There is such a term in the cycling world (and elsewhere) as ‘sandbagging’. It’s a term used for people who are basically too strong for their racing grade and more often than not, win. They can be spotted actively doing anything they can to not be promoted. Waiting until they are forced to go up a grade, and pleading to stay where they are.
I don’t understand this. It doesn’t seem like a good way to increase your fitness levels nor skill level. And who cares about a little bit of money. Actually I do love winning money, but there is more money to be won in higher grades anyway.
I had a goal for this year, which I thought was going to be a tough goal, and that was to get up to B grade on the road, well in the Northern Combine at least. Obviously this would be easy if I asked to go up, but I wanted to belong there too, so I'd need to at least finish with the bunch after going up.
Last week I won C grade, making the season results a 2nd and a 1st. In my opinion that means I should go up. I could’ve stayed in C grade and had a good chance at winning again, but I wanted the challenge, so I requested a promotion to B grade. Maybe they’d have forced me up anyway. I guess we’ll never know.
B grade, in my opinion, is where the real racers start to appear, where many stay until they’re strong enough to make that huge leap to A—and it’s a big jump I hear. I mean no disrespect to anyone racing below B grade, as every grade you’re meant to be in is equally hard. That’s the great thing about cycling. No matter your level, you will always be hurting as much if you're trying your hardest. You can see the pain Tour de France riders are in and relate to it perfectly. B grade just feels like things are getting serious.
As it was a self-promotion, I was a little worried about how I would fair. Maybe I wasn't strong enough yet? Newham is a pretty flat course, so I figured I’d have a good chance to sit in and try to hang on. If I could hang on until the end, I might have an okay chance at sprinting for a podium place. I kept these thoughts to myself though.
The race started as most do, slow and in neutral. It was pretty rubbish weather; drizzle throughout most of the race with a few showers. But it was quite warm, especially as we got moving. When the lead car pulled off to let us start, a breakaway went straight away. Two guys managed to get about a 50m gap, and no one wanted to chase. I was new, I wasn’t going to initiate anything. They were left out there, and got maybe a 150m gap before a few of us started to work together to close the gap. Yes, I'd already decided to go against my game plan of sitting in by helping out on the front. Sitting in is super boring. As soon as we caught the break, one of them went again, straightaway, and got a fair bit of distance.
At this point, I had to take off my arm warmers off and have some food so I fell through the bunch to the back. I did what I needed to do and then figured I'd rest up a bit. That chasing was quite taxing. After about 5km I got bored again, so moved back through the group to near the front. Near.
I couldn’t see the jersey of the guy that broke away within the bunch, so I assumed we’d lost sight of him. Maybe this was a race for 2nd now. After a full lap and still no sight of him, I consoled myself to the fact that he was a goner. He must've pushed on and really built a gap. The race was pretty hard, but probably not as hard as being in the breakaway in C grade last race. Even though I did an decent amount of work on the front this race, I was probably still not working as hard as I did when we were a 6-man machine churning out a lead.
Not much really happened. There was a young gun from Hawthorn that went with every single attack, but never helped when a gap was created. I guessed he was a sprinter just making sure he wasn’t left sprinting for scraps. On the last lap, I noticed the guy that had been sat on the actual back for the first two laps move to the front. He was obviously well rested, and so I could see him going for a long range attack. He did. Young gun followed. Young gun did no work and after about 5 minutes we reeled them in. Then there was about 5 of us pulling turns until I realised that I actually had a chance to podium here. They weren’t going to drop me. That was my big fear, getting dropped. But I couldn’t see it happening now. That’s when I decided to go no closer to the front than 2nd wheel. So for the last 20km I didn’t sit on the front. I followed only the attacks I thought had a chance. So I followed none. Each attack was a full sprint, and all were instantly chased down, so I just had to ride sensibly to maintain position.
The final sprint is uphill, for about 100m, and I still had a full bidon of water. I decided to empty it. That’s almost an extra 750g. When power to weight comes into play, I figured I’d rather less weight than water at the end. Whilst I was emptying this, I was surprised to hear someone ask another rider why I was doing that. The reply was simply “uphill finish”. I knew I needed to get into good position coming into the final corner. There was a lot of jostling for position. People coming up my left and right. I couldn’t have that. I waited for a gap and tried to move forward, but as soon as you make up 2 places, someone pulls you back. My heart rate was increasing, and not just because of the effort. I was actually excitedly nervous. A proper bunch sprint to test myself. I had a chance. I didn’t see anyone that looked like a sprinter, beside that young gun. But then again, neither do I these days.
We made it to the corner, and I was in an okay position. I think I must’ve been about 8th wheel. The finish was still about 400m away, so it was way too early to really go for it. The pace did speed up, and looking at my Strava file we were at around 50km/h almost straight after the corner. The pace quickened and this is where you have to be really careful. I was still not at full gas level yet gaps were opening. I had to carefully thread and weave my way through the shrapnel before getting to the top 3—I’m getting those little excited nerves just typing this out. There was about 200m left to go when I hit the front, and I felt like I had another jump in me. Well, actually, I hadn’t had to jump just yet. I decided to just go for it. I was in the perfect gear and just fanged it!
By the time I got to within 10m I could hear or see anyone else. I could barely see the line or anything actually. I went so deep into my reserves, and then scrounged some extras from somewhere. When I crossed the line I sat up and looked to both sides. Nobody was there. Nobody was even that close to me. I reckon I had a good 5m. As always, I have to pull onto the side of the road and collapse. I gave that everything! And it was worth it.
I know it might surprise some of you to hear that in under 5 months since fracturing my pelvis and skull, I have managed to get back to not only full fitness, but actually a lot higher than it was previously, but believe me, it’s of greater surprise to me. I was aiming to get into B grade by the end of the year, and believed that would be a challenge. Especially when in January I couldn’t walk without crutches, and the pain of putting weight on my left leg was excruciating. But likewise, I’m not surprised when I look at the journey I’ve taken to get here. I’ve already clocked up over 4,000km this year, in 4 months. I wasn’t allowed on the road until March.
There’s nothing like a life-threatening crash to spur you on. Motivation is still at an all-time high, and having this kind of success is just spurring me on more!