By Kris Zentek.
You only needed to look at the headlines to understand why I wanted to stay in bed this morning…
Telegraph: “Danger to life warning as intense storms halt Britain’s heatwave”
BBC: “Storms sweep in as temperatures cool”
Express: “Heat to spark EXPLOSIVE rain and lightning in 48 hour storm DOWNPOUR”
But…it’s hard enough these days to get into any race, so up I get at 6am, and set off for Shropshire. Ellerdine, to be specific, an hours drive away. Todays race is the cat 2/3/4 Alan Goddard Memorial Road Race, on a course that wouldn’t look out of place in Belgium. 6 laps of an 11 mile triangle two sides being wide A roads. If there was ever a race designed for apocalyptic weather conditions, this was it.
Instead of warming up, I decide to sit in the car and watch the rain run down the windscreen. When guilt gets the better of me, I rub winter embrocation on my legs. The next best thing to warmed up muscles, is cold muscles covered by burning skin. Just remember to do your chamois cream *before*, and not *after*.
Kit and attire…I have my commuter with me. No fricken’ chance am I riding my best bike after I spent 2 hours cleaning and polishing it yesterday. I am also wearing my Bioracer Tempest kit – waterproof and thermal – perfect for what was coming.
The commissaires…keen not to get too wet…choose the very last minute to hold the briefing. Everyone is hiding in cars or under trees, and as the whistle gets blown everyone rushes to the pre-race talk…which is uttered at record speed. To paraphrase: “weathers sh*t, don’t be naughty, go go go!”
It was always going to be a fast race, but as we hit the main road I find myself at the back with Steve Fidler talking about his seat-post that keeps inexplicably dropping. It’s still neutralized I think, but within 100 yards we find ourselves 5 bike lengths off the back, pushing 1000w to try and get back on. We manage it, and decide that that counts as a proper warmup.
My tactic is to sit RIGHT at the back, RIGHT out of trouble. It’s hard to see what’s going on up front, but we feel the elastic effect alright. Pottering along nicely, and then without any prior warning you are smashing out 12w/kg just to stay on the wheel. We lose a rider here and there…
Lap 2, still at the back. Into the headwind back straight, Steve Fidler selects the biggest gear he has and attacks from the back. By the time he passes the front of the bunch he’s hit 88mph and disappears up the road. I refuse to move, thinking it will get brought back – knowing full well that if it does, I’m not moving from the back of the bunch anyway.
A lap later and there is still no sign. I find out that he’s a minute up the road with two others, and the front of the bunch are attacking each other trying to get across. This kind of explains why I’m still having to do a sprint effort every couple of minutes.
Into lap 5. The break is still a minute up the road, and the guys leading the chase are starting to get pissed off with the attacking and negative racing. It’s stopped raining now, and I no longer fear the storm of death. I start to move up a bit. We get onto the headwind back straight, and as the latest attack and chase-down is done, I make my move.
I don’t make a song and dance about it – no out-of-the-saddle-throwing-the-bike-everywhere-screaming-DEATH-OR-GLORY! – just in the saddle, turning the screw. The front let me go, and I push a bit harder. I see there is someone already up ahead – I just need to get to him ASAP. I look behind expecting to see a long line of confused expressions looking back at me, but instead I see one other person, and an increasing amount of fresh air in-between.
I do a bit more, and as I flick my elbow, this chap who I don’t know comes past me like a bat out of hell. Another sprint effort is required, and a sit there swinging off his wheel. Expecting him to explode at any minute I move out, but he keeps going. This guy is strong! We catch the lone escapee up the road, Chris Humphries. We fly past him, he jumps on, and we start to work together to catch the break.
We look back, and the bunch are just a few seconds behind, and they look stretched out. We can see riders are trying to jump across, and this could be bad for us…
We get to the turn, and the bunch are still right on our heels, but we have kept a gap. We are probably half way between them and the three up front. We manage to make contact with them just as we hit the finish area for the last lap. The bell rings furiously, the bunch still right behind us. We can see that the breakaway are feeling the effects of staying away for 3 laps, but we all know what we need to do to make this stick. We get to work, and are soon ticking through.
Every time I look behind, the bunch seem to be getting closer and closer. At one point, they must have been 50 yards behind us, but we kept going as hard as we could. We hit the roundabout into the headwind, still with a gap. A few more all-out efforts from each of us, and the gap increases. And keep increasing. We’ve managed to snap the elastic, and we hit the turn for the last 2 miles.
The bunch are probably 15 seconds behind us, and covering the entire road. That can mean they have either sat up, or are all attacking. We keep going, and start to believe we can make it. I am at the front, as is my usual luck, thinking we are further out than we really are. I’m really suffering at this point and I can’t sprint for toffee. But given that my plan was to sit at the back and stay out of trouble, I feel happy about getting across to the break and coming away with some points.
We round a corner and we see the finish line. As I realise this, the sprint starts from a LONG way out. Dave Rowlands, the guy who attacked with me, takes the win from Steve Fidler by half a wheel. Next rolls in the rest of the early breakaway, Grant Bingham and Danny Smith. I manage to outsprint Chris Humphries for 5th (if you can even call it a sprint). We have timing chips on the bikes, and as I am writing this, I can see that the bunch were 18 seconds behind Chris.
- David Rowlands
- Steven Fidler – 3C Payment sports
- Grant Bigham – Velo Runner
- Danny Smith – RST/Cycle Division Racing Team
- Kristian Zentek – Team Chronomaster
- Christopher Humphries – St Helens CRC
- Jordan Hill – Leek CC
- Nick Morris – Clee Cycles
- George Mills-Keeling – Pro Vision Race Team
- Ryan Morley – Royal Air Force CA
- Jamie Crump – Successcycling.co.uk
- William Manfield-Yorke – Cycle Team OnForm
- Josh Williams – Clee Cycles
- Chris Pook – Rhino Velo Race Team
- Daniel Morris – HA&CC
In summary…very happy I got out of bed this morning and braved the conditions. Turned out to be not nearly as bad as the media made it out to be. I came away with a handful of points, and a handful of £ for my troubles, and I thoroughly enjoyed the race. It was fast (over 27mph average), flat (total elevation of 3 and a half feet) and very windy, just my kind of race.
Finally I wanted to say thank you to the race organisers for making the best out of a soggy, miserable day. Thanks to the marshals for keeping us safe on the road. And thanks to the staff back at HQ for the warm coffee and lovely cake.