23rd October. British Cycling Mid-week Masters Road Race – Gravesend Cyclopark
I vowed last week that I was done with Hill Climbs for the year. I have really missed road racing these last few weeks. I’ve missed the cut and thrust of “proper” racing. Proper wheel to wheel stuff where fortunes ebb and flow and where the result is anything but a foregone conclusion. Indeed, the prospect of not racing again until next spring filled me with some angst. So when I spied in the British Cycling events calendar, a Friday morning Masters (40+) race at Gravesend Cyclopark it couldn’t have looked more like a gift horse if it was neighing and covered in Christmas wrapping paper!
It was a bit of a lifeless grey morning with hardly a breeze blowing, but thankfully dry and not too cold. There was a reasonable turnout of some 30 or so riders. Scanning the signing on sheet I spied half a dozen or so “names” that I recognised as potential winners. But this being a road race, you can never tell whether one of these favourites will win or whether someone else will spring a surprise. And that is especially the case at this time of the season as everyone heads towards winter training.
After the usual race briefing we were off. I decided to pay close attention in the early stages of the race to ensure that if there were any early moves or splits then I would be in the right place. I tried to initiate a break 3 or 4 times I the opening laps, but only succeeded in gaining 50 metres by myself. With no one willing or able to jump across; each time I was reeled back into the bunch.
In order not to waste too much energy on fruitless attacks, and not knowing quite how my legs were going to react having not raced (road races!) for a month or so, I eased back into the front of the bunch to watch developments. As expected, it was the same 5 – 10 riders towards the head of affairs for pretty much the whole race. There were attacks. But nothing nearly strong enough force a break away and with all of the stronger guys watching each other and covering all of the moves it became apparent that (barring a surprise attack) we were heading for a sprint.
The last couple of laps actually felt pretty pedestrian. I’m not sure if this was because people were feeling cold, or tired or what. But I felt like I was cruising and kept myself out of trouble and nicely up at the sharp end of the bunch.
Into the last lap and I take up position 2nd wheel in the bunch following a strong chap from London Dynamo. He’s a big strong guy who, lacking a sprint, will I figure have a go at winding it up for the finish. I am a bit worried that I am too far forward. 4th or 5th place would have been better so that I can see any moves coming and roll with them. But I am where I am and trying to drop back at this stage risks getting boxed.
Round the last corner and as I hoped, my “lead-out man” starts to wind it up a bit as we ascend the climb for the final time. As we power up the left side of the road, I am checking over my right shoulder to see if anyone is going to try a long one. Clunk. I make my final gear selection. It’s a fairly big one. I am at the front. If I wait for someone else to jump, they’ll be past me before I can react and I’ll struggle to get back on terms before the line. No, I am going to have to boss this one from the front. And that means big gear, big speed and hope I can hang on. This is no place for hoping to twiddle your way over the line. Gotta be a monster.
As we approach about 250 metres to go I make a final check over my shoulder. It’s an uphill finish and everyone is waiting for the yellow flag at 200 to go. But I’m not.
Bang. I jump hard, fighting to get that gear up to speed as fast as I can. It’s a good jump and I’ve surprised them. There’s no one immediately on my wheel and I can sense that I have a gap. It’s just me, the road ahead and that finish line beckoning me.
150 to go, still no sign of anyone immediately behind me. But they’re there. They must be there. They must have reacted. They must surely be closing me down. Any second now there’ll be some wheels edging up along-side.
100 to go. Still nothing in my peripheral vision. They must be closing me down. God I hope I don’t tie up now. “Bridge to engine room – how goes those legs?”. My head is expecting grim news of the “the engines can nee take much more of this Capt’n” type. But instead I have sensations of the “Yeah baby! We have the good legs on today. Give it the beanz!” variety.
50 to go. Still no one in sight. And my legs are still feeling awesome. It’s gonna take someone faster than Cav on a Kawasaki to catch me now! As I cross the line victorious, I punch the air and whoop with delight.
Yeah, that’s more like it. That’s what bike racing is all about! That’s why I am totally and utterly hooked on road racing. That may have only been a weekday, end of season old boy’s race of absolutely no consequence to anyone – but I still get just as much of a kick out of it as when I first got the bug all those years ago. There’s not many hobbies that can give you that. We are the lucky ones. We are God’s chosen people. We are cyclists.
Hello, my name is Robin and I am a road racer. Rejoice for there is no cure…