NCRA Rockingham Speedway, race 1

There was a huge turn out for the first race at Rockingham Speedway; perhaps it was the discount for affiliated clubs that helped, it’ll certainly be welcome once the unchecked Tory screw starts turning on the least wealthy 95%. St Neots was represented by me (pointless 3rds), Jake (scratch of course), Tom (4ths) and David (3rds with points).

My evening didn’t get off to the best of starts; fixing in my rear wheel I noticed a rear brake pad was missing. I turned the car inside out trying to find it, but to no avail. I asked around for a spare and in the end Bourne Wheeler’s Mark pointed me in the direction of a man with spares, Adam I think. The pad was a tight fit, but it squeezed in leaving me with few minutes warm up time.

It took the whole of the first lap to get our group working and even then it didn’t last for long. Not everyone was willing to do their share and so it was left to around 8 of us to drag the group around in a very uncoordinated fashion. After a while, riders splintered off the front. Some of these were deliberate attempts to get rid of the passengers, others just natural gaps when a rider didn’t go through, either way our bunch always sprang back together. It started raining, we chipped away at the front groups lead but progress was slow.

With a third of the race to go the other groups caught us and shortly after we swept up the leading fourths to become a very large fast moving peloton. 

David made an attack and a small group formed around him. They dangled off the front, but were never able to making a convincing break. Jake bridged across and simply pushed on through, but even his youthful legs couldn’t keep away. 

One the final lap I was feeling remarkably fresh, but I held back. The earlier shower had greased the circuit and my last race here had ended my 2014 season. Overall the bunch was behaving well, but the earlier rain had greased the circuit. My last race here had not ended well and with bends still to come and so many riders jostling for position I was feeling nervous. I fell back from a reasonable position to the rear of the bunch. I guess I still have some demons to excise at Rockingham. Jake didn’t have my reservations and sprinted to 2nd place while Tom and David finished safely in the bunch.

Packing my bike away I noticed a small piece of black rubber on the floor – my missing brake pad.

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Bag on the line

The 1710 from London Kings Cross empties half its commuter load at Hitchin. The doors close but we do not move. People look around and exchange knowing looks and thinking similar thoughts: useless bloody trains. A few minutes later the tannoy chimes and the driver tells us a large plastic bag is on the overhead lines. The whole East Coast mainline grinds to a halt – don’t tell ISIS or they’ll cripple our infrastructure supplied by a raid on self service checkouts.

My carriage is sat next to some vending machines on the station platform. Seeing them is making me hungry, I could happily scoff down a snickers, but I worry if I jump off the train it’ll start moving again. Then I start thinking perhaps I could get the attention of one of the people waiting for the Cambridge train. I could pass some coins through the window and rely on good ol’ train-delay-blitz-spirit that they won’t run off with my cash. 

The driver comes on the tannoy again. We’re moving to Arlesey. Arlesey station is bleak. The wind outside is blowing a gale and rocking the trees. It whistles through the overhead cables and I hope it carries no carelessly discard bags. 

I take to Twitter because I’ve read the Standard and what else do you do in a time of minor crisis. @GNRailUK’s tweets are wildly optimistic compared to our driver’s updates. I’m inclined to believe him since he says he’s talking to the signalman who in turn is in touch with Network Rail. Twenty minutes perhaps and we might be on our way, not the first time I’ve heard that. I go back online to check the Delay and Repay scheme terms; its starting to look like I’ll be able to claim the full fare, well 1/520th of my season ticket. 

Some passengers are starting to talk to each other, but I can only think of that Day Today sketch, the one with the broken down train where the commuters go feral. Is this how it starts? Conversation between strangers? If so then I’ll sit in a corner and quietly start blogging. It’s something to do and then I’ll read my book…if I don’t chew it first because my stomach is rumbling. I wish I hadn’t dithered at Hitchin.

