Thursday 26 June 2014

Ginger Smallwood Memorial Road Race (3/4)

After racing a few circuit races, I decided to try racing on the open road. The Ginger Smallwood Memorial Road Race, organised by Kenton RC was being held locally, so I thought what better opportunity to try. The plan was for a few of us from LBRCC to enter, the theory being if we got dropped, we could either use it as a training session, or ride home easily! However, an email 2 weeks before the race stated that over 150 people had applied for 80 spaces, so entries would be limited to 3 per club...or as it turned out, 1 for our club - me! I can only presume that they accepted all 3rd Cat riders, and then worked down the points for 4ths. I was only 1 point off 3rd at the time, and 3rd by race day so that's why I got in.

Sunday came around and I was feeling good, having had a rest day Saturday after quite a tough week of riding. The weather was great, around 23C (fitting!) and little in the way of wind. Here lay he first debate of the day - 1 or 2 bottles for the race. I elected for one, as I don't tend to drink that much, and I figured as long as a downed a bottle before the start, I would stay hydrated enough. In fact I ended up drinking only half a bottle. I digress.

The race HQ was about 15km away, so I rode down to warm up, tagging onto an LBRCC group ride conveniently heading that way for some company. I got there with about an hour to go, and after signing on and hydrating, I went for a spin. Sign on closed at 9.40am, and as we assembled for the race briefing, I thought that it seemed a bit sparse for 80 riders! It turned out that only 58 bothered to turn up, which was annoying (especially for the organiser) when he'd turned 80 entries down! The race briefing went ahead, during which it was starting to feel really rather warm!

Briefing over, we set off behind the car for a couple of miles in the neutralised zone up to the start, during which brakes had to be slammed on twice, early leading to pile-ups! Not a good omen I thought! Anyway, we got to the start and immediately an attack was launched down the steep descent, followed by an eager pack. Rough roads and some sketchy riding lead to another slamming on of brakes, not ideal travelling at 65ish km/h! The smell of burning rubber was evident, as was the annoyance of many riders at our compatriots crossing the white line with countless blind corners. The first few corners of the race were tricky, with people still figuring out their lines, and a lot of cutting up leading to shouts of annoyance!

8% kick? Eeeaaasy!
The race continued with the 8% kick at the end feeling like a dream in the bunch compared to a windy recce earlier in the week. There were a few more incidents of brakes being slammed on, but I was keeping my usual inside line allowing space to bail if necessary. About 2 or 3 laps in, this happened on a straight, which I thought was odd. It turned out that a couple of horses were travelling the other way had got spooked and bolted, either knocking a racer off, or coming close enough to make him dismount quickly and unexpectedly! We were warned about slowing for horses, so I suspect the front riders may have ignored this. This became a problem twice more, as the horse riders kept on round our route, leading to 3 hairy moments and 3 neutralisations of the race. One thing that really annoyed me was riders behind coming past when we were stopped, I really thought this was rather unsportsmanlike.

Being my first race, I was wary about keeping to the rules, more specifically staying on the left hand side of the road. However, it became evident that this was not the norm - every time I gained ground up the inside, a stream of riders would pass on the right (wrong!) side of the road, with no consequences. About 5 or 6 laps in I moved towards the white line, gaining a little ground as we came up to the crossroads turn, where marshals were at least warning traffic.

As we turned, I heard an angry voice behind me, which soon became an angry voice next to me - 'Is there any reason you wouldn't let me in back there?!'. 'Excuse me?' I replied. 'Back there, why didn't you let me back in?! You let him in, but didn't let me in!'. I didn't recognise being near him, or the person I'd supposedly let in, which I told him, but he carried on his tirade. I did feel like pointing out that if he hadn't been across the white line, he wouldn't have had a problem but I resisted.

Throughout the race I saw him screaming at at least 5 people for similar, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't being victimised. I guess you get a*******s every so often. In fact I'm pretty sure he got me confused with rider 46 (I was 47) who also had a lime green kit, and who's riding was little sketchy; although not anything a rational person would be annoyed at.

A little thrown by this, I was a little defensive, staying on my favoured inside line, but subsequently losing places. Around lap 6 of 9, people were clearly beginning to tire, and I got caught behind people slowing on the hill - including the moron who had screamed at me - leading to a frantic push to get back with main bunch, which I managed due to 75kph down the hill!

