14th March. British Cycling – Redbridge Cycling Centre Spring Warm Up Races. 2/3 Cats.
It’s been quite a week this week. I have started on a new project at work and this continues to be very hectic. In keeping with the “work hard – play hard” theory, training has been going OK too. But on Tuesday, while I was out giving my cardiovascular system a hammering with some hill sprints, my Dad was in surgery having a triple heart bypass operation. It was Karl Marx that said “The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain”. He must have been a cyclist on the sly because the same goes for when you are worrying about someone special. Hill Sprints are definitely the answer (for most questions as it happens).
Actually, thinking about it, maybe it was Marx that started this whole beards in the peloton thing. Dan Craven is definitely channelling Marx and Wiggo is but a few days growth away!
So to the race. 2 and 3rd cats. Redbridge circuit (run in reverse to usual direction). It’s going to be a fast start, so I left home in plenty of time to get there nice and early, relaxed and with plenty of time for a nice long warm up. At least that was the plan. After a good run around the M25, I turned off the motorway and onto the A127 slip-road – and joined the highway to hell (without the groovy guitar licks). Hour and half later I finally pulled into the car park, just 20 minutes from race start. I had time to sign on, pin number on, get changed, pump up tires and that was about it. When we were called to the start line my computer helpfully informed me that I had done precisely 3 minutes of warm up. Not quite what I had in mind. There then followed a 10 minute speech from organiser and race commissar just to make sure that I was properly chilled off. Perfect. Not.
Oh well, just gotta get on with it. As we got underway I move up towards the front and did my best to hold a decent position, stay out of the wind while not going too hard. Fat chance of that. First time up the hill, and pretty much every time up after that, were taken at some pace. On the plus side I did warm up pretty quickly! Indeed the pace was quick from the off and with 50-60 riders, then bunch was pretty long when hammer went down.
After 10 minutes or so I was starting to suffer, and started slipping down the bunch. There was a bit more shelter back there, but the concertina effect as the bunch slowed and accelerated out of some of the sharper corners was more marked. Swings and roundabouts! The “sweet spot” where you could get some shelter and not suffer too much out of the corners seemed to be around 15-20 rider back. But that’s pretty much where everyone wanted to be, so staying there wasn’t easy.
After about 25 minutes I was really starting to suffer up the climb and was drifting back through the bunch. I have to confess that I have no idea what was happening up at the sharp end. I was in my own little world of pain towards the back of affairs. But after 30 minutes of so, things seemed to settle down a bit. I think that there may have been a break of 6 or so riders and the bunch settled into a bit of a steadier chase mode. This was certainly welcome by me as I had been starting to wonder if I was going to last to the finish!
By about 45 minutes, I was starting to feel a little more settled. The bunch had thinned down in number and I was even going around some people up the climb. As we hit the hour mark, the 5 laps to go board came out ad this was the signal for the hammer to go down. Hard! I had been sitting a little too far back in the bunch, content that I was just going to be pleased to finish this one.
It’s funny, when you’re in a bunch, all you can see of your competitors is their arses. It’s really difficult from this perspective to tell if anyone else is suffering as much as you are! Also, as this was my first 2/3 cat race of the season I had no idea of what level of rider I should expect to be competing against. My natural instinct was to assume that it was just me suffering and that everyone else was cruising. But as the pace went up, the bunch was stretched into a long line, snaking across the circuit with riders struggling to hold the wheel in front of them. The pace was unrelenting and soon gaps started to appear all the way down the line. I was hurting. But I wasn’t hurting enough to be letting gaps go. Obviously there were a lot of other guys suffering too! I cursed myself for sitting too far back and started skipping round people to move up to maintain contact with the front of the bunch.
By the time the pace backed off a bit with a couple of laps to go, the bunch was very much smaller. If others were tired, I wondered if maybe I had the legs to at least get towards the front for the finish. As we hit he climb the penultimate time I burned some energy to move into the first half dozen riders. But as we rounded the corners at the top of the climb I discovered that this effort had pushed me into the red. As riders sprinted out of the final corner to take the bell, I was already loosing places. Any hope I had of finishing in the points was completely extinguished when we hit the climb for the final time. As others surged forward, I plummeted like a stone through the bunch, furiously flicking my gear leavers in search of a gear commensurate with my sudden and total loss of power. What had been a big ring climb all race was now a struggle in the 39×23.
So a back of the bunch finish. Not great. But not too bad either. That was definitely the hardest race of the season so far for me – as such it was a great workout. As that other famous German cyclist (and owner of some even more outrageous facial hair) Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” So a day or two of rest and I should be back a little stronger and a little faster.
My Dad is on the mend too. Although his recovery is going to take a fair bit longer, with his new improved heart-plumbing in place, he too will be back stronger and faster than before.