The first part of this race report is a fable about why you should always check your calendar before entering a race. Wait, does a fable have to happen to animals? Ok, pretend I’m an otter for this bit.
In my drive to find races that suit my characteristics I’ve been entering any race with ‘hill’ in the title. It’s the sort of endeavor that’ll see me end up entering the Jimmy Hill Memorial Road Race, or Zammo presents the Grange Hill Criterium. This week’s race is the Bole Hill Road Race. Are you still imagining I’m an otter? Cos I’d like to get back to the fable part. Here it is. I entered this race without checking my calendar and it turns out it’s the day after I get back from 8 days riding my bike in the Alps, including doing the Etape in 40 degree heat. Maybe that’s a moral rather than a fable. I don’t care. You can stop imagining I’m an otter now, unless it helps you visualize the rest of the story. In which case I insist you do an illustration and send it to me immediately.
So I’ve spent 8 days in the Alps. Unluckily for my rivals at the Bole Hill Road Race, I only spent 5 of those days riding as it was pissing it down on the others, or I had to drive around loads of France. I have done about a million miles of climbing, though. What I’m saying is that I’m not fresh.
Turns out that the Bole Hill Road Race is my local race. 21 minutes from my house according to my new sat nav. This is my new sat nav’s first trip to a race. The last one died before the Peterborough CC Road Race. That time I managed to condense the directions for the journey to 3 scrappy lines of text that I’d written on a torn off bit of paper. Not sure why my old sat nav had to make things so complicated and say so many words. Maybe she was just lonely. I promise myself I’ll get to know my new sat nav better before she dies.
You’re here for a race report and all you’ve got is an odd image of an otter-man and a joke about a sat nav that I forgot to put in the last race report, that I’ve just ham-fistedly crowbarred into this one. It’s not a great day for you.
Sat in the HQ before the race and I can hear a few of the riders from the E123 race, talking about the course. Most of them seem to think that it’s probably the hardest in the UK, and I recognize at least one of them from the Barnsley Road Race so they definitely know what a hard course looks like. The conversation has set my nerves on edge and I need a second piss before the start.
I’ve tried a new warm up tactic this week. It involved staying warm by sitting in the car until the last moment and then remembering that I haven’t tested my bike since I took it out of the bike box last night. It’s only been chucked around by a load of lads in Geneva and Manchester and then reassembled by an idiot. It’ll definitely be fine. I have cleaned it, though. I’ve got standards.
The race starts but it doesn’t. It’s neutralized for what feels like forever and it has a definite detrimental impact on my average speed for the race. Not as much as the 48% of the race that we’ll spend climbing does though.
This is one of those races that seem common to my new home in the north. Races where you’re either going up or down. Although somehow when you’re going up you’re not climbing. You’re sprinting in slow motion and trying to hang on to the wheel in front and not throw up, simultaneously. What’s curious is that although this is on a circuit it feels like we’re going up more than we’re going down. There’s something odd with the laws of physics up here. Further proof of that is that this race is listed on the British Cycling website as being 64km. I’ll still be racing after 80km and definitely not because I’m having a really brilliant time.
I hate descending and this race has a horror of a descent. It must be -15% at a point, with a terrible surface, and a racing line that needs you to take a leap of faith and take the wrong side of the road on a blind bend. First time down it I’m tentative and a load of the big lads from the back of the bunch come past me. Straight out of the descent and we’re on the toughest climb of the circuit. I’m now having to fight past the big lads who are losing wheels as we grind up it. For the next few laps I’ll fight to hit the front for the descent to avoid having to do this again.
Remember I told you that I thought this race was only 64km? My thinking is that this is such a short race that I’ll only need one bottle. I reach down for a swig but it’s not there. Bouncing over a pothole down the descent and it’s abandoned me. I can’t blame it.
