Robin Parker writes…
21st September. LVRC Last of the Summer Wine Crit. Hog Hill (Redbridge).
With the MStina points series completed last week, this weekend saw my final LVRC race of the season in the form of the Last of the Summer wine crit at Hog Hill. The overnight rain had cleared and the brisk wind had already dried the circuit by the time I started my warm up. Unlike the last couple of weeks, I was up for this one and wanted to give a good account of myself. I don’t do as many miles in training as some of my competitors and as a result my endurance seems to fade a bit towards the end of the season. But my form of late has been good and I was confident that I could put down a good turn of speed for this short 1 hour plus 5 lap race.
The race got off to a steady, if unspectacular start. Sometimes events at Hog Hill can start at a furious pace, but that wasn’t the case today. There were a few moves and counter attacks but it wasn’t until about the 20 minute mark that the first move of note went with two riders breaking clear of the bunch and stealing a 10-15 second lead. Shortly afterwards Marco Coppola (who I had my eye on as one of the favourites) and another rider set off in pursuit. When they joined up with the front two, I decided that this looked a dangerous move and hit the front to put in a few strong turns.
After a couple of turns on the front, I moved over expecting to let another rider relay through and noticed instead that I had a slight gap. With the guys at the front obviously reluctant to chase I decided that I needed to get across to the break. And get across quickly before they disappeared up the road. So I got out of the saddle, put my head down and pushed on.
When I looked back I was relieved to see that Dave Farrow and (I think – could be mistaken identity!!) Nigel Carpenter had also sensed the danger and were bridging up to me and that we had gapped the bunch. Dave and I put in a few long hard turns and we joined the front four riders within a lap. With what I thought likely to be the stronger riders in our 7 man break, I thought that this move was likely to succeed. But the break wasn’t working particularly smoothly and the bunch wasn’t giving without a fight.
Three or four laps passed and looking across the circuit, I could see that the bunch were pegging us at no more than maybe 20 seconds. At around the 35 minute mark the judges blew a whistle to indicate prime (sprint) next lap. This disrupted our rhythm further and seemed to galvanise the bunch in their pursuit. As Marco sprinted from the break to take the sprint prime, the front end of the bunch just about made contact with the back of the break as it fractured under the acceleration for the prime.
Sensing that that the bunch might ease having caught it’s prey, Dave pushed on hard. I jumped after him and Marco and Nigel followed as our 3 former breakaway companions were swallowed by the peloton. Tired from the chase, the bunch eased momentarily and the four of us quickly stretched out a small lead. The four of us worked better together than the seven, with each rider taking a turn on the front before dropping to the rear of the line to recover.
The bunch held us at around 20 seconds for two or three laps before the elastic snapped and our lead started to stretch out. As long as we continued to work together, this should be the winning move. I started to size up my opposition. Nigel, a willing worker, an older C Cat rider, didn’t look to have much of a jump and I sensed was the weakest in the group. Dave, very strong, hard working, someone I am confident of beating in a sprint, but someone that I absolutely mustn’t let slip away as he has the power to TT to the finish. And finally Marco. He didn’t seem to have the force in his legs today that he has had earlier in the season, but Marco was the one that I knew I would need to watch in the sprint.
We reach the 45 minute mark and I feeling good. We have a comfortable lead on the bunch and my legs are feeling great. I am comfortable in the break. My turns on the front are not a struggle and I have enough in the tank to ensure that I can take responsibility if any of my breakaway companions decide to try anything. As we pass the judging area and make the sharp left hand turn to pick up the tail wind I sense trouble down below. No not trouble in the saddle contact areas! Further below in the rubber on the road department. My rear tyre is definitely going soft. As we take the next fast right hander, I can feel the rear tyre squirm under me. I tell my breakaway companions that I have punctured and I have to leave them to press on without me as I can’t risk a fall on one of the tight corners…
Fortunately this is a crit and laps out are allowed for punctures. There have been quite a few today as the overnight rain has washed numerous small stones onto the circuit. Hog Hill is notorious for punctures following rain. I limp back to the judging area some 40 metres behind my fellow escapees but still well ahead of the bunch. I jump off my bike and head for my wheel bag. THE Bob Downs runs over to assist with my rear wheel change and I am ready to roll before the bunch flies past. I have time to swig some drink before my breakaway companions re-emerge. I roll away and quickly rejoin them.
Fresh from my “breather” I do a full lap on the front, lapping the older guys E/F/G/H Cat race in the process. And we four carry on where we left off, taking turns to relay on the front to keep our pace up.
The 5 laps to go board comes out after the hour is up. And as we count down the laps I am ever more vigilant of a surprise attack. But none is forthcoming. I do my last turn on the front as approach the bell and swing off to keep an eye on everyone from the rear of the group. As the others take their turn and realise that I am not coming through, Dave and Marco sit up and look at each other and then at me – while Nigel rolls on unaware. When he realises that we are all watching each other and that he has a small gap, he makes a break for it.
Convinced that the race is mine to loose, I take the initiative and dive between Marco and Dave to close down Nigel. We’re two thirds or the way around the lap now. I catch Nigel and look back to see that I have a gap on Dave and Marco. I briefly toy with pressing the advantage. But Dave is strong – he would surely close me down. I must play to my strengths and wait for the sprint.
The two catch us and we roll towards the finish. 200 metres before the final left hander and then 150 metres slightly uphill to the line. Second in line I watch the long shadows cast by the low autumn sun to check on the riders behind. As we approach the final bend, Marco jumps first. I respond immediately. Around the final bend I select my gear and then kick for the line. As I draw up alongside Marco he digs deep to try and hold me off. I ease half a wheel in front, but still he doesn’t give up.
The coaches and physiologists teach that one of the key aspects of training for any sport is “specificity”. Basically if you want to be a good time trialist, then your training is going to need to include some work around time trial pace. And if you want to be good at sprinting up inclines, then you’re going to need to include some hill sprint work. Hornecourt Hill (just the steep bit) up towards Outwood windmill is the hill of choice for my hill sprint work. In the early season, a set of just 3 or 4 can be a killer. As the season and my form progresses I can manage more before crumbling. Ahead of my June peak earlier this year I had built up to a set of 8 before my legs succumbed to fatigue and I needed to call it a day. This Wednesday I managed a particularly epic personal best set of 10. Yes I woke that night with my legs on fire, as if gripped by some strange fever that only affected the lower half of my body. But it was a good set. A set to build sprint power and endurance…
With less than 100 metres to the line, Marco is still fighting gamely to keep pace to my right. Hog Hill is a lot easier than Hornecourt. And how many of these are we doing? Just the one? Hah, is that all! As Marco fades, I power ahead to take the win by about a bike length. I raise my right arm to punch the air with delight.
It’s been a few months, and a lot training since my last win. But the training has not been in vain and it is nice to bookend my LVRC season with a win. Having raced LVRC events for the last couple of months, my thoughts now return to British Cycling events and the last 5 points that I need to regain my 2nd Cat license. There are a few end-of-season events down at Preston Park, scene of previous successes for me, that I hope I can use to grab those few remaining points before hanging up my race wheels for 2014.