What to expect from the West Pennine Road Race? Well the Pennine’s are hills, right? Sort of mountain-y ones? And the people on either side of them hate each other in a friendly sort of way, don’t they?
So maybe I can finally expect a really hilly race that’ll play, to what I’ve been claiming, are my strengths. Why must all my dreams be crushed so cruelly? This race is on 14 laps of a technical course. If there’s one word I don’t like in cycling it’s ‘technical’. What this normally translates as, are fast and sharp corners that I might get right once in a race. At least we’ve got 14 laps for me to get it right. The law of averages suggests I might even be able to do it twice.
The race HQ is in a primary school. My first stop is a trip to the actual little boys room. There’s a lad in there having a laugh by trying to do a piss in a urinal designed for a 6 year old. It’s about 6 inches above the ground. To be fair to him he actually sees it through. To be even fairer to him it gets a laugh out of me.
Sign on is in the assembly hall and gives me a great opportunity to learn about the deeds of Sir Isaac Newton while I pin my number on. This assembly hall is also full of Xylophones. Like 25 of them. Some of them are absolutely massive. I guess that this must be how the academy system works. This is a Xylophone Academy. Fuck Maths and English, we just teach hitting tuned blocks in a rhythmic fashion, and a little bit about Sir Isaac Newton. I remember to blame the Tories.
I do a decent warm up, for a change, and learn a few of the key bends on the course. The race starts and it’s clear that the corners I’ve been studying aren’t on the course. Good job I’ve got no teammates looking to my skills as a road captain.
The race reminds me how shot my legs are. Another week of 55km commutes starting at 3am has really prepped me well. A few weeks ago I was doing these on a fixed gear and was worried I was becoming more Chris Hoy than Domenico Pozzovivo. This last week I’ve got multiple gears again. My thighs are now probably around the Thor Hushovd mark. I’m making marginal gains in the right direction.
This is my third race in a northern peloton and I know now what to expect. Everyone is very friendly despite the fact that they’re smashing lumps out of each other. Attacks go from the gun but nothing is sticking just yet. One of them is going to work. My plan seems to be to join all the ones that aren’t.
I attack quite earlyon. It looks like I’m motivated to get away on my own when in fact I’m motivated to get a bit of time to address the gel that has partially burst in my shorts. I popped it up my leg for easy access. So easy that I now don’t even need to open it. A bit of glucose-y syrup has congealed behind my right knee. It’s sticking the flesh together and then tearing it apart in each pedal stroke. This is the worst injury I’ve had all season.
I quite enjoyed my attack and so I try a few more. One of them I go a bit too hard. It’s the hottest day of the year but I actually feel cold now. Evidently, I’ve broken whatever regulates my body temperature. Like the skipping gears on my commuter bike I assume that it’ll just fix itself.
The day’s actual break goes shortly after one of my attempts is reeled in and I’m getting my chill on in the bunch. I gather some strength and attack, hoping to get across. There’s a rider in between me and the break. If I can just get to him I can probably claw my way across. I’m not sure who was telling me those things but they were lies. A youth from the Identity Racing Team is looking out for his mate up the road and he completely shuts me down. These guys turned up in a branded van so I should’ve expected this.
Through the finish line a few times and I’ve noticed it’s turned into a feed zone. Musette bags are being handed out to some teams. It’s the hottest day of the year and I wish someone was there to hand me a bottle. Saying that I’ve never actually practiced that art. The closest I’ve come is high-fiving people waiting, with their arm out, for the bus. If I were to try and collect a bottle I’d probably dislocate my arm. I think that’s a marginal loss.
Through the feed zone again and the team helpers are really hawking their wares this time. I have to duck as a musette is dangled above my head. It’s like a bottle and gel filled piñata.
There are ways to know if a break is going to succeed. It’ll fail if there are too many riders in it. It’ll fail if the riders aren’t committed enough. It’ll fail if the bunch decides it doesn’t like the look of it. One thing I can tell you, is that a break will also fail if the only other rider in it with you, rides directly into a kerb and lands in a fence. Shame. That counter attack had seemed promising.
It has only taken 8 or 9 laps but I’m starting to grasp the course and I’m planning what to do to get something out of this race. My 4 or 5 attacks have hurt me so I’m going to recover before I try anything. If all the rest of you could just keep it chill, that’d be ace. Or you can sneak off the front if that’s what you’re into. You want to do off the front do you? Fine.
By my calculations there is a maximum of 10 up the road and they’re in separate groups. Still a chance that the bunch will pick some of them up, and still some points to play for if we just finish in the groups we’re in.
2 laps to go and I’m moving up to the front to get myself in a good position. The front comes and goes and it’s suddenly behind me. Ah, I’m attacking early am I? Why didn’t I know about this? I give myself 3 looks behind before I decide that it’s all or nothing. Shit or bust. I’m pulling out a gap when I catch a rider from one of the earlier breaks. I ask him for a turn but he just says he’s waiting for the bunch to swallow him up. This reminds me that I could do the same. Being swallowed up by the bunch like a lovely runny egg engulfs a warm toast soldier. I snap out of it and continue on, although I do decide I’m having eggs for breakfast tomorrow.
Despite not allowing myself to look behind I’m aware that the breakaway detritus is still hanging onto my back wheel. If he wants the bunch to swallow him up he’s going the wrong way about it. I’m also aware that a third party has joined our little crew. Breakaway detritus finally decides he’s going to leave us to it.
Onto the final lap and the two of us are still holding off the bunch. We’ve actually put more time into them, maybe 20 or 30 seconds. Neither of us has the energy left to form words but our eyes say it all as we pass each other, to and from the front of our duet. They’re saying things like “kill me now” and “that guy on his way back to the bunch had the right idea.”
Over the final rise on the course and it’s clear that we’re going to make this. This should be the first time I’ve taken points in a 2/3/4 race but I’m aware that the last time I attacked out of the bunch in one of these races, I did so in order to secure 17th place.
Into the final straight and my companion hits the front. A fool’s mistake if I had anything left to sprint with. I don’t and I hit the line on his wheel. I give a little fist pump as I pass the flag. I haven’t won the race but I’ve got points from a break and points from a 2/3/4 race. Those are two of the “achievable” season goals I set myself. I turns out that I’m 15th and have therefore got “point from a break” rather than “points from a break” but I’m not letting that dampen my spirits.
I’m genuinely thrilled about the way I raced this one. A bit more luck; maybe a few teammates; perhaps a big sign above the correct break saying “THIS ONE!” and I can contest for the win in some of these races.
At HQ I drink some water and lie down on a pommel horse.