I wasn't expecting to be donning the racing shorts for another month yet, but a good friend of mine suggested, and offered, me a lift up to Croft. Now, in terms of training, there is no better substitute than racing, as rarely do you average 26mph on a normal ride. The day itself was a crisp and clear 6 degrees. There were two men out in shorts, me and this beast of a human being riding for Velo29. The rest of the pansies where in tights.
When you don't race for a while, you develop an air of complacency thinking that your training is working and your strength has become that of Samson's. Racing snaps you back into reality. I was expecting that reality to be painful, however, I have seen a clear improvement from last year. I am able to stay on the front for longer, attack more often and tolerate the lactic more. In fact, I was only in trouble once when I towed the scratch group onto the back of the second group and the was a surge, but I dug deep and kept with them.
Onto the race itself. The format was a handicap, with riders being set off in their categories. Since the highest category to enter was a 2nd, I was therefore in the scratch. Now, I don't like being in the scratch, especially when there is ten of you compared to the 50 riders already up the road. I sat on the bike and leaned against the wall, and addressed my comrades in arms from the lofty position.
'Right you lot, theres only 10 of us, so we are all going to work together. No petty inter-team arguments and no soft-tapping or you getting shelled. Kapeesh? Good. Right lets go.'
And off we went.
My little speech seemed to have done the trick. The group was working well and we were slowly pulling in the other groups, which were always in sight and had soon merged into a large peloton. We where pulling them in and with about 500m between the scratch and the lead, I put a huge turn on the front, essentially towing everyone to the behind of the pack. When we made contact, something amazing happened. It was like everybody was linked telepathically and the moment I made contact, the was a huge surge, from everyone. Now I was strictly in the red zone, my legs where burning and my breathing was like a steam whistle. Luckily, there where little reserves and I stayed on.
I made my way to the front over the course of a couple of laps and when I reached my desired position, a spotted a break of five up the road around 300m ahead. My heart sank. They where working together and had broken the elastic. I knew instantly that this was the winning break and attacked instantly to try and make up the gap. Unfortunately, I'd like to believe I looked a bit too well presented to be allowed free reign off the front and the was always someone on my wheel.
Usually, after putting myself into the red so often at this point of the race I would have been dying. My winter training was paying off and felt strong, so I went to the front and awaited the perfect circumstances for my pounce. I didn't have to wait long because the was a slight wind in one direction and nobody wanted to chase into it. I took advantage of the confusion and attacked. Nobody followed. I got into time trial mode to try and catch those pirates that had got away. I wasn't going anywhere fast, but I was surprised that I hadn't been caught after a lap. A few months earlier, I would have been caught after a few hundred meters, now, I was still chasing after two miles. However, I did run out of steam after a lap and a half and was reeled back in. Too dangerous I was to be allowed of the front for two long, said my mate Will Staveley afterwards. Coincidentally, he was leading the pack when I was caught.
This was the last nail in the coffin, and I knew that we were not going to catch the break. I settled into the pack and prepared for the sprint for 6th. Petty attacks came and went and got caught. I even had a another go or two. But people where straight on my wheel. My lone flyer was the longest so far apart form the break. My attacks from now on are going to be nitro-injected cadence fests, rather than the powerful diesel ring-grinders I have rather enjoyed doing.
Coming into the last half lap, I was slightly confused and didn't know where to put my self for the sprint. Surely, I thought to myself, after so many Tockwith sprints you should be a pro at this. My decisions proved otherwise. Coming into the last corner I must have been as far down as 20th, while my friend was much closer to the front. I knew if I had any chance of bunch sprint victory I'd have to start from 400m, and so I did. I stayed strong till the end, where I was confused by the grid lines and must have sprinted an extra 10metres or so. I finished 13th with my friend just behind.
Not bad for an early season effort, 13th out of 60. The primary aim of this venture was to test my ability, and to identify the areas I need to work on. As always, time trialling could be better but the much more pressing issue is developing my kick, to be put to good use in attacks and sprints.
Thanks for reading. Next race North East Trophy.