Immediately after my first race win (and getting within 5 points of 2nd Cat status) I went off on a 3 week family/group holiday to France. I did manage a fair bit of riding up and down mountains but it was coupled with a healthy investigation of all that French food and drink has to offer, particularly the drink. This showed on my return in a bank holiday team ride, when I had my legs ripped off after few hours of racing up hills and for town signs. So it was with some trepidation that I set off for Rockingham Speedway, unclear if my race legs were going to make an appearance or not.
This was my first race at Rockingham and after getting lost on the way to the circuit I only managed a couple of warm up laps to recce the course. It was immediately obvious that wasn't going to be an issue. It's a great course for fledgling racers, wide smooth grippy tarmac with no obstacles to worry about. You could even pedal through the hairpins if you took a wide line. There are also nice flat kerbs to use on the rare occasion you get squeezed on an apex. Gotta love car racing tracks!
Given the non-technical nature of the course the race started sedately and mostly stayed that way. There was only one 300m drag up a slight slope into the wind and a few brave souls tried to attack off it but never gaining more than 7 or 8 seconds on the pack. I was dealing fairly well with the surges to pull each break back, watching closely to try and suss if any of those breaks were going to stick and thinking through my positioning for what was looking like an inevitable bunch sprint.
I hatched a plan for the last lap, to be on the outside of the first hairpin to ensure I didn't get left out in the wind on the uphill drag. Then if I moved inside on the last hairpin it would give me the best chance of finding a wheel for the start of the 200m sprint to the line. As usual the plan got re-written on the hoof as the finale developed around me...
3 laps out and 1 rider attacks and holds about an 8 second lead. The bunch are patient and leave him out there for almost a lap. Then another jumps across and I start to wonder if we're being a little too relaxed. I tell myself not to panic - I only need a top five finish... The two are still out there when we take the bell and our pace finally ramps up. I'm now too pre-occupied with holding position about 10th wheel to keep an eye on the break. But I managed to put myself where I want to be on the first hairpin and have a good wheel to use on the windward drag. So far so good. A quick glance up and one of the break has blown up but the other has pushed on. I'm too far back now to chase him but someone has gone after him to battle it out for the win.
With all that's going on around me and in my head, I suddenly realise I'm moving to the left and that this was not the plan. I'm now on the outside of the last hairpin and will have to find a way get across as we exit the corner. I've got no idea what's happening a few wheels in front of me but as I take the corner I manage to move slightly right and jump on the first wheel that presents itself. He's out of the saddle but not moving fast enough for my liking. Another rider coming up on my right and I jump across. Within a few pedal strokes I realise this isn't the wheel I need either. There's only 150m to go and the wide track has opened the bunch right up. There's a big gap to my left between the wheel I'm on and the one I just left. Time to go.
Something odd happens: I move into the gap and ramp up the effort but for a split second I'm only racing the guys either side of me and not 'really' going for it. I look up and realise I have a lot of work still to do to get a top 5 and I finally start a proper sprint around 100m, hoping it's not too late. Another quick glance up and I think I'm 4th and I might be able to catch 3rd, go go go! I just pip him on the line by a wheel or so. Up ahead, the valiant escapee had been caught and placed 2nd behind the rider that chased him down. A great ride from both of them but I'm very happy with my result and the 7 points that mean I'll be racing as a 2nd Cat next season. Rocking!