There comes a time in every athletes life when they have to take the step up to the next level. Normally that comes from years of hard work, impressive results, and being ready. In my case it sort of came about because I said ‘fuck it, I’ll have a go.’
The Barnsley Road Races are my local race these days. 28 minutes to the HQ by car. When I checked the course on Strava I was surprised to see that I’d already ridden some of it.
Despite being on the absolute edge of nowhere, these races seem to be the home race for everyone in the north of England. The races are over subscribed to a ridiculous degree, a degree that sees me bribed into doing something I probably shouldn’t. I’m 34 years old, I shouldn’t be trusting the promises of men I’ve never met before. After I’ve finished this article I’m going to search ‘stranger danger’ on youtube and watch every video.
I initially enter the 3/4 race which looks like it might suit me. Well 50% of it might. The 50% of it that seems to go up hill. The downhill bit I put to the back of my mind like the French public do before Thibaut Pinot carries their hopes into another Tour De France.
An email arrives from the race organizer. This is the first of roughly a million emails I’ll get from him. Normally you’re lucky to get an email from the race organizer a couple of days before the race, telling you stuff you’ve mostly already pieced together thanks to Strava and some guy you know on your club forum. With this race you might get an email just to check you’re doing ok.
The email says that the race is over-subscribed and that loads of us are going to be disappointed. However a carrot is dangled. It’s a carrot that plays to the ego and over-confidence of idiots like me. I’m so enticed by this carrot that I’m thinking about taking it for dinner and a movie. Then I’ll eat it. Serial killers have been out on less creepy dates.
The dangly carrot says that if any of us were to withdraw our entry in the 3/4race, and enter the E123 instead, then we’d be looked upon favourably and be guaranteed a ride. I take the bait. A week before the race the road book pops through my door. I’m listed as a reserve. I’ve been scammed. Punk’d. Beadle’d. I’ve probably signed up for a time-share.
Race day comes around. I’m used to races starting early in the morning. This one starts at 1 in the afternoon. Will lunch be served during the race?
On the start line and I’m not overly confident. I’ve had a run around the course and it’s definitely hilly but the descents are treacherous. Some of the riders are talking about racing the Tour of Britain and some big cash races in China. This might just be the closest I’ll ever come to having ‘made it’.
The race starts and it’s clear that the climbs are to be treated as interval sprints. This is more like the finale of Flanders than a Tour De France Queen Stage. On each hill the bunch is lined out as strong lads throw enormous amounts of watts at the road. I know my day isn’t going to be as long as most in the bunch. I wonder by how much.
Lap 2 and we hit the longest climb of the race. I’m near the back but I’m holding the wheel and hanging on for grim death. Sadly, riders further up the field have already achieved grim death and their place in the bunch is being replaced by a rider sized gap.
I close a few of them but I’m burning matches. In fact I’ve lit a match and then stuck it back in the box so I can watch the whole lot go up. We used to call this a genie when I was young. I wish for infinite wishes and to go home.
I work hard to rejoin the bunch on a long decent and catch on just before we hit another ramp. This time it’s a 15% one. In my drive to get back on I’m still in the big ring. The former of those words is the main problem. I blast up the hill but I’m running out of everything that makes me a person. My legs stop working. My eyesight becomes black around the edges. My soul briefly exits my body.
If you were reading this to find out who won the race then you really should have gone somewhere else. If you’re reading this to find out who were the first people to definitely not win the race then I hope you’ve had a lovely time.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been dropped in a race but I’m not going to beat myself up about this one. Mostly because I can’t lift my arms or make a fist.
Back at the HQ and I have a look at some pictures of the local colliery brass band.
Trombones always make me think of the theme tune of Johnny Briggs.