I had been lowering my expectations for Saturday afternoon all week. Much of the morning seemed to be spent mentally composing the excuses for what, I felt, would be an inevitably dismal race. Arriving at the Walgrave HQ I bumped into Jordan, one of the St Ives riders, and he asked how I was. “Alright”, I answered, “got a bit of a cold though”. The girls have had running noses and barking coughs since the last race and by mid-week they had passed their bugs over to me. He sympathised and articulated my earlier thoughts – children are biological weapons. To ease the tensions in Ukraine and Crimea, you don’t need the limp threat of EU sanctions or John Kerry daftly rattling America’s brittle Cold War sabre, the UN should just parachute in a few children, contagious with the common cold, and they’ll soon confine whole armies to the infirmary; a few coughs and sneezes over Kerry, Hague, Ashton and Putin wouldn’t go amiss either.
Anyway, back to the race. I was in the 4th group along with Tim and eight others, Gareth and Lewis were in a very large 3rd group, while Joe was in a very small 5th group, just ahead of scratch (that’s what happens if you win races). My group was 9.30 minutes behind the lead group and 2.30 minutes ahead of scratch.
From the outset one rider was dropped, but the rest of us soon settled into a steady workmanlike ride, working well together and keeping a high pace. Turning left onto Mawsley road we were riding into a brutish headwind, but we continued to work together. Onto the Lamport road and thuggish crosswinds battered our exposed flanks, but we continued to work well and even down the fast descent to old (touching speeds into the mid-40mph) we kept it together. With a tailwind on the climb through Old we made good progress, and I was pleased to be leading the way, I wasn’t feeling too bad. A couple of riders came through and I expected the cooperation to continue, but it didn’t. I looked around and saw our group had been halved; Tim was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the first lap had pushed some of the riders a little too hard.
The five of us left continued where we had left off, working well, and as we approached the left turn in to the Mawsley headwind we started to collect riders from a badly fragmented 3rd group. Not long after the scratch group, Joe among them, caught us. We jumped on their wheels and continued passing by small groups of 3rd group riders. It was good to see Gareth and Lewis up in what was left of a small leading fragment, but none of them managed to latch onto our increasingly select bunch.
I had started out with Jordan and he was still with me in that. I said to him, perhaps if we can hang on with these we might be in for some points. Well, that was a mistake. Up ahead was the Lamport road’s merciless crosswind and it dawned on me, this was a small group being pushed hard. The 2nds are going to use that wind against us and the way my lungs were starting to feel, there probably wasn’t much I could answer with.
Sure enough, the front of our group accelerated. A gap opened in front of a Rockingham rider but I bridged across. Joe had fallen back and I came alongside him. Again a gap started to open. Joe pushed across it, but he wasn’t looking comfortable (at the end of the race, Tim reported that when he’d gone passed he’d just had time to say “they’re killing me”). Still Joe had the legs to make it, but I didn’t and the gap widened.
I fell back and briefly had company from Jordan and a young Fenland Clarion lad, but on the way to Old I dropped them.
Onto the final lap and the lead riders were nearly 4 minutes ahead. I didn’t know how many there were, but I was passing a few and each one meant a better placing. More importantly, no one was catching me. So, I time trialed around the last lap, unsure exactly where I was, but, considering the impact of children on my immune system, pleasantly happy with my race. Right now I’m telling myself, had I been bug free I could have stayed with the scratch group, for a while at least. Well, we’re back there next week and I should be in better health, so I’ll find the proof of that theory. Or not.
Back at HQ I found I was 28th. I was a little disappointed with that. Nearly two thirds of those ahead of me had always been ahead of me in this race. The 3rd group had imploded, our group had split, then the scratch group had further fragmented us before chasing down the lead groups. Perhaps, had the 3rd group been more cohesive, the scratch riders wouldn’t have found it quite so easy to shrug off the odd riders, picked up from the other groups. Maybe the result would have been different, but it didn’t happen like, the wind was never going to let it.
Joe was the best placed St Neots rider finishing 9th, 1 minute 25 seconds behind the winner! Lewis and Gareth finished as thirtysomethings and Tim DNF’d.