The Ipswich BC Spring Scramble. How long is the name of this race? Don't ask Ipswich BC. This race was advertised as 85km. I crossed the line after 95km. Either this part of Suffolk is a kind of Bermuda Triangle or Ipswich BC had forgotten 6.2 miles. Poor miles.
This was my first race of the season and one I'd been pretending to look forward to since my season ended back in October last year. I'm still smarting about what happened in the Finsbury Park Road Race but that's a whole other post. I'd been pretending to look forward to this after setting myself the lofty goal of getting Cat 2 this season. Looks great scrawled in the back of my diary under the heading 'season goals'. It sounds great in macho conversation too. But when it comes to opening my season those words are now lurking just over my shoulder like that summer wasp that won't leave you alone.
CC London has a two man team for this one. Was supposed to be 3 but no one has seen or heard from Gary. Just me and Ben, then. We've never raced together and we've trained together about once. God knows how we're going to function as a team.
Another Sunday morning, another church hall / village community centre in the south east of England that smells temporarily of embrocation. Is this a legitimate mastermind subject? If I ever get on I'm going to push for it to be. Saying that I've just been told off for wearing cleats in the hall. I know better than to do that. Stop being a fucking amateur, Tom. Would Jens do that?
Looking around it's good to see some friendly faces. There's Mike from North Road CC, always an ally even though he rides in a different jersey. Ryan from Crest CC is here. He'll go on the attack at the drop of the hat. Breakaways are the only way to win points according to this lad. It's suicide mixed with panache. Greg from Finsbury Park CC is here too. He crashed before yesterday's crit at Hog Hill by riding head first into a post. Everyone saw it. Chapeau.
Ben's noticed that I'm concerned about the weather. He's noticed because I keep saying things like 'it's bloody cold isn't it?' and 'God I hate this.' Now it's time for a quick warm up ride to view the course. Winter jersey over my race jersey, leg warmers, full finger gloves. 10km later and I'm saying things like 'it's warmer than I thought' and 'I'm gonna get my legs out.'
Race briefing and I'm in my race jersey, my legs are out, and so are my fingers. I look around and see some wrapped up riders. You lot aren't going to have a good time dressed like that. In my head I hear the words of CCL coach Watto 'dress like you're ready to race' or something to that effect.
Still in the race briefing and I'm telling North Road Mike that this Commissaire is great. He's great because he disqualified loads of riders in the Finsbury Park Road Race for racing like idiots. Shame he didn't pull the guy who took me out by crashing on a straight road. Did I mention that's a whole other post? The Commissaire is telling me off now for talking. He's bloody sharp this one. I love him.
I moved up north during the winter and now most of my training is done alone and on massive hills. I think I'm fitter and probably stronger than last year, but I've been nowhere near a chain gang or a paceline. I've got no idea if I'm fast enough anymore. First goal today is to stay in the race. Cat 2 is a long way away.
The race starts and I feel pretty comfortable. Don't mistake this for feeling great, Tom, you just feel comfortable. Too late. A lap in and I'm trying to bridge over to a break. Mike from North Road is up the road with a couple of riders. Time to have some fun. God I've missed this.
My attack doesn't get away. What it does is wake the bunch up and now we're really riding. Greg from Finsbury Park comes up alongside me. "This is a bit fast for a 3/4." I'm not sure if it is. Maybe I do feel a bit more than just comfortable.
Through the finish line for the first time. Mike North Road has told me that this finish will suit us both. It comes just after a winding, steep hill he says. Let's have a look at it then. Round the second bend and I nearly lose my front wheel on the slippy white lines. I've never thought of myself as a good bike handler but I'm impressed that I stayed upright. It'll take me another couple of laps to feel comfortable around that bend. This bodes well for when the race is going full pelt to the finish.
30km, or so, in and the race is settled into some kind of order. I'm hanging around the top 10 and the early 'try their luck-ers' are at the back. We've talked about making this race interesting so it's time to try something. Attacks start up once again and I'm going to make my own. After a couple are brought back I have a go off the front. It doesn't last but this race is full of nervous energy once again. As I'm brought back into the bunch I shout across to Ben "you're in the next one." He really is. He goes and goes and goes. He's away and after a while alone he's now got a couple of riders for company. The old CC London attack and counter attack might have worked at the first time of asking.
