2016 Racing Begins: Crit and TT double weekend

Last weekend was one of two firsts: the first crit race since my abandoned attempts in 2013, and the first time trial of the 2016 season.

The TT – East Surrey Hardriders – had been in the diary for months, but on realising there was a rare Cat 4 women’s road race on the Saturday I considered doing that and DNS-Apol-ing the Hardriders. I didn’t really intend to do both, more found myself getting closer and closer to the start line until eventually I was so far over it I figured I may as well finish the race.

It was also my first races for Maison Du Velo. I made the decision to ride for MDV because I’ve spent much of the winter enjoying their disciplined and challenging Sunday club rides and trying to improve myself over their Wray Lane Wreps. It’s a cycling club, with a good percentage of racers, who I enjoy riding with and who are actively racing, and can therefore give me advice and motivation. There’s not any female race members (yet) – something I’d like to see change in the next couple of months – especially since most of the established London clubs are fielding five or so for some races. We’re based in Reigate and all very friendly, so if anyone’s local and likes yellow, get in touch (there is grey kit too!). The club/shop did host a road race last year, and hopefully as we grow we will be supporting the local cycling community.

photo 1 (1)

Saturday – Cat 4 Women’s Crit at Hog Hill

I attempted some crits in 2013, riding about three before I quickly retreated. Many were E1234, and poorly attended, I found myself rolling around in groups of three riders often competing in some sort of slow race attempt to not be last. I wasn’t used to riding in large groups, so when I did manage to stick with the bunch I was so petrified of the corners I just worked my way to the back.

Fast forward to 2016. London Women’s Racing (LWR) has hosted a selection of training days, and thus boosted attendance at races. Saturday’s event had 30 pre-signed up (plus people like me paying on the day) – amusingly the men’s Cat 4 had only 20 pre-signed up. Now we’ve got proper bunches and actual opportunities, and I genuinely do not think that would be the case without the hard work from LWR.

Not only that, I’ve spent my winter on the track at either Herne Hill and Lee Valley (track league next month!). Riding on the boards (or concrete) wheel to wheel, with no brakes or gears, has meant I suddenly feel so much more confident in a bunch. My mind is no longer focused on where my wheel is, and where her wheel is, and “PANIC” – instead I’m actually thinking about the race. Finally.

That isn’t to say I was pleased with Saturday. I was pleased there were women to race with, and I was pleased I wasn’t scared of the bunch. I’m thoroughly pissed off with my decision-making.

As we rolled off, I found myself not too far from the back of the ‘these girls are the race’ group (it was Cat 4 – huge gaps in ability – not everyone was going to stay with), trying to locate my pedal. This done, I moved to around mid pack and drifted there for a couple of minutes, getting comfortable. Then I looked up and noticed four riders with about four bike lengths distance between ‘them’ and ‘us’. I weaved around the group, chased after them, a few others did the same and soon the gap was gone.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 08.20.51
Image: Simon Blackwell

I figured it might be smart to stick with those four. The group of five of us (someone Elite Cylcing, Someone Adalta, someone Essex Roads and one unbranded…) were now at the front of the bunch, in a fairly even line, with about twenty riders sitting a bike length or three behind us. Every so often, we’d seem to get a gap, only to be swallowed up again. The group wasn’t working so well together, it seemed more like a vague mish-mash of a pace line. I moved back mid-pack a few times, but the small select group kept peeling off, so I kept chasing them, too concerned they might actually make a break and we’d all be racing for fifth place by the end.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 08.21.15
Image: Redbridge CC

The group never did escape. Five laps left on the board and we were still on the front, four laps and no change, three, two, one – and University of Kent CC made a decisive attack on the straight, only to be chased down with immediate effect.

Rounding the corner of the final lap, Adalta tried again – I went with her and put pretty much everything I had into it. We were free for around half of the last straight – and then the group pretty much consumed us.

Image: Redbridge CC
Image: Redbridge CC

Rounding to the final hill and the chequered flag, there was just a couple of metres between myself and the first rider, but within those metres there were quite a lot of others. Needless to say, not top ten, not in the points, pretty annoyed.

