I’ve been dragged from two things for this race. My sickbed and my retirement. The latter has lasted all of 2 weeks since the last race, the one where I wasn’t in the breakaway and where I chose to ride around for half of the race chiding myself for it. Garmin don’t yet make a self flagellation device but when they do I’ll be punishing myself with it and uploading all the data to strava. It might make the “suffer score” more legitimate. My sickbed is something more recent that I’ve been torn from. So much more recent that it’s actually pretty current. I’ve been coughing up my vital organs all week, but with God’s mercy I’m now only producing litres of mucus from my nose. I’m not the best at clearing congestion during a race. When I spit, the rear end of the projectile normally stays attached to my bottom lip, causing the rest of it to wrap around my shoulder like a jaunty but disgusting scarf. This race is going to involve me blowing my nose so it’s in everyone’s best interest to just let me ride off the front so I can be revolting.
One of the motivating factors for racing is that it’ll be the first time all season that I’ve raced with our teammate Matt, that and the team kit has just arrived and I can’t wait to see myself looking like Jack the Biscuit in all the photos. I bet I’m breathtaking.
The Van’s a crowded place with 3 of us in it. It empties briefly by the side of a field, somewhere in North Yorkshire, so that Phil can talk Matt through how to be pro. Matt’s 18 so he’s never been told when to shit in a field by a former squaddie, until now. Matt handles it like a pro but Phil makes the mistake of going in a field full of young cows. Young curious cows. Young curious hungry cows who think Phil has come to feed them and quickly surround him. If this turns nasty Phil’s not going to be able to get away very quickly, what with his pants around his ankles.
Today is the Harrogate Nova Road Race and the field is about the strongest I’ve seen all season. I should be looking forward to this race as it is notoriously hard, and has a couple of bits that go quite a lot uphill. Sadly, having been broken out of my retirement home, and suffering with what I think might be the plague, my enthusiasm is at about the same level as my form, which in turn is about at the same level as one of those weird fish that have all the lights in them. I’m trying to say it’s low.
During the warm up I try to commune with my body to understand how it’s feeling. It’s not really got much to say and what it does say is pretty weird and just leaves me even more confused. It doesn’t tell me not to race but neither does it tell me how it’s going to treat me if I do.
A couple of laps in and the signals are mixed. At the top of the climb I’m always with the front group, but whenever something requires actual power, I drop back down the bunch. At some point I reach Matt to ask him what’s going on in the race. He tells me that a break’s gone and that they have about a minute on us. This week I’m not bothered. This week we turn a corner and see that they’re about 10 seconds away, and coming back.
Matt and Phil, my teammates, are both looking strong in the bunch, Matt proves it by chopping me through a corner, chopping me again on something that’s not really a corner, and then almost knocking me off my bike when he takes a toot from his bidon. All this happens in the space of about 3 or 4 minutes. I’ve never felt so on edge since that time when we took one of those legal highs which have all the actual drugs removed and replaced with caffeine.
I don’t know how it happens but Phil and Matt both get dropped around two thirds of the way into the race. The next time I see Matt he’s by the side of the road trying to hand me a gel. That would be good teammate behaviour if we weren’t all smashing into the last climb on the way to the sprint. To be fair to Matt, he’s not the only one who doesn’t know that the race is about to end. One of the Prologue riders is going up and down the bunch asking anyone he knows whether we’re on the final lap or not. “Will someone just tell him that this is the last bloody lap” is something I might have said.
The sprint is messy. I follow Dave from Chorlton Velo who will probably be among the points. I will to if I can ride his wheel, but unfortunately his wheel ends up in the grass. I have to brake and lose a few places, but Dave finds some clear road and survives. I’m forced to brake twice more whilst trying to unleash my sprint. Two activities that are mutually exclusive which is proved by the fact that by the time I’m up to speed, riders are crossing the line. It’s amazing how you can sprint for seemingly an age when there’s a chance for a good position, but as soon as that chance evaporates, so does your ability to keep putting the power down. I reassure myself that this is the case as I almost grind to a halt in the final 50 meters. Between here and the finish line I’ve got plenty of time to think about retiring again.
On the way home I introduce Phil and Matt to a Bang Bang. Not what you think or secretly hope it is. A Bang Bang is where you go out to a restaurant for food and then go straight to another one. We do it with McDonalds and Burger King, but just for cokes. We’re athletes after all.
Thanks to Chris Kendall for the ace photos.
And, as always, thanks to Jamie and High Peak Cycles for supporting the team.