The last time I was in this school, I sat on a pommel horse and learned about the kings and queens of England. This time I’m sat on a bench with a load of other weirdly dressed guys, learning about the state of the roads near Clitheroe. Both of these events occurred before bike races, it’s just that, this year, the assembly hall doesn’t have as informative a display as it did the last time I was here. The kids probably do everything on computers nowadays.
When I was actually at school, not just sat in one, it was the height of the Where’s Wally craze. He’d diversified from simply hiding in books, to appearing in his own cartoon where he didn’t seem be hiding at all. This move brought with it a theme tune that was to haunt all my days. You see for I am a Wally. Actually I’m a Whalley but it’s pronounced the same. A curse upon my school days. Instead of waiting for someone called Ian Twat to come to our school, I should have just moved up here to escape the infernal singing of “where where where where’s Wally?” Up here the Whalley’s are big time, they’ve got safety in numbers, they’ve got a town and an Abbey named after them. I think there are 3 of us in the race today, and at least one watching. Ok one of them in the race is actually a Whaley, and the one watching is a Sismore-Whalley, but they know what they are.
I’m going to struggle to remember what actually happened in this race so maybe I’ll just list the numbers of the riders whose wheels I followed. There was number 54, number 30, number 7, number 1, number 13……… I could go on but you really wouldn’t enjoy that.
The reason my memory is shaky is because I’m dehydrated. I’m writing this 24 hours later and I think I might still be suffering from H20 withdrawals. I’ll never get my piss back to a nice pale straw colour. This is all because of those potholes we were being told about in the assembly hall. You see I hit one on the neutralised section, before we even got to the main course. Brilliantly the pothole was on a downhill so my full bidon, with it’s life giving water made a break for freedom, to find a new life in the Lancashire countryside.
Resigned to scamming water where I can, I just decide to get on with racing. On the first lap I’m in second wheel when the rider in front of me hits another bit where some road used to be, losing both of his bottles. Later in the race I’ll see a rider with a bloodied nose. Bloodied by a flying bidon. Not sure whose it was but hopefully this is painting a picture of the challenging roads that this section of the course has.
It’s rare that you see a true baller move at our level of racing, but I witness something close. One of the bottle-less riders heads to the front of the bunch and then shouts for a spare bottle from a cyclist watching us go by. It’s only a baller move because I’m pretty sure neither had met each other before. Restores your faith in humanity doesn’t it?
In cycling there’s a trickle down effect from the pro ranks, down to the amateurs. Drugs, power meters, beards, have all come down the pipe. The latest thing to have reached us is the litter zone. A dedicated area of the course where you can legitimately chuck your gel wrappers and any other rubbish, and some bloke in a visi-vest will take care of it for you. I wonder if he’ll still be there tomorrow as I’ve got an old mattress I wouldn’t mind getting rid of. Otherwise I’ll just have to set fire to it and chuck it over next door’s fence.
Where were we? Oh yeah, the race. Great race. On the first lap and I totally hate this course. Not a bit of is straight, and not a bit of it isn’t going either up or down. There are so many blind bends and potholes that my brakes and body are taking a hammering. On the second lap and I’m absolutely loving it. You can rail around this course once you start to know it. Saying that, it’s so long I reckon I could learn and pass the knowledge before memorising the twists of this circuit. I’ve nailed the potholes, though. Riders are bunnyhopping over them but I’ve hit them all and I’ve learned that one of them has a slight lip, and if you hit it right you can get mad air without needing to do anything. Gnarly.
At one point a promising looking break goes clear. I fancy being in it but I fancy it a bit too late. I’m off the front and chasing. Another rider joins me but manages only a couple of turns before I drop him. I’m closing in on the brake but the bunch are closing in on me, so I stop wasting energy and go back. The break stays away for a while but they’re caught well before the finale.
Before we catch them I catch myself wasting energy looking to form a counter attack from the willing riders at the front of the bunch. It’s not really working, and we’re just dragging the bunch around, and some canny rider will jump as soon as we bring the break back, so I settle back in and wait for another opportunity.
The penultimate lap is fast and surely riders are going out of the back as we hit each of the steep sections. With about 10km to go, Dave from Chorlton Velo tells me that he’s “fucked”, I am too but I reckon everyone is. I’m off up to the business end to see if I can get anything out of this.
I’m second wheel when a rider from Team Chronomaster starts pulling. They’ve got about a billion riders in this race, and they’ve had a man in the break up until now, so this seems like something resembling tactics. I can read the name Craig Battersby on the bottom of his number as he drags us around the course, catching every single rider who’s tried an escape. Hopefully I can ride this all the way to the sprint, but with a few KMs to go, he sits up. The pace is still on, but I’m perhaps now in about 10th wheel. Ideal for the sprint, and a position I can hold as the race will be lined out through the final few bends. About 2km from the line a few riders try to mob the front. They do this by riding on the wrong side of the road, down a descent into a blind bend. Inevitably a car is coming the other way and they have to dive back into the bunch. It cause a near crash and plenty of brakes to slam on. Mine included. Several of the well placed riders have now lost a whole bunch of places. Me included.
As we run up the hill towards the sprint I have to go deep to make up places to even give myself a hint of a chance. I have to stick my nose into the wind in order to be in with a chance, and by the time that chance comes I’m at my limit. I cross the line in 19th or 20th place, disappointed and annoyed, but having had a pretty good time.
I eat 2 bacon sandwiches and drink all of the water, then Me, Dave, Sizzo and Carla go for a Milkshake.
The drive home takes us back across the bridge where my bidon made its bid for freedom, and its new life in the country. Like many young hopefuls, it’s dreams have been crushed and it lies at the side of the road, a bunch of ramblers doing their best not to make eye contact with it as they pass by. Further up the road its lid lies detached. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Thanks to Ellen Isherwood for her brilliant photos, as usual.
And thanks again to 23mm for supplying the brilliant wheels that I get to race on.