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Rockingham Forest Wheelers 2-day: Stage 3

Rain. It was forecast and the forecast was right. I checked online and the rain was set to continue until late morning then brighten up. Rain followed me along the A14 and the A6116. The parking field at Middleton was soggy and full of steamed up cars. I signed on and the rain got heavier so I retreated back to my car; the windows steamed up. A few minutes before 10am I assembled at the start line along with everyone else. It was still raining and I just wanted to get moving if only to warm up.

The race profile...

The race profile…

We headed out neutralised, passing through Middleton, over the Bringhurst hill and down to Great Easton. We took a left on to the long drag climb up the Stockerston Road, more affectionately known as the Devil’s Staircase and here the flag dropped, the race began.

The Devil’s Staircase is a climb in two parts. The first is a gentle drag averaging around 3% over 2km. Midway there is a dip then the second and nasty part of the climb begins. The climb gets progressively steeper, going to a leg sapping 10%, before easing off to a false flat before the Medbourne turn. From bottom to top the climb ascends 100m, plus another 10m from the dip. To make conditions a little tougher, on Friday the council had surface dressed the road. It had been brushed since, but there were still plenty of loose chippings; it made for heavy going but, on the plus side, the rain had somewhere to drain, lessening the peloton’s spray.

First time around and a few riders were struggling from the start, but mostly we all stayed together over the first part of the climb. We reached the dip and a sudden acceleration launched from the front. The King of the Mountains jersey, leaders jersey and the St Neots’ own David P were attacking. It split the bunch and I was caught on the wrong side.

I made it to the top and joined up with some other riders, Gareth among them. We picked up a couple more dropped riders and set to work. We were around 10 strong and set to work, but the front group had soon disappeared from sight. There were some strong riders in that group and I don’t think any of us expected to see them again.

We reached the Devil’s Staircase for the second climb. I think Gareth got a loose piece of road stuck between his rim and frame and was forced to make a quick stop. That was the last I saw of him in the race. We were passing riders again too, only they were on foot and going down the hill; the surface dressing was taking a high toll.

After the climb the circuit turned left on to the B664, down to Medbourne. Smooth surfaced and downhill, I guess in better weather this is a fast stretch of road, but today we running into a headwind. The stretch just before the descent was the hardest and it was here that the group’s attitude to shared pain really broke down. On each lap, one Leicester Forest Rider took the bulk of the abuse and dragged us to the descent. By Medbourne, on easier roads, we were working again. Perhaps 5 of us were doing the bulk of the work with 3 riders taking most of the initiative. That’s not to say everyone else just sat in, they didn’t, they did contribute to the chain gang just not consistently; everyone worked just not equally.

The last two climbs up the Staircase were hard. I was fine for the nursery slopes, but the steep ending was becoming a real knee buster. To make it worse I could hear Wayne and Stacey in the first aid car behind, rather I could hear the car’s tyres crunch over the chippings as it crawled up the slope. I kept thinking “don’t pass, don’t pass”, then “just wind down your window and let me hang on”. All I got was a shout of encouragement from Wayne – it was enough.

On the penultimate lap two riders decided to break away. I can’t remember who went first but the final group was made up from the pair of Leicester Forest lads, along with a rider each from Peterborough and Welland Valley. I tried to chase them back with some help from a Concord rider. We kept them in sight and on the final climb they broke apart. the Peterborough rider kept up his gap and stayed away, the other three came back to us.

On the last lap we didn’t really attack each other rather, if you had anything left in the tank you used it. Our group thinned down to a half dozen. Just before Drayton, with a tail wind pushing me on I decided to hit the front and try to get away. Less than a kilometre to go, I looked down and couldn’t see anyone behind me. 250m to go and I realised I wasn’t alone; at least one rider was back on my wheel. The road lifted up for the finish, all I could do was apply more pressure and push a bit harder. It wasn’t enough though. The Leicester, Welland and one other rider surged by in a sprint for the line. All I cold do was follow them across. . We finished about 10 minutes down on the winning bunch.

I finished 31st, but if I had been a bit more tactical it should’ve been a few minor places higher. I’m not sure how many started, but certainly not yesterday’s field of 70. David’s day had been better than mine finishing second overall from a lead group of 17. I was disappointed not to stay with the lead group on that first climb, but overall, starting off with the tail end of a cold, I was happy with my performance on what is a tough circuit on a tough day.

