I raced this circuit last year. It was wet, it was windy and by the final lap we were reduced to a small select bunch. It was then that I punctured. The year before it had been even wetter, but just as windy. I had punctured on the first lap and never regained the bunch. At least this year looked like staying dry. Perhaps this was the omen I needed…
For a race right on the edge of the fens you would be forgiven for thinking this would be a fairly flat and easy course, maybe just some wind to contend with. Ride the circuit once and you would soon be persuaded otherwise. The Sawtry circuit is a toughie. At nearly 10 miles the circuit has a lumpy 150m of climbing and we race it 6 times; around 900m of ascent total. But it is not the climbs that really make this course, it is the wind and Sunday was very, very windy.
We set off from Sawtry a few minutes behind the elite’s race (they do 8 circuits and we try to avoid being lapped). Heading up to Glatton we were immediately assaulted by a gusty westerly crosswind. Glatton afforded some respite, before turning up towards the Giddings. Glatton sits on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens, turning west rolls you on to a mile drag, ramping up 70m. And a blocking head wind. The bunch stalled, a few attacks were made, but soon regretted. Finally the climb levels off, only you’re more exposed, the wind bears down harder and you can see the second climb into Gidding too.
From Gidding the pace picked up. The roads good and flat, the wind pushed us along to Hamerton, hurrying us back to the Fens.
From Hamerton a fast descent, two 90 degree bends in rapid succession, then a wind-assisted sprint up the course’s final climb. A brief level stretch then a very swift run back to Sawtry; back to the fen.
The pace for the first lap was fresh legs quick, but it was clear with the wind the bunch was likely to split, as the strong guys pushed the pace and the rest clung on. I tried to keep my position near the front of the bunch, but with the wind playing us like a squeeze box, it wasn’t easy. Each time we turned into the wind we seized up, flattening across the road, fighting for position, trying to keep a man in front and windward. But, you had to keep near the front for the inevitable stretch as we turned a bend and accelarated from mid-teens to miles per hours in the mid-thirties.
On the 2nd lap a couple of riders finally broke off and stayed away, while at the back end the first riders were being shelled out. On each circuit splits started to happen as we sped through the Giddings, some fought their way back into contention by Sawtry, others did not, so by the final lap the bunch was half its original strength. Those left were no longer bothered with a confident facade, every face marked the wind’s strength. A few attacks were made, but reeled back, although they seemed too tired to succeed rather than from a determined response from the pack.
As we came up the final climb from Hamerton my left calf started to issue warnings. On top of all the other pain was I now going to cramp in the final miles? I sat up and took another wheel, soft pedalling and massaging my leg as I coasted at 30+mph. Then it was head down for the final run to Sawtry, a mile and half left to race. We accelerated and stretched, a mile left; 45mph now, I heard a pop. Not me. Then a thud. Bastard. I rolled to the side of the road, my rear rim crunching on the gravel. Three races, three punctures.
I looked back up the road as a couple of motorcycle outriders passed. 2 other riders were stood further up the road, one chucked his bike into a hedge. I could understand the sentiment. Seconds later the first of the elite group came thundering down. And then it was the broom wagon again.