards the technical section I switched out of the line and accelerated up the inside into the first left hander. Then a hard right, leaned over to the max before flipping it back for the left that immediately follows.
As I headed round to the final chicane I glanced over my shoulder to see if I had any would-be sprinters on my wheel. I was pleased to see that my speed through the corners had been enough to open a small gap. This meant that I could chuck it through the final chicane and time my sprint nicely without fear of anyone coming over the top of me. The legs felt good as I powered over the final 200 metres to comfortably take the sprint for 2nd overall and 1st B Cat rider.
Just 3 weeks now until the TLI National Crit Champs – which will be my first race as a newly promoted C Cat. Today’s result is obviously a nice confidence boost ahead of this. My training has been going well, although I have yet to feel that magical “zing” in the legs that accompanies that ever illusive “on form”. It’s around now in the plan, as I start my taper, that the paranoia always sets in! The Zing is not here yet. Will “form” arrive in time? Maybe I need to train harder and not taper?
Keep calm and keep to the plan! “Form” is a fleeting thing. If you have The Zing now, it will be gone by the time the Champs roll around. So it’s good that The Zing, ain’t doing it’s thing just yet! But the wait and the uncertainty is worse than being the seven year old me and waiting for Christmas. At least then Mum could always be 100% definite about how many sleeps ‘till Christmas. But how many sleeps ‘till The Zing? Not even Mum knows the answer to that one! Just stick to the plan and hope it’ll all come together…