Amongst the many road races I've ridden in the last couple of months (more on which later) I managed to squeeze in a couple of summertime crits at the MK Bowl.
The first was on a sunny Saturday morning in mid-June and it was an all 3rd Cat affair which only used the inner bowl circuit. Luke Souter from SVR was in attendance and a small but experienced looking field with a few other familiar faces. With the course being so straightforward it was likely to be a sedate affair, so Luke and I cooked up a little plan. However, any hopes of breaking things up soon evaporated when I noticed that out of the 20 odd riders, about 7 were from Outdoor Traders team. That's a big percentage so they were always going to be the ones to keep an eye on when it came to breaks.
Sure enough the vast majority of riders having a go off the front were OT and always accompanied with a couple of team mates trying to block the pack. Luckily there were enough race-savvy heads and strong legs to share duties pulling everything back. I even had a crack myself, just to wake myself up. Once I got a decent gap I decided I'd stay out for a while so my teenage son could see his dad off the front as we passed the finish line. Sadly that spectacle was no competition for whatever game he had on his iPhone at the time - I should have known better.
As the inevitable sprint finish approached I worked hard to put into practise the lessons I'm slowly learning with this racing lark. I have a good sprint on uphill finishes but often get boxed in due to slipping back in the approach. After a relatively 'easy' race I had strong legs and was determined to make the most of them. The last couple of laps I made sure I was around 4th wheel and had to work hard as riders started trying to come through. Along the back straight I was still where I wanted to be but was positive the swarm was about to come through. Turning the last bend and as the sprints started to really ramp up, still no swarm! I moved across slightly to make myself as big as possible while still being on a wheel and I got the feeling that the 5 or 6 riders up with me seemed to do the same. A dawning realisation that the rest of them aren't coming though and it's
time to get the hammer down. Passing the first couple of riders was soooo much easier than when you're in the middle of the pack and as I jumped off the last available wheel I looked up to see just two ahead. I managed to get by one but the eventual winner kept me at bay with a strong sprint. Turned out he was Marcel Six, an ex-pro returning from an ban for not providing a sample! So I think I can safely say I was the true winner that day ;-) Still can't count it as my first win though sadly.
Fast forward to late July and another 3rd Cat race at The Bowl (aka Thunderdome) with a much bigger field of Thursday night regulars. This time I was there to test my form after a hugely interrupted spell of training. The previous 6 weeks had seen one life event after another take me completely out of my usual routine. I had no idea how I would do if it was a hard race. Rather strange then that I should agree to join Alex Woods of Team MK racing in a suicide attack from the gun. The bold plan was to steal a lap on the bunch with a huge early effort but our initial attempt came to nothing and our second break of 4 also got reeled in. As I recovered I realised that the 1/2 Cat race ahead of us was going at a really slow pace and we were going to catch them. Since we were not allowed to pass them it meant any time in the wind was completely wasted. I eased off and concentrated on conserving energy and staying safe. Happy and more than a bit amused to see a few riders attacking off the front and burning matches for no reason.
My earlier success on this uphill finish gave me a lot of confidence as we approached the finale and I was again determined to not get swamped and boxed in. With 2 laps to go I moved up to around 6th wheel and resolved to stay right up there no matter what. One rider jumped clear with a lap and a half to go but got pulled in as we took the bell and another went for it and got a good gap. This was a much better effort and as we turned up the final slope he was still ahead by some 20 metres. I had worked hard to keep a clear-ish road in front of me and got a great run up the hill this time with no need to ease off once I'd opened my sprint up completely. I had gone slightly earlier than most and was the first to pass the escapee who had mis-timed his effort by just 50 metres or so. I sensed I had a bit of gap and couldn't resist the tiniest of peeks behind as I continued burying myself. One rider was emerging from the chasing melee and I focussed on keeping my effort as solid as possible. Head down, seated, spinning like my life depended on it. I knew the gig was up though - he had a similar style to me that suited the finish but had just gone that little bit later. He came past and won by a bike length. I however held off the chasers and came second again!
I was pleased with that considering the minimal training I've managed lately but frustrated I'd come so close to my first win again. Maybe next week......