To begin at the beginning. I dare you to try and find a race report with a more appropriate and thematically sound opening line. If you don’t get the reference then perhaps try re-reading the opening line in Richard Burton’s voice. No it’s not got anything to do with War Of The Worlds, although if they do want to make an arena show out of this blog then I’m up for it.
The CC London team are off to Swansea, more precisely the Gower Peninsula for the Ben Carroll Memorial Road Race. Before I get into that bit where I do loads of writing about everything that happened before and after the race, and a small bit about what actually happened in it, it’s important to say a few words about the context of the event. The race is in its third year and it was started in tribute to a local racer who sadly lost his life whilst racing his bike. His name was Ben Carroll. Benno from CC London is a local boy, and knew Ben, so this race is very close to his heart. Benno’s talked a lot about this race, how the course is absolutely stunning, as well as it being incredibly difficult. In tribute to Ben, he’s brought our team with him for this year’s event.
We’re taking a big team down to South Wales. As well as me and Benno, there’s Young Tom, Drew, new boy Giles and Liz who is hoping to hang in and finish the race as training before going back to dominating in women’s racing. Our coach, Watto is also making the trip which means for the first time I’ll have someone at the side of the road to hand me bottles. I wonder on which lap I’m going to drop the one he’s handing me and bring down the whole bunch.
Before leaving I tell my computer to “fuck off”. We’re staying at Benno’s parents house and I’ve just put the postcode in to the route finder and it says it’ll take me nearly 5 hours to drive there. I’m swearing again when I set off and realise the radio is broken. At least the lady on my sat nav occasionally says things like “keep right”, so I’ve got something to listen to.
We’re supposed to arrive at 1430 so we can do a recce of the course but Western England has decided to show me how good it is at raining and so I’m running later and later. I’m going well beyond the amount of time any human should have to spend in a Seicento.
When I finally get to Benno’s it’s decided that the recce is cancelled due to the absolute horror of the weather. We do go for a drive around the course, though. After spending 6 hours in a car another drive is exactly what I need. Lovely stuff.
Like a photo of my face taken in a brightly lit room, seeing the course in the pissing rain makes it look like an absolute abomination. There’s the bare and exposed bit, the bit that’s dark and slippy, and the 3 cattle grids. The cattle grids should be a clue that I’m talking about the course and not my face. Our drive around the course reveals a long, narrow, and winding descent that could easily still be wet in the morning. I’ve come to this race on the premise that it’s got loads of climbing and should really suit my particular skills. Those skills have never really included descending at insane speeds down narrow country lanes. I think course recces are supposed to make you feel more confident about the race. This one’s making me feel like selling my bike and taking up baking. In terms of having the opposite of the intended effect, this recce is up there with the War On Terror’s efforts to make us all less likely to be blown up by a mentalist.
The Recce does give Benno the chance to talk us through his local area. We pass by the beach where he used to work as a lifeguard and he tells us about all the things he did down there, and with whom. I can’t print most of it but it’s basically what would happen to Bay Watch if it went to a comprehensive school in broken Britain. If anyone from Channel 5 is reading this then get in touch and we can talk about budgets.
Back at Benno’s and we’ve got the option of having a go in the hot tub. I try explaining to him that ‘hot tub’ is just the polite name for a ‘sex pond’ but he’s not having any of it. Incidentally ‘Sex Pond’ is the name of the first episode of that new version of Bay Watch that I accidentally just pitched. It pretty much writes itself.
Turns out that Benno has 2 younger brothers. One of them is away in Loughborough at a Judo competition. The other one has consumed most of Swansea’s lager. He’s the rugby version of Benno, almost identical but with bigger hands and having taken far more blows to the face. He’s being politely encouraged to eat his dinner to give him even the remotest chance of sobering up. Sadly the dinner is getting in the way of him giving Benno an update on the lives and times of everyone in Swansea. I can’t keep up with the names but I’m sure at some point he mentions Captain Cat and Organ Morgan. You see how I opened this piece with a Dylan Thomas reference and then returned to it midway through? Ooohweeee. I should’ve submitted this race report for my GSCE English coursework.