Finally well done and a big thank you to Rockingham Forest Wheelers and all their helpers. It was a good event, I enjoyed it. I hope to be back again next year and feeling a bit more competitive, although I’ll probably still be washing out the grit!


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Rockingham Forest Wheelers 2-day: Stage 2

We started stage 2 in Middleton, outside the Wheeler’s club house. The race was neutralised through the village and remained so until we passed a car boot sale about a kilometre from the Bringhurst climb. After the morning time trial, my worry for this race was this climb. The flag went down, the race was on and we attacked the climb.

I made it over the climb fine, now I only had to do it four more times. The pace along the Drayton road was tail wind fast. Through the villages the bunch was twitchy. Ashley and Middleton both had parked car chicanes, while oncoming traffic brought on plenty of sudden braking – one rider in front of me even skidded. Before the race started I had decided to go with the flow and concentrate on getting around. I didn’t expect to spend quite so much time anticipating the next traffic induced bunch seizure, especially given the unpredictability of some drivers, like the old boy who decided to stop opposite the car boot sale entrance.

The local council had added to the bunch’s excitement by surface dressing the road from Medbourne to Ashley. The sound of loose chips pinging off carbon frames sounded like someone had chucked gravel in a tumble dryer, but I didn’t notice them cause any punctures.

Onto the final lap and I was feeling OK. The climb wasn’t bothering me either, but the final attacks started to. David P had a go, as did Dan, followed by Gareth, riding for Peterborough. Sitting in the bunch had been easy, but now I was having to put in efforts to keep up; my throat felt OK, but my lungs were feeling the pressure. After Ashley the bunch eased off. A lone rider made a break, but no one seemed willing to chase him down .

One kilometre to go and, by unspoken consent, the bunch accelerated. The sprint on this circuit is a hairy one with a sharp right hander 250m from the finish. Since I had no intention of contesting I stayed near the back (we would all get the same time) and made sure I had room to move and keep out of trouble.

I’m glad I did. About 500m to go someone on the left went down hard. Maybe four or five others followed him. I kept out of it, sat up and rolled up over the finish line. Of the crashed riders, one was knocked unconscious, but no bones were broken. Hopefully they’ll all make a swift recovery, but I doubt we’ll see many of them stage 3.

Overall a better race from my body than the one I had expected, but throughout, I was only ever a passenger coasting at the back. On stage 3 I’ll try to rectify that.



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Rockingham Forest Wheelers 2-day: Stage 1

I woke up this morning with a sore throat – the 3rd morning in a row, though it wasn’t so bad as yesterday and at least I didn’t have my daughter’s chesty cough. Ok, so my excuses now in and expectations suitably lowered, let’s get on to the stage 1 race.

Stage 1 was a 3 mile time trial along a flattish stretch of road running along the Welland Valley. It started from Ashley in the west and finished at Middleton in the east. The east was also where the wind was coming from. I was 55th off, at 10.54am, between club mates Dan and David P.

It’s almost a year to the day since I last rode a time trial (the club 10) and I really do not enjoy them, still needs must and for the 2-day it had to be done.

Sprinting from the pusher offer my computer displayed an average of 41kmph, but it wasn’t long before it started slipping. At every long straight I could see Dan ahead and tried to narrow the gap, but I couldn’t tell if I was making any headway, it didn’t feel like. My lungs didn’t feel like trying to make headway either, and the exertion was aggravating my throat. I finished with a time of 7.25, nearly a minute down on the winner and well into the bottom half of placings; disappointing but not unexpected.

A mug of hot tea soothed my throat and I pondered my goal for the afternoon race – hope I make it up the Bringhurst climb 5 times, hang on and make it round…

David P finished on 7.02 and Dan on 7.28 (including a 15s time penalty).

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Ride out to the Rutland CiCLE Clasic 2015

This year’s edition of the Rutland CiCLE Classic road race fell in between birthday party’s for my eldest daughter; Saturday it was friends (a brilliant day out pond dipping and running around at the National Trust’s Lyvden New Bield site) while Monday was family (spoilt rotten by grandparents). With the Sunday free I planned a ride over to Owston to watch the race.

