At 5pm I’m sat at home thinking I can’t be bothered with this race. I’m not even entered so I don’t need to show up. At 6pm I’m sat in the car, outside a community centre in South Yorkshire. I still don’t feel like racing and it’s nice in here. I’m listening to Portugal Vs Hungary on BBC 5Live and the score is about a million all. At 6.50pm I’m signed on and waiting in the rain for this race to start. At 8.30pm it looks like I might be about to take the win. This is the Huddersfield Star Wheelers Evening Road Race.
My last race, about 10 days ago, was on this exact circuit. It shouldn’t have been the case but I had to skip the Harrogate Nova Road Race because my missus needed the car to go see her Dad on Father’s Day. This is the sort of thing that ruins a professional’s season I imagine.
On the start line and the Commissaire tells us we’ll be doing about 50 miles over the course of 6 laps. Funny that because we did 50 miles in the previous race on this circuit, and that was over 9 laps. I knew there was such a thing as the Rhubarb Triangle in Yorkshire, seems they’ve got their own Bermuda Triangle too. Space and time are well and truly being bent around here.
As we set off I’m surprised by the turnout. This is a road race, on a school night, in what feels like the middle of nowhere. Despite that it’s a pretty full and strong looking field.
Last time out I wanted to stay out of trouble and not get caught on any of the tricky bends, fall into any of the giant potholes, or be badly positioned going into any of the climbs. I did that by staying up front for the entire race. That plan worked apart from the bit at the end where I stopped being at the front of the race. Today I’m going to relax a bit and stay in the bunch, doing nothing until I really have to. Turns out I really have to do something on the first lap. You know the back of a Road Race? Turns out some riders are here for a reason. That reason is that they can’t hold a wheel and they’re not going to be in the race for very long. One long chase to close a gap that opens up and I’m now thinking about a life in the middle of the bunch.
I needn’t have closed the gap really. I could have just pootled around and still got back on. That is entirely down to a lovely horse that’s being ridden around the circuit. The race is neutralized. Then another lovely horse leads to another neutralization. I drop a pretty amusing one liner about the next horse being the prime horse. It gets a chuckle at best.
The rest of the race goes by without any equine incidents or hilarious one-liners. Surprisingly the race also stays mostly together. The wind blows hard on this course. The big clue is the wind turbines all around it. They’re turning today and so we’re all expecting big splits in the race. Thankfully the wind is blowing head on up the finishing climb, which makes that section of the race a little more relaxed than last time. The splits do start to happen. Not, massive ones, though. Just one or two riders going off the front. If we were comparing these splits to the ones you might get in your trousers when bending over, then they’re barely enough to show flesh. I was expecting the sort of splits that would get you arrested for public indecency.
The Geared Up Team put three of their riders in a really promising move. I see it coming because I’m close enough to see and hear them planning it. I follow but it never gets more than a handful of seconds. Still it’s probably shelled another few out the back.
My plan, beyond turning up and forcing myself to race, is to do what all the strong lads did last time out. You should always do what the strong lads do. They’re so cool those strong lads. If the strong lads jumped off a cliff would I do it? Big time. The strong lads waited for the long drag up the really exposed part of the course, about 5 or 6km out from the start/finish line, on the penultimate lap, and powered onto the front. That exposed anyone who’d been doing more work than they should have, and eliminated them from contesting the win. By them I mean me. Today I’m going to watch for that move and be a part of it. It doesn’t happen. The strong lads have probably got a new move that I’m not part of. I’m not cool enough for them.
The move I do make is on exactly the same part of the course, but it’s on the penultimate lap, and it happens by I accident. One of the Geared Up Lads is leading the field and stringing it out. I’m feeling pretty strong and I’m sitting in his wheel. When he comes off the front I’m reluctant to take over and plan on letting someone else through immediately. It’s too near the finish to do anything that might blunt my legs. As I come through I start to open a gap. I’m only riding tempo but that’s definitely a gap. I test the field with a bit of an acceleration and the gap grows. Up the road there are two riders about 40 seconds ahead. Another acceleration and it’s decided that I’m going to try and bridge over to them.
It’s working. I’ve escaped the field and no one seems like they want to chase me. I’m closing on the two up ahead and I know I’m going to catch them, it’s just a case of how long it’s going to take, and how much it’s going to cost me.
Up every rise the gap behind me goes out and the gap in front of me closes. On every downhill the reverse is true. At least in terms of the riders in front. I daren’t look behind me as last time I did that on one of the descents, a bump in the road caused my back wheel to get mad air. Gnarly dude.
I have to make this catch before the final climb up to the line. I need to catch a wheel and recover a bit. These two have been out for ages. If I can ride their wheels anywhere near the line then I’m on for a win.
I catch them at the worst possible time. Right at the bottom of the final climb. You know that one that is directly into the headwind. Immediately one of the two goes backwards and the other wants me to take a turn. I go right past both of them. This is now between me and the field who are trying to chase me down. At most I’ve had 25 seconds on the bunch but I’ve no idea what that is now.
Halfway up the climb and I’m still out in front. I take the slight bend in the road and still no one has caught me. I’m absolutely dying out here and I know the gap is down to a few seconds. I just hope it’s costing the guys behind as much as it’s costing me.
The line is now in sight and I’m still the leader of this race. I let my thoughts drift and think about all those celebrations I’ve practiced whilst trying to pass the time on the turbo.
300 meters to go. I’m in front.
200 meters to go. I’m in front.
100 meters to go…….
I’m not in front.
I’m passed by a surging bunch of riders who are sprinting for the win. I cross the line in 10th place. I’m gutted but that race has proved to me that I can and will win occasionally. It also keeps together my fine run of snatching the last point available in a road race. That’s the third time this season I’ve done it. If I was a pro this would have lead to a really ace nickname by now. The point Sniper, Single Digit, or Tommy “One Point” Whalley. Those are shit but you’re the ones who are supposed to come up with it, not me. Tonight’s finish was also a nice bit of instinctive racing on my part. Maybe it’s all those days not doing any work and watching Stephen Cummings win stages.
Sadly all that panache means the race report isn’t as funny as usual. I’ll try and be more calamitous next time out. Or win. Either’s good.
On the way back to HQ I have to stop as I think I might have ruptured a kidney or something. Fingers crossed it turns out to be a stitch.
The race was about 35 miles and I leave the Yorkshire Triangle without being sucked through a vortex into a different dimension. As you were.