A few of us are sleeping in the annex above the garage. Benno’s carefully laid out a very teenage, 'this’ll do' type bed. It’s basically made out of two cushions from a sofa, laid along the floor, and finished off with a leather chair at one end. It’s topped off with a blanket that is made from the same silky material that magicians make their curtains from. Being wrapped in the silky sheets and with my body touching leather is probably the most erotic sensory experience of my life. Sadly I can’t enjoy it as I’m concentrating too hard on making sure my two cushion mattress stops spreading apart and creating a yawning canyon for most of my back to fall into. As far as badly constructed beds go, this is up there that time when I slept on some heated tiles and used a tin can for a pillow.
The annex has a bathroom but unfortunately it has no door on it. It’s ideal if I want to find out what it would be like to do a shit in prison but I decide I’ll just cross that bridge when I come to it.
I’m about to start the actual race report now so I hope you’re still with me.
On the morning of the race and it’s actually stopped raining and looks like being a decent, if windy day. Again this ‘climbers’ course is doing it’s best to make things absolutely awful for the climbers. I’m certain this race is against us when we’re given the numbers to pin on and they’re so big that I can actually wear mine as a cummerbund. 18 safety pins later and we manage to origami it into something that fits on my back. It’d have been easier to fold it into a swan.
The race starts in an unexpectedly low-key way. We’re on the lower part of the course, so sheltered from the wind, with the hard climbing and cross winds still to come. I’m staying in the wheel of my teammates, Young Tom and Benno, while Giles is a bit further up the bunch. Onto the tougher part of the course and it’s all still too relaxed for my liking. I start to get a bit antsy and so I nosey up to the front of the bunch to see what’s happening. A lad tells me that there’s a break up the road. 10 riders who might already have a minute on the bunch. I got burned when I believed that it was Lee Harvey Oswald that did JFK in, so I’m not falling for this line, still there are definitely some riders up the road and this bunch is giving them all the chance they need to get away by riding at this pace. I’ve driven 5 hours for this so I’m not going to give the race away on the first lap. I ask Drew how he feels about putting some pace into the race and lining out the bunch, the sort of drill CCL does everyday around Regents Park. Unfortunately he’s just come back from a minor dig off the front and tells me he’s a bit fucked at the moment. I take it upon myself to get things going, knowing that Young Tom, Benno and Giles are all ready to contribute. I do a turn and peel off but the next lad in the line isn’t keen and so momentum stalls. Young Tom has sensed a chance and digs off the front. I look around and no one is going with him so I clip off and chase onto his wheel. Then Giles does the same and joins us. The fact that Giles is wearing a different team’s jersey and won’t be joining CCL until next season is helpful as no bunch is going to let 3 riders from the same team go away like this.
We’re working well and a look over my shoulder shows the bunch is out of site around a corner. We catch the breakaway and it turns out it was just two riders. A bit disappointing but we swallow them up and get them working through and off. Could this be the day’s breakaway? We’re working brilliantly so I’m convinced we’re onto something, especially with Drew and Benno no doubt doing some disrupting of the bunch’s chase. No one’s saying it but it’s plainly obvious as we hit the exposed run to the final climb of the lapthat it’s going to be a bloody hard day if we’re to stay out on our own. We don’t give up but the long drag means we’re never out of site of the bunch and eventually we’re brought back into the fold just before the road starts to seriously kick up.
I keep myself near the front of the bunch knowing that riders will get dropped on the climb and that a tricky descent into a tight corner is to follow.
Over the top and the pace is really up. Through the corner and I’m having to sprint to make the wheel in front. It’s like this all the way down and onto the false flat that comes after the next corner. The upping of pace has split the bunch and we’re now a group of maybe 20 riders with maybe 10 to 15 seconds on the rest of the bunch. I can’t tell which of my teammates has made this selection and I’m not sure if it’s going to going to be the key move of the race but I’m determined to give it a chance and stay with it. We’re each taking turns to on the front so it’s clear we’re committed. I’m pleased when I see Giles come through to take a turn.
We hit the descent that I’ve been dreading and we’re flying full gas through the corners. Later I’ll see on Strava that I’ve got a top 10 for this section. That is unheard of for me on a descent, and even more unlikely as I manage to hit a cat’s eye on the way down which causes my front wheel to wobble almost uncontrollably for a hundred meters or so. I regain control but I take the next few bends very gingerly, worried that I’ve actually done some damage and that the next corner is going to be my last.
