Last Weds night I was due to drive to Dunsfold with Steve (the Top Gear test track) to race in a 30 mile Masters’ race.
Steve wasn’t well and understandably he couldn’t go. Belgium had made my cold worse so I was suddenly handed a way out. However it was a warm evening and I figured riding my bike was always going to beat moping around indoors wishing I was riding my bike!
Setting off in plenty of time I managed to get lost. The stinking cold, no travelling companion, forgetting the way; something or someone was telling me not to go. I checked it wasn’t Friday 13th (on a Wednesday?!), stepped around a ladder, found a horseshoe and a four leaf clover, reminded myself I wasn’t superstitious and headed to the race.
So, Ill and late, I began my belated warm up but I was thinking about a conversation that Steve and I have regularly; If you’re fit enough to do well in a race you will and if you’re not, you won’t, no matter what your warm up.
Now, please don’t interpret this is me being against a warm up; I’m just saying that if you don’t get to a race with enough time to warm up then there’s no reason to panic. It is however important to have a strategy, so I sat in the pack for 2 laps and, due to it being a warm evening, felt ready to go by lap 3.
So, with 8 laps (of 10) and 24 miles to go I was ready to follow the attacks.
Over the last 12 months or so I have noticed that the top guys in races seem to go with attacks immediately after a hard period in a race. To state the obvious, if everyone is “on their knees” and an attack goes, most people won’t have the energy to go with it or chase it.
Or is that just in our heads?
I have always thought how good it would be to be fit enough to go with the aforementioned attack as it often seems to stick so, feeling so poorly that I didn’t expect to get to the finish I thought I’d experiment. I group of usual suspects were attacking the hell out of the front of the race and we were all on our limits just trying to keep up when they all sat up as everyone was spent and needed a rest. I certainly need a rest too but instead I just kept riding; calmly and in the saddle, nobody came with me, they were exhausted, looking at one another as if to say ‘no you chase him’.
This was properly hard work and I was running the risk of ‘blowing’ but then a rider jumped across to me and then another and then another but by now we’d established a handy gap and when 2 more joined us we were in a working break and quite a way up the road.
I didn’t get too excited at this stage as:
a) We weren’t even half way into the race
b) I was feeling bloody sick as a result of this effort
Inevitably, some people didn’t do their turn and we were soon roped back in.
At halfway, with 5 to go, I was so ill I decided to pull out, not a decision I take likely so I sat up and freewheeled to let everyone pass me just before the start/finish line. As the peloton passed me I realised not only how big it was but also how easy it was back there with all that shelter. I decided to ‘roll round’ for a while and see if I felt better and, gradually, I did.
Some people ask me, “if it’s that easy to sit in the middle of the peloton then why not just sit there until the end and then use all that saved energy for the finish”
i) The further back you are at any one time the more chance you will be behind a crash if it happens than in front of it. Just ask eerrm, me!
ii) The closer you are to the front the less braking and accelerating you have to do on corners or if the bunch slows. Accelerating a car uses the most petrol and it’s just the same for a rider’s energy.
iii) If the peloton splits into 2 or more groups you want to be in the front group
iv) You can see potholes and hazards easier, as well as any breakaways that go up the road. Especially important to know if you are the first across the line in the peloton so you don’t put both hands in the air (very uncool)!
v) It’s just more bloody fun to be involved in the action 🙂
Feeling better I started moving up and before we knew it the bell had been rung and we were 1 lap or 3 miles from the finish. I had no plans on contesting a bunch sprint with this many riders, especially that lot with fresh legs at the back! Therefore, with 2 miles to go I attacked and got a considerable jump on everyone.
It was do or die time
A rider came across to me and I could tell by the size of this calves that this was going to be good news!
And it was; not only was he doing the lion’s share of the hard work but also we were still pulling away from the others.
1.5 miles to go.
The next thought I had (followed closely by ‘I’m too young to die’) was that, because he was in an older age category (yes this ‘tank’ that was ripping my legs to pieces in his slipsteam was at least 50 years old!), I could win my first race here.
1 mile to go.
My companion, soon to become Mentor, flicks his elbow to say “come through and do your turn”. I can’t. It’s embarrassing and disappointing and very very painful all at once. I tell him by way of a nonsensical gasp and reassure him that I am of no threat to him if we do indeed make it the finish!
The very good bloke that he has now become continues to drag us to the line and I am getting light headed and disorientated.
Half a mile to go.
It’s a long finishing straight at Dunsfold and a few moments later we can see the finish line. Could this be it? Am I going to win my first race? I felt like I was pedalling through treacle so I found it hard to believe. I took a look over my shoulder and still the peloton were quite a way back, it’s going to be touch and go. My partner was just too strong and I shouted my last few words of encouragement for him as he rode away from me.
The peloton were on me and shortly after they caught my companion and opened up their own sprint for first place. I had a ring side seat, at the middle and to the left of the bunch as they passed me when suddenly there was a huge crash of metal following by cries of pain as a dozen riders hit the deck.
With my race finished I pulled over and helped some of the lads get up off the floor. 2 weren’t so lucky and were taken to hospital with suspected broken collarbones.
I learnt a lot today.
I learnt (or was reminded that) being in the break can help you avoid a crash
I learnt (or was reminded that) a lot of going with a break, despite being exhausted or ill, is in your head
And I learnt a lot from my breakaway companion when I sought him out after the race to apologise for not pulling my weight. He told me:
“To be in a successful breakaway you need 4 things:
3. A bit of luck
4. Some balls.”
“Tactically”, he said, “you chose a great moment to attack as riders were thinking about the bunch sprint. You’ve clearly got balls” (I liked that) “and fitness you’re almost there but not quite”.
“I’m going to keep attacking every time”, I said, not letting on that I was ill.
“Good for you” he replied as we shook hands and headed home.
Oh one last thing; I didn’t miss the winning break either!