“Good luck at the Essex Roads RR this weekend, lads. I’m racing up in Doncaster.”
“Another 80km smashing around an industrial estate?”
The first time I raced in the northern peloton it was a 90km smash around, well technically asquare, an industrial estate on Merseyside. Not sure why my teammates back in London think that’s all we do up here. I suppose to quite a few of them, the north is just one big industrial estate. It’s the Northern Powerhouse isn’t it? It makes power or something. Probably out of coal or mud or another thing that’s grim.
I politely tell the southerners that no, this is a road race on actual roads that you’d probably want to ride on. An industrial estate? How dare they.
As I drive through the industrial estate my sat nav tells me my destination is about 3 minutes away. Maybe they were totally right about the north.
Luckily this industrial estate is not my final destination and I emerge on the other side of it into some decent south Yorkshire countryside and my motivation to race is back up to about 60%. It was at about %40 when I woke up. You see I’ve spent most of this week having to do a daily 55km commute. I’ve been having to do it on my over-geared fixie. My thighs are ripped. I’m turning into Chris Hoy. I want to be Domenico Pozzovivo.
Life will not give up on teaching me lessons that I don’t want to learn.
At the HQ and I’m delivering my carefully prepared speech about how I lost my race licence. I’ve not had it stripped from me due to my involvement in Operation Puerto. I’ve actually lost it. It’s somewhere with my bank card and driving licence. It’s the premise for an hilarious identity swap comedy. Rob Schneider’s agent is emailing me about his client’s availability.
We go through all the documents I’ve brought to support my claims but the commissaires want me to buy a day licence. I’ve got no cash on me but apparently there might be a cashpoint in the next village. I follow the directions and treat this as my warm up. I stop and ask an elderly couple if they know where this cashpoint is. They talk to me for what seems like hours and give me the impression that getting to the next village is a big deal. A trip you need to plan and make sure you bring supplies for. I’m at the Tesco metro 5 minutes later.
I’m in the race. I’ve got no teammates. The course is mostly flat and quite exposed. The wind is blowing pretty hard. I know how to pick a race that suits a 58kg climber.
We’re doing 8 laps of the circuit. The first lap is frenetic with attacks all over the shop. Without teammates to notice these things for me, it’s pretty hard to work out what’s going on.
It’s only an 80km race so I’ve started with just one bottle. It’s all I’ll need today and maybe that weight saving will be worth half a wheel’s length when it comes to the finish.
In actuality what it means is that when I hit a massive pothole after less than 10km my only source of hydration for the race is gone. What happens if you smash a load of gels without taking a drink. This race is going too fast for me to read the small print on the sachet.
I decide to just see how far I can go without water. I only know one other rider in the bunch so I’m just going to have get very very dry.
I consider going in a break. If I show my commitment then the other riders are bound to share some of their water with me. Either that or the break won’t get established and I’ll be back in my metaphorical desert with not an oasis in sight.
40km in and Chris from Rapha CC spots me near the front of the bunch. He’s the other guy I know in this peloton. We were teammates for a while.
“Do you need a bottle?”
Did I tell you how great a bloke Chris is? Suddenly this race is back on and I’m looking forward to the final 40km. Time to start making some moves. My first move is to make sure I’m not too far back at the left turn before the finishing straight. My second move is to finally get my gearing right going into the only uphill stretch of the race. Only then do I make my third move which is to try and be a player in this race.
I stay up the front for the remainder. There’s rumour and misinformation in the bunch. After the race I’ll hear that the break is made up of anywhere between 9 and 35 riders.
Being at the front has some major benefits. This is a fast course where the racing line almost always involves being near to, or on the wrong side of the road. Being up the front gives me chance to pick those lines and a better chance of being the first one in the bunch to shout “car”. They pronounce ‘car’ very differently up here. How long was I in London for?
After 70km the bunch is pretty nailed thanks to the wind. It’s finally settling into an order with the strongest towards the front, mixed with some opportunists looking to escape.
We take the final bend and I’m in third wheel. Leading the bunch is a lad from the Prologue team. They’ve been active on this stretch of road for the last few laps and have always had the bunch strung out. In second wheel is Chris from Rapha. If he leads me out after giving me a bottle then he can have all my prize money.
The rider on the front tires and I should move around to the right hand side of the road but I hesitate. Now I’m bunched in but still not too badly placed.
A rider in the left hand gutter is going backwards through the bunch at impressive speed. So impressive that the rider next to him has to shoulder him towards the vegetation that separates road from farm. He wobbles like a spun coin when its about to come to a halt. When he comes to a halt I’m coming to a halt with him.
Miraculously he stays upright but I’ve had to tap the brakes and I’m now somewhere around 15th. God knows if it’s worth sprinting or sitting up, so I do a mix of both.
I cross the line in somewhere I deduce to be around 20th but I haven’t seen any results from the race yet. The main thing is that I’m pretty hydrated.