What a gorgeous day for a race – warm and clear in the heart of the beautiful Welland valley. It’s a part of the world I love ride, but it’s a circuit I’ve never really enjoyed. There were three of us from St Neots, I was joined by Gareth and Alan. Unfortunately Tim, Joe and Gary had cried off due to injury – two broken bones and tendonitis. Otherwise there was a good turnout and a large field took to the bow tie shaped circuit, spanning the Welland River.
The race got off to a fast start. Three riders slipped off the front while attacks continued in the bunch. I was near the front with Alan, we also had moral support from chain gang regular Ed, in his first race, but looking strong. Each of us had a dig off the front, but the pace remained high and any move was countered by the bunch. The risk was finding you were towing several score riders. The breakaway were doing well to keep up the gap.
On the second lap the pace calmed down a little. The breakaway was maintaining their gap, but mostly remained in sight. I was feeling good and happy, and I clearly wasn’t the only one. I saw Gareth moving smoothly along the right side of the bunch and he was soon leading the pack for what turned out to be a big turn, no one willing to takeover the work. As we started the third lap he had moved further back, and on one of the bends a rider ahead of him unclipped on Middleton bend. Luckily there wasn’t a crash, but Gareth and a few others were delayed by the incident. Such was the pace of the race they had little chance of getting back into contention.
Going through Medbourne, on the third lap, the breakaway was swallowed up. After the race I learned Tom, Circuit of the Fens organiser, was one of the three breakaways. For a moment they had thought they could make it stick, certainly it was a brave effort, but given the bunch’s average speed, staying away was never going to be easy.
From Medbourne the circuit dragged over to Ashley and the long road back to Middleton. The Middleton road was fast. Each time through Ashley the speed ramped up as the leaders stretched the bunch through the cars parked at the road side. Alan, Ed and I were all still with the bunch and were mostly staying in the front quarter. However, as we started the last lap I had found I had drifted further back. I’m not sure how it happened, but I hoped to salvage my position on the Great Easton climb. I didn’t. The bunch ascended rapidly and I gained only a few places.
Onto the Middleton Road I still had a poor position, but a chance for advancement came when a rider started moving forward on the inside. I got on his wheel and seconds later was in the top 10, just. However, he didn’t continue to press forward and moments later a group 45 RC riders powered down the outside. We were swamped, more riders spilled around and I was back where I started, still on the riders wheel. He moved forward again, I followed but he didn’t press on and again we drifted back. After the third time I had had enough. I saw St Ives’s Jordan just behind me. I moved to the right and threaded my way to the outside. It had a cost me a few further places, but with less than a kilometre to go I started to move forward into the leading 15. I was feeling good and ready for a sprint, I had the adrenalin buzz and the race lust was on me, with an opening I could make a decent sprint of it. I was enjoying the race.
The road to Middleton is more or less straight apart from one sharp right hand bend about 200m from the finish line. Going around it everyone moved to the right. I was squeezed onto the gravel between road and verge. A void opened to the left which was soon filled by riders further back. I should have anticipated that and now I was out of contention, but at least I stayed clear of a crash not far behind me.
In the post race discussions over tea and cake I caught up with Jordan. He’d stayed over on the left, where I had been, and scrapped into 10th. I had finished 23rd. Tempting though it seemed, a lurch to the right didn’t pay off! A good race, well organised by Johnny and his VC Rutland crew. For the first time I enjoyed racing at Middleton and now I’m fired up for Rockingham…roll on Thursday…
Gareth 57th+, but crash delayed