It’s been a slow start compared to some of my teammates, but I feel I’ve learnt a lot about circuit racing in quite a short time, and quite a lot about myself!
Due to a combination of my wife applying for a new job which needed lots of meetings and interviews, and having family to see, shift working, and two young children to keep occupied, I haven’t entered quite as many races as I would have liked. I’ve also been trying to complete my track accreditation at Lee Valley Velopark before I move away to Cambridge later this year.
So far I’ve entered sic races and finished three! In my defence I live near Redbridge Cycle Centre, so the first few races I entered were in the East London Velo Winter Series. These races were in the cold and damp and on the full circuit, which includes Hog Hill itself. There are three things I’m not that keen on when it comes to cycling; the cold, the wet and HILLS!
The first race I covered in my previous article (here), it was exciting but exhausting. In the second race I entered I managed three laps before I realised that the slight cough I’d had in the week leading up to it was maybe a bit more serious than I’d thought and I had to stop after only fifteen minutes due to not being able to breathe. I then spent the rest of the day quite uncomfortable as a chest infection made itself known.
Whilst struggling around on the third race I decided I should try to find some way of doing races that didn’t have hills. I got dropped again after three laps, got to the five laps to go board after killing myself against a strong wind on the back straight and threw in the towel. At this point I would like to mention that the organisation of these races by East London Velo was very good and the registration staff were very patient with all the riders who turned up without licenses because they had sent off for them late (not me, I had mine by the end of January).
Now I know some of you reading this will be tutting at my lack of will and determination but please bear with me, I’ve never stated that I was a good or a strong rider and I’ve only come back to cycling in the last four years after spending many years doing little exercise and eating badly. I’m 37 now, so it’s no walk in the park. The main reason I’m racing, especially at this point in the year, is as part of my slapdash training ‘regime’.
Racing against other riders isn’t the same as a sportive, there’s much more incentive to try to stay with the pack, then there’s even more incentive to stop yourself from getting lapped. I was getting to a point in these races where I really felt I couldn’t physically carry on; my ability to suffer has never been tested this much. It really is a good way to gain fitness and speed if you lack the time or motivation to conduct a proper programme of training, especially on a circuit like Redbridge with its hill.
I feel I should emphasise that racing is not something to be taken lightly. When racing you do have a lot more responsibility for other riders and you must make sure you are used to riding in close quarters as well as being aware of what’s around you at all times. Unlike the velodrome races, at a crit literally anyone can roll up and race, but it doesn’t mean they should without some preparation first.
We move on a few weeks and to the first race of the year which doesn’t include the hill at Redbridge. The CC London ‘Hog without the Hill’ series. Again, a well organised series and really well attended by the organising club. We were using the bottom circuit at Redbridge, but anti-clockwise and then half way up the hill we were using the very tight and narrow left hand cut through to take us back down to the bottom circuit.
This time I managed to stay with the pack. Unfortunately nobody had told me at this time that you really should try and save your energy and not make any bold moves unless you can back them up, which I can’t of course!
Needless to say, I got a bit bored of the fairly slow pace and on one of the corners ended up freewheeling around a few extra riders than I’d planned to. I then found myself at the front suddenly facing a massive headwind. It wasn’t good and my speed dropped instantly. The pack quickly went past me in and left me gobsmacked.
As I got round out of the headwind I knew I had to catch the pack as I was determined to finish the race. At this point a few guys had already dropped out of the pack and been lapped and I didn’t want that to happen to me. I chased the pack. I chased them for two laps before I got back on and I suffered more than I have ever suffered before!
I got to them just as the five laps to go board came out. I got all the way around and by the final lap I even just about managed to hold a wheel for the sprint in which at least one rider dropped behind me. I finished sixteenth in a field of around twenty-five riders. It wasn’t a great placing, but it was the first race I had ever finished and I was probably more happy and excited than the guy who won it.
I’d learnt to save my energy if possible and not get carried away, the CC London riders on the front did a great job of pacing and leading the pack and I should have just sat in and let them get on with it.
Another flat race I entered was at Hillingdon. The circuit that makes everyone click their tongues and talk about crashes. I was a bit nervous about it, but the weather was a little warmer by now and I had a couple of team mates because most weekends, and quite a few midweek evenings, see at least a few Handsling racers down there.
Hillingdon is pretty much flat and at the moment there’s some improvements being made which reduces the width of the track in a few places. We started just before the women’s race, which I didn’t know at the time, finished before the men’s race got our five laps to go board.
Again, the pace was set quite low, and at some point one of my team mates tried to get away. I was on the front at the time and felt good on the flat track and thought I could stretch my legs. I went and caught him up. WRONG! He explained to me that you should never go with a team-mate as the pack will be
more likely to chase you down. It’s not something I’d thought about seeing as this was the first race I’d had any team mates but I made a mental note and have since noticed that in the pro races the breakaways rarely have more than one of each team in, even though I still think we could have had some fun trying to get away!
We throttled back and blended back into the pack. The pace was so low the lead women went past after a few laps. Then we went past them, and then they went past us. There was a fair bit of shouting as people got caught out on the wrong side of the track and got in the way. I sat in a bit more this time and saved my energy. The Commissaire shouted at us (the men) to hold back and let the women get away for half a lap, which we did.
On the next lap the five laps board came out and I thought it was for us, as we’d already let the women go. I got nearer the front as the next couple of laps ticked off. As I went round one corner, two guys came round me and said we’d got a gap and the three of us sped up. One took a turn on the front and peeled off, then the other, then I took my turn. I looked around and they’d both dropped off! It was exciting but I’d wasted valuable energy, another lesson learnt.
I settled back into the pack and as the final lap came I sprinted out of the corner onto the straight and got some ground on the pack only for the board to have disappeared and I realised that the women’s race had finished and we then got our five laps to go on the next lap!! Oops. So I settled back in and by the real last lap I was stuck in the middle of the pack with not much of a sprint left anyway, so I finished in the top twenty again.
• I don’t like hills
• Don’t waste energy. The guys setting pace generally know how much energy to use, they may even have power meters (I don’t yet) and are burning the candle evenly. There’s only so much wax in the candle, when it’s gone, it’s gone.
• Don’t chase a team-mate.
• Take more notice of what’s going on around you. For example, if there’s another race on track at the same time make sure you know who finishes first!
• Try and get a bit more training in. Luckily my commute is fifteen miles of traffic light sprints which is not the worst way to train but I struggle to find time for longer ‘base fitness’ rides.
• I really don’t like hills! (note to the editor, it’s meant to be in there twice for emphasis).
• A proper warm up is a good idea. At my local races I have started to have a good warm up on the indoor trainer and then drive to the track instead of riding slowly in the cold with a rucksack on. That seemed to be a good coping mechanism for the cold weather. Warming up properly means you’re less likely to injure yourself but I also find I am more comfortable pushing it after I’ve put some miles in my legs.
On a positive note my speed had started to pick up, and now the warmer weather is here I’m a lot more comfortable on the bike. I’d like to try to score at least one top ten this year, but there’s a lot of other stuff to get in the way.
After July there won’t be as many excuses so I’ll be training harder for next year, although I’m not really sure what next year holds as I’m moving to Cambridge and there’s no velodrome or off-road circuit near there! Maybe some Time Trialling?