I’m in such a relaxed, end of season mood that I’m not sure I even know how to prepare for a bike race any more. Today I’ve forgotten to pack any energy gels, and the only one I’ve managed to scrape out of my race bag is one that I definitely didn’t buy, and is almost definitely an antique. Halfway around the Squadra RT Road Race and I’m yamming it down, to hell with the consequences. I feel like a scavenger living in a post zombie-apocalypse world, on the next lap I’ll probably use my multitool to open up an old can of dog food that I’ve found. It’ll be the best meal I’ve had in weeks. Almost enough to make you forget that the world has ended, or that you’re in a bike race.
Today is the Squadra RT Road Race and I keep claiming that it’s my final race of the season. I also keep claiming that I’m just riding it for fun, that I’ve got bad legs, and that I’m only here to do domestique duty for Phil, to pay him back for all the work he’s done for me this year. Some, or all of these things will end up being down right lies.
To put my lack of preparation in context, I was convinced that today’s race was in Ormskirk, Lancashire, when in fact it was in Warton, Yorkshire. Two places so subtly different in their identity that people actually had a lovely war about it. I’d like you to believe that it’s because I’m a dreamer like John Lennon, and I’ve imagined that there are no countries, or counties for that matter, but actually I’m just very confused and badly prepared.
The material in this next section of the race report is going to be broad. Broad in the comedy sense, the sort of thing that would appeal to fans of Allo’ Allo’, the people who would enjoy stopping for a photo outside of a place called Bush Farm.
We’re parked up just outside Bush Farm. Phil’s popped into a field that is now acting as an impromptu latrine. I’m initially keen on the idea but I lose my nerve, I’m thankful for that when Neil comes around the corner, shooting a video. These two have seen actual combat, and Phil can probably go even when nukes are going off all around him. I got shy because the grass looked dangerously sharp. I am not the sort of guy you want to go into battle with.
Despite my lack of soldiering credentials, I’m a decent lad to have in a bike race. 2 weeks ago I rode entirely for our teammate Joe, today I’m trying to do the same for Phil. That means haring off after every break for the first couple of laps. In spite of my efforts most of them do actually get shut down and I start to believe my own hype. I’m like a cyborg, sent back from the future to kill breaks, provided that someone else will do at least an equal amount of the work.
This course is pretty fun. It’s long, meaning that we’ll cover about 100km in the 5-and-a-half laps that we do, it’s also got a fair amount of climbing, although none of it is particularly steep. In order to comply to the natural law of things, and because we’re not racing in an Escher drawing, the course also includes the same amount of descending. There’s one lovely, long descent, that ends abruptly in a 90 degree turn, just after you’ve hit terminal velocity. This catches some riders out on the first lap, and at least a couple have to unclip and use their feet as additional brakes. I opt to just slow to an almost standstill and then find myself in completely the wrong gear for what comes next, and then I treat myself to a long chase to get back into the bunch.
This is the point in the second lap where I pop that ancient gel. I’m not sure if out of date gels have a mild hallucinogenic effect, but the race starts to get a lot more fun. Maybe that’s why I start to believe that I’m actually really good at this and attack the bunch on the climb. I’m still working for Phil, but I’m doing it in new, psychedelic ways that mean I’m out front, on my own, looking to collect a nice £30 prime, and then never be seen again by the bunch.
Just when I’m really into what I’m doing, a rider from Muckle CC comes flying past and beats me to the line. He’ll take 3 of the 5 primes today and then finish 10th, making the same amount of cash as the winner. It’s the sort of reliable income you could secure a mortgage on.
I try and get him to work with me to stay away but he’s not got the strength. Perhaps if I was just dropping a trail of fivers I’d get more out of him. I can’t even offer him a really old gel.
I realise I'm not getting anywhere once the headwind starts to really make itself known at the top of the climb. I settle back in the bunch and gather energy for whatever ridiculous plan I come up with next.
On the long, fast section of the course and the bunch is absolutely flying. I ride into the sound of riders hitting the deck, long before my eyes can see what is happening. Time seems to slow as I plot the only route possible through the carnage. It turns out that time is going exactly the same speed as it always does, I’ve just got my brakes jammed on hard.
The riders who hit the deck all appear to have got off lightly, although they’re mostly out of the race. I look back to make sure Phil’s still with us. He’s up right but he’ll need to chase back on to the bunch. I can’t afford to drop out of this group, so for the moment I’ll abandon my domestique duties.
On the hill and Phil is back, but there’s a dangerous break of 5 up the road. I expect them to be reeled in over the hill, but they’re building up a gap. No one knows who’s supposed to chase this down, and because Squadra, Feather and Wold Top are represented out front, there are several riders in the bunch who are now on disruption duties.
