For the 5th event in the NCRA series, the Thursday night race moved to the Southwick road circuit; a fast and flattish 6 mile circuit west of Oundle punctuated with a 400m long climb, averaging 4.5%, up to the start/finish line.
I was joined by Wayne and Tim from the club. Having 49 riders, dominated by 3rd cats and with ten 2nd cats in the mix, it was a more competitive field than the previous weeks race. Tim started in the lead group while Wayne and I were in the 3rd group, starting a couple of minutes ahead of the scratch group. Between our group and Tim’s was a group of pointless (should that be hyphenated?) 3rd cats.
Before the start, calls for us to work together were being made and once off we quickly settled into a fast and aggressive paceline. For the first lap we worked well, but once we hit the Southwick climb the organisation faltered. It picked up again after the descent, but the pace started to take its toll. Several riders were dropped, Wayne amongst them.
We survived until the start of the fourth lap. We could see the now merged lead groups ahead of us, but the 2nds caught us first. The pace briefly lifted then settled down, it was as if we were letting the lead group just dangle ahead of us. With no great impetus to catch them, it was not until the Southwick climb where the greater strength of our 3rd and 2nd cat group naturally closed the gap.
The final lap started with surprising sedateness, there were no attacks and, for a while, I could almost enjoy the warm June evening. It didn’t last. In the closing couple of miles the speed ramped up. Riders jostled for position and holding a place near the front was hard. As we rounded the final corner onto the climb I was probably around 20th in a group of 33 riders. The sprint was slow starting, but the pack soon started to gain momentum. Some riders or their bodies gave up and by half way, for those with the legs, the sprint was on. A few riders were slipping ahead of me and my left thigh didn’t quite work the way I wished it to, but with only a 100 metres to go I called on the wisdom of Jens Voight – “Shut up legs!”. I focused on the wheel of a Welwyn rider a bike length ahead. I was gaining and as the road finally levelled off I eased past him for 9th place. Tim finished in the bunch, and Wayne finished a little further back. After Rockingham, it was a tough induction to racing on the road for Wayne, but he had the will to finish and when you’ve been dropped that’s a hard thing to do, so credit to him.
It was good to race on the road again, although I was disappointed not to have finished higher, but I’m still happy with a top 10 place, even if I only just scraped it. And the last time I raced here…