We’re stood in a car park on Anglesey talking about going to race in Belgium for a weekend. We’re all in agreement that’d I’d get an identical experience, only for a lot less cash, if I just stayed at home and punched myself repeatedly for a couple of days.
We’re here because we’ve just finished round 2 of the North Wales Road Race series. This round was a 2 stage race, with a day in Snowdonia and a day on Anglesey. Again it might have been cheaper and less stressful to stay at home and beat myself up all weekend. Let me tell you about it.
It’s Friday evening and me and Sizzo have just arrived at the guest house we’ll be staying at for the weekend. It’s an old, 3 storey, Victorian guesthouse and it literally feels as if everything inside it is made from your mum’s best china. Not wanting to break anything, I’m shaking furiously with nervesas I carry my bike up the stairs. The vibrations are enough that a chandelier in the breakfast room starts to swing making it look like a seance that has successfully made contact with the other side.
This guesthouse is so full of nice things, like paintings of gun dogs and plates with patterns on them, that I feel like I’m in a Sylvanian families house. I keep expecting a giant child to open it in two and force me to act out a scenario with a rabbit dressed in fine tweed. That doesn’t happen. In fact nothing happens because we’re in Colwyn Bay and it’s after 7pm. We’re lucky to even find a place that’s serving food.
During the night I’m woken up several times by a noise that I hope is the sea, or the pipes, or just the building being haunted. Sadly it’s just heavy bastard rain. Heavy bastard rain that’s not going to go anywhere until well after today’s race. It’s brought its friend, really strong wind along for the party, and it leads to our race being shortened by a lap.
We’re racing in Snowdonia today. I’d tell you where but I can’t spell or pronounce it. It’s basically a place that sounds like it’s from one of the Elvish bits off of Lord Of The Rings but luckily we didn’t have to go on a quest to get here, we just drove in the Micra.
We’ve got a team of three in the race, Phil, Joe and Myself. Joe’s slept in the carpark in a camper van so by the time we get there to sign on, he’s only been up for 5 minutes. Phil’s preparation has been nothing short of standard. We drove past his van only 5 minutes away from HQ. Has he broken down? Has something gone horribly wrong? Jonesy waves a bog roll at us from the passenger side, the universal sign for “Phil’s had to go and shit in the woods.” Even on a 20 minute drive this is standard behaviour.
On the start line and the weather is bleak. We’re talking about the most miserable weather conditions we’ve raced in and one lad mentions a race on the Bashall Eaves circuit a few years ago. I’ve heard about this race so many times that it’s become a thing of legend. Apparently it snowed a lot and hardly anyone finished. The latest edition to the tale is that a bloke rode around in his winter coat and still managed to finish in the points.
The race rolls out and I’m zen. I’m talking serious zen. Wax on wax off zen. It’s probably down to the fact that I won last weekend, that and I’ve spent the last 48 hours looking at the faces of tories who’ve taken a battering. I don’t know why they bother selling those rainforest sound CDs, a picture of Theresa May, looking like she was probably crying just before it was taken, is much more effective.
I’m more cautious than relaxed to tell you the truth. The roads are soaking wet and there are 2 sketchy cattle grids to go over, the second of which has been labeled as a hazard. The second time we go over it and my back wheel slides a few inches, tells me why. My caution means I’m way back when the hammer goes down up the first few kilometres of the climb. As well as the gradient we’re getting hammered by cross winds and before you know it I’m moving up through riders who have seen the last of the race. Ahead the bunch has split into smaller groups and only comes back together when the race takes a lefthand turn onto the pass. My caution means that I’m in a chase group that is down to about 3 riders when the road pitches up. I’m pretty certain that my day is over. I’m 100% certain that I’ve been in the red for as long as I can remember trying to chase back on.
This is surely a hopeless cause, but halfway up the pass and I’m just about back on. The gaps down to 50 meters. 25 meters. 10 meters. It’s at this point that the front group puts the hammer down again. I’ve already been on the limit for the last 15 minutes or so, and it’s the final nail in my coffin. I fall back into a group of one. That becomes a group of two, and then swells to a group of 8. We’re a long way short of being the last group on the road, but we won’t be making the race.
I might have turned off after the first lap, but it’s a privilege to be racing on this course so I want to see the race through. The views down into the valley are incredible, they’d be even better if you could see more than 50 yards. Also we’ve gone way past HQ by the time I realise we’re about to hit the pass again.
Our group rides well and we all come in between 20 something and 35th. In the end the group has been subdivided into smaller parties. I’m not sure why everyone is attacking until we go up a rise and I see that we’re actually at the finish line. That’ll be it then.
Back at the guesthouse and the owners have kindly offered me the use of their airing cupboard so that I can dry my things. Unfortunately my bike won’t fit in and so I’ll be starting tomorrow’s stage with the bar tape still quite damp.
That night we go out for a walk around Llandudno. On the pier there’s a place called Funworld. It’s closed but through the window I can make out that Funworld contains two cardboard boxes and nothing else. Whatever is inside them must be really bloody fun. On the arcades, Sizzo has a go on one of the grabby machines and wins a stuffed Alpaca with a fiver attached to it. In the old days it would have been a packet of Rothmans. Even arcade machines aren’t immune to gentrification.
Sunday morning and we’re racing around Anglesey. Thanks to yesterday’s rain and some less than extensive bike cleaning regimes, the bunch sounds a lot squeakier than usual. Our bikes are causing a kind of collective cycling tinnitus. Thankfully today it isn’t raining, however the wind is blowing around 40mph and most of the course is completely exposed. It leads to one of the hardest races I’ve been involved in. The hardest part being the bit where we drop into town. The buildings offer a bit of shelter from the wind, except for the bit where there isn’t a building. Each time through this section I get hit with a powerful volley of air that leaves my front wheel itching to go anywhere other than straight. The same thing happens on a sweeping right turn on the exposed part of the course that almost leaves me in a hedge.
I was expecting this race to end up in bits, but for the most part it stays together. There are fractures but everyone fights hard to stay in the bunch. I think I might have hit my biggest power values ever just fighting to stay in touch. I don’t have a power meter but if I did it would just be displaying whichever emoji looks the most traumatised.
I do manage a dig off the front but it’s like trying to throw a paper aeroplane into the sea. I’m immediately picked up by the wind and delivered back to the beach. My teammate Joe has been far more active from the front, trying to force a race winning move. Despite his best efforts it’ll come to naught, his matches all used up he resorts to desperation tactics and offers to lead me out.
I’m in no shape to sprint. The last time through town I have to ease off as the wind threatens to put me into a wall again. The bunch goes away but after 5 minutes of toil I make it back into the race convoy and I’m able to work my way back into contact with the group. That’s the reason Joe’s offer is politely declined.
I roll over the line next to the yellow jersey. He’s had a hell of a day trying to bring back attack after attack and he’s spent because of it. As we roll back to HQ a car stops to let us over a junction. That’s the kind of respect the yellow jersey earns you on Anglesey.
In the car park a few of the scouse lads have got some beers out of the boot of their car and are having an impromptu tailgate party. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect outside of a Judas Priest show in 1986, I decline to join in as I’ve forgotten to pack my tube socks and KISS t-shirt. I bloody love their style, though.
As always thanks to 23mm for my wonderful wheels. Tell Mike you heard about him on this blog if you're after a new set of hoops.