Through the first climb of the circuit and we’re still working well although some in the group are not contributing, whilst others are getting dropped. Giles is still here but he’s not feeling great. I tell him to sit out a few turns but that will be one of the last times I see him in the race.
We’re working hard as 6 riders have managed to get a bit of a gap on our bunch but we’re doing a good job of pulling them back. As the road opens up we’ve got a great view of them and they’ve got maybe 20 seconds on us, maximum. One rider is dropped from their group over the top of the climb and becomes an integral part of ours. That’s good news for us as we’ve been shelling riders all the way around and we’re now down to about 6. The effort, and our dwindling firepower helps the front 5 to start pulling out their lead again. Eventually it’ll get to just over a minute and we’ll concentrate on our own race.
God knows what’s happening in the rest of the race but for the rest of the day this small group of 6 will be our world. We only know that there’s a bunch up the road and have no idea what the rest of the race is doing behind us. The chase to the leaders and the desire to stay away from what’s behind is keeping us motivated.
Through the finish line once again and I see Young Tom on the roadside. He’s obviously jacked it in but you can’t blame him. He’s had a stellar season and he probably doesn’t see the point in just rolling round with the bunch whilst all the points are up the road.
The situation stays exactly the same for the next lap. A few turns are skipped and some of us are riding more ragged than others, but we’re still together and we’re making sure that we’re all going to be in the points.
Approaching the finish line for the penultimate time and my pro moment beckons. I’m going to take a bottle from Young Tom on the roadside. Luckily he’s stood at a spot where we’re crawling up hill into a headwind and so if I drop it then I don’t really deserve it. He leans out into the road and gives the bottle a tantalizing shake. My left hand locks around it and it’s mine. Sweet H20. That was actually pretty easy. The biggest challenge I am going to have with the bottle is when I’m taking a drink as we hit some stationary traffic.
I’m in 5th wheel of our little group and having a nice toke on my bidon when a series of caravans, and some oncoming cars cause an impasse in the road. The first 4 riders get through the gap before it closes but I have to slow down. It doesn’t help that I’m having to hold my nearly full bidon between my teeth but I worked hard to get it so I’m not giving up now.
I work through a gap but my companions aren’t waiting up. Why you being like that bae? thought we had a special thing going on.
Luckily they’re on the first hill in the circuit and so I am able to dig deep to get back in contact. It causes me to cramp in both legs but at least I’m back in the fold and I can legitimately skip a turn or two.
The commissaire’s car pulls up alongside us about 10km out from the finish. The gap to the leaders is a minute and seventeen seconds so we’re not going to catch them. I askhim the two most pressing questions on my mind. Question 1; is this the last lap? A question that has been troubling me since a rumour went around about there being another lap after this. Question 2; what’s the gap behind us? The answers I get back are “yes” and “massive”. They are probably the best two answers to any questions I’ve ever heard. I could hug the commissaire but it’d involve me crossing a double white line and I don’t want to get disqualified at this late stage.
Into the final few KMs and one of our number clips off the front. He’s seemed like the strongest all day but I try and organise a chase. Sadly that and the caravan situation have probably used up the last of my resources for the day. As we hit the final climb I slip to the back of our bunch and don’t contest the sprint for places, choosing to roll in just behind. There are a lot of people at the finish line and they’re giving us a lot of applause and congratulations, they can see how tough it’s been out there today. I spot Watto’s CCL jersey as I approach the line. He gives a little punch of the air and so I give one back. I think you can celebrate an 11th place on a day like this, even if does only get me 5 points or so.
I ask about the situation in the rest of the race and it turns out that our group of 6 was the peloton. Everything behind us has blown apart and riders are in ones and twos. They’ll still be crossing the line for the next 25 minutes or so.
I’m collapsed on the side of the road and it’s only now I get to appreciate what a beautiful place to finish a race this is. From up on this exposed hillside you can see the sea down below. It’s a privilege to be able to race on roads like these and I recommend anyone make the effort to get to this race. One of the best supported and organised races I’ve ever done.
On the 5 hour journey home the car radio starts to work, briefly. As I go past some pylons the electricity cables start to interfere with the medium wave signal and 5live is replaced by the sound of Phil Collins buried in some white noise. Sadly it doesn’t last and it’s back to just the sat nav and she doesn’t know any of the words to easy lover.