The verges are speckled yellow with flowering celandine and blossoming blackthorn bushes shine a brilliant white in the greening hedgerows, alive with the sound of songbirds. Beneath the trees dog’s mercury plants form a verdant carpet before the bluebells burst open. Yes, on a breezy April morning East Northamptonshire is, I’m sure, a lovely place for a countryside stroll. But not when you’re meant to be racing.
The Southwick race didn’t get off to a good start. I was in the third group and a small team of riders set a hard pace from the start. It’s something I’ve seen before at Southwick, but I was caught unawares by the force of this move. Down the hill, we turned left and picked up a strong tailwind. The leaders set a frantic pace and pulled our fracturing group along at 50kmph. An attempt at organisation was made, and I did a turn at the front, but it seemed like the lead riders weren’t interested in any coalition, they wanted a minority bunch and looked to have the power to do it.
Fellow club mate David H started with me but didn’t stay for long. We turned into a cross wind and then I too was dropped. For the next lap I kept two more dropped riders, working together, in sight. They were something to aim for and I held, gaining on the hill but dropping back in the tailwind.
Along the back straight a police car overtook just before a left turn. It accelerated hard out of the junction and coughed out a choking cloud of black exhaust. It hung in the air; I rode around it before the wind whipped it away.
A mile later and I saw the fourth group over my shoulder. Kettering John rode past with a hello Richard, my cue to jump on. I was absorbed into the bunch and sat in over the hill. On the other side the group worked and I did a few turns, but by the end of the third lap it was quite apparent there were a core of four riders pushing the group along. We had caught and dropped the two riders I had been following then caught and dropped a few more, Lewis from the club and starting in the 2nd group among them. My adopted group was thinning down too. When they had caught me I think they had numbered about 10, but as we started the last lap they were down to 6, plus me.
We were in the last half of the last lap and I started thinking about the finish. John had attacked, but the rider wearing number 1 had reeled him back. The lead group was out of sight, they had ridden well and deserved to fight for the win. The chasing groups, including St Neots’ David P and Joe, were nowhere to be seen. It looked like we would sprint for some minor placings together.
We crested the little kick, barely two kilometres from the finish and headed down the gnarly road back to Southwick. I followed a wheel and thumped into a pothole. My back wheel then mood deflated in quick succession.
That then is how I found myself traipsing along a frigging country lane in stupid cleats, pushing my bike, when instead, I should’ve been gunning my legs up a hill sprinting to a line across the road.