I’ve been lying low all week pending the outcome of this year’s hottest will they, or won’t they storyline. This is Ross and Rachel all over again, except instead of a coffee shop waitress there’s an amateur bike racer, and instead of a dinosaur guy, there’s a bunch of roads in North Wales. Like Rachel I pluck up the courage to lay it all on the line, I’m going to turn up and race. The North Wales Road Race is going to get off a plane with anew girlfriend. I’m pretty sure this metaphor fell down right about the time I started writing it, but what I’m basically trying to tell you is that I’ve had a bit of a knee injury for the last couple of weeks, and I wasn’t sure if I’d make this race.
I’ve been grumpy as hell about it too. My team has a good shot of taking the team prize this year, we came second last time out, and we’ve got a rider who could genuinely win the entire series. That rider isn’t me but I could still do something here. Don’t think that that metaphor I opened with means I’m going to have a terrible day, I might, but I’d rather I kept you in some degree of suspense.
My knee injury means I’ve been to see a physiotherapist for the first time in my life. On my list of ‘ists’ I’d rate the experience to be more fun than the orthodontist, and less weird than the homeopathist. I believe they’re actually called Homeopaths, but that didn’t work when it came to the construction of this paragraph.
My physiotherapist has assured me that my knee will be fine, if I just take my recovery process more seriously, and more importantly he said I’d be able to race. Limping down the stairs the day before and I’m considering a second opinion, but by the afternoon I’m going down them like someone only twice my age. At this rate, by morning, I might be able to get down without making an audible “oof” on every step. At the start line of the North Wales Road Race KOM Series #1: Brenig, (oh yeah, that’s the name of the race by the way) I bump into Joe from Manchester BC. He’s also had a knee problem and his physio has given him exactly the same advice as mine. Furthermore, after a quick cross-referencing, we confirm that they are two completely different physiotherapists. It turns out these experts actually know what they’re talking about, which runs contrary to everything my TV News has been telling me for the last year or so. If you ever need a physio in Glossop, or the wider Dark Peak area, then go see Tim Budd at global therapies.
Today’s race is going to be brutal. It’s 3 times around a circuit that is either going up or coming down, and we’ll have done over 1600m of climbing by the time the 100km are over. Luckily the sun’s out, the surroundings are stunning, and at the start line there’s a dog wearing a cycling jersey. I think to myself to refer to him as Spaniel Teklehaimanot, when I write my blog later, but then I worry that he’s not actually a spaniel, and that I might be offending someone’s religious sensibilities, so I construct a way to mention it that makes it look like I decided to not mention it. What a lovely loophole.
The race starts by going straight up the main climb of the day. Even though the race is neutralised at this point, it still feels tough. The race starts and I find myself moving up around the bunch, easily. Of course I am, I’m a natural climber, the Glossop Condor, the Peregrine of the Peaks, and I’m also completely unaware that the race is still neutralised. Still, though, no one’s looking as good as me in the neutralised zone. Everyone knows it.
Once the race starts we go rapidly down a descent before climbing again. I move up to the front of the bunch as I’m not sure what comes next, a downy bit or a climby bit. All I know is that the race is likely to get smashed into a series of tiny, rider shaped pieces at anypoint. I want to be near the front when it does so that I can mitigate the effects of the explosion. We turn left and we’re onto the highest point on the course. This is where the first bomb goes off. This section rolls, is completely exposed, and is at the full mercy of a crosswind. As we go downhill, the pace winds up, wheels are lost, and suddenly I’m in the third group on the road. I’m in my biggest gear and spinning as fast as I can, but it’s impossible to close the gaps. Anyone on junior gears who leaves even the slightest gap to the rider in front is in line for inevitable disappointment.
The race all comes back together about 5 minutes later as we turn left at the bottom of the hill. I’ve definitely left a sizeable amount of my matches back at the top. For the next 10km or so, until we hit the climb, the race ambles along and a few more stragglers make it back into the bunch. I nudge my way up to the front to let my teammate, Joe, know I’m still here. Our other two riders are nowhere to be seen. Hopefully they’re picking up my matches.
