Race date: 17-04-16
I’ve been really looking forward to getting into road racing. At a very basic and relatable explanation; it's more Tour de Francey… By that I mean you’re riding along roads, climbing up and descending hills, and everything else in between.
Ever since I got into cycling, I wanted to do road racing. In fact criteriums sounded pretty boring to me, just riding around in circles. No thanks. And I never did race in the UK because it was either time trials or criteriums that I came across. Criteriums also favour the sprinters much more. As long as you can hang on in there, you’re only going to win if you sprint well. Rarely do breakaways make it, and when they do, the one who can sprint well usually wins. Unless they're legs are dead. Luckily, I seem to be able to sprint well enough and have won a few crits, but that’s not all I want to do. I don’t want to just hang on in there and sprint. I want to race with more strategy and more variety in terrain.
Road racing offers just that. It offers the chance for spectacular solo victories, or crushing near victories. It allows for breaks to get away more easily, and for the bunch to get split up more. Even in D grade…
This was my adventure into road racing, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. Upon arrival I thought maybe I’d entered the wrong grade, I figured that 80% of the field didn’t look all that strong. But, I thought to myself, looks can be deceiving … There were maybe five or six guys that did look pretty strong, and as it turned out, they were pretty strong.
The race kicked off at a fairly leisurely pace. I think most people racing were a bit unsure on what to do. I started pretty far back within the bunch, so after about a minute of rolling at 25km/h, I figured I better move towards the front. I think this might have caused a sharp increase in speed. As soon as I hit the front there were guys coming around me. It seemed as though we were going to roll turns. Cool.
I started rolling turns with about eight other guys for a little while until one guy shot off the front. I was right behind him, so I held onto his wheel until we'd created a bit of a gap, however, he dropped me pretty shortly after that. My heart rate was hitting 180 and with there only being two of us, I knew it’d be a pretty futile breakaway, so I gave up and dropped back into the bunch. There was no way could I hold that for another 50km.
The strong guy, which I later found out to be a guy named Terry Harris, went off on his own for a good 5-10km. There were a few attempts by some to bridge the gap, but no one really made it. A young lad, later known to be James Tennant, put in a really good attempt and kind of half bridged the gap, making it all the way across at a similar time to the rest of the bunch.
When we caught Terry, I had a look around and realised that there was a heavily reduced peloton. That was it then, the split had been created. This group would now stick together until the end, with the odd person being spat out of the back every now and then. That was my first big lesson. Although the first 20km were extremely hard work, it was definitely worth being up the front putting in some effort, simply to make sure I made the split.
Terry continued to work hard on the front for pretty much the rest of the first lap, of two laps. Others, me included, put in short stints on the front, but Terry did a lot of the work. I was thinking this guy is either going to blow up by the second lap or he’s in the wrong grade for sure and will smash us all.
When we came across the finish line there was a little dig from James, but he didn’t get too far ahead. He had lots of mini attacks throughout the race. He was quite a threat, and I made a note, however I also made note that he probably didn’t quite have it in him to make it clear without the bunch chasing him down. So I wouldn’t chase him myself.
A few kays after the start/finish there is a decent sized hill. I wanted to test Terry out—and the rest of the bunch—as he was still with us, and at last I was feeling pretty good. The first 30 minutes of the race I thought I was going to get dropped! My legs were so… not good, and heavy.
On the hill, I decided to move to the front and push hard up it. Hard enough the hurt some of the weaker guys but not too hard that I would blow up. Half way up, I saw Terry still there, so I upped the pace a little more. I pushed until he wasn't there any more. I think it put a lot of pressure on the bunch, as by the time I hit the top the bunch was very spread out. I don't think I saw Terry on the front again. I assume he's learnt a hard lesson: Don't sit on the front doing all the work.
As I crested the peak I eased up a little, mainly because I didn’t want to put myself into the red. I can’t really be sure if anyone was dropped, but I’d think a lot of people were hurting as nobody would come around me. The next 15km were pretty easy going and nothing eventful really happened.
As we hit the 10km to go mark I started to think maybe Terry would go on a break. If he did so with the same ferocity at the start of the race, he’d be almost impossible to catch or hold on to. Luckily for me, I think he'd blown up.
People must have had very ropey strategies, and chose 10km to attack from. You know, it's a round number an' all. Lots of attacks happened, and I ignored them all as a non-threat. No chance was a D grader going to time trial 10km away from the bunch to win solo. Besides everyone panicked instantly and chased them down. No attack got further than 50m up the road. Same thing happened at the 5km to go. Still too far in my opinion.
It was about the 5km point that I felt like I was going to 'bonk'. This means you feel like all of your energy is gone and your head goes a bit light and you just do not want to go on. No, you can't physically go on. I'd been eating well, but for the last 15km I had barely drank anything. My bladder was so full, I couldn't. I was close now though, so I took a big drink and felt much better.
My legs were also feeling good, and I figured I’d have a good chance in the sprint. Only a couple of guys looked like they might be good sprinters so I would bide my time.
There was a punchy hill at about the 3km mark, and this spread the bunch out a bit. Although the pace was fairly slow, as nobody wanted to do any work on the front. It remained like this for a couple of kays, then, at about 1,300m to go an older guy shot passed from the back… Now this did worry me. He was an unknown. He hadn’t done any work on the front, in fact he’d not been anywhere near the front. He might also have been carrying a bit of experience... After he'd built a bit of a gap, I decided I better go after him.
I caught him within about 100m and rode straight onto the front. No one had followed my move, and the gap grew. I had old mate on my wheel so I figured the two of us might have a chance at covering the remaining 1,200m to the line. I worked on the front, pushing a high wattage, around 350/400W for those that know. After a couple of minutes I wiggled my arm—the international sign for “I’m knackered, your turn to pull”—but he refused to come round me. I did another 30 seconds, which felt like an eternity. Still nothing. Now I got a bit worried. I’d followed a doomed move. I looked back and there was still a gap. The older guy wouldn’t or couldn’t take a turn, so I had no choice but to go for it. I was committed. I accelerated into the final corner in the hopes of dropping my dead weight. It worked.
I was now alone going into the last 400m or so. I really had very little left in the tank, and after a quick glance I could see the bunch closing me down. I put my head down and pushed on as hard as I could. With about 200m to go they were almost upon me. I continued with everything I had, nothing to lose now.
One guy, who had been working near the front all race, overtook me whilst sprinting. He was gone. I had to try to sprint. Nothing else for it. I got overtaken by another guy, but only just. Out of the saddle now, I pushed as hard as I could against the pedals and managed to pass him right on the line, coming in in 2nd place!
I then collapsed.
It was a lot of fun and I learnt a hell of a lot. I went for glory and had it worked, I’d have been a small town hero! It didn’t work, and it was quite heart breaking after 1300m of pain to lose it right on the line.
It was a pretty good outing for a first attempt at road racing. And I'm glad I had a go at soloing to the finish. If anything, it gave me a bit of confidence.