For the 9th race in the Rockingham Series I was joined by Wayne and Alasdair. I was still smarting from Sunday’s Duncan Murray Wines race and determined to have a go tonight, so after signing on I caught up with James from Bourne Wheelers. “Attack?” I asked and knowing the reply. “Don’t encourage him!” from his team mate Jason.
The organisers had decided to play around with the handicapping tonight, setting the 4th and 2nd Cats off together, with us 3rds a couple of minutes behind. To be on parity, the 2nd cats needed to lap the 4th cats.
There were 14 in our 3rd cat group and we watched the 2nd cats smash the 4ths to pieces on the first straight. Nevertheless, our group had a good opportunity to survive the 2nd cats, but only on the understanding that we needed to work as a coherent unit. Unfortunately the organisation, despite a few enlightened moments, never really materialised. There were a handful of passengers, but mostly riders were willing to share the effort. The problem was that a couple of riders insisted on hitting the front as hard as they could, and then pushing a little bit more. Unfortunately it meant the rider following couldn’t come through and the bunch lined out. Close to blowing, the lead rider would then wonder why he’d been left on the front, before pulling off to recover then repeat it all over again. I think we would gladly have let them go, but while they were strong they were never quite strong enough to pull fully away.
After a while most of just got fed up. Riders no longer volunteered to the front, rather they found themselves stranded there. By degrees the pace dropped from an mph in the high twenties to one the low twenties. James came alongside me and said “10 minutes”. I nodded agreement. 5 minutes later though and we should have gone; the 2nds were breathing down our collective neck.
The first few laps with the 2nds were fast with hard attacks a regular feature. On one occasion, heading down the first straight after the start line, we were lined out at 35mph, reeling the latest attack back in. I was in 7th or 8th position, in the top 10 were opinion suggests you’re safest. Ahead, but not at the front, one rider vaulted over another followed by the noise of carbon and lightweight groupsets smacked against tarmac. Shattered debris and two riders spun slid the track. The rider ahead of me swerved out of danger, giving me first sight of a horizontal wheel drifting into my line. My body reacted to my senses, surging adrenalin as it prepared for an injurious flight, yet by a couple of inches, I avoided a collision. The adrenalin subsided, I offered up thanks and felt drained of energy.
For the next three laps we watched the two downed riders, with kit ripped and bloodied, carry their bikes back to the start. We kept a moderate pace.
It was one of the riders from our original group who restarted the attacks. He gained some space. No one tried to get across, but our pace quickened by degrees and he was reabsorbed. A stronger attack went next which was dealt with greater expediency. The next 3rd cat to attack was again given some rope to dangle from and given a few minutes solo riding. There seemed to be a consensus in the peloton’s mind; riders who look strong we chase, otherwise they can burn themselves out and we will pick them up a few minutes later. I wondered which camp I would fall into?
No one followed me when I attacked. I wasn’t chased so I forged ahead and bit by bit increased my distance over the bunch. Certainly I felt I was making more of a gap and lasting longer than the previous attacks. As incentive I could also see the remainder of the 4th cat group ahead. As I took the bend onto the home straight I could see the bunch parallel to me. They were strung out, chasing three riders who had splintered off the front. Perhaps belatedly they had realised I was stronger than they originally thought, at least that’s what I like to think.
I eased a fraction for the three to bridge to me, reasoning four are stronger than one. They arrived with their gap still intact. I jumped onto the last man’s wheel expecting a few moments of recovery before rotating for my turn. Only it didn’t happen. The second man wasn’t going through to do a turn and with resignation I realised I had fallen in with a one man attack weighted by two passengers. Not long after we were reeled back in.
We caught the 4th cats with three laps to go. Attacks were frequent and the racing nervous. On the final lap, as riders jostled for position, judging from the cursing, another crash was narrowly avoided.
Going round the final bend Wayne and I were both well placed for the bunch sprint. Coming out of it we, everyone dug as hard as they could for the line. I could see Wayne ahead, having his adrenalin surge, pushing forward to the front to come alongside Jamie Scott the Maxifuel rider. Wayne took his first win, I finished just outside of the top 10, 12th or 13th probably. Alasdair was nowhere in the sprint either, but he had won the 4th cat’s prime lap.
An excellent night for St Neots CC, with excellent results for Wayne and Alasdair – chapeau gents! – but I came away not having enjoyed the race. Had we worked early on we should have stayed clear only, yet my hopes had been frustrated by other riders. Of course that’s just racing, only tonight, for some reason it niggled. But I was also frustrated with my own expectations. I had gone into race the knowing I was race tired, something a late afternoon nap had done nothing to rectify. So when I managed to get into my best position yet for the bunch sprint, I couldn’t capitalise on it. I know I can’t rival Wayne’s sprint, but I should have had a top 10 placing.