Articulation has returned to my finger joints, my knuckles can flex and my thumbs oppose; they have thawed after the 4th, and final, race in the early NCRA spring series. I can type again.
Saturday morning started off pleasant enough for the time of year, but by race time the skies had clouded over in a menacing mood. Nothing unexpected about that, after all the forecast had been for showers. Under the clouds the temperature had dropped, but the sun was still around somewhere, so while we waited for Alan, Tim, Wayne and I discussed what to wear; how much to layer up, leg warmers or not, waterproof top? You didn’t want to be too hot or too cold, but in the end we opted for our personal preferences.
There were only 5 groups on the start line, Tim was in the 2nd, I was in the 3rd while Wayne and Alan were in the 4th. Tim’s group was large, as was mine, starting with about 20 riders.
Once off, it took us about a mile, but we did get organised. However, the group wasn’t quite so smooth as last week and it wasn’t long before a couple of riders were dropped. The wind had shifted from the previous week too, last weeks Lamport crosswind was now more of a headwind, but on the first lap it was the descent and climb to Old which again did more damage. Two of the stronger looking riders drove a fast pace and dislodged a few off the back. After Old we were down to ten men, the stronger ten men and so the pace, if anything got a little higher.
On the Mawsley road we picked up a few strays from group 2, but we soon dropped them. Then it was the Lamport road. We were down to eight men now, but after a good start I was struggling and was dropped.
It started to spot with rain. Not much, but they were cold drops. I looked behind and saw group 4 a way down the road, so, I decided to wait, rest and jump on their wheel. At the lumpier end of Lamport road I heard a shout “Come on Richard! jump on!”. I looked right and Alan was leading the group passed me. I accelerated and jumped on as ordered. Wayne was also there and the rest of the riders were still working well. I slipped into place to take my turns. Yet again there was a rate of attrition and after we left Old, the group wasn’t as large as it had been. The rain was falling a little harder now, although it was nothing exceptional.
The group got smaller again when Wayne, a 45 RC rider and I started to fall off the back. Onto the Mawsley road we were soon picked up by a small scratch group, only 5 riders I think and together we rode into Hell.
Without warning the rain switched to a hail storm of Biblical strength. It pelted into our faces, blinding our eyes and stinging our checks. I pulled down my cycle cap but it was a poor defence against the barrage. My arms and hands were being sheathed in crystalline guantlets and vambraces as the hail settled and compacted. What was, 30 minutes earlier, a dry road was now a chill river and, without overshoes, my feet were quickly soaked. My hands, protected only by mitts, were flame red, burning with the cold. I could hardly hold the brakes or shift the gears. Worse I could barely make out the riders ahead of me. Sometimes, being a specs wearer can be a disadvantage, and this was one of those occasions. On the outside the melt water streaked across the lenses, on the inside they fogged up, reducing everything around me to blurred shapes. I was terribly cold, but for all that I finally felt good, riding with this group was fine, but I feared a crash, and this time I deliberately eased off.
Barely 30 seconds later the first aid car emerged from the tempest ahead. I could see a bike down. I rode by and looked at the opposite verge, to the rider splayed on his back like a demented ice-bather. The blood on Wayne’s temple testified against that. I couldn’t leave a team-mate like that, so I pulled over to see how he was, hoping for nothing broken. He was shaken and soon on his feet, though not on his bike.
I opted to finish the race, not that I had much choice. By the Lamport road the hail storm had abated to mere cold rain. I caught a couple of riders and rode back, frozen and wet. I wasn’t going fast and at the bottom of the Old climb three unexpected riders overtook me, racing for the finish line. Naturally I wasn’t having that. I had some distance to make up, so I accelerated and was soon back on terms then passing all three, but one of them had enough to answer my response and beat me by a wheel.
Back at HQ, towels were out, someone was wrapped in a space blanket and hot tea was being necked as fast as it could be poured. The small skinny riders were shaking like blue lipped shrews, nor were the bigger riders immune from shivers, huddled in groups, dissecting the race between chattering teeth.
Alan had survived in his group, they had evaded the scratch group, but most had failed to make the leading elements of the groups. Tim’s group had been caught by what was left of my original bunch. They had split, but Tim had stayed with them to take 6th place. A good result on an atrocious day that even the hard men would struggle to enjoy. Wayne was a bit bloodied, but otherwise OK.
Finally, thanks to Jason, Bourne Wheelers, for the loan of a tyre (before the race, my front tyre had acquired a gash exposing a couple of millimetres of inner tube), but an even bigger thank you to the marshals who had to endure some truly horrendous weather.