Sun brings ’em out, rain keeps ’em away, so, after the days torrential downpours and thunderstorms, it was a much smaller field that lined up for the evenings race than last week. Not that fewer numbers equate to an easier ride, the hard men, and those of us who fancy ourselves as such, aren’t put off by a bit of water.
There were only three groups, I was in the middle with nine other riders, Wayne was in the third group and Alan, racing at Rockingham for the first time, was in the lead group.
Our group got off to a good start, we worked pretty well, but I felt we could have gone faster. For the first couple of laps we could see the second cats gaining on us and I was feeling comfortable enough with the pace that a bit more pressure would have been welcome. But it didn’t happen, if anything it felt like we were slowing up – after one trip round the circuit’s u-bend I suddenly found I had a gap. I didn’t fancy a solo chase to the lead group so, I soft pedalled and waited to be absorbed back into the group. With hindsight, perhaps a bunch of us should have attacked the group and tried to breakaway at a faster pace. I felt up to it and a couple of the other lads looked up to it too, but, since none of us took the initiative it didn’t happen and in due course we were caught by the second cats.
Wayne was still there and our merged groups set about sweeping away the fourth cats. Seeing us closing in, they had broken up and we caught them in dribs and drabs, Alan was one of the last two, paired up with a girl from the Wyndymilla team. He didn’t sit up though, instead he crouched low over his bars, riding hard and defiant to the end; a brave gesture and I hope some remember it come next Thursday.
With the fourth cats all caught, the pace really started to ramp up. There were a series of attacks; some of the seconds were riding formidably well. Each time there was an attack the group stretched, fraying at the tail end, but each time it sprung back, sometimes smaller, sometimes not. I was finding it hard riding, very hard riding, and I was starting to wonder how much more I could take when the three laps to go sign was held up. It was a relief of sorts, I at least knew how much longer I needed to hang on and take the pain the second cats were freely handing out. Besides, if I was feeling tired I knew damn well others in the group were too, it was an optimistic straw to hold on to.
The penultimate lap came and with it a sense of relief. True I was hurting to stay with the group, and by the group I mean the half dozen riders at the front setting the pace, not the rest of us hanging on to their wheels. I knew I couldn’t win, but as we got onto the final lap, another top ten position looked like a definite possibility. The attacks continued, I stayed with it. Half way round we got to the ramp. I had space around me, we weren’t tightly bunched, but suddenly a wheel appeared where I wasn’t expecting one. My front wheel was overlapping the right side of their rear one and I felt the bike pull across and had the awareness to sense what would happen next. I unclipped my right foot, the wheels were no longer touching, but I had a wobble going on and I slammed down to the speedway.
Immediately I felt a burning rush through back and up my thigh. There was blood on my left knee and a tear in my skin suit, fortunately it looked small and stitchable. I rested a moment and a couple of blokes who’d been walking round the track came over to see if I was alright. One of them picked up my bike and commented how light it was. Sensing no bones were broken and establishing I had got away with only road rash and a bloody cut on my knee, I was now more concerned about the bike. Alan rode past, leading a small group of stragglers.
I got back on the bike as the victors were riding around from the finish. I caught up with Wayne, he’d come fifth, a good result. I crossed the line. Last, but I crossed the line.
It’s been a few years since I crashed in a race, its something that happens, and then the outcome was worse; a broken collarbone and a baby daughter who didn’t understand why I wasn’t picking her up. You tell yourself it’s only a bike race, you give advice to new club mates, ease off if it gets a bit much, it’s only a bike. But then you line up, the race starts, you get round to the final lap and the adrenalin is pumping, you feel alive in away that normal life rarely provides. It isn’t just a bike race, it’s a life affirming buzz. Sat on the sofa, watching TV, stuffing down crap, it ain’t, but then, neither am I sat on the sofa, watching TV, stuffing down crap, nursing a broken bone and muttering “it’s only a bike race, idiot”.