Our cycling club, St Neots CC, is, by cycling’s standard, an old club. We can trace our roots back to the late 19th century, and the club has the history to match its long life. During its existence the club membership has known some lean times, and few have been leaner than the start of the 21st century. I joined in 2006 and accounted for 100% of that year’s new intake. Our membership languished in single figures and the very idea of promoting a race was a fantasy. Half a dozen riders out for our summer evening club TT was our benchmark for success. We were close to folding and donning the red kit of our nearest neighbours, but we didn’t and, thanks in no small part to cycling’s rapid growth over the last few years, we have recovered and expanded. These days we’re a fairly large club, we finished last year with well over 100 members, and most of them active in the club too.
So why the potted club history for an NCRA road race review? Well, Saturday 8th March has loomed large in my calendar for some months, and in the last couple of weeks leading up to it, it swelled to an enormous balloon of anxiety and excitement. You see, the date was our club’s turn to host an event in the NCRA spring series; it was when the club realised that fantasy to promote a race. It’s been a big milestone in the club’s recent history and fortunately we have been well supported by the NCRA framework; Rowland Summerlin and Andrew Weatherby were both a big help, organising permits and commissaires, as were St Ives Cycling Club who provided a lot of the equipment our club currently lacks. Even so, it has been a steep learning curve.
True enough we’ve got a couple of sportive events under our saddles and, even through the bad times, the club TTs never stopped (although 2 riders are much easier to cater for than 25 plus), but a road race is something else. More than anything it needs man power. The club is lucky to have an enthusiastic membership although most of our members haven’t grown up in the old cycling club culture – our demographic does have a MAMILish bias. Getting people to volunteer, to help with signing on, marshaling the course and even driving lead cars wasn’t a problem, but it was the first time anyone had done it, so we needed that enthusiasm to cover for our collective ignorance!
To the race then. Five of us lined up from St Neots: Gareth, Wayne, Joe, Alan (first race) and me. I had originally planned to sit this one out, but bowed a little bit to peer pressure (and more to my own desire to race it) and so relented.
The race got under way under clear skies, but against a strong southerly headwind. The first stretch of the course, heading south along the B660 was an exposed hard slog, then it was up and over the Mill Hill, a deceptive climb where the road weaves just enough that you can’t ever quite see what’s up ahead, until the last moment when it delivers you on to an almost 10% gradient to the summit. There was some respite on the descent, but then you’re back into more headwind on the long drag into Keysoe. After Keysoe the terrain was flat and at Bolnhurst we took a left turn out of the wind. The pace picked up considerably. At the Bushmead crossroads we took another left turn for Little Staughton.
The marshals were doing an excellent job guiding the riders through, and going round I was proud of them, especially given it was their first time marshaling – I know I’m biased, but they are all a credit to the club.
Little Staughton was one of two parts of the course I had a few reservations about. The course descended Spring Hill, an average 6% drop through a residential area, and with a left turn at the bottom (by the foot of the climb we were riding at around 30mph); however, the road was clear of parked cars and the left turn didn’t prove too fearsome for the riders.
From Staughton we headed to a crossroads (this was my other reservation). We should have gone across, but instead the lead car turned left, shaving just under a mile off the course. I gather a bit of confusion ensued. Still, it didn’t cause any serious problems and, like the marshals, the lead cars did an otherwise great job, guiding the riders safely around the circuit.
The next turn took us back on to the B660 and into the wind for the climbs.
A reduced scratch group caught our group early on. Wayne wasn’t with them and as they came through I was struggling to stay on. Joe, on the other hand, looked fine. We picked up a few dropped riders from the lead groups only to spit them out the back. I know this because that is where I was hanging on. I was hoping for some respite when we caught the lead groups, but that didn’t happen. I looked for Alan and Gareth, but only Alan was still there – Gareth had gone across the crossroads, following the correct course. Joe was looking increasingly strong while my legs had the motive power of unset jelly.
After the Bushmead crossroads, along with a Kettering rider, I was finally dislodged. A few miles down the road we caught Peterborough CC’s Nick Smith and another rider. The latter was dropped and it wasn’t much longer before Peterborough and Kettering dropped me. My legs just were not in it. With hindsight I think I had burned away my adrenalin with last minute organisation in the morning’s lead up to the race. I finished 30th. Still I’ll get to find out whether my theory is correct on Saturday, at the next race. I hope so, I don’t want Naseby to be a fluke!
For the rest of the club racers, fortunes were mixed. Despite the extra mileage, Gareth didn’t finish last, while Wayne DNF’d following a cramp. Alan had a good race, being the 2nd 4th cat to finish and 12th overall, an excellent result for a first race on a testing course. Joe was not only 1st 4th cat, but also took the win, and on only his second race too!
So, overall it was a good day for the club, true we had some teething problems, but we’ll learn from them and we kick-started our new race-promoting era with a home win. I’m already looking forward to the 2015 races; only next year, I’ll leave the bike at home…