The elite race may have been cancelled and the circuit HQ moved from Whittlesey to the Five Ales in Benwick, but the support race was still going ahead. The club had been asked if we could spare a few volunteers, so three of us headed over. David H and Adrian were to marshal at Benwick while I would be in the race convoy driving Andy, Commissaire 3.
First thing on Sunday morning was really quite pleasant. Adrian and I had agreed to meet up for an early 50 miler and rode into Northamptonshire. With not much wind and absolutely no rain, it was by far the best part of the day. I was home for 9am, plenty of time to get ready. I picked up Adrian and David just as it started raining. Driving over the rain got heavier and I had to endure a steady litany of moans, mostly from David, about being roped into standing in the rain. They had an umbrellas and water proofs, I couldn’t see what the fuss was about. And then there was the back seat, well front passenger seat really, driving. It reminded me of family holidays with my grandparents in the car. Let’s leave it that I never thought I would be so glad to arrive in Benwick.
At HQ we had our briefings and Andy pimped my ride with a loud hailer, race board and flashing light. We were ready to race, well follow a race. The race cars were all parked in a side road and we were expected pull out in turn ahead of the riders. Police outriders led the way, followed by Lead car 1, com 1 and one of two Shimano neutral service cars. I was meant to go next, but the service car only just made it out in front of the bunch. I had no gap so Andy and I had to sit the first lap out. It meant we saw the first stopped rider even before leaving the village; he’d had minor gear trouble and wasn’t two happy when we wouldn’t tow him up to the race. I sympathised but that wasn’t our job. He disappeared unhappy. He reappeared a few minutes later drafting behind a car.
We monitored progress on race radio. When the front of the convoy passed we slipped in ahead of the race. I couldn’t tell how big the field was, but radio chatter suggested it was thinning down. Certainly it was fast and in my rear view mirror I could see a steady stream of riders taking turns to attack.
After Forty Foot, the Chief Com decided to move my car behind the main bunch – the race was already that fractured. I pulled in and waited for them to pass. It became difficult to see what was happening now that we were behind the bunch but, from the way a couple of riders were struggling to stay on, the pace must have been high and at every bend we could see a pair of riders dangling carrot fashion off the front.
Onto the third lap, leaving Benwick, arms shot into the air like an over enthusiastic school class. Half a dozen riders punctured in a short stretch, Jake being one of them. Depending on your point of view, he was one of the lucky few who got the last of the neutral service spares. For the next half lap I watched him, teamed up with a Nottingham rider, work hard to get back into the bunch. They may have got a little bit of a tow as they approached the bunch and they made contact just before the rough surface of Dykemoor Drove. Jake disappeared into the bunch. The car bounced around on the uneven road, and the Notts rider fought to stay in contact. By the end of the drove he was off and we left him for one of the other small groups trying to form on the road behind.
Back on the long straight Forty Foot road, I pulled up close behind the bunch. The com wanted to make a tally of the rider numbers. We counted around 35 left, only slightly more than a third of the number starting.
Over the radio came news of a minor problem – a lorry was wanting to pull onto Dykemoor Drove. The question of what to do him was answered when one of the riders went spinning through air and onto the verge. The ambulance behind us stopped, other than being soggier and muddier than before the rider was otherwise OK.
The laps tended to blend into each other. The Fenland monotony was exacerbated by big grey rain soaked skies, diminishing to a watery impression of a horizon. So I think it was the fifth lap when the decisive break finally happened. Attacks had been thinning the group down further until five riders broke off the front, Jake included. Six more took off in pursuit and the remainder just seemed relieved to no longer be being punished by the sharp end.
The gap between the pursuers and the main group lengthened and we were instructed to move into it. For me and Andy, the race was down to just eleven riders. On Forty Foot the front bunch eased off and allowed the chasers to join up. There was a bit of commotion when they joined up and one rider dropped off. Now they were 10. The gap to the next group was pushing two minutes, but they didn’t know that.
One of the group, a Welland Valley rider, punctured. The neutral service had restocked and he managed to get back on.
Throughout the race the commissaries had being giving time checks to each other, the Benwick village sign and the turns on to Forty Foot and Dykemoor Drove being favourite points, but so far we hadn’t communicated any gaps to the bunch. On the last lap we did. They had a convincing lead and the knowledge of it had an instant effect; they slowed, they had time to play with. The second group on the road had good riders, but they were only 14 and had little chance of making up a nearly four minute deficit. By Benwick, the first time check having been on Forty Foot, the chasers had clawed back a minute, but for the leaders the race was almost over.
They accelerated through the village and took the final bend fast. Too fast for one rider who slid to the deck taking another rider with him and causing all but one of the rest to brake hard. St Ives Rory was the man left standing and went on to take the win, Jake led the remainder home, his second place leaving him just 4 points shy of his 1st cat licence – that would have to wait until Alconbury.
23 riders finished. It was still raining, but David and Adrian seemed happy with their days marshalling work, despite the signals I had been getting on later laps. By the pub. Since the finish was outside the pub I brought them both a pint for their troubles, possibly not their first though.