Back to the Manchester City Race series last night for another dose of, well, pain really.
Crit racing, I’m rapidly learning, in 90% suffering, 10% looking for chances to stay in the lead group/escape from the lead group/get up to the people who’ve got ahead of the lead group and 10% cornering skills. Yes I know that’s 110% but, to quote modern day idiots, you have to give 110% at these things. (I feel dirty just saying that. I’m going to avoid saying anything about comfort zones and having to step out of them or I’ll have to find a naughty step to go and sit on whle I think of just how low I’ve sunk, mentally.). They’re hard, but mercifully quite short and you’ll rarely find time to glance at any sort of clock to see how long you’ve got to carry on suffering for, and even if you were able to see one, the chances of you having enough spare energy to do the maths are slim. Get your head down – not too far down so you can’t see what people around you are up to – and hammer it, just like everyone else is.
Last week didn’t go to plan. Well, I turned up, got my head down and gave it everything, but followed the wrong wheel, took a few corners too slowly and found myself off the back. I worked my arse off to get back onto the leading group and finished with them, but still got scored a lap down. Which I wasn’t. So, after sulking like a child for a while, I decided a return was in order, to put things right and show in no uncertain terms that I was more than capable of staying up at the front.
The plan was set then. More awareness of what was going on. Don’t get caught napping and get dropped. Whenever possible, attack. If someone else makes a move, go with it. Be up at the front and very obvious whatever occurs.
The wonderfully polite “off you go then” start was uttered, hundred of cleated shoes were frontically rubbed over pedals (mild exaggeration) and within a few seconds a heavily breathing line of riders thundered their way up the first incline, carved round the hairpin bend and started trying to unleash hell on each other.
I found myself somewhere in the middle, but kept my head up enough to keep an eye on what was happening at the front as people began to find themseves at the wrong end of gaps in the peloton. I made sure I moved back up past anyone who started to drop back and stayed in with the lead group as the laps began to flow past.
A rider, taking his turn at the front opened a gap of a few metres after taking a couple of corners smoothly while the rest of the lead pack got a bit caught up in itself carving round a hairpin bend. No-one seemed to react as I expected it to and the lone rider stayed ahed for a few more corners, dangling off the front of the group.
“This could be it” I thought, “I should see if I can get up there”. I worked my way up to the front of the group and threw down big pedal strokes as the course curved round to the left and joined onto the start straight. Head right down until the lone rider’s back wheel came in to view just in front of mine. A quick glance behind me showed I’d escaped from the pack without dragging everyone along with me, something the other rider noticed.
We agreed to work together and set about getting as far ahead as we could, taking turns in front to drive as high a pace as we could without blowing up completely.
Our gap kept growing as we were joined by a couple of 1st and 2nd cat riders who had spotted that our move might work. We continued to work together, all taking turns on the front – me usually staring at the lap counter each time I went past to make sure it was counting down correctly and no-one thought I was being lapped, not that there was any chance of that as I was happy to help open the gap back to the rest of the group whenever I thought someone might be watching – and by the time the count down board read 3 laps to go we were (by my feeble mid race maths) just over a minute ahead of what was left of the chase group as more and more riders were shelled off the back of it. We were pushing a hard pace and it was showing.
Sadly it started to show in me too as I developed my first ever stitch while riding. I didn’t even know you could GET a stitch while riding, so it was a bit of a surprise and the last thing I needed as our group started to attack each other for the win.
One rider shot off so fast I had no time to respond, nor did the other two. He was gone within the length of the main straight and rode on to the win by a seriously impressive 45 seconds. I found myself at the wrong end of a gap as the two guys in front of me started to go flat out round the swooping corners at the back of the course. Leaden legs were forced into another battering as I refused to sit up and accept 4th place with half a lap to go.
I got back on their back wheels but had no idea if there was anything left in my legs for what was obviously going to be a sprint for the line.
We flew round the last corner utterly flat out, leant as far over as we dared and hauled the bikes up underneath us to push every bit of power we had left out through the cranks.
I had no ‘kick’. I found myself able to keep on their wheels, but had nothing left to get alongside or past them as the finish line hurtled towards us.
4th then. In a sprint finish. The instant of disappointment as I crossed the line behind them washed away as I realised I was gasping for breath. Hands were shaken as we rolled down the course, trying to work lactic acid away from muscles. No doubt about the result this time. I’d done what I wanted; got in the break, been on the front right through the race, been a part of it. Got noticed. Good.
More of the same next week perhaps…