If this race report was a TV show it would open with a close up of my grimacing face. My voiceover would be revealing my inner monologue. It would be saying something like “how the hell did I get here?” The screen would then fade to black and it would cut to a sunny autumn day. Across the bottom of the screen would be the words “Earlier that day.” It would get terrible reviews. They would be deserved.
Awful. Just awful. The Daily Telegraph.
October brings with it the end of the season. The first time you read the word “spooktacular” in a supermarket promotional display, your thoughts turn towards putting your feet up for a few months. First of all though, I’ve got to get the Weaver Valley Road Race out of the way.
On the morning of the race I’m wondering whether I should bother or not. Only by finishing first, second, third and fourth have I really got a chance of getting my 2nd cat licence. Quantum Physics tells me that this is possible but I’m not pinning all my hopes on it happening. British Cycling is in enough bother as it is without having to explain to Cycling Weekly why one rider managed to finish in each of the top 5 places in the same race. Also I don’t fancy having to go on the Andrew Marr show.
I do turn up to race, though. It’s the end of season and unlike at the end of a school term cycling events make it near impossible to bring in games. It’s a shame because Pass the Pigs fits very neatly into a jersey pocket.
In lieu of playing games I decide to just have as much fun with this race as I can.
As I sit writing this I realise now that I’ve not done my usual bit of writing loads about my journey to the race and things that have, at best, only a tenuous link to a cycling race report. To go back in time so that I can cram all that in I’m going to need a clever plot device….
Earlier that day……
It’s 8.20am and as I would later find out my screams of “for fuck’s sake” can be heard not only in the Fiat Seicento, but also by my wife who is hanging out of our bedroom window. She’s trying to get my attention because she thinks I’ve left without one of my wheels. I haven’t but it’s irrelevant because I’m too busy losing my mind and screaming obscenities at a sat nav that is offering me no respect whatsoever. Nothing else interesting happens for a while now.
*the screen fades to black. Text appears accompanied by typewriter sounds*
Sun. October 9th.
“With it’s graphics straight up copied from the X-Files, this is derivative television at its worst. Andrew Collins, The Guardian.
We’ve been told not to park near any of the residents’ houses as they’re not really that into having a bike race go around their area. This is one of the few circuits in the county that is still in use and so we need to do our best not to lose it. I’ve arrived late so I’ve got no choice but to park outside a nice mock tudor style new-build on a cul-de-sac. With brilliant local schools it’s the ideal place to raise a family, and for me to threaten the future of road racing in Cheshire. I do my best to keep the noise down and smile at a local man out walking his dog. I’m the positive face of bike racing.
I’ve remembered to take my cleats off in the school hall but I’ve forgotten to actually sign on to race. I’ve got a number but when I turn up for the pre-race briefing, that number is being called out to try and track me down so that I can officially add my signature to the start list. The combination of being tracked by the authorities and everyone wearing lycra jumpsuits makes it a bit like being in Logan’s Run. Don’t tell anyone that I’m 35. That last bit appeals to the bit in the Venn Diagram where fans of cycling overlap with fans of science fiction. You would never want to go to that place with me.
After signing on I take a look around the bunch. Weaver Valley CC seem to have a few riders in the race, as does a team sponsored by a brewery. Can’t remember which one as I never got close enough to read their jerseys. It’s a shame as I could have done with something to read to pass the time later in the race.
It’s end of season, super-fun time, party-down to the max day as I mentioned earlier. Despite this, some of the bunch have serious missions in mind. Such as grabbing those last few points to move them up a category. In fact it’s probably only me who just wants to get weird.
The race starts and we’re just rolling along doing very little indeed until one of the Weaver Valley lads puts in an attack off the front. With their numbers it’s clear that any break will probably have one of them in it so maybe this is it. I clip off the front to join but the whole bunch wakes up and we all get back together. At this point in the race I feel dreadful, totally lacking in energy despite having had a massive bowl of porridge before I left home. Maybe the porridge hasn’t quite reached my stomach yet. Is there a place food goes after you've swallowed it but before it’s in your stomach? kind of like a holding centre? Hopefully it’ll get called into the main room before I pass out.
I’m just about to suggest a game of Pass the Pigs when another rider has a go at getting away. I chase him and suddenly we’ve both got a bit of daylight between us and the bunch. I’m not confident about this move but I keep taking my turns just to find out what happens. It’s a flat course from what I can see, so I’m determined to make the breakaway and not leave things up to a sprint finish. The best way I can think of getting in the breakaway is to make it myself. We’re joined by a few more riders and it looks like we’re a group of 15 or so. Also the porridge seems to have kicked in.
The group’s too big to cooperate and once again the bunch is all together. Halfway around the first lap and the pace is really starting to bore me. I clip off the front just to give myself something to do, and in the hope that the it’ll start to inject some pace into the field. Nothing happens and I find myself committing to the move. Around a couple of tight bends and the bunch are out of sight.
This is where the TV version arrives back at where we started. My grimacing face and the VO saying ““how the hell did I get here?”
