Last night saw the first of two test evenings of circuit racing on the old Alconbury airbase. There was a good turn out from the club with many new faces testing 4th cat waters for the first time. The numbers for the 2/3 race were smaller, only 19 of us lined up for the start. Looking at them I was in absolutely no doubt that, for my legs and lungs, this was going to be a very hard hour of racing. Four of the top 10 finishers, including Jake, from Sunday’s gruelling Circuit of the Fens race were there and at least two more could’ve been had they not punctured. As well as Jake, there was Ed, another one of the four and riding for Bonito, and Simon, a former 1st cat back for his first race in many years.
The first lap was neutralised by Tom Caldwell and his motorbike. When the flag when down St Ives Rory made a half hearted attack and the race was on. The first two laps were furious. Jake leapt off the front and the rest chased. I started to drift off the back but got back on as the group slowed into the wind on the perimeter road. The turn on to the airfield was deliciously fast, as I swept round the bend I could feel a definite push as I transitioned to the smooth concrete surface. Moving up was impossible, especially as we got to the S-bends leading back to the perimeter road. Technical, fast and with the roughest surface on course I clung to the wheel of a Cambridge rider. The final bend in this section was a tight 90 degree left turn with choppy Tarmac on the inside . I had to hold my nerve on that one as the exit momentum flung me towards the opposite curb. The perimeter road started to drag up and a gap opened between the group and Cambridge whose wheel I was assiduously holding. By the time we got to the start line we were both dropped.
The Cambridge rider was Pete. We chunked the race into manageable parcels. We took turns working half a lap each. I got plenty of support from other club members waiting for the 4th cat race. Each time round it was much appreciated.
Bit by bit we started picking up other dropped riders. Lee from St Ives, a couple of Greenwheel, another St Ives rider and one more whose club I don’t remember. By the end of the race we had grown to seven.
About forty minutes into the race Jake and two other riders lapped us. Even if we had wanted to I doubt any of our group could have latched into their slipstream; if we couldn’t do it fresh at the start, what chance now? I finished fourth out of our group, sore but glad to have completed. Simon had done well holding on for 8th.
After the race I walked around to the finish line with Paul, who had come out to watch, to see the end of the 4th cat race. From the start the 4ths had split up, probably no bad thing given the course, their size and relative inexperience – there were a lot of first timers. There was a lead group of no more than 20 riders containing David, Gary, Tom and Gareth. Behind, Adrian had been dropped – wasn’t expecting that – TT Simon was pushing along a smaller group of 6, Chris was chasing another group and Dan was doing his own ride. A couple of laps later the situation was changed; Chris had caught his group, but later punctured out while Gary was dropped from the lead pack. Dan was still doing his own thing. With three laps to go, the front of the main group really began applying the pressure and forced a split. Tom was on the wrong side trying to get back across to the leading six including David and Gareth. The situation on the final lap was unchanged leaving Gareth to take 4th (and finally make 3rd cat!), David 6th and Tom 7th.
Overall a good, if knackering evenings racing. Finally thanks and congratulations to Paul Gripton and his team from Velo Club Chevaliers Bleus for a successful night. Hopefully this and August’s test events will see Alconbury established as a new and welcome addition to the local race scene.