Monday 16 March 2015

Battered at the Bowl! - MK Bowl Spring Circuit Series Race 2

Saturday saw the second race in the Spring Series at the MK Bowl, hosted by Team Corley Cycles. It was my first race of the season, and the designated LBRCC takeover. With an unprecedented number of the club taking part, and loving, racing cyclocross over the winter, people were keen to try road racing, but a little hesitant. I decided the best way to get everyone racing and feeling comfortable was to get everyone racing on the same day. That way, there would be plenty of support, and should a few get dropped, there would be teammates on hand.

The date was set for the LBRCC takeover, and the day arrived. In the 4th Cat race, six people were entered, one dropped out (mentioning no names, but rhymes with Even Hand...), and the solitary figure of myself in the 2/3rd cat race.

4th Cat Race


Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
A monster field of 80 riders lined up, the five Team Green providing the biggest turn out. Lining up were experienced riders Neil Green, Neil Challis and Gareth Kennedy, second racer Miles walker, and debutant, star cyclocross rider Ross Gallacher.

After a brief talk from the commissaire, the race was off, with two neutralised laps behind a pace car. Nerves showed through a little, with three of the five LBRCC'ers lurking near the back as the bunch came round. The car pulled away and the race was off!

Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
The pace was furious from the start, providing a baptism of fire for the team this early in the season. After the first lap, many riders including Miles, Ross and Gareth were off the back, stung by the initial pace. The two Neils stayed in the bunch, using experience to their advantage, with Neil C in a great position about 10 places back. Unfortunately Gareth had to pull out, an underlying cough providing unwelcome breathing issues.

The race carried on with the pace unrelenting. Riders continued to drop away from the pack including Neil G, who found himself feeling strong in the second group on the circuit. Unfortunately, Neil C, looking in great form in the lead group, had to pull out around halfway, as did Ross after a valiant solo effort. Neil and Miles carried on, picking up groups along the way, looking a little tired, but strong nonetheless, and both battled on. Both finished, with Neil taking the LBRCC honours, with Miles second. Strong rides from both overall!

Flickr: James V Barlow
As the race came to it's conclusion, the strong riders came to the fore, with Team Corley and Matrix riders looking strong. The pace ramped up as the bell sounded for the final lap, and as the riders rounded the final corner, a two up sprint ensued, between Team Corley and Bicester Millenium riders. The sprint came down to the final centimetres, with the BMCC rider taking it on the line, to the disappointment of the host club.

Post race, LBRCC regrouped, weary, but in high spirits. Everyone enjoyed the race, a baptism of fire for the new riders, but great experience,

2nd/3rd Cat


Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
Another full field lines up for the 2/3 race, including a number of last years 1st cat riders who fell just short of the 100 points required to stay there, meaning a fierce race was always on the cards. Add into the mix Hannah Barnes, pro rider for the United Healthcare pro Team in the USA, and it was bound to be tricky. I was the only LBRCC rider in this race, and after much debate about participation at this stage of the year (mid squash season), I lined up with much trepidation. The omens were not good from that start, where I found myself way back in the bunch on the start line.

After a commissaire briefing and two neutralised paced laps, the race was off with absolutely astounding ferocity. Reports are that up the hill coming out of the last corner, riders were hitting 600 - 800watts! My positioning hadn't got any better, and I was playing catch up with a full out sprint before the first lap was up. This was an ongoing issue, as the number of strong and more experienced riders didn't allow for moving up the bunch easily. The whiplash effect of the top riders at the front meant I had to pull out 3 huge sprints per lap, which although I felt good, I knew were unsustainable.

Flickr: AshleyJohnLewis
The exposed part of the larger surface had a strong headwind, and about 6 laps in, I found myself near the back of the bunch through it. As a result, we became completely strung out upon entering the  inner circuit and the climb. A cruel kick by someone at the front exacerbated this, and a number of us lost contact. Despite a lung busting effort, I couldn't quite make up the last 20 metres, which over the next solo lap extended to about 150m, a crevasse in this sort of race.

However, anyone that knows me in the squash world will know that I don't give up until I break, a Moussa inspired 'Heart of a Lion!!!' approach. I decided it was all or nothing, and despite the hummingbird like heart rate and pumped legs, I kicked it up a notch and set in pursuit. I made the most of an empty circuit, hammering the corners, and making ground every turn. I knew I had to make contact with the bunch in the exposed area, which I did on the turn before. The climb was incredibly unpleasant, but I held on.

It was always going to be a struggle from then onwards. Despite my excellent anaerobic capacity, developed from years of squash, there is always a limit. I reached this 2 laps later, after struggling to move up to a better position in the bunch, an acceleration on the climb proved to be my undoing, along with several others. I did a few solo laps, getting some practise in, and satisfyingly catching a few people in the meantime!

Overall, I'm not really too disappointed. There's a massive, massive gap between this race and the usual 3/4 race at the bowl. I'm sure this was exacerbated by the former 1st Cat riders looking for easy early season points in a bid for promotion. There is simply no room for error in this race, the accelerations out of the corners are unsustainable at the back of the bunch, you really need to be in the top 20, gaining the most benefit, especially in the exposed section. I was pleased with my fitness considering a lack of riding, and my cornering skills gained last season have remained/come back quickly. I simply need to learn how to hold my position in the bunch, as it's necessary at this level, whereas at 4th cat I could get away with it. The only way to get better is practise, and happily, there is a whole season ahead for that!

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