I’ve been in the scorching heat of the Alps for the last few days and so a return to the overcast Peak District has got me feeling a little chilly so I’ve wrapped up. I don’t want to catch my death now do I? I say wrapped up, I’ve got a long sleeved jersey on and a base layer that is autumn-spring to the more optimistically minded. It’s early winter to anyone else.
The sun’s starting to come out now, and my bottle hasn’t returned despite the weirdness of the space-time continuum around here. I’m at a loss for how to cool down and so I take advantage of a slight tear in my base layer. I take advantage of it by making it into an even bigger tear. I’m literally ripping clothes off my chest. Wrestling fans will know that this is often the precursor to a state of ‘Hulkamania’. Perhaps I’m about to start clothes lining my rivals whilst ‘I am a real American’ plays. Hope not. Commissaires are getting pretty tight on that sort of thing.
A few laps in and the group is roughly half the size as it was at the start. Riders are being shelled out the back every time we hit the big climb. Another rider is shelled on one of the smaller climbs thanks to putting his rear mech in someone else’s wheel. We all know it doesn’t go there but it’s too late now.
On the thid last time up the hardest climb the race completely falls to bits. I’m in 15th place, ish, and the wheels I’m following can’t stick the pace anymore. I go around and can see that the climb has created 2 groups at the front of the race. The next wheel I follow isn’t going to close the gap so I do it myself. I’m catching the second group and I’m definitely going to make it on. I know it. The gap is only 10 meters as we hit the top of the climb. I’ve not gone too far into the red as I don’t want to blow up with 2 more laps to go. I’ll catch on when they catch their breath over the top of the hill.
What happened to taking a breath? The group keeps up the pace on the descent so it’s more chasing for me. More futile chasing. I don’t make it on and I’m now in no man’s land. There’s a group of 5 at the front of the race. A group of 7 behind. Then me. Who knows what’s behind me. I’m sure it isn’t pretty.
After 10 minutes or so on my own I let a small group behind swallow me up. Maybe we can work to get back on. This group has some strong riders in it. Strong riders that have just had bad luck. One lad had to unclip at the start of the ‘race got blown apart climb’.
We chase but only me and one other lad are taking turns on the front. We keep riding and eventually another lad contributes. The commissaires vehicle pulls up alongside and gives us a time check. All is not over. Bollocks. That means we’ve got to keep chasing when I just want a nice sit down. I’ve not had any water since that first lap. I have had 2 energy gels, though. Are they a food or a drink? The same goes for soup. Email me your thoughts.
The commissaire tells us that the group in between has disintegrated. In fact it’s not even a group. It’s just described as ‘stragglers’. We’ve picked up at least one of them so we might be racing for a point if we’re lucky. Awesome. That means sprinting at the finish line. The finish line is halfway up that hill I’ve been banging on about.
The 6 of us in the group hit the final climb and say our farewells. A rider from Squadra RT, the unlucky one who unclipped, reaches out to win our sprint. I wait and then go after him. By the time we hit the line I’m ahead of him by several bike lengths. I’ve won this little group sprint. At best I’ve finished 10th. At worst 13th. I just want a drink. I beg dregs off whoever is hanging around at the finish line which is everyone who has finished the race, a lot of people who got dropped several laps ago, and riders shelled out from the E123 race. There’s plenty of dregs to go round. I’m almost hydrated.
5 minutes later another group rolls in to the finish. To their credit they have a sprint too. Just finishing this race is creditable. That was 1700m of climbing in 84km or so. I’ve had days in the Alps with less.
Back at HQ and there’s a cricket match going on next door. One team are wearing what looks like football shirts and the others are just in their own clothes. The sledging is unprintable and every time someone gets out there’s a blast of europop from someone with a boombox. I’m well into it.
On the wall of the HQ there’s an old newspaper cutting telling the story of how Coronation Street’s Percy Sugden was the guest of honour at the opening ceremony. With my lack of water I sound like his would be girlfriend, Phyllis Pearce.
To see more of the excellent photos from this race then check Ellen Isherwood's brilliant gallery.