My computer makes a little pinging sound. The little block of text that has popped up in the top right hand corner tells me I’ve got an email. It only shows me a snippet of what’s in the email but I get the gist. I can make out the words British Cycling and accepted. Looks like I’ve made the field for another race. I can’t actually remember which ones I’ve entered or why, so I head over to my email inbox with a degree of excitement. That excitement is instantly tempered when I see that the race I’ve been accepted into is the Out Of The Saddle Summer Road Race. What does the tempering is the fact that this is an E123 race, it’s also got a history of being used by some pro riders as a warm up for the Tour of Britain. Which idiot version of me entered this one? Bet it’s that late night, optimistic cycling version. He always leaves me to clear up these messes. The guy’s a doofus.
My only experience of an E123 road race was the Barnsley RR earlier in the year. I only entered that one after the organizer convinced me that that was the only way I’d be guaranteed a ride. I did what he said and ended up on the reserves list. Well played player, now tell me more about that unique opportunity to invest in your time share pyramid scheme. Late night optimistic cycling Tom Whalley thinks it sounds like a pretty sweet investment.
The Barnsley Road Race ended badly. Prematurely and badly. Prematurely, badly and alone. Now that I’ve made my racing bed I’m going to have to racing lie in it. I’m determined to make the Out Of The Saddle Summer Road Race a more positive experience.
On the morning of the race and it’s pissing it down. It doesn’t fill me with hope, or any desire to contort my bike into the Seicento, but to be fair it is almost always pissing it down in Glossop. This race is in Braithwell near Doncaster. That’s the other side of the Pennines and it’s probably a balmy beauty of a day over there.
As the Seicento strains over the top of the Woodhead Pass there’s no sign of the pleasant day that I’d invented about 40 minutes ago. Still, maybe once we get a bit closer to sea level it’ll pick up.
30 minutes closer to the start of the race, and a couple of hundred meters closer to sea level and nothing has changed apart from the accents of the people who tell me that it’ll probably brighten up in a bit.
With half an hour to the race start I’ve got to sign on. Unfortunately for me, that means leaving the car that I’ve got to a pretty sweet temperature, and resigning myself to the fact that I am going to be racing, however I’ve still got one power move left in my locker that might get me out of this.
I head to the race HQ to get my number. I sign on and the nice lady asks me for my race licence. Without looking I smoothly take it out of my back pocket and hand it over. Unfortunately I’ve handed over my driving licence and the only other card I’m carrying is one that lets you get money out of a bank. “I must have left it in the car” I say, knowing full well that I’ve left it in a drawer at home. Suddenly the race has started. Who needs a warm up when you can invent a crisis that induces a small panic and an even smaller amount of adrenalin. I come up with a quick plan to get my licence off the British Cycling website and show that along with my ID, a driver’s licence that I have had confirmation that I’ve brought with me. Several attempts at a password and a couple of email reminders later and I’ve got the evidence I need to provide to show that I’m allowed to race. If anyone from British Cycling is reading this it is clear that I shouldn’t be allowed out of the house, let alone on a race circuit so just email me if and when you want to do any revoking.
I’ve not got 15 minutes to put my wheels on, pump my tyres, pack my pockets with gels, and make sure my bike works. Luckily this race only requires you to pin one number on so I’m almost confident I’ll make it to the line on time.
As all this is happening it stops raining. If a rainbow were to appear it’d be like all of this was meant to be. No rainbow appears.
This race is 13 laps of a course that I’ve done earlier in the season. That time I hit a pothole on the first lap and lost my only bottle. Today I’ve got two of them. That’s the kind of experience I one day hope to pass onto a younger generation of racers.
Tradition has had it’s way again and several pros have turned up to this one hoping to test their form ahead of the Tour Of Britain. JLT-Condor have turned up with 3 riders, including the winner of this race last year, Graham Briggs. Raleigh GAC also have a rider in the field, as do Team Wiggins and Pedal Heaven. There’s a few other respected teams represented in the bunch too. This is without a doubt the strongest field I’ve ever raced in and I actually can’t believe I’m here.
The race is inevitably bloody fast. For the first few laps it feels like there’s an attack every other minute. I say “feels” because I’m so far back that I can’t possibly see for myself. All I can do is experience the rippling effect that goes through the bunch and ride my hardest to keep from being spat out of the back.
At one point I manage to roll to the front of the race. Look at me up here with all the big guys. Perhaps they’ll invite me to their secret club later and invite me to do the Tour of Britain with them. Nope. As soon as I arrive another attack goes. A rider behind me confuses me with someone who is going to go with the attack. When he sees that I’m not chasing the riders down I think he says “for fuck’s sake.” I totally hear you bro.
4 laps in and no one has managed to get rid of me. 5 laps in and I’m still there. I’m sure all these pros were desperate to eliminate me, I’m obviously a massive threat. A massive, sarcastic threat.
At the halfway stage and a break has gone. Some time around this point I turn to Joe from Buxton CC/Sett Valley Cycles and remark on how the race seems to have “settled down”. I time this comment almost perfectly to coincide with another wave of attacks. Fun.
I’ve gone further than I expected with this company and the rational part of my brain is saying “hey T-Bone, you done good. How’s about we quit while we’re ahead and go get some flapjacks from the petrol station.” I’m in total agreement with this idiot but there’s another idiot inside me that keeps pushing on “for one more lap” each time we go over the finish line.
One thing I’ve noticed during this race is that the strongest riders all have team helpers who are handing them water bottles. That’s obviously the only thing that stops me from being as good as them. When I get home I’m putting an ad on gumtree for a water bottle guy. On second thoughts that will only attract a certain kind of sex person. Like pervert honey to pervert bees.
With a couple of laps to go I look around for Joe and he’s not here. He’s attacked off the front for the hell of it. Eventually we finally catch sight of him again as the rider from Team Wiggins bridges over to him. Sadly for Joe he’s gone so deep that the Wiggo rider goes straight past him and he ends up back in the bunch with us. I’m not sure many of us know how many are up the road as we hit the final straight and wind up our sprints. In these crosswinds, with this big bunch it’s going to be a pretty dangerous run to the line so I roll in towards the rear of the bunch. In hindsight I could have put myself in a position to snipe some points in a National B race, but fpr now I’m more than happy to have finished in the bunch with this company.
In all seriousness, I think back to a time a few years back when on my first time up Swains Lane I had to climb off the bike as I couldn’t make it to the top. Since then I’ve gone through struggling to stay in the pack in 4th Cat races, through to struggling to get points in the very same races. Now I’m racing alongside riders that I’ve literally watched racing, live on the telly. I’ve come a bloody long way to a point I don’t think I could have ever imagined a few years ago. Bike racing is awesome. If only I’d put this much effort into getting better at my actual job.
As always a big shout out to 23mm for sponsoring me and building my wheels. Get in touch and tell them I sent you if you fancy a nice discount on a beautiful set of hand built racing wheels.