Saturday, 17 May 2014

Dunsfold 4th Cat - First Road Race- Never Again!

The Surrey racing league hold 4th category road racing every Friday through the Summer. I've never entered a road race before and the weather was a balmy 20 degrees and the skies were blue. Everything seemed so perfect for a bike ride.

I arrived at Dunsfold aerodrome to find 50 cars already in the carpark and others still arriving. Undoubtebly a big turnout due to the weather. For a 4th Cat race there was a lot of nice machinery on show, several £5k bikes and lots of bling kit.

Having pinned on my number and with a simple "4th Cats off ya go" from the starter, we were underway. Being an airfield the Dunsfold course is just a flat simple loop of the perimeter road. I had told myself that I was only here on a fact finding mission to gain experience, I wasn't going to get caught up in the racing. That resolution lasted until the second lap.

At 27mph I was finding the tightly packed center of the group quite intimidating. It is nice tucked away only having to freewheel along much of the time - it hardly feels like a race - but you need eyes in the back of your head and to trust those around you. For piece of mind I worked myself to the outside, but then found myself in a chain moving to the front! A small group had broken away and suddenly I was on the front of the main group taking turns to chase them back down. It was only the 3rd lap - this wasn't what I had planned!

I caught the breakaway group and at the exact moment I did the others came surging through from behind. The entire pack of 50+ riders streamed past as if I wasn't moving. My legs weakened from the chase there was nothing I could do either. The final rider came past and the gap grew. I yoyo'd off the back for a few seconds knowing once I had gone that was it. With the last reserves of energy I sprinted to try and stay on! 1st lesson learnt!

Back in the peleton  the laps went by while I recovered, slowly working myself back towards the front, into the top 20 or so. I was determined not to waste any more effort so moved around within the group to stay sheltered from the wind. The laps ticked by and with two to go the pace was really high as riders began to jostle for prime position. I held my nerve, getting used now to the tight proximity of the riders.

So into the final straight, the finish line in sight. I was up in the top ten holding my place waiting to time my sprint. Already past 30mph the guy infront got out the saddle to open up, hit something in the road and went down. His bike flew up into the air, I couldn't avoid it.

The next memory I have is being loaded onto the ambulance. Final stop a painful night in Tooting A&E. After 5 hours laying flat on my back in a neck brace looking at the ceiling I was finally given the all clear. What a relief, but then they started picking at my other wounds. A broken cheek bone was cleaned up, and I was told not to sneeze as I might lose my eye. My ear had been worn down to the cartilage so an agonising hour was spent with the plastic surgeon as he stretched the skin I did have and sewed it over the wound.

I'm now back home, the worse of my injuries at the moment are the road rash which makes almost every position uncomfortable. So my first road race, and probably my last as well. It may take a while but when I get back on the bike I'm sticking to the MTB.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Southern Champs Course Recce

Isaac Pucci has the task of designing the course for the British Southern XC Championships. I tagged along for a guided tour on Sunday. As expected Isaac has included some serious climbs linked together with lots of fun bits. Despite a demo from our tour guide I will be taking the 'B-line' around the gap jump on race day! 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Kawasaki Enduro

Only a few minutes into the 50 mile race and I was already pushing my physical limits. From the gun a group of ten riders had immediately broken away from the pack and I was trying desperately to go with them. It was madness I had no hope of maintaining this kind of pace for another 4-5 hours, so gradually I made the decision to let them slip away. I had to hope that they had misjudged their pace and would come back to me as the day unfolded.

Such had been the frenetic pace over the opening miles, that there was nobody insight behind. I found myself isolated. Judging the distribution of effort in a marathon race is hard - especially without a reference. It would be all too easy to lose concentration and slip pack towards the chasing pack, who were undoubtedly somewhere in the forest behind me!

Despite the sunny weather there was a surprising amount of standing water to be navigated. I rode several sections with feet unclipped, raised high to prevent soggy socks! Grip was also very poor. Having ridden around Deepcut twice in the past three weeks I was familiar with the trails, but wasn’t able to attack them as we had a fortnight ago. The hours ticked past and the passage of riders moved the water aside, so conditions did improve significantly, leaving a nicely consistent flowing course. On the first lap I waited for the hill which never came, instead the course undulated backwards and forwards. Frequently just the other side of the trees riders would be streaming in the opposite direction on a totally different part of the lap.

Blindly following the tape and arrows I began to wonder if I was the only person in the race! After a couple of laps it was a relief to finally catch some back markers, but it is so hard to get past on tired legs. All too easily you slot in behind them and find yourself moving at their pace instead of yours. You need to repeatedly find the energy to push past when the opportunity arises. A friendly shout works on some who peal to the side, others intent on their own race are not so generous.

I’d paced myself well and was able to push for the line on the final lap in the hope that there was somebody ahead whose legs were more tired than mine. After 4 hours those undulations began to feel like proper inclines!

As it happens one rider ahead had punctured so I was pleased to finish in the top ten, minutes clear of the nearest rider behind. The self motivation to keep pushing and my pacing were positives to take forward for next week.

Unfortunately the mud was probably good practice too for Scotland, however I severely doubt that there will be the same lack of hills on Saturday!