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!

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