During the week, the weather forecast for the weekend had been poor, promising rain and cold northerly winds. Saturday had defied expectations to be a warm, sunny day, but that evening, while I was prepping my bike in the garage, I heard the wind whip up in the trees outside and the rain beat down on the flat drum skin roof.

Sunday dawned overcast but dry, still, I went prepared with enough layers for standing around and my better waterproof, a hopeful talisman against bad weather. Riding down to Staughton I felt a few spots of rain. David P was waiting outside the pub. David L stopped too but couldn’t be tempted to ride out, I think domestic fear was the understandable excuse. One of the club run rides went by with a hello, then Tom pulled in. We waited for another minute then set off. The few spots of rain had stopped. We picked up Paul in Kimbolton, then waved goodbye to David L and crossed the A14 to collect Dave W at Winwick. By Oundle the clouds were breaking up and some warmth was filtering through.

After Oundle the terrain became lumpy and Dave W’s legs, more used to the Fens, found it hard work. We stopped in Uppingham for refreshment at Beans; Belgian waffles with all the trimmings was a popular choice. Just as the Rutland race pays homage to the Spring Classics of Northern Europe, I guess this was our tribute!

Fuel for the Rutland hills

Fuel for the Rutland hills

The next miles were properly lumpy, we yo-yo’d up and down, along roller coaster roads, through Riddlington, Braunston, Knossington and finally to Owston. We followed a lost race rider a part of the way, and climbed into the village just in time to hear the fanfare of marshals whistles before the race passed through.

Australian Steele Von Hoff riding for NFTO and who went on to win

Australian Steele Von Hoff riding for NFTO and who went on to win

A couple of riders had a small advantage over the peloton. The peloton, when it passed, was stretched and fractured, groups of riders filtered through the team cars, two stopped having punctured. The next time through we watched them peel off the gravel sector running into the village. The road here was lined with team support clutching spare wheels – this is a merciless course for tyres. One rider lost control on the loose stones covering a bend. They may as well have been racing on marbles and that we didn’t see more crash is a sure testament to their bike handling skill. Hugh porter, commentating from the back of a lorry, was rightly getting agitated by some of the crowd walking on to the course. The broom wagon hadn’t passed and riders were still coming through, racing against the 6 minute cut off time. The last rider made it through with seconds to spare and probably received the biggest cheer.

Coming off the gravel sector into Owston

Coming off the gravel sector into Owston

While the race went onto the next lap we headed over to the BBQ tent. Once sated, I went to the bins, next to where the chefs were cooking and couldn’t help but notice their bin was full of empty continental stubbies – Owston lacks a pub of its own, but they we being well catered for!

We strolled down to the bottom of the hill and waited at the bend. Raleigh’s Karol Damogalski (I think) had made a 45 second gap on the bunch, but the bunch were chasing hard and he wold soon be reeled back in.

Team Raleigh's Karol Domagalski? making a solo break.

Team Raleigh’s Karol Domagalski? making a solo break.



And the bunch chases him back

And the bunch chases him back



We went back to our bikes, watched the race fly by for the last time and then headed for home.

If you were to draw a best fit line across the profile from Owston to St Neots it would be downhill all the way, but the Earth’s surface is imperfect, so after the Rutland lumps, beyond Uppingham and the mighty Seaton viaduct was Harringworth Hill. The biggest descent of the ride out was now the biggest ascent of the ride home. Did I mention David P is a veteran of Classic, the last time in the appalling 2012 edition? No? Well I followed his wheel up the climb. About two-thirds of the way up I tried to go past him. That was a mistake although I don’t think he even noticed…After Harringworth it really was downhill for several miles. Laxton gave us a surprise, at least 50, yes 50 red kites were circling over the village. They did make for an impressive sight and I guess someone was feeding them, probably to the annoyance of their neighbours.