For the next 10km or so I chase down attacks off the front to protect the gap that Ben's group have. I'm hoping one of the attacks takes me out the bunch and gives me a free ride across. If that happens I'll go straight past once we reach them. It doesn't happen but I'm neutralising attack after attack. That's fucking teamwork.
Halfway stage and Ben's group is finally reeled in. He retreats into the bunch for a rest. I'll see him later but I'm not leaving the top 10 in this one. It's too sketchy back there.
The race settles down now and no team really wants to ensure that the pace stays high. It's been a hard race so far.
30km to go and some attacks start up again. Nothing gets away but it lifts the pace. I decide that I'll need the race to be fast if I want to get something out of it. Ben comes up to the front and we talk about how we're feeling. 'Alright' he says. 'Fucking brilliant' I say. Today's team hierarchy is drawn up there and then.
Up the climb for the final time and I'm right at the front. A small group of us have a gap. We could make this count if we're committed. I think I am but the rest definitely aren't. Still there are some cracks there so let's inject some chaos into this last 20km.
There's now 4 of us around the head of the race. 2 guys from Fast Test Race Team are working together to take the pace up. They want to break this race up. With them are me and Ben. I ask Ben to go full gas over a slight rise, before I take over and again the race is split. 2 from CCL and 2 from Fast Test off the front. This could be really fun. Nope. A lack of confidence and we're all back in the bunch once again. The rest of them have decided to let us have our fun, though, and we'll be trying stuff for the remainder of the race.
A few attacks from the back are neutralised before Ben, me and the 2 from Fast Test start up our antics again. Ben goes and takes a Fast Test rider with him. Eventually they are brought back. Then I go. Or maybe the other Fast Test rider goes. Either way we're alternating in a pattern that we all seem to understand. This goes on for a good while. The bunch are still letting us have our fun.
5km and I try my final attack. The bunch has been really softened up and plenty have gone out the back. That or they are just hanging on for the ride. My final attack is a soft one. I've been dicking about and should be thinking about the sprint. I'm going to start doing that now unless a few strong boys come with me on this attack. They don't.
Time to get organised for the inevitable sprint. Have I got enough left in my legs? I think so.
Ben hits the front going into the final km. I tell him 'make it as hard as you can' and he obliges. Halfway up the final climb and we're first and second. How long can he last? Ben blows with his job done brilliantly. He lets a rider come around the outside and I surf onto his wheel. This is exactly what I wanted.
Past the Windmill now and we're nearly over the climb. I know Mike North Road is going to be attacking before the end of the climb. Where is he? There he is coming up on the right hand side. Just as he told me he would do. My temporary lead out blows and I surf onto Mike's wheel. We're onto the flat now. Or is it a false flat? It hurts and I can barely see. It might as well be a road made of jelly for all I'm aware of it.
250m to go and Mike blows and I strike out for the line. My legs are burning but I'm sure everyone else feels just as bad. The line is in sight. I can't remember if I'm in my drops or not. I can only remember that there is a line and I would like to be across it as soon as possible.
Head down I look between my legs and I can see a Finsbury Park rider about a bike length back to my left. It's Alex. Is he the only one here? I bloody hope so.
He's got about 20m to get past me. Any later than that and I know his will will break. I track the shortest path between where I am and the line.
I cross the line first. I've won. This feels amazing. Mike North Road comes over to congratulate me. Alex Finsbury Park tells me I deserved that. Ben comes over the hill. I give him the thumbs up and thank him for his work. He's well pleased. We've proven to ourselves that cycling is a team game.
Did I mention the break of 9 riders that had gone up the road on the second lap? No? Maybe they disappeared into the Ipswich Bermuda Triangle along with those 10kms. Nope. They stayed away. I was actually sprinting for 10th place and the final point on offer. I knew that for all of the last lap which is what makes this feel like a win. It's also a point in my first race of the season. Another 39 races like this and I'll be a Cat 2. I won't reassess my season goals just yet.
Back to the hall for an underwhelming awards presentation. I've won £8. In church halls that actually makes you a millionaire. It's 50p for a tea and biscuit. I could survive for days on this. 'I've really missed the racing season', I've convinced myself.