As the final car in the convoy goes past it gives us a beep. There’s no need for it to be such a jaunty sounding horn, it almost makes you think that the ice cream man has arrived. When you’re going out the back of the bunch it’d be more appropriate to hear something along the lines of the sound that accompanies the big X on Family Fortunes. It’s joined by another, even more grating sound, and unfortunately this one won’t disappear along with the rest of the race…..
Today it’s the final round of the North Wales Road Race KOM Series. It’s going to be another hard race that goes 3 times up a tough climb and then goes up another one just to be a real shit. It looks like we’ll be starting off in the rain so I’ve packed some wet chain lube. It’s safely stowed away in the glove compartment of the Micra. Remember that bit for later because I’m definitely going to forget that it’s in there or that it’s absolutely vital that I put it on my chain.
I normally write about 3 paragraphs on what happens on the way to the race, and where and how many times Phil has to stop to go to the toilet, but today I’m not travelling in the van with the rest of the lads. Luckily Adam Baines from Chronomaster makes up for that at HQ. He tells me he’s not doing so well and he’s thinking about doing a fourth shit. I tell him that I did the same thing last week and still got 6th place. I think about a career in motivational speaking once this bike racing thing inevitably goes down the pan. I then remind myself that bike racing is not actually my career and that I really ought to try and remember what is.
My pep talk clearly hasn’t been taking on board by Bainesy’s bike, as it’s decided to give him the option of just two gears to do the race in. He walks past me back to HQ carrying his race number, dejectedly. It’s number 5, which is probably also what he’s on the way to the bathroom to do.
This course involves actual right turns. I don’t think I’ve ever done a race that turns right before. Most road races only ever turn left. I’m worried that I’m like Derek Zoolander and I can only turn in one direction, in the middle of peloton is probably not the best place to find out. I've also got no ideas of what the consequences of us racing clockwise are. Perhaps it’ll reverse time like when Superman flew round the earth really fast. If I see a velociraptor on lap 2 then I’ll know why.
Unlike the last round I’m switched on for this one and I’m well positioned the first time up the climb. It’s a brutal pace but I’m never in danger of being spat but the feeling in my legs tells me that’s not the same for everyone. I yell to my teammate Phil, to stay in touch, but it’s the last time I’ll see him until I’m riding back to HQ and he’s yelling at me “get the Savlon out.” I assume that this is just some bawdy phrase for his army days, or it could be down to chaffing from his ill fitting jersey that is once again held together by a well placed safety pin. When we finally meet up back at the van it becomes apparent that he’s got a nasty case of road rash after a crash. I now realise that he wanted the Savlon for its advertised purpose. If I did have any then it’s probably in the glove box of the Micra with that lube I mentioned.
Joe’s our main threat on GC for this series. He’ll have to win and hope for a disaster behind in order to take the overall, but he’s got a good chance of moving up into the top 5 and this is a race he could win. On lap 1 I move up to the front to help chase down some early attacks and I’m working with the Rhino Velo Racing team to keep things in check. At this point a rider uses the inch wide gap between me and the gutter to launch an attack. He yells “LEFT” to give the impression that the move might have been an appropriate one. At this point he hits a pothole, drops his chain and has to rethink his actions. To his credit he gathers his thoughts, and his chain, and then goes again. It’s not quite panache but I’m into it.
Attack after attack is brought back but the yellow jersey is under constant pressure. One move goes off the front but it’s too big to leave the bunch behind. Still the yellow jersey decides he needs to chase it and dives for another of those non-existent gaps. He nearly forces one of the Rhino lads into a bush. “You might be in yellow but don’t fucking do things like that” I yell. In the old days we used to respect the jersey. I’m a symbol of how our society is falling to pieces. They should bring back national service, or hanging, or Opal Fruits. Someone needs to do something.
Joe goes off the front about 25km into the race. He gets a decent gap but the bunch knows he’s a threat and want to shut him down. He gets close to making it onto the wheel of Louis Szymanski from ABC Centreville but never quite makes it. Joe’s out front when I follow on the wheel of a counter attack. I’ve actually done something out of the racing text book but sadly there are no British Cycling points given out for that. We go past Joe but I sit up to make sure he’s on my wheel. Will from PMR comes across and this looks like it could be a decent move. The bunch is well aware of that and shuts us down reasonably quickly.
The next move I make is a few KMs down the road, and I go solo. The bunch is taking a breather and I use a fast bit of road to make the gap. I build up about 20 seconds or so in a short amount of time and around a couple of the bends I’m totally out of sight. There’s no chance I can actually make this work but if I can get across to the rider in front of me then I might be onto something, as long as he’s willing to have a passenger for a bit. I start to close the gap as the road goes upwards but as soon as it levels and descends he slips into an aero position and starts pulling away. I can’t compete with guys who can put out that sort of power on the flat. I’ve got a choice between risking it all to chase him down, and maybe completely exploding, or letting the bunch catch me. I go with the bunch option and it’s probably another one of my wrong decisions.
About now my bike starts to squeak. It’s low level at the moment but it’s only going to get worse. I remember what I never took out of the glove compartment of the Micra. Still, how bad can it get.
The second time up the climb is absolutely fierce. I’m well positioned but about half way up it starts to get tough as riders in front of me are not able to hold the wheel. The rider from the first lap who shouted “LEFT” is in front of me and losing ground. I yell “LEFT” but he doesn’t budge and I have to go the long way around him. These two incidents leave me doubting that I even know what “LEFT” means anymore.
I’ve got Joe and one other on my wheel as I hammer it up the climb to get back in touch with the main bunch. I pull for what feels like ages as a good domestique should. Joe does the last turn to ensure we stay in the race but I’ve definitely burned a match that I was hoping to save for later in the race.
Phil’s crashed and me and Joe are still with the main bunch but we had one other rider in the race. Turns out Rhys is still here on the back of the peloton. He’s never been this deep into a race before so I’m made up for him. He’s looking fresh too, so on the final lap I drag him to the front and then let a wheel go so he gets a chance to be in a break. It doesn’t go anywhere but now he knows that he can be on the front of a race like this he’ll be racking up points in no time.
Being in the main bunch is masking the sound of my ever worsening dry chain scenario. I must be losing something like 50 watts but it feels like a million as we go over a steep rise before we hit the main climb for the final time. I’m badly positioned and have to break for a rider with a dropped chain. I get back on but I can now hear my bike creaking every time I put any significant power through the pedals. I drop out the back out of a mixture of exhaustion and embarrassment. Alone I can now hear the creaking and squeaking completely unmasked, except for the sound of the jaunty horn of the final car in the convoy. I roll to the finish trying to find gears that make the least amount of noise.
Joe gets 9th and I really should have been up there with him. The good news is that he’s snaffled enough points to move into 4th place on the GC.
I want to say thank you to the organisers of this series. A brilliantly organised set of races on some of the most stunning courses you can find in Britain. Having a GC prize kept things interesting right to the death and I’ll definitely be back for more next year.
Thanks again to 23mm for my racing wheels. Give Mike a shout if you ever need a new set of hoops. Tell him I sent you.