Robin Parker writes
1st June. Surrey League 3rd Cats, Cyclopark, Gravesend
It’s been a while since I raced against “the young ‘uns” (having raced predominantly in “Masters” events so far this year) and so it was with a little trepidation that I started the 3rd Cat Surrey League event at the Gravesend Cyclopark. I needn’t have worried. Things haven’t changed much since my first Surrey League 3rd Cat events some 30 years ago! The bunch is still heavily populated with testers who seem to want to chase down pretty much anything that moves and are only too keen to head-bang it on the front for no apparent reason that I can fathom. Still, this being one of my favourite circuits and one which suits my finishing abilities I for one wasn’t going to complain about this!
As should be expected with the time-trial kids taking random time trial efforts on the front (even when there is no one off the front – what do these guys think they are doing?), the bunch roll along at a brisk, if not too challenging (for those of us following the wheels) “time trial” pace. I did put in a few good digs to see if I could encourage a few guys to make a break-away, but I succeeded only in finding myself alone and in the wind. Unfortunately I don’t possess the time-trial threshold power to out test the testers and so I was soon back in the bunch on each occasion.
At around 2/3 distance it started to look as though nothing was going to stick. As ever in road racing, this made it inevitable that someone would time trial off the front and establish a bit of a gap. I’m not entirely sure how this happened, but I suspect that most of the bunch (myself included) were watching closely for this big brick err, “outhouse” of a guy in his cool, all black Rapha kit who would periodically hit the front and head-bang it at a furious pace for maybe a lap and a half before he swung over looking disappointed that he had once again failed to ride the whole bunch off his wheel. It was impressive to watch. But to quote from the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz – “if only he had a brain”!
Anyhow, our lone soloist had his gap and proceeded at “time trial pace”. The bunch followed also at “time trial pace” and consequently the gap just didn’t shift until about 3 laps to go when, as if by magic, everyone decided that they would be in with a chance for the sprint – and the pace eased dramatically. This left the lone ranger, free to take a well deserved victory (for it was hard out there on your own) and the rest of us to battle it out for second place.
With a couple of tight corners each lap, it is critical to maintain position very near to the front in the closing stages of races at Cyclopark. It almost always lines out for the last lap and you don’t have to be too far back to be hampered by some dodgy cornering skills and find yourself with a lot of ground to make up. Coming into the last lap, one of the London clubs put 3 guys on the front. I presumed 2 lead out men and the designated sprinter. Perfect. I slotted in 4th wheel and let them string things out nicely. Now the Pros make this lead out train business look easy – but it’s actually anything but. Almost inevitably the first man burned out too soon, leaving the second lead-out man with too much to do and so he died shortly after making the final turn onto the long drag up to the finish.
This left designated sprinter unsure quite what to do. He rolled through to the front, but didn’t take it on. I kept one eye on him, and my other eye looking over my right hand shoulder waiting to see if there were any other takers. And whoosh, there he went. Rapha-man to the rescue, hammering up the right hand side with another rider glued to his wheel. A couple of stomps on the pedals and I took my place 3rd in line. Now that’s how you do a lead out. Thanks Rapha-man! I picked my sprint gear, waited for the final gentle bend around the 200 meter mark, and jumped out of the saddle kicking as hard as I could. I was quickly into the lead – then it’s just maintain good form, keep the power on, keep it straight, check under arms in the last 50 for any last minute challenges. Nope, I’m clear and the sprint is taken.
Second place on the day. A nice little work out and a confidence boost before the British Cycling Master National Road Race Champs next weekend.