22nd May. LVRC National Road Race Championships, Malvern
The Malvern road race course is a tough rolling affair over narrow roads and not a bit of flat on it. This year the council helpfully decided to “top-dress” a two mile section of the course on the Friday before the race. And by “top-dress” I mean – chuck a few lorry loads of fine gravel all over the roads! Obviously this rendered that section of the course un-ridable (certainly not safe for a road race bunch). Unperturbed the race organiser arranged a cut-through to miss that section of the circuit. Unfortunately this narrow road include a couple of leg breaking climbs in it – the second of which ramped up to 17%. This wasn’t going to be an easy race!
After some grim weather forecasts earlier in the week, race day itself damned warm and sunny with very light winds. The race started at a very sedate pace, with I think everyone fearing the climbs ahead. As we approached the cut-through for the first time I took up position at the head of affairs to make sure I didn’t get caught out by any early moves. But this first time up the climbs we rode it steady and were gruppo compacto as dropped off the top of the climb.
As few skirmishes followed as we tackled the next lap, but none of the moves had the right combination of riders and nothing was allowed any significant advantage. As the paced eased off as we neared the cut-through for the second time I found myself swamped by the bunch and a little further back than I would have liked. The first climb was taken fairly steady. We then dropped down off that and then straight into killer second incline. There was a brief pause. And then a savage acceleration. It was like a bomb had gone off in the peloton which was instantly blown to pieces. I had to pick my way through riders to force my way up the savage incline. With a lung bursting, leg breaking effort I just managed to latch onto the back of the lead riders as we plummeted over the top.
When your body goes into the red of oxygen debt, brain function becomes impaired. And that can be a real problem when tackling a tricky narrow, windy decent at maximum speed. As we took a sharp right hander, a ride just in front of me grabs too much rear brake. I am forced to the outside and on the grass – at like 30+ mph. The guy pulls an enormous “tank-slapper”, sliding left, then right before summersaulting into the hedge. I just about manage to get off the grass and inside tumbling rider and bike. Phew, that got my attention! But there is no time to dwell. The attack is still on, and it’s full gas to latch back on the tail of the break.
The next 5 miles or so are fast and furious as we work to establish a gap. We’re not overly organised. People are missing turns and leaving gaps, and this is just making it hard for everyone. We are 11 riders strong. Perhaps a little unwieldy. But after a few attacks, counter attacks and various attempts to take people out the back – some kind of accord is reached and we finally we settle down and find a bit of rhythm. I am confident that this is the race winning move – all the big hitters are here. We were getting time checks that there was a chase group at 30 seconds. I wasn’t sure whether to believe this or not, so I just kept tapping through. But apparently there was a group that nearly made it up to us before the elastic finally broke and they dropped out of contention.
For the next couple of laps it was just a question of keeping riding, keep eating and waiting for the finale. The finale started 2nd last time up the climb, with another vicious acceleration from Rich Edwards forcing everyone to respond. Richard Binks manages to go with Rich Edwards. Three riders are dislodged and the remaining 6 of us join forces in pursuit.
By this point, my legs are already starting to cramp. It’s not a good omen. But I can tell that everyone is tiring. We’re not going full gas and we’re not making much headway on the leading duo. Ahead I can see that Rich Edwards is doing the lion share of the work. After about half a lap we finally close them down. Now we are 8.
There is a brief lull and then a few half-hearted attacks, none of which come to anything. Then wallop! Rich Edwards launch the killer blow from the back of the group. We all just look in disbelief. At least that what went through my head! That was it, he was gone.
Shortly afterwards, Tim Costello skipped off the front and the others seemed content to let him go. Tim hadn’t been the strongest on the climbs and I suspect that the others fancied that they could bring him back. I wasn’t so sure. As we turned into the cut through for the last time, I pushed on a little to see if I could force a gap. I got a small gap. But I also got some very bad news from my legs.
Brain to legs “Let’s go, if we push on here we can catch Tim and there’s a silver medal in the offing”. Legs to brain “Aaarrrrrrgggghhh! What on earth were you thinking! There is zero left in the tank. Prepare to die”. As I hit the first of the two cut through ramps, the rest of my breakaway companions came sailing past me. There was nothing I could do but watch them disappear up the road. That was it. I was completely spent.
I managed to roll over the first climb, but the second 17% beast seemed to have ramped up to closer to 30% for that final ascent. My thighs both cramped painfully and it didn’t seem to matter if I sat down or got out of the saddle – it was purgatory either way. Forward progress was track-standing-ly slow as I weaved from left to right. I pondered whether it might actually be quicker to walk. But with a couple of spectators at the top of the hill, my pride refused to accept a dismount and I somehow managed to haul myself to the top. I dropped down the descent and rolled gently round to the finish.
Eight place. No complaints, no excuses. The best man won and I wasn’t good enough. My training has been geared towards short, fast Crit races. This is only my second road race (on open roads) of the season. And when I think about it like that, 8th place isn’t too bad.
Special mention in dispatches to my mate Adam (Long Eaton VC) riding his first LVRC road race. Talk about in at the deep end! Far from being over-awed by the occasion, he managed to get himself into one of the failed breakaways on the first lap before finding himself in one of the many chase groups following the detonation of the peloton on the second lap.
Next week, we’re both at the British Cycling 50+ National Road Race Championships near Milton Keynes. This will complete my triple headed championship May. It’s another long road race. I’ll need to gamble that it all stays together or comes back together so that I can hide away in the bunch – and then treat the last hour like a Crit race!