Racing

I’ve just had a quick look at recent blog posts and realised I’ve made scant mention of competitive cycling. I’ve no intention of getting carried away and joining races every weekend but it’s certainly fun to spin the pedals in anger every so often. Since getting back from Japan, I’ve ridden a couple of time trials and three masters road races.

The masters have put me in the B grade and I feel I’ve ridden reasonably strongly so far. In my first race, I found myself in a breakaway just after the first lap of a nine-lap race and we ended up with three of us averaging 39kph for the next six laps until I ran out of steam and couldn’t quite stay with the other two guys up a small hill and ended up finishing with the bunch. It turns out being in a breakaway involves putting yourself in the red in order to get away from the bunch and then taking turns riding as hard as you possibly can until you either get caught or win the race. There’s no chance to rest. I can see why breakaways in the big races start getting disorganized near the end. They are all knackered from working together but now trying to save a little energy to have a go at the sprint.

Yesterday's course. (click for more detail if you're into that sort of thing)

In any case, yesterday’s race was 35km from my house so I used the ride out as a light warm-up, spinning gently and trying not to go very fast. In the other masters races I’ve ridden, the first lap of the course has been pretty gentle but yesterday, there was enthusiasm from early on. I had a few turns at the front and my legs felt pretty heavy but every time someone tried to make a break, I couldn’t help myself and took off to chase them down and join in. Every time, I’d take off chasing, thinking I don’t want to miss out here, but by the time I got there, I found myself thinking I couldn’t possibly keep that pace up for another eight laps. There was enough wind up that none of the breaks would stick. I don’t think anyone wanted to work that hard with so much of the race to go. My legs didn’t seem to be feeling any stronger, so I decided to go and sit down the back and see how things panned out.

The bunch was riding with enough pace that we were strung out in single file but as soon as we turned the corner into the headwind, we would bunch back up again as no one was prepared to do much work into the wind. After a couple of laps I had decided I wasn’t going to do any good in this race so I started taking the odd turn into the wind, just to keep the pace up. A few times someone would attack and I’d hop onto theit wheel but we could never get away for very long.

Eventually, with about three laps to go, I ended up in an attack that did stick for a bit and three of us had a nice lead on the rest of the bunch. I was trying to drive the pace but the other two guys couldn’t keep up. I’d have happily drifted back to the bunch with them but one of them started encouraging me to keep going, so I thought I might as well see how far I could get. Looking over my shoulder, I noticed a new group of four had broken away and were riding up to me. Once they got up to me, we got working together for a bit but our pace wasn’t that great and the bunch eventually caught back up to us. I was pretty happy, thinking I now had an excuse for doing poorly in the sprint and went and sat down the back again for the last couple of laps.

I know I don’t stand a chance in the final sprint. I may or may not have good pace but I’m pretty new to racing and a lot of the guys I’m racing against are old hands and know exactly where to place themselves. I lose concentration for half a second and find someone has stolen the wheel ahead from me and I’m flapping about in the wind with no one going to let me back in the paceline.

The stretch into the head wind led into the final turn and a couple of hundred metres into a crosswind to the finish line. I was feeling pretty good from the earlier breakaway so I thought I might as well use the last of the juice in the tank and try an attack somewhere into the wind. I didn’t expect anything to come of it but it seemed better than sitting down the back and just following everyone else in. As expected, we slowed right down for the stretch into the wind as no one wanted to do any work and tire themselves out for the sprint at the end. About half-way along the stretch, I took off at a steady time-trial pace which I hoped would be enough to stop anyone from just sitting on my wheel but not so much that I couldn’t keep it up until the finish. I put my head down and rode and didn’t glance over my shoulder for a while. When I did, I found I’d opened up a huge lead. It occurred to me that I actually might be able to carry it off.

Alas, the next few times I looked, they had managed to get organized and were gaining on my quite quickly. I was overhauled just short of the turn into the final straight. I sat up and let them passand ended up third last but much happier than if I’d just sat in and followed. Bike racing is new to me so it’s pretty enjoyable being one of the stronger riders in the B grade and being able to look about and try to learn the tactics and understand what is happening around me. Obviously riding conservatively is a better way of getting results, but it’s a lot of fun trying to join in every attack that happens and of course when one of them finally does come off, I’m sure to be looking very stylish indeed.

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