With three weeks to go until Round 8 at Marden, I’d enjoyed a week off training and was ready to get back on track. When I found out that Marden had been postponed I scanned the BC calendar for other races – Do I dare enter my first National Trophy? Seemed like a good idea at the time!
With two weeks to go I ramped up the training and everything was looking good. I’d got rid of a case of the man-flu and I was actually enjoying the early morning hour long loops of my local bridleways. I seemed to be in a constant state of cleaning bike clothing and was stocking up on as much healthy food as I could find. Then came the email with the start list and event info…I had drawn number 52 out of 52. I hoped that this was down to the fact that I was “Unattached”, but I also had a sneaky feeling that the race organisers doubted whether or not I could keep up with the lead group!
Southampton is a venue I’ve visited before for a round of the Wessex League and I’d been there to watch the National Champs a while ago. That day had been one of mud and grime and I was hoping for something similar. The course itself was never going to suit me – with its big open straights and distinct lack of anything technical, it was one for the diesels! This was made worse by the fact that we had atrocious conditions for ‘cross – fair weather and a moderately damp track! I had been praying for rain and axle deep mud, but it hadn’t turned out that way.
I got on to the lap for morning warm-up and was feeling okay. I knew I was going to be losing out on the long wet grassy straights but there were plenty of nasty little slick corners to catch the strong guys out. Watching the juniors and the under 16’s it became clear that half of the battle would be staying upright and picking the right tyre!
I’d eaten well on the run up to the race, but I don’t think I got it quite right on race day – it can’t have been lack of sleep because I’d been good for the last few days, but I was missing that extra spark. I downed the last bit of carb drink and headed for the startline. I was called up with about ten riders to go and took my place on the fifth row of the grid alongside a few riders I knew I could fight with, but when the gun went everyone went off like rockets!
I tried to stay with Vicious Velo’s Ben Spurrier and we passed the two Crawley Wheelers straight away. Coming out of the wooded section we had a small gap to them already, but Ben was pulling away. I felt that I should be able to stay with him, but as I was concentrating on staying with him, Mark Smith passed me with a little cheeky encouragement. I lost Ben’s wheel as Mark rode away from him and then in an attempt to close the gap back up I got my line into one of the last corners completely wrong and ended up taking out twenty-five yards of tape, before Stuart Nisbitt caught me up, laughing at my mistake.
I stayed with him for another lap and we were riding pretty well with the other riders still in sight, but going into the woods for the third time my front tyre blew out leaving me about a kilometre to ride on the rim, back to the pits. I lost a couple of places, but jumped onto my spare bike and set about catching back up. I still thought I may get back to Smith and Spurrier.
My spare bike had different tyres and although I was making back places it was pretty hard going on the slick wet grassy corners. Once they filled up with mud they were pretty much just wide slicks – not ideal. In just less than a lap I’d passed about three riders and, Stuart Nisbitt, who was suffering with his bike clogging up with mud, was in my sights. Four laps in and as I sprinted up the tarmac finish straight Kevin Eeckhout breezed past me without a word. Technically as soon as you’re lapped you’re out, but I didn’t know that – even if I did I still had ambitions to continue.
I caught Nisbitt in the first part of the lap and it had taken ages for the next fast riders to come through, but just after the pits I was passed by a little train containing Paul Oldham, Oli Beckinsale, Tom Van Den Bosch and David Fletcher. As I re-passed a couple more riders I was lapped by Steven James and Peter Ghyllbert before being very sternly told by the commisaire that my race was finished! As it was they took my result from the previous lap and so rather than being 48th/49th, I was finally credited with 52nd – just behind Nisbitt in 51st with three other riders behind us.
My puncture had ruined my race, but even so I’d have been lucky to stay with the likes of Smith, Spurrier and Thompson on the day. I think on my kind of course and on my day I’d have managed a much better ride – I would have loved to be at Ipswich a few weeks ago to really see what I could do.
But what it has done is twofold. Firstly my fitness is much better now and should set me up for a few good London League races, but also the experience gained was massive. The best way to get faster is to race/ride with people who are much faster than you and this week had been a proper experience. Racing against former National Champions and really quick Belgians and Dutch has definitely improved my riding.
Plus I got to see Eeckhout take a fantastic win and a brilliant sprint finish between Ghyllbert and James, the Hargroves racer securing his Under-23 leaders jersey in the battle. Also I can now say that I’ve raced side by side with Oli Beckinsale in an Elite race,… albeit he was lapping me at the time,… and I was technically out of the race!… But still, I was there man!
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 Apparently “Bike Science/Boardman Elite” isn’t registered with British Cycling and therefore I had to enter as “Unattached”.
 Bike racers normally fall into one of two categories – “Diesels” are good at maintaining a strong flat out power, but struggle on the techy, stop start kind of stuff. I prefer it when conditions are worse and everything becomes a bit more technical. I need tricky downhill switchbacks and punchy low geared climbs to really get the advantage.