I leap off the front, with Phil in my wheel. In my mind we’ll bridge over but Phil’s not quite got the legs to do it. He let’s a gap go and I’m flying free of the bunch. I pick up a rider from Stourbridge who’s caught in no man’s land. He gives me a few turns but each time he lets the pace drop. I lose patience and leave him behind, determined to make contact with the 5 in front. Even better than making contact with the 5 in front, I make contact with the 30 odd who are left behind. I’ve neither bridged, nor shut the break down, but at least I’ve motivated the bunch.
I sit back in and I’m fourth wheel, 2 minutes later, as we hit the climb. I’ve got a good gap here a couple of laps ago, and the break will only be doing just enough to stay away, so I go on the attack, full gas.
This time it’s working, and good for me is that I’ve dragged another rider with me, he comes through and does a turn when it starts to feel as though it’s not working. Over the finish line for the penultimate time and we make contact. I know this is a vulnerable point for a break so i don’t waste time sitting on, I go straight over the top and start pulling. This group is clearly organised and we’re through and off into the headwind section. The bunch feels close but we start to pull out the gap, again.
The usual breakaway politics start to surface. Some lads are skipping turns, others are surging through when they hit the front, I say something like “smooth is quick” and instantly hate myself, despite the fact that I’m being incredibly wise.
If we keep on like this then the 7 of us will be racing for the win, but I know we need a decent lead before the final climb, as cooperation is going to go right out of the window once we hit it, and the lads who can only do the occasional turn, are going straight out the back, giving the bunch more targets to aim for.
Before we hit the climb I do one of the most ‘pro’ things I’ve ever done. i jettison my remaining water bottle. Unlike the pros, I don’t chuck mine to an excited child for them to keep as a souvenir, I chuck mine next to the duck pond in the village so that I can collect it after the race, and not get disqualified for being a lout. No ducks are injured.
As we hit the climb the call goes out to tap through and keep the momentum going. It’s clear it’s not going to plan when our smooth chain gang becomes a long line, with everyone behind looking to the lead rider to do all the work.
I do a turn, come off the front and place myself in 4th wheel. Next time I see the front of the line I up the pace. It’s not a big attack, I’m not sure I could go all in without cramping up, but it’s enough that the rider behind can’t follow me, and no one in the group is prepared to close the gap for another rider’s benefit. I’ve made my bed, and now I’m going to have to lie in it. By lie, I mean up the pace even more and try not to worry about the pain in both of my legs, my back, my arms, my mind.
If this was on TV, David Millar would be talking about it being the perfect time to attack, and he’d say something about the group just looking at each other. I wish they’d look a little longer, instead two of them attack in an attempt to bridge to me.
I hit the 1km to go marker and I’ve got maybe 10 to 15 seconds of a gap. I want to get out of the saddle but as well as a gap I’ve also got a cramp that is desperate to envelop every part of my legs it can get its hands on. I know that if I get out of the saddle my legs will lock up straight, and I’ll be pedalling like a really old dog.
I see the sign for 200 meters to go and I think about what an awful place to be caught this would be. I chance a look and I’ve still got a big gap, someone in the crowd says you’ve got this, and he’s right. I get to sit up and enjoy the moment. I’ve actually had time to zip my jersey up, but not enough to think about a celebration. I think about putting both hands in the air but I’m not even sure I can straighten my back. I’ve give a relaxed, left arm punch of the air, which is way less Kriss Akabusi than the last time. At the podium ceremony I’ll try and spray champagne everywhere, but only a dribble will come out. My riding is coming along but I’m doing winning all wrong.
In all seriousness I’d now like to thank a load of people. Firstly the marshals and race organisers who put on these road races. Without them, we wouldn’t have a chance to do what we do, so I can’t thank them enough. The same goes for the commissaries, the St John’s Ambulance crews, the people putting out the cakes in the village halls. Thank you.
I’d also like to thank my teammates at Buxton CC, not just those that race, but also those that make the Wednesday night sessions such good training. I’d particularly like to thank Phil and Joe who have been brilliant teammates for the entire road season. It’s been a great first year on the team, and I’m proud of the way we’ve represented Buxton CC in all the races we’ve done. Been a pleasure getting my first 2 wins, and my 2nd cat with you.
As always, I’d like to thank Mike at 23mm for supplying my wheels. They’re absolutely rapid and they’ve been a big help this season. If you need a new set then take a look at Mikes site. If you get in contact with him, then tell him I sent you.
And thanks to my wife for letting me be a bike racer on Sundays.
When I got home from the race I realised that I’d used up my final Cliff Bar. A sign that it must be the end of the season? Maybe one more race……