In 2012 I rode my first bunch race – the National Clarion Road Race Championships. Two years later and I was riding my 2nd. I wasn’t feeling great on the morning, feeling like I was coming down with something. Daughter Kate, who was due to come and support the old man and take photos, was laid up with really bad stomach pains (she’s now in hospital as I type this under observation) and I think I’d caught the accompanying cold she had.
When I arrived at Mallory Park my mood didn’t improve. Exposed, windy and hilly was how I described it. I watched the juniors finishing their race and surveyed the track. The long straight that contained the start line was straight into a headwind. It then jolted upwards and right into a mini-chicane before turning 180˚ back on itself and down a long flowing curving straight which looked fast, especially with the tailwind. It then chicaned left then right, another straight, left then right again before a 90˚ turn with crosswinds coming from your left. A long, sweeping turn into the headwind brought you at the beginning of the finishing straight, and that was a lap.
After my last effort, where I’d done a stint on the front near the end of the race and been rapidly shelled through the pack and out of the back, I was wary of the same thing happening again. I’m a stronger rider now but still very much a tester, meaning holding threshold for long periods of time, not accelerating out of corners and onto attacks continuously. I was worried my fitness wouldn’t hold out.
Tactically, I’m pretty naive. I did a stint on the front very early on and then dropped back a bit so when four Nottingham riders went off the front I was nowhere near them. Some of us tried to organise the chase but as there were at most half a dozen riders doing turns it amounted to nothing. After a couple of big pulls at the front I realised all I was doing was burning my own energy and I’d get shelled, so I dropped into the pack for a couple of laps. Matt from the club had done similar and reached the same conclusion. Unfortunately, the rest of the North Cheshire contingent had already been lapped and were riding their own race – it takes a certain kind of guts to do that so chapeau to them for continuing.
As the 5 lap sign went up I made sure I was somewhere near the front. There were plenty of riders hovering about there without actually doing any work on the front but I suppose that’s what you call tactically astute. I ended up doing some more stints, along with a couple of Bury guys and a guy from Heanor. As the laps counted down I realised I was surrounded by a lot of strong looking Bury riders, and they were trying to get two riders at a time away by attacking strongly whilst the remainder held the bunch back. After jumping on two such attacks I realised this would continue and I’d eventually run out of energy. As we passed the 2 lap mark I decided on the slope I would attack and go down fighting. One Bury rider and one Heanor rider made the jump with me and we managed to get a gap. You can see it on the fill film above at around 1hr and 2m.
It was then a case of trying to hold it for a lap and a half. I’m not sure whether the Bury guys behind held the bunch up but I half expected to be caught. We weren’t and as we came into the last corner onto the finishing straight the Bury guy (Mike I found out later) opened a 10m gap. I sprinted after him and closed it a few metres but realised he was too strong. I just held off the Heanor guy (Josh) and rolled in 6th.
One slightly sour note afterwards was that it was pointed out to me that I’d broken the rules by running a seatpost camera and I was criticised for riding in a pseudo TT style by balancing my arms on the bars. It’s something I often do when riding into headwinds but apparently it is a faux pas in racing, and the camera rule is a British Cycling/UCI regulation. Anyway, I reported it to the organiser so whether my result stands is down to him somewhat. I enjoyed my race, and I think the footage looks pretty cool – but it did take the edge off things today somewhat.
Ride stats : 28.24 miles in 1hr 11m at 23.8mph average. 1,455ft ascent (that hill was bigger than I thought!), energy used 1,245kcals at average HR of 173bpm