The days rain had stopped and water steamed off the warmed summer tarmac. The air turned air humid, sweetened by the freshly cut verges. Wisely, the Red Kites sheltered in the woods while we lined up for the 2nd race around the Southwick circuit.
Following last weeks demolition derby the groups were rearranged again. Tim, along with many of the others dropped on the first lap were moved forward to the 6 minute group. There were no other groups between them and the first group. I remained in the 8 minute group, along with the competition leader. Behind us were a small 9 minute group and the scratch group at 10 minutes.
Sticking to convention, the pace was fast from the start with Fenland Clarion leading the way. I moved forward and did my turns. About a mile from the climb up to the finish line there is a small, sharp, but easily sprinted climb. I found myself coming to the front as we hit it. I got out of the saddle and powered up expecting the next rider to come around as we rode over the summit. But no one did. The road descended towards a farm where it turned sharply to the right. A rider came around, but the rhythm was gone and no one else came through, leaving me in second wheel. Approaching the next bend the rider in front pulled off and I was back at the front. Leading the group we stormed down towards the next bend. Coming out of it the road jerked up and a rider passed me, but as we approachaed the turn to the hill he pulled off leaving me to lead the ascent. I kept the pace high as we started up the hill, but after a mile pushing over 30mph I was flagging. Riders streamed by and I slid to the back. Two thirds of the way up and I was pushing hard to keep in contact. We were keeping over 20mph and I could feel I was getting into trouble. My legs were going anaerobic and my knees ached. I dropped to the small ring for relief and tried to keep the tempo up. My heart was near bursting as it laboured to deliver fresh oxygen laden blood to my legs. Finally the road flattened out, I held a wheel and rested on the descent.
I grabbed some drink, looked up and this time my heart nearly did stop. Tim’s group was barely a hundred metres ahead of us. Over 7 miles our group had averaged close to 27 miles per hour and obliterated his groups 2 minute advantage. Turning off the bottom of the hill the catch was made. I sat up, and after the first laps exertions started on my recovery. By comparison, Tim rode strongly. He was clearly enjoying himself taking regular turns at the front and holding his position well.
On the third lap I started moving to the front taking an odd turn. Halfway round, the pace started to slow. It looked like a couple of riders were going to come through on the inside, so I got on their wheel. Yet despite the slow speed they just coasted along. If we kept this up the scratch group would catch us and the lead group might even stay away. I moved on their inside and came through to the front picking the pace up as I went along. In moments I was cruising at 25mph and waited for the next rider to come by. But, like the first lap, no one did. I glanced under my shoulder and the reason became clear; in a few seconds I was nearly 50m clear of the bunch! I had expected to get the momentum going again and drag the bunch behind, but they had failed to react.
Knowing I couldn’t bridge to the lead group there was no sense in punishing myself in no-man’s land. I soft pedaled for half a mile until the group swallowed me up. Not surprisingly it was Fenland Clarion who swept passed, lifting the pace up for the bunch. I was back in and from that point on I sat in the bunch. I didn’t want to wilt at the front again, so I conserved my energies for the final sprint. Tim on the other hand worked tirelessly, doing more than his fair share at the front.
As we came to the end of the final lap there was still no sign of the lead group. The group started to get cagey, including Tim, and the pace eased slightly. We coasted along, then as we approached the hill turn the pack quickened. Tim was near the front, I wasn’t far behind. Rounding the bend the bunch surged forward and up. Tim and I were both in the top 10, I glanced behind, a small gap had started to grow. We passed a rider dropped from the lead group. I was positioned on the outside and about 400m from the finish I saw the competition leader attack and move clear. Instinctively I reacted, the sprint was on and I do like them up a hill. There was no one else ahead of me, we passed another dropped rider and I focused on chasing down the leader. I grunted like a centre court tennis player and a 10m gap came down to 5m. But, as we cleared the climb he pulled away again, then a 45 Road Club jersey flew by. I looked back. The closest rider behind was no threat and I crossed the line gulping down the damp air.
Five riders from the first group finished a minute ahead of us putting me in 8th position. Tim crossed the line with the main bunch and placed 20th; a much better ride than last week! As we head to the final race next Tuesday, Tim is ahead in the overall competition being in 7th place with 31 points. I’m in 16th with 28 points. Can we finish with us both in the top 10?