By Neil Wood.
A little late in the season perhaps for the first road race, but trying to find a balance between time trialling and road racing this season, it had to start somewhere and this one was it. Having raced in a number of criterium races this season mid week and time trialling left to the weekends, I think that I have now found a good balance between the two disciplines. The criterium races have seen me gain my third category racing licence and the Pimbo third and fourth category race seemed like a good one to kick off with.
Having had some decent results in the criterium and time trial races this season, I was feeling quite confident going into the race, especially as a lot of the names on the start sheet were the same names I have seen all season in the criteriums. Also I have just returned from a cycling trip in the Alps from Geneva to Nice with over 600 miles and 70,000 feet of climbing with the rest of Team Chronomaster as well as 26 cyclists on a charity fundraising ride for Bolton Lads and Girls Club. I did spend some days driving the support vehicle, but in Neil’s world, this is was just as difficult as the cycling! After 5 days of rest, my first ride since the Alps was the day before the Pimbo race with a gentle 40 mile leg loosener and I was feeling great.
My team mate Paul Beech picked me up and we spent the journey discussing the race ahead which put me at ease a bit since I tend to suffer from pre-race nerves, despite me feeling physically confident. This is something I have suffered from throughout my sporting career, in particular my rugby playing days. The pre match nervous tension and fear was nothing to do with the physical pain and punishment I would endure, but the fear of letting the side down, as once a certain level of play is achieved, the game is taken very seriously.
A couple of warm up laps to get the heart rate rising and loosen up the muscles, and we met our fellow trans Alp challenge rider, Gareth Balshaw and a few other friendly faces, Ben Dobson who I know from Lancashire Road Club, and stopped to say hello Dan Conor who was also in the race, and Ellen Isherwood, again all putting me at ease with friendly chatter.
The race got going after a slight delay to an absolute blistering and pretty much unstainable pace. This was caused by a group of four riders from the same team who had clearly made a decision to form a break away from the start. The rest of the bunch initially gave chase, but after half a lap the four riders were 100 metres clear of the peleton and gaining ground. The peleton quite sensibly gave up the chase as this was a 50 mile race and there was plenty of time to chase them down, and we settled down into a good steady rhythm in the bunch. After about three laps the breakaway group of four riders had exhausted themselves and were reined in by the peleton and send straight to the back, never to be seen near the front again.
From there onwards the race progressed steadily with one similar team attack from around five CSP riders about half way the race. Again they lasted a few laps before being pulled back by the peleton, but they did manage to keep working together near the front, in what was clearly an organised effort. Smaller individual attacks coming from the outside of the bunch kept the pace brisk and the cyclists alert. At this point though I did realise that the race was going nowhere in terms of any breakaway groups getting away. The peleton worked well and was clearly sticking as a bunch for the duration, so I decided that rather than sit in the middle or try to keep creeping up to the front, that I would sit at the back and take it easy for a while. This way I was not worried about sitting in the middle of a bunch of 80 or so riders, cycling 5 or 6 abreast. At the back I did not need to worry about the riders on either side of me or the wheel in front or behind me. It was far more relaxing and I could just enjoy the ride, which I did for about 3 or 4 laps where I was often the last man.
I didn’t see much of Paul during the race, there was no great need to work together as team mates as the bunch was clearly helping us both out and no break away groups to chase down. We occasionally crossed paths in the bunch trying to maintain our positions, a quick chat, and Paul asking if everything was ok, it was and we both carried on doing our thing. Also there were just occasional sightings as well of Ben, Gareth and Dan, just heads down and working hard.
Keeping an eye on the lap board, I decided to make my way to the front with about 5 laps to go. If left too late, there is the danger of getting boxed in and not being able to get to the front in the final stages of the race. I saw a gap appear on the outside and got to the front 5 or 6 riders and sat comfortably in for about another lap. At this point the front riders were taking turns doing the work at the front, and not wanting to be a work dodger took my turn which lasted longer than I anticipated. I got onto the front on the left bent coming into the home straight, past the start line and well into the left hand downhill section. When I was tiring, I veered out to the right to allow other riders to take their turn. Nothing happened and nobody came through, and looking over my shoulder, they were all just sat on my wheel. Another 100 metres and I did the same again veering out trying to allow them through and they were still stuck to my wheel snaking about the road following my every direction. Time for another tactic….stop pedalling. That one worked, they came past me and I was on to the back of the front five riders, now in desperate need of a rest as three quarters of a lap of Pimbo on the front takes its toll on the legs.
I managed to hang in with the front five going into the final lap, with one more mini turn on the front. This was not a break away group but just the lead group in the peleton, so I know that there was an imminent danger of an attack. But the attacks worryingly held off as they were seemingly saving it for the sprint. Approaching the left bend into the home straight and the front five came out of single file to ride five abreast as it was getting very jittery, picking up the pace getting ready for the attack but nobody wanting to make the first move as it was still a good half mile to the finish line. Then from the back an attack on the outside and like a bunch of startled rabbits the sprint was on, the front five put the hammer down, singled out again and my legs instantly started hurting, how long can I keep up this kind of sprint with such a long way to go? The outside attacks were piling on the pressure. Now I am out of the saddle and legs are burning. The finish line came into view and I put in every ounce of effort that I could muster. The sprint was too much for me though, my legs were by now numb. The sprint came too early and I just didn’t have the pace for a strong finish, the front group got distance from me, and I fell back further and further as I simply ran out of energy.
There were 80 riders on the start sheet with 62 finishers. I crossed the line in 22nd position. As I crossed I caugh t sight of my team mate Paul Beech in fr ont of me who got well clear of me and into 14th place. A very respectable 32nd to friends, Ben Dobson who is still a junior and 39th to Gareth Balshaw who is in his first year of cycling. My friend Dan Conor, punctured in the final laps but was there for moral support shouting us over the line. The race was won by CSP rider Alex Auty.
I need to work on my sprint finishing, and maybe need to work on my tactics as too long at the front towards the end of the race saw me fizzle out as my energy levels plummeted. However, I was very happy with my overall performance and there are far more positives than there are negatives. Six hours after the race and I am still high on adrenalin, totally buzzing, totally loved it and totally looking forward to the next one.
With many thanks to the race organisers, Brian Rigby and Liverpool Century for a well organised and successful event.
Thanks as always to Ellen Isherwood for the use of her fantastic photo journalism, and also Tom Dobson for his photo’s too!