Robin Parker writes…
24th August. LVRC In-Gear Road Race. Brenchley, Kent.
Due to road works on the planned Horsmonden circuit, the race was switched to 8 and a half laps of the tough Brenchley circuit finishing atop the ninth ascent of the Brenchley climb. This 1.1km climb averaging 6% is followed by a 2.5 km descent, then some flat, and then you’re back to the climb again! This always makes for a tough race.
Unlike last week’s race where I expected (and got) the worse due to a lack of training; this week’s training has gone very much better and I was hopeful (although not entirely confident!) that I would be able to properly race the full distance this week. I had some “snap” back in my legs although as I was to discover, this wasn’t an entirely good omen…
The first time up the climb was taken “groupo compacto” and at a moderate pace as I hovered near the front of the bunch watching for any early moves. The subsequent lap was also taken at a fairly moderate pace with no one managing to escape a vigilant peloton. I knew that this relative calm would not last. As we took the 90 left in to the narrow single track road leading to the foot of the climb for the second time, I made sure that I was towards the front of the bunch. If you’re too far back going into this narrow section then, with no chance of moving up, you will miss out if things kick off.
And kick off they did. Vince Devine (very strong A cat rider) forced a move on the lower slopes of Brenchley taking a couple of guys with him. I waited a little to see if they were going to keep pressing. They did and so when a couple more guys jumped away I was onto them immediately, realising that this was the move that mattered. As we crested the summit and took the sharp left hand turn to start the descent, there were eight of us clear of the bunch. We pressed on down the descent and quickly started going through and off; each rider taking his turn into the wind before easing to the side to let the next rider relay the group forward.
It was a good group. Everyone was prepared to take their turn and we rode as a compact unit tapping out a brisk pace somewhere north of 25mph along the flat section. In these kind of situations the bunch, or another breakaway group, has about a lap to get back on terms with the breakaway. After that, the elastic snaps, cohesion goes out of the chase and you can be pretty sure that the breakaway won’t be seen again.
I am sure that this was in the minds of a couple of the other experienced guys in our break as the next ascent of Brenchley was also taken at a good pace. Looking back over my shoulder, I could see that there was no sign of the bunch. I reckoned that this was us set for the race.
Now I just needed to sit tight, count down the laps, and conserve as much energy as possible. With everyone taking equal turns on the front, surely everyone is doing the same amount of work in a break, right? Err, well not exactly. Some guys ride through ever so slightly harder than others and some guys seem not to ease off quite as quickly when their turn is done. Following one of these guys through means that you spend just a bit longer out in the wind as you push through to take your turn the front. I quickly pick out a couple of big guys from 4T racing team. They punch a nice big hole in the wind (perfect for a little guy like me to shelter in); they weren’t going through too hard and they seemed pretty eager to swing off after their turns. I made sure to position myself behind one of these guys for the whole race.
Up any significant climb, “through and off” is always suspended. That’s just the way it goes. You can’t maintain a smooth rotation up a stiff climb and the aero-effect is somewhat reduced anyhow. So this was a perfect excuse for me to go sit on the back every lap up Brenchley and keep an eye on who had the legs today and who didn’t. Over the top, I waited for one of my 4T racing team wind-breaks before I slotted back into the working rotation of riders. With everyone taking their turns, this ensured that I was just where I wanted to be – every lap.
The rolling harmony of our group was maintained until the second last ascent of Brenchley. Once again it was Vince who lit the touch paper. He was quickly followed by a couple of other “A Cat” riders. A “B Cat” rider dressed all in black was next to respond followed swiftly by Malcolm from ColourTech RT (also a B Cat). I slotted in behind these two as we (OK, they!) clawed our way back up to the front with the couple of larger 4T chaps somewhat distanced as we crested the climb.
We didn’t particularly press the advantage and the two 4T guys soon returned to the group – bringing them back up to three team-mates in the eight man group. Keen to try and take advantage of their numerical superiority they started attacking in turn. But I wasn’t too worried by this. Two of the guys had previously been dropped, so I figured that they didn’t really have the legs for it. And in any case, Vince was looking very strong and along with a little help from the B Cat Man In Black, brought everything to heel.
And so it was that we reached the foot of the final climb all together. Just 1.1km of “up” to sort out the placings. I had already decided that today I wasn’t interested in going for the overall win (not that I had the legs today to take on Vince – I figured that was unlikely!). All I wanted was 1st B cat to cement my lead in the MSTina points series competition. With that in mind, I took up position following The Man In Black having decided that he looked like the strongest B Cat on the climb the previous lap. I thought that someone might go for a long effort to try and sap the zip out of others sprints. But no one did.
As we reached the 300m to go, Vince wound it up with another A Cat rider. I stuck behind The Man in Black as he started to accelerate. 150 or so to go I went to move up the outside of him – but as I did so he moved across to the right hand gutter cutting me off. It wasn’t deliberate as I don’t think that he saw me, but I had to slow and then come past on his left. As I surged past my legs felt great and I was feeling confident that the B Cat victory was in the bag…
..when disaster struck. There was a twang and a tinkling sound and all of a sudden my legs were twirling around like a spin-drier on overdrive. I looked down in horror to see that my chain had departed company with the rest of my bike and that I was now chainless. It takes a second for this to sink in. Desperately wanting more forward speed, my legs continue to spin thinking somehow that this must propel me forwards. But it doesn’t! Man in Black and Malcolm fly past me as I roll to a stop and unclip. I look back down the climb. The two 4T guys are heading my way, having been distanced at the foot of the climb. There’s nothing for it. I run the last 50m to the line pushing my bike as fast as shoe plates on tarmac will allow.
I hold off the 4T guys to come home as 3rd B Cat. Not the result I wanted, but one which might (I need to do some maths to confirm!) be enough to have secured the MSTina series B Cat overall this year with three races still remaining. Having twice lost out on the series in the final round, it would be great to wrap it up early this year. The next round is next Sunday and back on this same Brenchley course. Needless to say I will be giving a new chain a very close inspection before that one!