Southwick, the sun was shining and for once there was real summer warmth in the evening air, what a contrast to Rockingham last week. With thirteen 2nd cats, among the sixty riders, it was a strong field assembled at the start line. The 4ths, including Adrians x2 and Alisdair, all representing St Neots, were off first followed by the 3rd cats with no points. Wayne and I were in the next group, some 6 minutes behind the first riders and followed 2 minutes later by a formidable looking scratch group.
With a fast descent from the line, the Southwick circuit was off to a typically quick start. I think a couple of riders may have been dropped early on but as I was spending most of my time at the front of our group it was hard to tell. Over the next two laps we tried to get some organisation into the riding, but it was sporadic. Sometimes riders pushed too hard for the next man to come through. Other times fatigued riders, unable to hold a wheel, allowed gaps to open. Either way, we we would string out like oiled spaghetti. Along with a couple of other sooner riders, I often found I was filling in gaps to keep the group moving.
I felt good and strong. Another rider asked me how I was, bloody lovin’ it, I told him. I was enjoying the race. Plus, I had my family along to cheer me up the Southwick climb; having daughters enthusiastically shouting “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!” is as good as any gel for revitalising the legs, and as we’re in the first week of the Tour, it does sound a bit like “Allez! Allez! Allez”. Well, I can imagine can’t I?
Being caught by the scratch group was inevitable but perhaps, had we worked better we might have stayed away for longer than the two and a half laps we managed.
Onto the final lap and the leading groups were still uncaught and out of sight. We had passed a few dropped riders but the main bunch still eluded us. From our group, a few attacks went off and two riders did break free in the closing miles. It was also good to see Wayne mixing it at the front, his confidence is coming along rapidly.
And then we saw the lead group disappearing around one of the final bends. There was about a mile left to race and, with the climb, they would be caught, but it I suspected it would be a furious, if brief, chase followed by a confused catch, most likely on the climb. Others were clearly of the same opinion and holding a good position became increasingly difficult. For a while I manged to but, at a crucial moment, I was squeezed. I lost a few places and was now mid bunch as we approached the left hand bend, and the ascent to the finish line.
We cornered and hit the tail end of the lead group just starting the climb. Already riders were fanning across the road. Somehow the lead elements of our group were passing them, but being further back, I was being boxed in by the mass of riders ahead. As ever position in the final hundreds of metres means everything. About a third of the way up I had made a little headway, certainly not enough to matter. I wasn’t going to win this race let alone get into the points; frustrating as my legs felt good and ready for a sprint. I reasoned, at best I could place mid teens, most likely another 13th given recent performances! So, I sat up dropped into the small ring and conserved my legs for the next morning’s ride to work.