28th May. British Cycling Masters 50+ National Road Race Championships, near Milton Keynes
Wayne Thomas, the race organiser, claims that this is the biggest Masters Road Race event on the UK calendar. And without wishing to disrespect any other organisers who put on some great events over the year – I think Wayne is right about this. When you line up at the start behind a row of 4 lead cars and a number of NEG (National Escort Group) motorcycles and in front of a race convoy of commissaires cars, neutral service vehicles and an ambulance – you know that you’re in a race of some import!
My lesson from last week was that, if possible, I wanted to hide away for as much as possible early doors and save my legs for the finale. I paid close attention at the front of the bunch on the first lap as the early attempted breakaways tried in vain to launch themselves off the front. Eventually 4 riders managed to get a gap and the bunch hesitated slightly. I didn’t want to be in that move – far too early for me, not enough people in it and I didn’t see any of the danger men sneak there. So far so good.
The pace of the bunch remained fairly high. Indeed, the pace was to stay fairly high all day averaging 25mph for the 64 miles (6 laps of 10 and a bit miles) and this meant that the break never had more than about a minute or so lead. The attacking hotted up on the second and third laps but the bunch remained resistant to letting anyone else go. Eventually a break of maybe 5 guys lead by Roy Chamberlain managed to break the elastic and disappeared up the road and out of sight. I presume that these guys joined up with the leaders, and with these reinforcements that move was starting to look more dangerous.
The bunch again hesitated a little, as if unsure of what to do next. The default answer in times of uncertainty is to attack and there followed a pretty full on series of attacks which temporarily split the bunch. I was fairly well placed and made it into the front half of the group. But it hurt getting there. And others were obviously feeling the same as the split only lasted a few miles before the rest of the bunch clawed its way back up to the front group and the heat duly went out of the chase and everyone paused to catch their breath.
OK, so that didn’t work. Plan B, let’s get everyone doing through and off! Last week’s winner, Rich Edwards was one of the more vocal organisers of the chase. There were about 15 or so of us that started working. With the break out of sight, it was impossible to know if we were making any inroads into the lead but I am pretty sure that we would at least have been pegging them. And on this circuit, over this distance that might be enough. It is by no means a hilly circuit. But over the distance and at a decent speed it is a fairly attritional circuit. Last year we caught a race long break on the last lap, so this race was by no means done. Having worked for a while, and having noted that some of my other pre-race favourites weren’t working, I decided to excuse myself from the working rotation and drop back further into the bunch to conserve a few more precious watts.
Two laps to go. The organised through and off crew have long since descended into the usual disorganised chaotic motion that is a road race peloton. My legs are feeling pretty tired. But you can sense that others don’t exactly have a lot of zip left either. And things are brewing. There are still some big names in the bunch and there is sure to be a final roll of the dice. A final bid for glory.
We take the bell, drop down a descent and take the left hand corner ready to make our way past the HQ for a final time and then up the drag marked out as the official feed zone. With no feeding allowed on the last lap and with the wind blowing from the right, I figure that this is the ideal launch pad for the final move coming, as it does before a left hand turn and then a really fast main road, tailwind section. Having been well positioned pretty much all race I find myself boxed into the bunch in the left hand gutter just at the wrong time. About half a mile before we reach the feed zone, Rich Edwards launches a vicious attack up the right hand side of the road. Mike Twelves (former international, 6th place Milk Race finisher and I guess more relevantly second last week) was on him in a flash as were a number of others who spotted the danger. I have been completely wrong footed.
This break powers up the drag through the feed zone, pulling out an impressive gap and in no time flat they are gone. And that is it. Game over. The race is gone. These guys would catch the break and Rich would go on to take the win for the second week on the trot.
With maybe 15 guys up the road now, I didn’t fancy sitting around and just waiting to sprint it out for like 16th place. So I start attacking and trying to escape the bunch. I ride aggressively for the last lap, get a few gaps – but nothing sticks and I am left to finish in the bunch.
Last week I made the right moves and just ran out of legs. When you give it your best shot but come up short, you can be satisfied that you did the best you could. There is nothing more to be done. This week I’d conserved my energy as best I could ready for the finale. I was certainly tiring and could feel my legs over the last few laps. But the efforts that I put out over the last lap showed that there were still watts left in the tank. Watts that were wasted in futile riding minutes behind the race proper. I didn’t leave it all out there on the road and I didn’t make the right moves. Instead I got caught napping. Not happy!