Last Sunday I got a last minute entry for the Duncan Murray Wines Regional B road race. The race was near Market Harborough, just across the Northants border into Leicestershire, and on a course I hadn’t ridden before. On Saturday night I had a good look at the 10 mile circuit, it looked to be rolling with a short but steep climb up to the finish line. Going to bed I was quietly confident; I had raced at nearby Sibbertoft a few years ago, and that time I had attacked on the courses main climb to establish a four man break. I was feeling in form and looking forward to more of the same.
Sunday dawned grey and misty. It took less than a Pulp album to drive along a deserted A14 to the race HQ at Husbands Bosworth. At the HQ I met James, one of the Bourne riders I’ve been racing with over at Rockingham. We went for a warm up ride where we quickly established we were both keen to go on the offensive so discussed tactics.
After a stern briefing from the race commissaire we were off. 5 minutes behind us was a Women’s Team Series Race; usually at Rockingham, we’re chasing the ladies group, not the other way round! The first few miles were neutralised and a number of riders moved up the outside, against official wishes, and I found my position moving back. At this point the pack was bunching up and some nervous riders were being overly handy with the brakes, so as soon as the racing started I pushed forward.
On the first notable gradient, I was able to jump into the leading 10 riders where I made contact with James. Two riders were already about 100m down the road with a further two trying to bridge across. It looked like an early break might go so James and I went to jump across. A St Ives rider came with us and I could sense the bunch starting to string out behind us. We caught the middle two riders with the peloton stretched to a taut line, but it was not enough to snap it. Shortly after the front two riders were reeled back in and the bunch was back together.
The fast pace continued until we came to the first ascent of the finish line hill. Through the trees, it looked like a wall. The main part of the climb only gained 20m but with a gradient of 10% and more. For any one who knows the West Huntingdonshire roads, it’s similar to the Belton Hill climb near Spaldwick, however, rather than summiting for a fast downhill, it levels briefly before giving you another final short kick. Still it’s the kind of punchy climb I’m used to, I wasn’t put off.
As the gradient started to steepen I dropped into the small ring to keep the legs spinning nicely. Only my chain didn’t drop onto the small ring and my drive train wasn’t spinning. Something somewhere had seized up. I was slowing rapidly to a standstill and riders were steadily drifting past. I pulled across to the right hand verge shifting through gears desperately trying to get the derailleurs to loose the chain. By now I was track standing, arrière du peloton, finally something gave and my pedals started to rotate. I was moving, grinding up slope, but dropped.
I cursed myself. A couple of weeks ago I had noticed some unusual noises from my rear mech. I had made a mental note to phone my LBS to have it looked at, but since the chain wasn’t jumping, had felt no great urgency. More fool me, and now I was accepting my bike’s penalty for a lack of proper TLC.
I tried to get back to the bunch, yet they had little interest in admiring the Leicestershire countryside. I was chasing hard, but at least I had the incentive and satisfaction of catching other dropped riders to keep me motivated. After a while there were no more riders, only me, then space, then the bunch. Yet I had gained nothing on them for my effort. Worse, I was tiring.
I looked back and saw 3 of the riders I had passed earlier grouped together. I waited for them and optimistically hoped we could work together to reduce the gap. I tried not to dwell too much on why they were where they were. For a while we worked OK, but as we hit the finish line climb one rider was straight off the back. Another rider lasted a few more miles and then we were two. My companion, Scott from Arbis LLP, had been dropped after his chain fell off. At least we had excuses for being dropped, perhaps we could make them count.
We continued for a while, not seeing anyone else.
On the third lap a race official’s car overtook us. A solo rider from the women’s race wasn’t far behind us. We looked back to see a lone rider pushing hard behind us. We lifted our pace with male pride, but the two of us couldn’t hold her off. I let her go by, Scott drafted onto her wheel and I was alone again.
I caught a couple more dropped riders. We were told the lone women’s race rider had put several minutes into the rest of her race, so there was little danger of being caught by them. The small crowd at the finish line had been encouraging us on, so we agreed to continue for the final lap.
We caught Scott in the final miles. As we approached the climb for the last time our pace lifted. When the slope steepened I dropped into the small ring without incident (just like the previous 3 times) and, to sympathetic applause, crossed the line ahead of the other three. Dropped but I had finished.
Back at race HQ I caught up with James. On the first climb, where I had gone backwards, he had gone forwards into a small breakaway. They had stayed away and he had taken 4th. Chapeau James, a deserved result.
Vittoria Bussi was the soloist winner of the women’s race. She’s a 1st Cat, so that’s some compensation for having being caught.
Anyway, I still need to phone my LBS!… But before thanks to Welland Valley CC for organising the races, it was an excellently executed event!