The bell rang for the final lap, and I tried to make up a few positions, which I did to some success. However, it became evident that there was no way to realistically get into the top 10/15 I would need to be for the sprint. It was a sham really, as I wasn't tired at all, and looking at the sprint from behind, I think I could certainly have competed. As it was, I rolled in with the bunch, not risking sprinting from further back on packed roads. All in all I was pleased to stay with the bunch, and to do it comfortably was a bonus.

 It was a good learning curve, and I'll take away the following:
- Like at the Bowl, positioning is everything, but whereas at the bowl it's easy to nip round at the end, a road race with 60 - 80 people is lot more crowded.
- Holding position is vital, as to get up near the front is tricky, so I wouldn't want to do it repeatedly.
- Sportsmanship goes out the window, as does safety, with people overtaking during neutralisation's and over the white line.
- Make sure your brakes are damn good!!!
- Don't take abuse from has-beens desperately trying to hang on too seriously!

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Return to Racing Part 2 - Success!

22nd May - 3rd!
If you read my previous entry, you'll remember that I was a little disillusioned with racing after the previous week, finding it a little frustrating and tempted to take a break. However, as LBRCC was marshalling, I figured I would be there anyway so I would race. Plus, there would be a fair few clubmates to watch, which would be great. The weather was back to it's usual tricks, with the course having to be swept for washed off debris from nearby construction work. However, after the dry race the week before, I decided I prefer racing in the rain; I guess coming from Rochdale you learn to love the rain!

With 3 races experience in the bag, I was determined to try and be more assertive this week, getting onto the wheels I wanted, and keeping near the front. I decided to follow the wheels of the Abingdon based Outdoor Traders club, as there is always a few of them, and they work well as a team. Despite a few slips I managed to stay with them near the front, ending up on the front at one point but refusing to go hard enough to tyre myself out.

The 5 laps to go sign went up and I was still up around 5th, a good start but this is when the jostling for position really starts! Determined to stay up there, I worked hard to keep on the wheels of the OTCC riders at the front and did so until the bell went for the final lap. Adrenaline flowing, I could hear my heart pumping in my ears! The rider in front of me made a break as we passed the bell, and as second man I was in position to chase him down. I resisted the urge, and the shouts from others. Why should I chase him down so that everyone else could go past?! Good, I thought, assertiveness is the key! I was happy to keep my chances of a placing rather than lead everyone out again! A few riders went past in my hesitance but I was wary of this and accelerated to stay top 5.

As we approached the final climb and the sprint, I locked on to the OTCC rider I'd earmarked. The sprint started and we went for it! My legs nearly locked up with  the adrenaline but I forced myself to go. I had to idea where everyone else was, just the rider in front. The line approached quickly, and I expected the bunch to come past at any point. However, they didn't, and I crossed the line a few inches behind the OTCC rider for 3rd! My first placing and subsequent points! I couldn't believe it, in front of LBRCC clubmates too, a great time to do so!

29th May - 6th
My confidence was much higher after the previous week's success, and I was looking forward to racing again. The weather was possibly even worse for this race, but i was relishing the fact! There was quite a large field for the race, so I knew I needed to stay near the front, and I had the confidence to do so now.

From the off there were breaks, with some strong riders in attendance. There was a vet racing who marshalled us together and allowed us to chase them down efficiently, although a Twenty3c rider kept attacking relentlessly! I earmarked the vet to follow, as he was obviously strong, and not racing for points I figured he must have raced at a higher level.

Throughout the race my legs didn't feel brilliant, so I knew to finish anywhere  had to be in the perfect position. Fortunately my plan worked, and despite a crappy sprint, I finished directly behind the vet, taking 6th place and another 4 valuable points. It was a slight shame I didn't finish higher, as 1 more point would have put me into the 3rd Category, but I also figured more practice would be a good thing. Overall, I was pleased with the day.

12th June - 2nd! Promotion!
I took a week off racing at the bowl for the June 5th race, electing to do a Time Trial (see other post) just for a change. Last Thursday I was back with a vengeance, eager to get more points but a little nervous that anything other than top 10 would be disappointing after the previous success!

Being a dry night, the field was larger, which I'd struggled with a little last time, but I figured I had much more confidence now. There was a high pace from the start, but I managed to stay in the top 5ish, chasing down a few early breaks to get the legs going. After a few laps I messed up a corner, and found myself boxed in, Fool! I thought. I was a little worried I wasn't going to be able to get out and near the front again due to the number of riders, but I calmed down, saved my energy for a few laps then sprinted up the outside to get back into contention.

