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British Cycling Masters Criterium

6th Feb. British Cycling Masters Criterium at Gravesend Cyclopark

There’s only one thing more stupid than a race organiser putting on a race this ridiculously early in the season – and that’s the riders who eagerly turn up to race it! How early? Well we’re still over 3 weeks away from Het Volk (or Omloop Het Nieuwsblad to you youngsters). And even the traditional domestic opener, “The Perfs” is still a week away – and I always considered that way too early to even contemplate, even when I was young and daft. But despite being old enough to know better, the lure of a week-day, old-boys race and an excuse to miss a day’s work was just too good an opportunity to miss!

And so it was that I lined up with 30 or so fool-hardy souls at the Gravesend Cyclopark for this 50 minutes plus 5 laps crit. Anyone hoping for a gentle start to ease them into the 2015 season would have been sorely disappointed. We rolled off the start line, round the first corner and that was it. The blue touch paper was lit, and the pace was straight up to “hot” – despite the weather being decidedly cold (just above freezing, dry, but with a stiff breeze that cut right through you!).

We completed the first lap “gruppo compacto” and with my heart rate already pushing towards max. But this obviously wasn’t quick enough for Anthony Wallis who nonchalantly rode off the front of the bunch, put his head down and just rode away from us. Unfortunately this has been his modus operandi for a few seasons now – and the bad news for the rest of us is that he has obviously wintered well and looks intent to repeat this trick throughout this season. Despite appearances, I’m not entirely convinced that he has any human DNA in him at all – he is just other-worldly!

Still, the peloton did put up a very spirited pursuit for two or three laps. By the time the penny dropped that we weren’t going to get Anthony back, there were just 9 of us left in the bunch with the rest of the field split into smaller groups and scattered around the circuit. At this point we settled into a steadier rhythm. Of the nine, there only about 4 guys working. And I readily confess that I wasn’t one of them! I sat back and waited for the laps to count down and see if anyone was going to attack. I guess the combination of brisk pace, cold wind and early season-ness conspired to dissuade anyone from trying to escape our group. The only spirted attempt came with about 3 laps to go, but apart from that it was pretty much a case of following the wheels and keeping out of the wind.

That wind was blowing from left to right and slightly into our faces up the finishing straight. With a couple of laps to go I started pay closer attention to the front and moved forward a little to keep an eye on things. Into the last lap and I was 3rd or 4th wheel. Into the last half lap, and one of the guys seemed intent to take up the running with me 3rd wheel. Round the final bend and up the drag to the finish, our lead-out man pushed harder – but he was never going to be last to the finish.
About 250m from the line, the guy in front of me accelerated. I followed his wheel, waited until we rounded the final kink in the road at about 200m and with the finish line in sight I kicked for the line. But this wasn’t the kind of mid-summer kick where you can feel your legs “zing” against the pedals and your tires spring the bike forward with each pedal stroke. No, this was an all to disappointing limp acceleration, weighed down by winter clothing, deadened by winter bike/wheels/tires that I had elected to ride, and more importantly under-powered by legs still engaged in “Winter Base 3” training block.

My acceleration was enough to get my nose in front. But it was all too shortly lived as another rider flew past me churning a much bigger gear. I was able to grab his slip-stream but couldn’t get closer than two or three metres from his back wheel. I thought I might hang on for 2nd place in the sprint, but unfortunately even this was not to be as another rider swept past on my right in the last 20 metres.

3rd in the bunch sprint and 4th place overall. Not great. But not a bad result either.

I’d given it my all I the sprint and was soundly beaten. I’d been fairly well placed and the timing was about right – but the sprint legs just aren’t quite there yet. Another couple of weeks and I move into the Build phases of the training plan, and with it training intensity increases. I am keeping the faith. Everything is developing to plan.

It’s been a good winter’s training so far. Very good. Today was a good reminder that there is still much work to be done before the summer – and there are plenty of other guys out there working hard also and who aren’t going to make it easy in the sprints. A quick check reveals just 99 days to go until the TLI National Crit Champs in Rhyl. Preparation for that continues tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day (rinse and repeat 99 times). Getting beaten will bring renewed focus to each and every one of those sessions…

Robin Parker

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