Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Cold Winter of Racing


While most sensible cyclists have long been enjoying the (relative) comfort of telly and turbo to get their winter training hours in, there are a few slightly unhinged or desperate individuals who for one reason or another find themselves still racing long after the tan lines have faded. I fall into the desperate category, originally I kept at it through October and November because I ended last year still a 3rd cat, with 39 points out of 40 needed to move up to the 2nd cats. It seemed too close not to give it a good shot while I had the chance, so I joined the hardy but shivering ranks of winter racers. There aren’t many races at this time of year and no regular Women Only races at all so I decided to try my hand in some mens 3/4 races at the new cyclopark circuit in Gravesend.

My first race was something of a baptism of fire, it was a cold, windy, grey morning, I rode all the way out there, and all the way back again afterwards. Having originally intended just to watch, I decided to jump in at the last minute because Charlotte Easton was there racing and its always nice not to be the only girl! On the start line they announced the race would be (not 60 but) 90 minutes long, and I knew I was in for some pain. After a big attack in the first few laps, I clung onto the chasing group by the skin of my teeth, dropping off and clawing my way back, for more than an hour, and then they dropped me for good and I decided to stop, the first time I have ever not finished a race, as I rolled round back to where I left my coat I saw they had put the lap board up for the last 5 laps, and decided it would be the last time I ever voluntarily didn’t finish a race.

Somehow, two weeks later I had forgotten how desperately painful and drizzly the whole thing was and, full of enthusiasm, set off to do it again. This time I got dropped much faster but ploughed through it alone and, with new determination, finished the race, not quite last. I rode home very slowly, barely able to feel my extremities, but pleased with myself.

I did one Women’s race this winter which was on New Years Eve at Hillingdon, which I had thought would be my last chance to scrape up that point to get into the 2nd cats just before BC delete all your points for the new year. Hillingdon isn’t my favourite race but Lou was there firing on all cylinders and it was awesome watching her attack the bunch. Sadly a snapped chain (testament to the power of her sprint) put an end to Lou’s race, but I managed to finish 3rd after a big crash in the men’s race split the bunch up in the last 500m of the race. I went to pick up my licence with a grin all over my face to have earned that point just in time, only to find out BC stop counting points on the 31st of November every year! After a week or so of moping around I resigned myself to starting again, and decided that the points don’t matter, and it’s all about the experience!

And so I kept on going back to Gravesend, never quite managing to finish the last 5 laps with the group but getting stronger, hanging on longer and gaining confidence sitting in with the men at speeds I’d not often see on my own. Every week my results have crept up a place or two, and I have perfected the art of getting full winter kit squeezed under a very snug skinsuit – a very important skill for racing in January.

My last race was this weekend, having been improving, and with a spring in my step so to speak after watching the GB girls break every record going at the world cup in London, and with the weather seemingly on the turn towards spring, I rode out to Gravesend with some hope of a top 20 finish and calling it my last race of the winter. Sadly it wasn’t to be, after a lap and a half, someone with far too much juice in their legs for my liking made a very convincing attack and split the group in two, upping the pace considerably. Finding myself at the back and with a widening gap I did my best to scrabble back but with a wind that made the downhill feel like a climb, my little legs just couldn’t get going and I soon found myself alone, with the best part of 90 minutes to go and not much of that good feeling left. I paired up briefly with a few other stragglers but ultimately failed to find anyone I could usefully stick with and just chipped away at it lap by lap for what felt like about a year, and then finally it was over! Grubby and exhausted and utterly defeated, glad it was over, I realised these races have given me a huge amount of respect for those girls that take part in mens races

and place or win, it takes so much strength, maybe next winter I’ll get that point but for now I’m looking forward to a rest!

Hopefully all the cold and early foggy mornings and ice and crashing and losing and the numb fingers and toes and nose will have made me a better cyclist and being thoroughly beaten week in, week out, by the boys – who I have to thank for continually encouraging me to keep going and keep coming back – will have made me stronger!

And what’s more the memory of it will make bare legs and tan lines and sitting by the track at Herne Hill, and the smell of freshly cut grass, and all the other summer clich├ęs you can think of, all the sweeter for being hard earned and long awaited.

Sarah
xxx

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