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NCRA Old: Bad Banana and wheel troubles

The club had a good turnout for Saturday’s NCRA race at Old. Dan was off in the first group, Ed and David H in the second, I was in the third, David P and Joe in the 4th and Jake in scratch. The ubiquitous breeze was in attendance, otherwise the weather was fair, a far cry from last year’s onslaught. The pothole from the previous Sunday’s Southwick race had written off the rim of my rear race wheel, so I was riding my on my spare/training wheel, you know, the one with the dodgy bearings, from all the salty winter miles, that you never get round to replacing.

There were four St Ives riders in my group and, unlike last week’s Rhino riders, they showed no intention of ripping our group apart. Instead we worked well from the start. Most of the group shared the load against the headwinds, blowing across the opening stretches of the course.

We turned onto the airfield road and picked up a brisk tail wind. The pace shot up and the couple of riders who had been hanging at the back split off. A few others followed so that by the time we pulled off the Lamport road we were down to 7 riders. Along the Scaldwell road we continued to work together, but as the terrain tipped down for fast run into Old I felt an ominous stabbing in my side.

Can a banana bring on a stitch? My customary pre-race banana hadn’t tasted like a bad’un, but the pain I was now feeling was real enough. To keep in contact I tried balancing effort against hurt, but the equation wasn’t working in my favour. Climbing into Old, I couldn’t hold the group.

Now, out of the bunch, I soft pedalled and hoped the stitch subsided before group 4 arrived. It did, moments before they caught. I latched onto the back and lurked there for a couple of minutes, just to be sure the increase in pace didn’t bring the stitch back. When I felt it wouldn’t return I slipped into line and took my turns.

We caught my old group around Mawsley. Incredibly the organisation continued and two long lines slipped past one another; every rider chipped in their energy at the front. Scratch wouldn’t have chance if we kept this up, but on the Lamport road something odd happened. I was in the back quarter of the bunch, in the line moving forward. Then we stopped moving forward, instead my line started slipping back. Before I knew it I was at the back switching lines to move forward. But no sooner had a I passed a couple of riders than it happened again, I was slipping back and switching lines. Then they reversed again and  for a fourth time. I exchanged puzzled looks with the riders around me and agreed to make the most of the easy time.

Finally the front agreed which line should take the lead. My line moved all the way forward and we turned off the Lamport road a functional group. We hit the downhill part of Scaldwell road just after I had pulled off the front. I slipped down the line, but something wasn’t right. I was in the 11 sprocket, flat out on this fastest stretch, but I was dropping away from the wheel in front; I wasn’t keeping pace with the group. At the bottom I was  dropped. Roland drove past with a shout of encouragement and advice to join up with scratch.

After Old I caught Carl from Arbis and carried on. I kept glancing back for scratch and they caught me just past Mawsley. They were a fresh faced bunch, but they weren’t setting the road aflame with youthful energy. My old legs, twice the age of some of theirs, had no trouble keeping pace and even taking a couple of turns.

Back at HQ Jake explained what happened next as the result of (teenage) boredom. He made a little dig off the front, testing the waters. The other young lads handled it, but it was too much for me and I was off the back again. On the Lamport road I could see him attack them again. They were reacting to him and I at least had the satisfaction of catching one of them before the finish line.

Scratch never made the catch, but the combined power of groups 3 and 4 had caught 1 and 2. Ed was the best placed for St Neots coming 3rd with Joe and Dan finishing 7th and 8th. Overall a good day for the club, but not for me. I’m not really sure where it went wrong. Stitch aside, I had felt OK, especially when the groups were working and I was taking my turns. So to get dropped on a descent, especially when I had started so near the front, I can’t explain that.

Nor am I going to blame my performance on my spare rear wheel. The bearings really could do with replacing, but it is academic now. On Sunday morning I had time for an early morning ride. I did a loop through Huntingdon and Sawtry. My legs felt a bit leaden, but otherwise it was a good ride. Unfortunately I never finished it. To miles from home a spoke in my spare wheel snapped and, with the loss of tension, buckled to make it unrideable home. Thanks to the two unknown riders plus David L and Tony from the club who all stopped to help.

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