This was a bonus race, I shouldn’t have been able to ride it. The race was scheduled for March as part of the NCRA Spring Series, but snow had led to the event’s cancellation and subsequent postponement to, what proved to be, a wet, wild and unseasonably cold September morning. The weather wasn’t going to let the race organisation off that easily. Perhaps aware of this, the NCRA had opened up the event to non-affiliated clubs to maximise the field, so Wayne and I got a race, as did Gareth, out for the first time this year.
I was in the second from last group, made up of 3rd cats with points. Down the starting hill and around the first corner, we started working together. Warnings of a diesel spill at a junction ahead were spread through the bunch, so forewarned we took the turn steadily and came through safely. Yet despite the group’s shepherding, the initial organisation fell into disarray. Gaps opened up and those at the front were left working at extended turns. From time to time organisation did reappear, but it was shortlived. One of the group, younger and probably fitter than most of us, compared the pace and cooperation, or lack of, to a sportive ride. A harsh verdict, but perhaps the loitering signs of Saturday’s Guerilla Cycles sportive were confusing older heads? As our chase group came into view the commentator and another lad rode off the front and bridged to them.
Thanks to our lack of cooperation, and despite the apparent disorganisation in the group ahead, we were closing the gap with painful slowness. They also seemed to be having a similar struggle catching their own chase group, also now in our sights. However, for us and the other groups, events were taken out of our hands. The 2nd cats swept through and over the course of the second and third laps dragged everyone else together. Or dropped them.
I felt a touch on my back: Wayne, looking tired, but he’d survived in the chasing 2nd cat pack. Gareth, however, was feeling the pace of his pointless 3rd cat group (although only a 4th cat he’d started in this group, and on his first race too). Having spent all summer racing the club TT, his body just wasn’t accustomed to the demands of a race nearly three times the distance and he’d hit a wall, but if I know Gareth, that will just make him more determined for next season.
In the last quarter of the circuit there is a tight right hand corner, roughly surfaced, on a slight downhill and despite the headwind, still fast. On the fourth lap, with the roads now slick with rain, one of the leading riders, wearing a yellow jersey, but whether Fenland or Welland I couldn’t be sure, crashed on the bend. I narrowly missed the back of the bike in front and found I was at the front. A few pedal strokes then 2nd cat Jamie Scott went flying by followed by a few more riders, mostly 2nd cats. Others took up the chase, but to no avail. 7 strong riders had made a gap on the rest of the race.
Our chasing group was being steadily whittled down, by the climb, accelerations and the weather. The last lap and race organiser Rowland pulled alongside our bunch, repeatedly confirming 7 riders in the lead group. So we were racing for the minor places in the top 10. As he came alongside me, he added “top 10 finish Richard”, it sounded like a demand. “I’ll see what I can do!” my reply.
I did a couple of turns at the front, but for the final half of the lap held back, maintaining my position near the front. Approaching the final bend, I was on the left and felt ready for the incline. Two riders were boxing me to the right, I shouted “rider left!” and took the gap onto open road. Two younger riders had jumped ahead, gaining several bike lengths’ advantage. If no one passed me I would get 10th. I pressed on, sprinting in the big ring (I can never decide with this climb whether to go small or large, on the laps I tend to use the small ring and tap to the top, but for the sprint I prefer the greater power of the big ring, although I’m still not sure it’s right). Halfway up and the two leaders seemed to crack at about the same time. I passed them. Now, if no one passed me I would get 8th and win the sprint for the minor placings. I felt good and with a remnant of last month’s Yorkshire Moors holiday still in my legs, I forged on. Where the road levelled off I chanced a glance over my shoulder and saw that crossing the line was just a formality. 8th, a minute behind the winners. Wayne finished 10th and I hadn’t even needed him for a lead out. I do like the Southwick course!
Well, this will be the last NCRA race post for a while. All being well St Neots CC will be affiliated with the NCRA for the 2014 season and I’m already looking forward to it, especially as we’ll be promoting our first road race in many years. Finally, thanks must go to all the clubs and people who have volunteered their time to make these races possible, and especially Rowland Summerlin, as without them, none of these races would happen.