Words by John MacKellar.
No need for alarms this morning, it was the sound of rain on car rooftops that woke me up at 6am. It was thick, heavy rain and each drop made a big splash as it hit the ground. Not long after and I was on my way to Oakenclough for the Cold Dark North Road Race. Oakenclough is a great course and part of me was looking forward to racing on it. The other part was unsure as to how I would cope in my first race with the 2nd cat riders of the season on a tough course. Strangely though, I was looking forward to racing in the rain.
At sign on, the weather remained as wet as first thing this morning, but the volunteers and organisers at Race HQ looked cheery despite the weather. On the drive, I’d pretty much decided what I was going to wear. I kept it simple, baselayer, arm-warmers, shorts and velotoze shoe covers. Legs out, as it was going to be hard. As I was putting my kit on, I saw team mate, Si Deplitch, head to sign on. There should have been four from Team Chronomaster at the race, but illness and rain had reduced us to two.
Looking around at the rider briefing, the weather had also put a lot of the field off. There was still plenty of strong competition. They told us that we would in fact be doing 4.5 laps, not 5.5, so about 80km. Team Crimson with 3 riders and Adam Hartley, winner of Bole Hill last week, were all present.
We set out from HQ and riders were attacking the flag as soon as it dropped. The first 4 or 5 km climbed up steadily and I wanted to position myself near the front because the race was clearly going to break up on the climb. Then there’s a zig-zag left-right and this had us slowing down on the way in and riders applying pressure on the way out. Now we were heading towards the top of the course, where the start finish was situated. 1 km from the top of the course there’s a left hander; the guys on the front went charging in, coming out of this corner I was too far back, maybe 30 riders down and working hard to make up ground. I could see Si a few wheels in front, as we were approaching the very steep kicker up to the finish line. The pace was high and this was a key moment in the race.
On the steepest part of the climb I passed Si and my skinny frame was helping me to put pressure the others in my group. As I came over the start/finish line, I could see the head of the race and that there was a gap going. There were 3 riders in between. I sprinted hard over the top of the climb and on to the descent, still pedalling at 300w. I got on to that trio of riders’ wheels as we headed on to the fastest part of the descent, with the front group just in sight.
There was a short climb that broke up that descending group, and the head of the race had disappeared up the road, but I also saw that Si had made it into our 2nd group. We dropped down to the bottom of the course and were heading on to the 2nd lap when I heard one lad saying “take it steady, roll through easier, we’re not racing for anything. It’s just a training ride”. It was like he’d flicked a switch, I was still racing! The group in front of us was getting smaller every lap, riders that couldn’t handle the pace and others that didn’t want to stay in the soaking rain. So there was every chance that anyone who kept going could pick up points. But this comment had struck a nerve; I noted that it had come from someone who looked like they might struggle on the climbs, and it ensured that I would push extra hard as we went over the top of the climb.
And that was what happened each lap, along with 2 or 3 strong looking riders we applied a lot of pressure as we went over the summit and had the advantage of descending with much less spray in our faces, thus getting rid of riders each lap. Every so often we would catch a glimpse of a rider ahead, it give us a point to focus on and we chased them down. Some of them jumped in our group, others headed for an early shower.
At some point, Si had disappeared from my group so I was on my own. My friend on the training ride too. Before we knew it, we took the bell lap. I asked how many riders were in front. Ears too full of water to hear the reply. One more lap, one more effort up the climb. As we got to the bottom of the course, some wanted to try to save energy for the final kick and were sitting on. So the inevitable attacks came, I must have jumped on to 3 of these. It was the 4th that stuck and Sam Pugh (Salt Ayre Cog Set) rode away 2km from the finish.
I knew that our group of 7 would hit the climb together and I wanted to try and get as much of a head start on any sprinting for the line. I was 2nd or 3rd wheel as we hit the steepest section, then the sprinting began. Or everyone else began. My legs protested, the harder I tried the more they protested, and the other 6 riders all managed to pass me. In the end, I finished 18th and Si finished 20th. There weren’t many people at the finish, everyone here had raced hard and braved the wet conditions and not packed in. Each rider that came over the line receiving approval for just finishing.
A couple of thank you’s. Firstly to the marshals that stood out on the course in rain, second to Ellen Isherwood for coming out and taking pics, I didn’t see you at all on the course. Thirdly to Cold Dark North for organising an event on a great course. Without local organisers we have to head further away in search of races, but why when all the good riding is here on our door step in the North.
Well done to race winner Rob Rogers (Team PB Performance).
You can check the race out here https://www.strava.com/activities/1736472095