The best laid plans are easily spoiled, and so it was for the 2nd installment of the NCRA series when traffic lights were discovered on the course. After a recce of the planned course and a daunting climb up to the finish line, Tim and I returned to the HQ to learn a new circuit was to be used a few miles north.
Once again Tim and I were in the 2nd group, starting 4 minutes behind the leaders. Our pursuit set off at a brisk pace. However, as we tried to settle into a rhythm it soon became apparent our group’s strength was unbalanced. With every climb, gaps appeared; into the wind weaker riders struggled to come through.
From the outset the course was lumpy. Heading towards the battlefield village of Naseby there was a fast descent followed by a long drag up to the finish line. Leaving Naseby, the road rolled along to Sibbertoft, and the flat exposed stretch alongside the nearby airfield. Turning on to the A5199 the road descended into Welford before sweeping round to the left up a sharp little hill to complete the loop.
Starting the second lap, we were a man down and the pace was beginning to show with the same faces spending more time at the front. The lead group were less than 2 minutes ahead, so as we came onto the airfield road it was no surprise to see them. Seeing them reinvigorated our pack and bit by bit we narrowed the gap catching them as we reached the main road.
Behind there was still no sign of the chasing groups. I was now riding in a larger pack, and thoughts started to turn to escape. Perhaps, with 12 miles to go, there was a chance a breakaway could succeed, so I moved to the front and waited to create some luck.
The opportunity soon came. VC Rutland rider, Gary, had been setting a quick pace up the climbs, and stuck to form as we hit the hill leaving Welford. A gap appeared, I accelerated into it and passed him. I was at the front, out of the saddle, sprinting up the climb and forcing the gap wider. I sat back, grabbing the drops, sucking in air as the road levelled out. A quick glance under my arm, Gary was on my wheel. I stayed at the front, until the burning in my thighs became too much. A flick of the elbow, Gary obliged and I could rest for a moment. I looked back again. A second VC Rutland rider, Jack, was about to connect with us. Despair surged through me, surely they hadn’t pulled us back? There was a second rider on his wheel too, a flash of black and white could only mean Tim. But then, nothing, just road. The offensive had worked, from the ill disciplined pack we had forged a new model breakaway on the road to Naseby.
Jack, the youngest of our break, took over the work. I needed the rest and to fuel up; the elation at being at the front was being replaced by the lactic acid building up in my legs, all I needed was a tow to loosen them up. For the next few miles it was just the lead car and us. Riding onto the airfield road, the race car for the peloton slowly pulled up, just shy of our slipstream; they were closing. We continued to work together sharing out the wind, but as we descended into Welford, the separating car overtook. We had no more than half a minute on the bunch.
Halfway up the hill from Welford I looked back. The peloton’s vanguard hurtled around the bend behind, half a dozen riders peppered the road trying to bridge across to us. We had a mile to go, but our charge was over. After nearly 30 miles we were happy for the respite as riders swept around, even so, it could not compensate for the disappointment at being caught less than a mile from the finish.
We maintained our position near the front as fresher legs jostled for position. The peloton was shaping up for a bunch sprint. The tempo raised a notch as we plummeted before the final ascent to the finish. Riders concentrated, awareness heightened for the slightest disruption. The first rider broke off and the rest followed. Tim started to slip back, I accelerated up and the pack fractured as the contenders surged to the line. I held their wheels, but my legs were blown and I couldn’t contest. Then I was over the line and arms over the bars. It had been a good race.
Of our breakaway group, VC Rutland riders Gary and Jack rode in at a very respectable 4th and 6th respectively. I came in 14th and Tim 31st. Hopefully for next week we’ll be promoted to a stronger group.