Rain. It was forecast and the forecast was right. I checked online and the rain was set to continue until late morning then brighten up. Rain followed me along the A14 and the A6116. The parking field at Middleton was soggy and full of steamed up cars. I signed on and the rain got heavier so I retreated back to my car; the windows steamed up. A few minutes before 10am I assembled at the start line along with everyone else. It was still raining and I just wanted to get moving if only to warm up.
We headed out neutralised, passing through Middleton, over the Bringhurst hill and down to Great Easton. We took a left on to the long drag climb up the Stockerston Road, more affectionately known as the Devil’s Staircase and here the flag dropped, the race began.
The Devil’s Staircase is a climb in two parts. The first is a gentle drag averaging around 3% over 2km. Midway there is a dip then the second and nasty part of the climb begins. The climb gets progressively steeper, going to a leg sapping 10%, before easing off to a false flat before the Medbourne turn. From bottom to top the climb ascends 100m, plus another 10m from the dip. To make conditions a little tougher, on Friday the council had surface dressed the road. It had been brushed since, but there were still plenty of loose chippings; it made for heavy going but, on the plus side, the rain had somewhere to drain, lessening the peloton’s spray.
First time around and a few riders were struggling from the start, but mostly we all stayed together over the first part of the climb. We reached the dip and a sudden acceleration launched from the front. The King of the Mountains jersey, leaders jersey and the St Neots’ own David P were attacking. It split the bunch and I was caught on the wrong side.
I made it to the top and joined up with some other riders, Gareth among them. We picked up a couple more dropped riders and set to work. We were around 10 strong and set to work, but the front group had soon disappeared from sight. There were some strong riders in that group and I don’t think any of us expected to see them again.
We reached the Devil’s Staircase for the second climb. I think Gareth got a loose piece of road stuck between his rim and frame and was forced to make a quick stop. That was the last I saw of him in the race. We were passing riders again too, only they were on foot and going down the hill; the surface dressing was taking a high toll.
After the climb the circuit turned left on to the B664, down to Medbourne. Smooth surfaced and downhill, I guess in better weather this is a fast stretch of road, but today we running into a headwind. The stretch just before the descent was the hardest and it was here that the group’s attitude to shared pain really broke down. On each lap, one Leicester Forest Rider took the bulk of the abuse and dragged us to the descent. By Medbourne, on easier roads, we were working again. Perhaps 5 of us were doing the bulk of the work with 3 riders taking most of the initiative. That’s not to say everyone else just sat in, they didn’t, they did contribute to the chain gang just not consistently; everyone worked just not equally.
The last two climbs up the Staircase were hard. I was fine for the nursery slopes, but the steep ending was becoming a real knee buster. To make it worse I could hear Wayne and Stacey in the first aid car behind, rather I could hear the car’s tyres crunch over the chippings as it crawled up the slope. I kept thinking “don’t pass, don’t pass”, then “just wind down your window and let me hang on”. All I got was a shout of encouragement from Wayne – it was enough.
On the penultimate lap two riders decided to break away. I can’t remember who went first but the final group was made up from the pair of Leicester Forest lads, along with a rider each from Peterborough and Welland Valley. I tried to chase them back with some help from a Concord rider. We kept them in sight and on the final climb they broke apart. the Peterborough rider kept up his gap and stayed away, the other three came back to us.
On the last lap we didn’t really attack each other rather, if you had anything left in the tank you used it. Our group thinned down to a half dozen. Just before Drayton, with a tail wind pushing me on I decided to hit the front and try to get away. Less than a kilometre to go, I looked down and couldn’t see anyone behind me. 250m to go and I realised I wasn’t alone; at least one rider was back on my wheel. The road lifted up for the finish, all I could do was apply more pressure and push a bit harder. It wasn’t enough though. The Leicester, Welland and one other rider surged by in a sprint for the line. All I cold do was follow them across. . We finished about 10 minutes down on the winning bunch.
I finished 31st, but if I had been a bit more tactical it should’ve been a few minor places higher. I’m not sure how many started, but certainly not yesterday’s field of 70. David’s day had been better than mine finishing second overall from a lead group of 17. I was disappointed not to stay with the lead group on that first climb, but overall, starting off with the tail end of a cold, I was happy with my performance on what is a tough circuit on a tough day.
Finally well done and a big thank you to Rockingham Forest Wheelers and all their helpers. It was a good event, I enjoyed it. I hope to be back again next year and feeling a bit more competitive, although I’ll probably still be washing out the grit!