Last Thursday myself & Adam were the only 2 of the BSCC gang stupid enough to brave the wind & the rain up at Castle Combe for the second in the summer circuit series. I thought I’d ridden in bad conditions before but this was something else. The wind was unbearable.
The race is for cat 3 & 4 riders, my first as a cat 3 & our first race with cat 3 riders this year. The bunch split early on, the pace was pretty fast & the crosswinds even faster. The front pack got smaller & smaller over the first half of the race.
The conditions got the better of Adam & he was back with the second group, I hung on the the back of the lead group, literally hung on with everything I had. A 3 man break left us in their dust (water) & about 12 of us raced the remainder of the 17 lap race together, battling with the elements.
The bell went for the last lap & to my surprise I was still in contention. Sprint finish time & I fought the finish line headwind, coming 5th in the bunch sprint so 8th in the race. Another couple of points in the bag for me. Fingers crossed the sun shines for our next race.
Last night was the 15th & final circuit race in the Castle Combe Summer Series. Being the last race, and being a sunny one, we knew it was going to be fast & everyone would be aiming for high placing & a few vital BC points. I rode along side BSCC team mates Christian, Kieran & Tom, I don’t have anything major to report on my own part, but Tom got 2nd place with a sprint finish & pushed himself up to Cat 2 in his first year of road racing! An outstanding result in a fast race with large number of riders. He admitted he rarely gets in the drops, but even he used them at the end of this race, and it all paid off! Ed was also in attendance to take some snazzy photos.
Christian had decided we were going to go hard from the off, I wasn’t so keen as I’m never strong enough to keep up with his pace, but I had a go anyway, and for the first couple of laps Christian & Tom rode the front of the pack, with myself just behind. My personal goal for this race was to stay towards the front of the bunch as much as I could, and to make sure I was in some sort of position to try & get a good place on the final bunch sprint.
I managed to stick to my goal for pretty much the entire race, doing whatever I could to keep high up in what was the fastest race I’ve taken part in (average speed of 27.4mph!), there were a couple of times I felt I had nothing left in my legs, but I kept it going until the last lap.
When that bell rings for the final lap the mood instantly changes amongst the riders, and you can sense that every rider steps it up a gear with the intention of placing high. I knew that if I had any chance of getting a top 10 finish I would need to stay towards the front & push harder than ever whilst the rest of the riders did the same.
I slowly weaved my way through the snaking pack through the chicanes, and into the final corners I was up in around 7th place, with Tom smashing it in the top 3. I stuck to the right of the pack for the final ‘descent’ into the finishing straight, and put the power down hard, only to be over taken by a number of riders down the left hand side. I went for some sort of sprint finish but this only gained me a couple of places, bringing me within the top 25 I’d say, but it’s hard to judge in such a big race. BSCC got some glory though in the fact that Tom’s solo finish bagged him 2nd place & those all important points. Christian brought up the rear with a puncture gained on the final lap, just 4 days after his best ever result. You win some, you loose some.
*Warning – This post is long & may take up a lot of your valuable day at work.*
On Thursday evening I decided to have a go at my first ever ‘road’ race, ok, strictly speaking it wasn’t a road race, but everyone rode in a bunch, on a number of snazzy road bikes, so for arguments sake I will call it a road race.
The location was Castle Combe, the length of the race was cut slightly short due to the intense rain from the off & was 24 miles in total, which I completed in almost exactly 1 hour.
Now I’ve never raced on a geared bike before, or at these speeds, let alone in torrential rain, so I knew from the start it was going to be no walk in the park.
The first couple of laps got underway, I got used to the course, and my (borrowed) Giant TCR, and all was good, I kept up with the pack & was impressed by some of the quality of riding going on, there were riders that kept their place in the bunch, as well as those moving about the pack, pushing to the front, dropping back & generally taking control of the situation. I have the utmost respect for those that know what to do in a closed circuit situation, I was totally clueless. I especially enjoyed watching Christian bossing all over the shop like the Sheriff Of Bossingham.
Christian’s obvious experience at this bike racing game gave me a boost & made me feel a little invincible, and I stupidly followed him on a break he made, the 2 of us riding at the front of the pack for a good lap or so, resulting in my legs giving up & dropping me to the back of the race. I really should have learnt this lesson from my experience at my only other circuit outing, The Hunt.
After falling to the back of the pack I felt my legs slowly fading, and the race slowly moving away from me, this devastated me mentally & at the point where I was 100 yards behind the bunch I had already decided that this blog post would be titled ‘My first & last road race’. From here I would ride a solid 2 laps a good distance behind the race, with just one other rider, and this is where I expected my race to end, DFL.
I love riding bikes, but at lows like this i feel like giving it all up. Now I am certainly not built like a TT powerhouse, and nor do I have the physique of a hillclimber, but something I have bags of is determination. If there’s something to be achieved from a situation then I’ll do my damned hardest to make it happen, and when it comes to racing bikes this is all I have to fall back on when it all goes to pot. Heck, I even rode 13 miles in torrential rain just to get to this race as I was determined to give it a go. This was a good warm up to say the least!
Being at the back of a race is probably one of the worst feelings I’ve had on a bike, but I knew if I pedalled harder than I had all night there would be a chance of catching up with the pack, and some how, after a good 2 laps of being way back I had managed to catch up with the pack! This was the point where I knew all I had to do was stay with the pack, protect myself from the wind & I would finish this race with a better than DFL position.
