St Neots CC was well represented for the inaugural Rockingham Wheelers Circuit Race, held at the Rockingham Speedway Circuit. Tim and I were joined by veteran roadie Justin, for his 2nd race of the season and pro TT’er, but road race virgin, Ade. Can anyone remember the last time St Neots CC was so well represented at a road race?
Heading out to the track for a warm-up my enthusiasm for the event took a pretty sharp knock, as did I, when my front wheel railroaded into a gutter and sent me tumbling to the tarmac. Bloodied with road rash and with some new ventilation ripped into my shorts, I picked myself up only to discover I also had two flat tyres. Justin has a deserved reputation in the club for his mechanical prowess. On club runs he’s fixed broken chains and dodgy gears, and inner tubes are swapped in the blink of an eye. I sulked over to his car and in a few minutes the old tubes were out, one damaged tyre replaced and I was ready to ride.
We headed out to the circuit for a warm-up and to familiarise ourselves with the course. The Speedway circuit has a fine, smooth and fast surface and is laid out as an expansive, sweeping oval intended for Indy car racing. Infield are various hairpins, chicanes and straights. The evening’s course started on the oval, then turned sharply to the left entering a circuitous infield circuit before bringing us back out on to the oval. Despite the high stands towering around the speedway, once on the track there is little shelter from the elements. Like an interminable loop, the twisting parcours constantly took us into, then out of, the wind.
45 riders lined up for the start. The 4th cat riders were to ride out first, followed a minute later by the 3rds and the 2nds a further minute later. As this was the first race, the rules of the day were pretty laissez faire with the judges not minding too much if dropped and lapped riders rejoined the bunch.
Tim and Ade rode out to wishes of good luck, then Justin and I took position. Only, as I clipped in, someone pointed out my back tyre was looking a little flat. Events are said to come in threes and tonight was a case in point; at least I could take advantage of the rule of the day. As Justin departed with the rest of the 3rds I dashed back to the cars for a new tube. Once I’d mastered entry to Justin’s car I got a new tube in and sprinted back to the circuit in time to join the bunch as they came round for the second lap.
The group was pushing a hard pace, with Fenland Clarion and Welland riders firmly at the helm. It looked like a couple of riders had been dropped too. I caught up with Justin and learned there had been a crash early on the first lap. Going into the first hairpin bend someone hadn’t kept their line leading to a touch of wheels. Justin had felt someone lean against him and been lucky to avoid trouble. So, perhaps there was a silver lining to my pre-warm up crash and punctures.
On the third lap we caught the 4th Cats and I was pleased to see Ade still in the mix. Tim was up near the front, no doubt helping to set the pace. It wasn’t long before the first breakaways attempted to escape and eventually 4 riders started to stretch away from us. As we turned into the wind the bunched eased up and the escape looked like it might last. On the next sweep of the track, the wind fell on our backs and I decided to bridge the 200m across to the escapees.
I accelerated to over 30mph and started time trialling across the void. Glancing behind, I saw no one was with me. At first, the gap narrowed quickly, but when it looked like I was going to make it, one of the breakaway looked back. I’m sure they lifted their pace and I was pegged at 50m. I pursued them to the hairpin back onto the oval and briefly started to gain on them, but, as they accelerated out of the bend the gap grew again and I couldn’t close it. I was exhausted so sat up and waited for the bunch. Stupidly though, I misjudged their pace and and trailed off the back!
I sat up for the next couple of laps and chatted with another rider while we waited for the bunch to come around again. A soloing Ade went powering past; he had been dropped and was clearly putting in the effort to avoid being lapped.
The bunch swept me up on the oval near the end of the 6th lap. Justin and Tim still looked to be going strong, but with 2 laps left to race it looked like a small breakaway would now go the distance. Not surprisingly, I was feeling pretty fresh, so I spent some time at the front and chased down a couple of attacks. Having only been a part-timer in the race I had decided not to contest the sprint. Instead, going round the oval for the final time I tried to leap off the front and solo to the line. I lasted for a few hundred metres, but the bunch was raising their pace and as they drove by, I sat up and rode to the finish with Ade. Justin and Tim contested the sprint, with Justin getting the better of Tim to finish in the top 15.
Despite being dropped, Ade finished on a high, buzzing from his first race. The rest of us knew we could do better. We’ll be back for more next week and we’ll have a better idea what we’re in for too. Faster, stronger, fitter though? We’ll see next week!