There was some really sketchy riding going on throughout the race, people veering around all over the place. One older racer lambasted another rider for about 2 laps, getting worked up and swerving in front of me at one point - pot, kettle! Another issue was the bottom corner, where for about the last 10 laps those on the outside kept taking the racing line, cutting those taking an inside line off completely. Cue a few instances of sharp braking! Not particularly sportsmanlike!

Anyway, the final 5 laps were signalled and the race pushed on. I tried hard to keep near the front despite lots of pressure, doing so until the final lap. A rider in front of me slowed up and I had to go around him on the inside, whereas the best line is the outside for the finale. This wasn't a disaster as such, but soon became one when I got cut off on the fore-mentioned corner, seeing any chance of a placing and promotion quickly slipping as the bunch sprinted away.

It did occur to me that the sprint had started early, enthusiasm taking over! I quickly got on a wheel and spun sitting down, passing those faltering on the uphill. As the wheel slowed, I screamed 'On the inside!', and stood up, opening the taps. I'd soon gone from about 20 back on the corner to passing those who started earlier, but no time to think about that. I followed the red skinsuit of 45RC rider who had a good line on the inside, oblivious to the position of the rest of the bunch. Maybe I could scrape a point for promotion?!

Finish line in sight beyond the 45RC rider, I had a quick look round to see how swamped I was. To my surprise, there was about 10m of air between us two and the bunch! I couldn't believe it, and crossed the line in 2nd behind the rider in red. We'd managed to go through the field and leave them! It took a minute to sink in, but I'd done it! Another 8 points meaning a comfortable promotion to Category 3!

Time to move up a race next time, which means going out of the gates on the longer circuit, which terrify's me! Still, no pressure means I'll take the time to learn the course, practice and devise a new strategy! No race this week due to a concert at the bowl, but I've got my first on road race on Sunday, the Ginger Smallwood Memorial race, which should be a challenge, but interesting!

Return to racing Part 1 - Learning Curve

I've returned!

It's been a busy 6 weeks or so work wise, so unfortunately I haven't been able to write any updates on here. I have been racing however, so here's a summary of what I can remember based on the scribbled reports in my notebook! I've just been racing the Corley Cycles/Abbeygate Developments Summer Series at the MK Bowl, the first 3 were reasonably uneventful, the last 3

1st May - 14th
Very Damp, but we survived!
I climbed back onto a bike after 3 months of injury 2 days before this race! Needless to say it was pretty tough, with torrential rain not helping, however, I did manage to stay with the bunch. Being my first completed race, I didn't want to be involved in the sprint, as I'd heard it was dangerous, so I launched a few attacks off the front. These were to no avail, but at least I felt the race wasn't wasted.

8th May - 15th
The weather was similar for this race, with torrents of water running around the track. After another few rides I felt my body was starting to remember how to ride a bike again, and after seeing that the sprint wasn't as bad as people made out, I thought I'd have a go.
I managed to get in the perfect position with 1 lap to go, about 5 riders back, but in one foul swoop, or pedal, I ended up on the front with half a lap to go. Inexperience kicked in and I paniced, launching a sprint with about 400m to go! As I floundered like a fish with 150m to go, the bunch came storming past, leaving me with the longest 100m I've ever ridden. On the plus side, the winner said I'd led him out for the sprint perfectly...Great!

15th May - 13th
The weather was finally dry for this race, and as a result the field was a little bigger. This meant it was hard to get a position, every time I got near the front I'd lose it on a corner and struggle to get back. This wasn't helped by some dodgy riding, with people suddenly slowing or cutting lines. It wasn't quite to a dangerous extent, but very annoying! As the last lap loomed, I was in a terrible position, launching a sprint led me to gain a few positions, but nowhere near enough.

I was a little disillusioned after the last of these races. I knew I had the fitness, and I knew I had the sprint, and I knew where I had to be when. I just didn't seem to have the confidence to assert myself to get into the right position to launch the sprint. I guessed it would come with practice, but I thought maybe a week off racing would do me good. Eventually I elected not to, as the club were Marshalling, so there would actually be clubmates watching. As it turned out, this was a good idea, which you'll see in my next post!