4th Cat race, from SVR's Jos Busby...
Saturday Morning, this was an awful day to be on a bike popping down to the local shops let alone racing in an exposed airfield. The first race of the season and it was met with some trepidation after an unfruitful 2015; my first year as a licensed racer. However although last season offered no points to speak of, the steep learning curve gave me an idea of the lay of the land, the "dos and don'ts" and how to at least try to avoid crashing or being the cause of an incident because you thought overlapping wheels was an OK practice. Even in the few races that had preceded I had already seen some nasty incidents with suspected broken collar bones, road rash and at best some bruised egos.
Sat cold at the start line (the brief warm up I did only served to make me colder) I felt nervous but all these experiences gave me a little more confidence, I at least knew what I could expect. The race began as normal and the pace was pretty steady. I learned quickly that if you kept position in the top third you could easily cope with the surges from the front of the bunch.
Four or five laps in, I felt fairly comfortable (as much as you can be in howling winds and heavy rain ) and the legs felt fine, so I decided to try and help the guys at the front and pull a turn, however it seemed they weren't interested. The leading guy didn't appear to want to take my wheel and allowed me to push off the front without any challenge. Probably in hindsight it's because it was far too early for any sort of effective attack, I had visions that maybe a few of us could try and split early from the bunch as I knew my chances weren't great in any sort of sprint finish. At that point I was in limbo , is it even possible that I could go alone and the bunch would just let me get on with it? To think that I could stay away is probably very wishful thinking.
Sadly this question would never be answered as half a lap into my half-cocked attack, my rear shifter stopped working , I was against the wind I was in a high gear and before I knew it I had been swallowed by the bunch and spat out the back, spinning my legs wildly to try and get back on. I hadn't had any real experience of what to do at this point. My trusty steed had always been reliable in the past, I knew at other crits you could leave the race deal with the fault and if recovered rejoin, but firstly I didn't work out where the pit area was, and secondly I couldn't fix the problem either. In retrospect , I could have stuck it manually into a reasonable gear and pushed on with that, but given the weather I gave up (possibly too easily). So what would have happened next I'll never know, but I was a good reintroduction into the world of racing. Must do better next time!
2/3/4 Cat race from SVR's Phil O'Connor...
The awful weather showed no sign of abating as the 2/3/4 race got underway. In fact the winds picked up in the second half of the race with 45mph gusts making for some treacherous conditions. No matter how grim some of my winter training had been, the first 2 or 3 laps of this race were still a bit of a shock to the system. Unable to see much in the spray of the bunch, riders getting pushed sideways by gusts and (after about 10 seconds) completely soaked through. I'd be lying if I said the little voice in my head wasn't making a very good case for climbing off and going home for a nice hot bath. Thankfully I managed to shut that thought down after the first 10 minutes and get on with staying in touch with the pack.
One solo rider clipped off the front after 15 minutes and managed to stay away for the win, which was a very impressive effort given the conditions. Surge after surge hit the pack as various riders tried to get away to no avail. In the excitement I was just happy to be able to stay with the race as rider after rider let the conditions or pace get the
better of them and dropped out. With 2 1/2 laps to go a crash in front of me brought down 7 or 8 riders. Luckily it was slow enough for me to avoid it but I was stopped dead and needed a big effort to get back in touch with the pack. Just after this 2 riders escaped and worked well together to eventually take second and third.
On the final lap what was left of the bunch worked its way up the long taxiway into the ferocious wind for the last time. There was a lot of cat and mouse happening as riders
saved themselves for the equally long downwind finish straight and this allowed me to move up into a good position. As the road turned toward the line a couple of riders attacked. With such a strong tailwind I thought I'd try going early and followed them, hoping they'd drag me to the line. I found myself about 5th wheel as the speed picked up but after a couple of hundred metres the first of the chasing pack started to come through from behind. I had no more to give and after 5 or 6 had passed me, putting me out of contention for any points, I knew the game was up. I sat up and rolled through the line happy enough with my effort. Glad to get the season underway and hoping I'd just experienced the worst racing conditions of the year.