The climb is punishing but we all stay together. We descend a bit and then hit another climb. Over the top of this and I find myself attacking out of the bunch. I’d moved to the front to get a good position but my momentum carried me clear and now part of the way to the three riders up the road. Two other lads jump onto my wheel, and together we bridge over to form a working group of 6. Order is quickly established and we start to eke out a gap. Onto the exposed part of the course and my wife is on the roadside cheering us on, babes love a guy in the breakaway. It’s clear one of our 6 is struggling and on a slight rise he goes out the back. We’re fully committed and I’m gambling all I have on this being the move of the race. A bit further down the road and my teammate, Joe, bridges over to us. Apparently the group is in bits and those left are marking the Wiggins rider and that Dan Evans lad. Joe won this race last year so it’s a big endorsement for our break and more motivation to kick on. This isn’t a spoiler, but our break also contains the rider who will win this year. This is exciting, isn’t it?
Onto the flattest bit of the course, and we know that here is where we can put some time into the chasers, but only if we’re committed. 10km later and the commissaire’s car is dropping in behind us, so we must be doing something right. Most of us have been out front for about 25km by the time we hit the climb, and we’re all definitely believing that this could be our race. Joe sets a good tempo up the climb, we’ll lose time here but if we can limit those losses then we’ll pull it out again when the course flattens out.
Joe pulls off the front and another lad hits the front. The tempo drops significantly. I wait a little bit too long before riding through and upping the pace. Over the top of the climb and Joe kicks on alone. I’ve not been looking over my shoulder but the bunch must have really hammered it up the climb as they’ve pulled back a gap that must have been the best part of a minute. I look around and take shelter amongst them. There are probably only 20 to 25 riders here. I might have knackered myself out front, but if I can hide for a bit I’ll still have a chance of getting something out of the race.
One of the riders has a soigneur on a brief flat section. As he tries to take a bottle, the swanny stumbles and tries in vain to make the pass. As we roll by the swanny falls into the grass at the side of the road. Quite embarrassing, but even more so when the soigneur is your Dad.
When I first kicked off the front I felt a slight twinge of cramp but I put it to the back of my mind. It now decides to reappear right at the front of it. I get out of the saddle and it feels like all of my muscles are being sucked out through my right leg, whilst I’m being shot at the same time.
This will happen every time I get out of the saddle for the foreseeable future, and believe me I will get out of the saddle several times, what drives me to take such risks?
At the very top of the course and an injection of pace means I have to put on some power, and yet again my calf muscle becomes a solid rock that is very determined to un-anchor itself from its fleshy prison. In the seconds it takes to convince it to work like a muscle again, a small gap opens and the crosswind and the super fast pace convinces me that my day is over. I spin the last 16km to the finish, mostly alone. At one point I catch a rider who was in our 6 man break. He’s in bits too, slightly more than I’m in.
There are league points up for grabs and I’m easily in line for a place in the top 25 or so, and so I press on and hope to pick up a few more stragglers. It’s clear that the breakaway has cost me, and up the final climb I am absolutely on my arse. I cross the line about 25th, probably about 5 minutes behind the leaders, but I’ve got some ace sunburn to show for it. Joe’s managed to get 8th he thinks, and the lad that has won was the rider in our break who was constantly having to stop his front break from rubbing. That’s some ride.
On the way home, Sizzo is retuning the radio. We listen to one song segue into another and then move on in our hunt for a better station. Seconds later we hear that same song, and it is being segued into the same song as before. Clearly this is a sign that we’ve slipped out of our current universe, and into a parallel one. This one is remarkably similar but it must have some subtle differences. I hope it’s that cramp and sunburn don’t exist here.
As always, thanks to my wheel sponsors 23mm. If you're after a new set then tell Mike that I sent you.