The show contained needless jumps in time to try and make it appear edgy. It didn’t work. Ian Hyland, The Daily Mirror.
We’re on the first lap and I’ve committed to a solo breakaway it seems. What fun. I can only hope that a couple of other riders see this as an opportunity and bridge over to me. It doesn’t happen.
With 2 laps down I’m still alone off the front. I’ll later find out that I did the fastest lap of the race and that at one point I had a lead of around a minute and twenty seconds. I’ve no idea how far I can go on like this but I decide that I’m going to find out.
One of the lead cars in front of me drops back alongside me and I assume it’s so the commissaire can ask me what on earth I think I’m doing. He doesn’t say a word and then just drops into the gap behind me. That’s the first clue I have that I must have a pretty big lead.
My lead is threatened when the race is neutralised due to a horse being ridden on the course. My legs enjoy the slight rest but it’s not going to benefit me in the long run. When I’m allowed to get going again the lead car doesn’t do me the courtesy of pacing me up to speed. He just puts his foot down and leaves me to sort myself out. The lactic acid is having a field day in my calves.
To ensure races are still allowed to take place around Cheshire, this race has to have more marshals than any race I’ve ever done. There’s pretty much a marshal on every corner which is pretty nice when you’re alone out front, as there’s always someone to offer you a bit of support. Unfortunately none of them have an accurate time gap and I give up shouting “how long?” by about the third lap.
On the third lap and it’s really starting to hurt. I’ve got no information about the time gap but the commissaire’s vehicle is still behind me which is a good sign. It’s about now that I start to believe that I actually might win this race. I’ve been away for over an hour now and I’ve not seen the bunch in all of that time.
I’ve never ridden like this and it would be easy to just give up as my chances of success are still pretty slim despite my advantage. I search for thoughts that might inspire me and I think of my teammate Benno who is still in hospital following a really bad crash about a month ago. Whatever I get out of this race I’m dedicating to Benno. Get well soon brother.
I set myself the goal of getting to the last lap without getting caught and I’m nearly there when the commissaire’s car moves back in front of me. The gap must be coming down but I’ve still seen nothing of the bunch. Let’s just see how long I can stick this out for. With any luck they’ll get me within sight and then start relaxing too much. Either that or there’s a small group that are coming across to me and we can fight for the win amongst ourselves.
In the absence of other riders with jerseys that have writing all over them, the only thing I’ve had to read in my solo breakaway is my garmin. It’s telling me that I’ve been alone off the front for an hour and fifteen minutes. A couple of times I’ve glanced over my shoulder and thought I could see the bunch, but at other times they’re definitely not there. I’ve got the only 2 real uphill sections of the lap to come. If I’m still out front after those then I might just make it to the line without getting caught.
Approaching the second of the climbs and the bunch is on me. I’ve been off the front for over an hour and twenty minutes and I’m absolutely devastated. I get a lot of congratulations and pats on the back as the bunch swallows me up but I’ve been denied what would have been a brilliant win.
Back in the bunch and after a couple of minutes of being towed along in the draft I suddenly feel like I might have recovered from my effort. The eventual winner puts in an attack off the front and no-one goes with him. As I fly off the front I am heard to shout “fuck it, I’ll go again.” I don’t quite make the catch and it’s time to throw the towel in. I throw it with the all the last of my matches that I’d burned and my Pass the Pigs that we never got around to playing. I’ll roll in just off the back of the bunch with absolutely nothing left to give and no points.
Back at HQ I’m given credit for my effort by marshals and riders. The race organiser tells me to stick around for the prize ceremony which is pretty easy to do as I can barely summon the energy to ask for a glass of cordial from the refreshment bar. I think it’s best that I just hang around for a bit.
There was no prize intended for the “most aggressive rider” but the organisers have deemed my efforts worthy of a token and so I get a round of applause and an envelope containing £20. When I can think straight again I’ll put this with the fiver I’ve already got in my wallet and make it rain.
I’m amazed by my efforts today and it’s taught me a lot about what I’m capable of as a rider. More knowledge that I’ll put to use next season when I hope to get my first big win.
It’s been a great season so I’d just like to sign off by thanking my team, CC London and all the teammates that I’ve ridden with this season. CCL have had an amazing season and it’s unbelievable how strong we have become as a team over the last 12 months. Being based up north I’m not sure if I’ll still be a CC London rider next year. Maybe I’ll be the first rider in CC Peaks colours or maybe I’ll join an existing local club. Either way it will always be a special team and I’ll always ride with the group whenever I’m down in London.
Thanks also to our CCL coach Watto. I’ve not had many sessions with him this year but his sessions last year put me on the road to being the rider that I am today.
Also big thanks to my sponsor, 23mm. Mike’s an amazing wheel builder and has been very generous in letting me roll around on a set of his hoops for the last few months of the season. I hope to repay you with some wins next year. Get in touch with Mike if you’re after a set of wheels and tell him I sent you.
And thanks to my wife who doesn’t mind me doing this sort of thing at the weekend.
“What a load of shite. 2 Stars.” Garry Bushell, Bushell on the Box.