Image: Simon Blackwell
Image: Simon Blackwell

It wasn’t the most successful outing in terms of any points, but I did learn a lot. I noticed whenever I was in the bunch, and my heart rate sunk down (average… 188….so not often), I felt nervous that something was going to happen on the front and I’d miss out. This is probably a lot down to time trial mentality – I want, need – to be working hard. That’s something to squish. I also learnt that I’m not so scared any more – despite a huge crash in the sprint that took down three riders and saw one lose a few teeth (I hope you’re ok!) – which is reassuring for coming events. So I learnt things.

Sunday – East Surrey Hardriders TT – 27.7

Internal monologue: “Not sure should do this, average heart rate from Saturday 188, max 199… must be tired. Nowhere to hide in a TT, a long way to go solo. I’ll prep bike and see how I feel tomorrow. Wake up… I’ll feel bad if I DNS, tired legs rubbish excuse, organsier put in lots of work… maybe will go to HQ, sign on, ride to start, if feel crap, offer to help at HQ. Ride to start. HR staying low. Legs heavy. Ah well, we’re here now. Standing in line. Bugger. Going to do this now. Switch on rear light. 3.2.1.Go.”

Image: Colin Derrick
Image: Colin Derrick

The hardriders is a proper sporting time trial, from Reigate to Dorking, up a massive big hill to the A24, upey-downey all the way to Rusper Roudabout, another big arse hill, then some bumpy roads back to Leigh through Newdigate.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 08.40.56

I knew I had Alice Lethbridge three minutes behind me. Riding for Starley Racing and with a past in proper-serious-running, I always knew she was going to pass me, I just wasn’t sure when.

I found it hard to keep my heart rate up, it kept drifting to 170 on the descents, then back up on the climbs – didn’t have power because PowerTap isn’t exactly light or aero (I did have a water bottle holder attached to my bars via zip ties that was also not aero and flew off about 25 miles in – I was pleased to be rid).

I won’t provide a blow by blow account, because this post is already long. But I was pleased to overtake both 53 and 54 (I was 57), and it took Alice just over 20 miles to catch me, a small triumph for me since I had expected to see her much sooner considering the state of my legs. It was a strange sort of TT, it wasn’t until Alice passed me (and I shouted “well done, smash it!”) that I felt like I was properly properly working. Oddly, I kind of enjoyed most of it.

The finish was a bit of a surprise. In my head, the event was actually 29.9 miles long – so when I saw the mile to go sign I was both relieved and slightly frustrated. I tried to push, then doubted my reading ability, took it back a notch, before seeing the chequered flag. I didn’t really pedal harder in those last metres though so I doubt I would have if I’d had a further 2 miles.

In the end I posted a 1.14. 54, and took third. I was admittedly a long way behind Alice with 1.10.45 and Mel Wasley with 1.10.19 (SSLL Racing Team) – but they are both committed riders on sponsored teams. That, and the next female rider came in at 1.20.18, so I was certainly sitting in front of the ‘non sponsored riders’ brigade.

photo 2 (2)

Overall – it was a fairly successful weekend – I certainly learnt a lot and felt good after it. In fact, I felt amazing on Monday, full of energy. Then I woke up on Tuesday and felt like my legs weighed 70 stone. I never knew you could get DOMS from just riding your bike, but it seems I’ve not been riding hard enough.

The success of the TT, vs the less successful crit does make me worry I’m going to revert back to TTs – getting my heart rate up and keeping it there seems to be something I’m just accustomed to and comparatively better at. However, there’s a lot of season to come – and track league hasn’t even begun…

Published by michellearthurs

I'm an NCTJ Journalist and work at Cycling Weekly. Previous to this, I was the Editor at Total Women's Cycling. I've also dabbled in marketing and copywriting - having been Marketing Coordinator and Social Media/Content Editor at Evans Cycles. My first job was working on a local newspaper.  I've written for a variety of titles on a freelance basis, too. I got into cycling when I entered my first triathlon in 2010. I now race crits, road races, time trials, and do a lot of track training for not very much track racing.

2 thoughts on “2016 Racing Begins: Crit and TT double weekend

  1. This is so exciting!! It makes me want to race 🙂 I am nowhere near fast enough cycling yet and have done so little over the winter with marathon training but this is good inspiration to get back on my bike 🙂

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