Well its been a week – thats all I can say. Highs, lows and just about everything in-between has been squeezed into the last seven days. Fortunately the ending was a good one – months of hard work finally paying off. Here goes.

It all started last Sunday – with another disastrous race performance. My usual tactic (hanging onto the back of the bunch and hoping something happens in the last lap so as to allow me to move up and do something in a bunch sprint) failed spectacularly. I felt good throughout the race, yet made a complete mess of the last corner, leaving me right at the back of a speeding bunch. There was no hope of making it to the line in the points – for the first time in my racing career I was deflated to the point of sitting up & not even trying to contest the sprint.

Typically I am fairly good at seeing the positive side of a situation, but in this case there simply wasn’t one. I had good form, a new aero bike and had been careful with my nutrition in the week leading up to the race. I had only myself to blame for a spectacular failure and completely wasted entry fee. I feel for my family, putting up with me the day afterwards was not an easy task. My parents sat me down and attempted to persuade me to do the unthinkable – switch to triathlon.

It was this suggestion that re-ignited my motivation – you won’t see me sporting hairy legs & a wetsuit anytime soon! My next objective was a local 5 mile TT on the following tuesday, my debut in the discipline. This I thought, might suit me better – no tactics to worry about and, most crucially, no technical corners.

Fortunately this was an improvement from the last competitive outing. In spite of riding my normal road bike, with no skinsuit or tri-bars I was able to post a time of 12:07. Enough for a respectable 7th place, beating a few riders who had recently made the leap to 3rd Cat. I’ll credit that performance with renewing my self belief – “my turn now”, I thought to myself.

Two days later I found myself on the start line once again, this time for another 4th cat circuit race. Getting to the venue had been something of a trial in itself – a journey that should have taken 90 minutes instead took well over two hours. Arriving 20 minutes prior to the start time I just about had time to sign on, get my bike ready and ride three laps of an unfamiliar circuit (the first two of which being in the opposite direction to that in which the race would take place).

I realised that there was nothing to lose – with the season end approaching my chances of moving up to 3rd Cat were looking increasingly bleak. After only five minutes, a crash almost took my chance away – hairpin bends and a fresh bunch don’t always mix well. Suffice to say I had to go onto the grass in order to avoid the pile up – fortunately the bunch slowed enough to allow me to chase back on. After the early incident I realised the back of the group was the safest place to be for the time being – that is where I remained until the bell sounded.

With a lap to go, the bunch unexpectedly slowed up – I saw my chance and took it, giving it everything on a straight. I am told by my Mother (who had very kindly taken the time to drive me down to the race and watch it) that this strung the bunch out. A two man break was already well clear by this point, I therefore had a chance of 3rd place (which would get me the points I so desperately wanted in order to move up). It was only after the last corner that I made a mistake, namely thinking the line was 5 meters adrift of its actual position. So it was that in yet another act of stupidity, I stopped pedalling too early – allowing two riders to pass me in the process.

The final result had me in 6th – not bad considering the last race, but still leaving me with work to do in the coming few days. Still, there were positives to be taken from this one – I knew the fitness was there and had improved tactically. My chances of achieving my season goal were significantly higher – I had one more chance to finish the job.

One week on from my racing disaster, I found myself at the same venue again – I had considered pulling out at the last minute due to bad weather, yet this time resolved to go on. The race started well, my legs were fresh and the conditions soon improved so as to render the circuit relatively safe. Ten minutes in, things almost took a turn for the worst – as per usual I found myself at the back of the bunch, I’m not sure exactly what happened but the end result was the splitting of the group. No-one else was willing to do the work to get back on, that task therefore fell to me – thankfully I had the strength to drop my companions and latch back onto the wheels of the main bunch. That effort took something out of me, luckily the pace slowed a little for the next ten minutes or so – looking back, this was probably crucial in allowing me sufficient time to recover.

Thereafter, not a great deal took place until, half an hour into a race – one rider launched what appeared to be a kamikaze attack. Going off the front and soon gaining half a lap on the field, no-one took a great deal of notice at the time, myself included. How could anyone stay ahead of a twenty-strong field for that long, after what hadn’t been a slow start to the race? With 4 laps to go, the attack was all but neutralised, yet this brave lone rider was still ahead. It was now that I sensed an opportunity – the rider in front of me had looked twitchy for a couple of laps now, I saw him looking behind and made as if to attack. This prompted him to go himself, full pelt down a long straight.

This made my life much easier, latching onto the wheel of my fellow rider I was able to gain some time on the bunch with relative ease. Once we turned the corner the circuit kicked upwards, only a small incline but it was enough for me to drop my larger companion. I was now in no-mans land, between the bunch and the lone leader. With about 2.5 laps to go I made the catch, holding wheel for half a lap then taking the front. I daren’t look behind me for fear of what I might see. The final two laps comprised what I would like to think of as the hardest effort I have ever done, trying to nurse my aching legs to the finish line and avoid being caught by the bunch. My breakaway companion came past me on the second to last corner, I was able to stay on his wheel up until the finishing straight when my body finally gave out on me. In the end I came home in second place – narrowly avoiding being caught by the first rider in a sprinting bunch.

The first thought that popped into my oxygen starved head was simply one of relief – at almost the last possible opportunity I had made it. After a season of ups and downs I had made it to 3rd cat. I’m under no illusions – I didn’t exactly win a grand tour but for a humble amateur such as myself this is the best achievement in my sporting career so far. I cast my mind back to when I first started cycling, just over three years ago (I was 20kg overweight and had barely done a days exercise in my life). Now, finally I had proven myself.

That, thankfully, is the ego massage over for the day. After all there are still things to do, come saturday my Father & I will travel to France for a week long holiday – cycling in the alps. I hope to return with some hardness in my legs that could make for success in the last event of the season, namely another local road race. I look forward to riding it safe in the knowledge that the season goal has already been accomplished – it might even be enjoyable.

That, readers, is where I’ll leave it – I realise this post has taken a more serious tone than usual and can assure everyone that normal service will soon be resumed!

One thought on “Finally

Leave a Reply