The bell for the final lap came as a great relief if I’m honest, but at the same time I knew it was the time that the power had to go down & the last lap was understandably faster than the rest of the race. Coming in to the last corner I wasn’t in too bad a position, and I knew I had to do one of two things – make a break for it & potentially get over taken at the last moment; or tag on to someone’s wheel & make a last minute dash for the finish line. I had no experience of either of these, so I guess I tried a bit of both, picking a time to squeeze through the bunch & turning the power up to 11 for the final straight, chasing the 2 riders between me & the finish line. The feeling of being third wheel at the end of my first race was insane, I was on a high for the first time all night, I knew it couldn’t last though & I was overtaken by a handful of more experienced racers. It turns out I crossed the line in 11th place, just out of the points but a good performance if I do say so myself.
Remarkable & unbelievable in my eyes, seeing how much my legs had given up on me much earlier in the race. I was just happy to have not finished last, and to have placed this high was incredible, I couldn’t have done this without the inspiration of my team mates Christian & Mark, they were all that kept me going through that race. Big shouts to them & the rest of the riders for attending such a disgusting race in probably the worst conditions I have ever ridden a bike in. I finished off my first race with a soggy 19 mile ride home, taking my evening total up to a cool 55 miles.
A few things I will take away from this race:
-Clear lenses in your glasses are advised in dull, wet condition, black iridium was a stupid idea.
-2 bottles & 2 gels was way too much to carry, I managed half a gel & about 3 mouthfuls from my bottle.
-Chasing your team mate’s wheel for 2 laps is fun but will leave you chasing the race for 2 laps, solo.
-A change of clothes after a wet race is advisable.
-Getting out of the saddle at times will probably make you go faster, probably.
-Changing gear every now & again helps, riding fixed this long makes me forget this.
-A a mild case of hypothermia.
So far this year I have managed to attend (and more importantly finish) 4 races. Starting at the lowest possible British Cycling ranking of Category 4. I race for my local club Bristol South CC which is one of the oldest clubs in the UK (formed 1893!)
This was complete step up in terms of riding me having only recently acquired a geared bike at the turn of the year, not only that it was my first geared road bike. All previous ones have been mountain bikes (a long long time ago). Luckily I am not the only one with my good friends Kieran and Mark also venturing into the unkown.
The virgin race was a First Chard Wheelers organised cirucit race (Cat 4 only) at Ilton (an old airfield). I totally wasted all my energy willy waving at the front of the race as the picture below shows;
I was pretty happy to get round in one piece (Cat 4 cirucit races are notoriously crashy) but a little bit irritated not to be there or there abouts at the end as the wheel I picked for my lead out punctured on the sweep down to the finish. In hindsight this was by far the easiest race completed.
Next up was my first true road race at Blackawton (Cat 3/4), making a serious rookie mistake by starting at the back of the bunch I spent the first 10 minutes chasing back on! I guess at least I know I can do it now….
The race was and out back, out back and out a bit again of sorts in the rolling hills of Devon and again I pleased myself with my ability to finish with the main group at the front of the race, especially as the acceleration at the final turn really strung the bunch out. Descending in a bunch at 40 + mph is quite an experience also.
Someone made this rad video on facebook; Blackawton Road Race you can just about pick the Red and Gold up in it. Arty.
Next it was back to circuits again and the Castle Combe good friday meet. With my family visiting my old man did the good deed of taking me over and snapping some shots.
A huge field of around 120 took to the tarmac for the 4 only race and boy was it twitchy. The bunch was incredibly nervous in the two chicanes with the apparent inability of a lot of riders to hold lines through them. Fellow BSCC racer Mark rode over a dropped bottle on the first lap, a great feat staying upright.
A windy day meant no breaks went and a bunch spirint was on the cards, as we rounded the final corner I grabbed a wheel for a tow round to the right of the bunch only for some idiot to open up a sprint right from the middle of the group, skittling some riders including the one in front of me! A deft skid saw me avoid the tumble ahead but sapped all my speed to the finish, trickling over the line in the top 25. Plenty of people on the tarmac meant the paramedic had a good days practice and the ambulance saw some use as it had to take 3 people to the hospital.
The following Sunday saw my first Cat 2/3/4 race at the Brentor 2 Stage Race which I was pretty nervous about after reading the start sheet (read Alex Baskaya / Scott Easter).
Quote fellow BSCC racer Kieran ‘its going to be hurty’. It was a two stage race. Stage 1 was a TT which was one lap of the race circuit.
A simple (yet brutal) triangle it contained an unsurfaced road heading down, a undulating back section and a draggy climb back to the top. I posted a below par time. Time trialling is definitely an area I need to improve on so my attendance to the BSCC classic league series will hopefully ensure this happens.
Stage 2 was a further 10 laps of aformentioned circuit, the addition of Cat 2 riders ensured the pace was high. I was totally clinging on with 4 laps to go but managed to stay in touch until the very last corner, which saw me lose about 20 seconds as I could not stick with the burst to the end. I was incredibly chuffed to roll in where I did and chapeau to Steve, Tom and Mark who all finished in the top 15. With Steve and Sam taking points. Hopefully I can continue to learn off these guys.
Apologies for the essay but we are up to speed now. All the race data for the above can be found via the Strava link on the right if anyone is interested. I have a weekend off before returning to action in the Betty Pharoah Memorial in Wales next weekend.
Racing is hard, even at this level it seems extremely competitive and has a steep learning curve. I seem to be coping ok, having a great time meeting a lot of sound people (particularly members of The South). I will continue to document my season, its highs, lows and hopefully some more behind the scenes stuff.