To say I was disappointed when my fourth race didn’t go very well would be an understatement. Races 2 and 3 had both been E1234s, in which I was more than happy to be thrashed. But this – a 3/4 – and still not in the top 10? Much frustration. Since track league seemed to go quite well (well, 2 of 4 races did!) I was almost tempted to throw in the crit towl and just stick to track and TT.
Thankfully, races 5 and 6 went better.
In race four, I’ve got to admit The Fear returned. All the wheels and the dodgy cornering had me so petrified on the last lap I just kind of froze and let the hurtle to the line happen without me.
Race five was another 3/4, but I had two riders I knew within the pack – Rosie and Cat. I trust them both and though I didn’t spend the entire race glued to their wheels, I did follow their lead a bit. There were a few attacks, but on a short 0.6 mile circuit nothing was ever going to get away, so I chased a couple down but mainly sat in the bunch and waited. 5 laps to go and I’m on Cat’s wheel. 4 to go and somehow I’m on the other side of the bunch, but still in the second line, same at 3 and 2. On the last lap someone went on the downhill, taking a load of riders swooping past. Rosie was somewhere near me and we both floated back a little, leaving us a pretty decent distance to the front on the final bend. Thankfully, I managed to find myself on the outside of the bend, so I took it wide and let my speed take me a little further up the hill, and sprinted for the line – getting past a couple of others and nabbing 6th. My first points! Sure, it’s a long way off first (well done Cat!), but so great to finally get a result and I was pleased with how much more comfortable I felt this time around.
The major differences were:
- Finding wheels I trusted, and working out which I didn’t. Eg the wheel of the person who sprinted in a diagonal line across my path chasing an attack*
- Sticking near the front on the last few laps, if I’d been further back when that final downhill move went I’d have been nowhere.
*later conversation > Me: did you hear me shout? Cat: OMG was that you? I thought it was an angry man! > I thought I sounded more like an angry dog actually
Race six was another Cat2/3/4 race. There were a few Cat2s there, so I was mainly just desperately hoping I wouldn’t end up being dropped and rolling around in another small group.
There were a lot of attacks in the first 30 minutes. I chased quite a few of them, then realised none were getting away, so sat a bit further back later as I was beginning to wonder if I might exhaust myself and get spat out the back.
The group contained a few Cat2s who had led the field at some of the E1234s, and lots of the Cat3s and strong Cat4s who had managed to stick with them at those races, whilst I dropped off. Thankfully, all the practice at this strange ‘changing pace quickly and then slowing down’ thing that road racers seem to do so much of (that time trialists never do) seems to be paying off, and I was pleased to find myself firmly in the group – at times playing a role, mainly just sitting in.
As the lap board went up, I practiced my previous approach: sit near the front, but not at the front, and try to make sure no one closes off your path. It was all going ok, until one (really strong, probably could have won) rider’s front wheel suddenly went ‘psshhhh’ and started gushing air close to a bend. Cue quite a lot of commiserations as we all try to get around. My cornering isn’t great at the best of times, so suddenly I was somewhere in the middle and fighting my way up the final hump.
I tried to count the riders in front, then realised that used valuable brain space, and almost gave up. Then the attitude switch changed in my head and I figured there was still space, still time, and the line was still there – so I might as well charge for it. Which I did. I soon found myself positioned between two riders, wanted to barge through, but couldn’t so diverted from my path to get around. That didn’t pay off, but I still managed to just scrape the 10th place. The last place where there’s points.
For a race where I’d wanted to just not get dropped by the same girls who had dropped me before, I was pretty chuffed to be racing for one of those top ten spots. Yes, it’s only one point – but it’s still a step closer!
There’s still a lot to learn, but I think I’ve also learned quite a lot:
- You have to practice sprints to learn to change pace – you can’t time trial a road race
- When attacks happen, it’s going to hurt – a lot. However, if you just hurt for 5 seconds, it’ll slow down, and that’s a lot better than a one hour time trial after being dropped (I realise this would change if an attack was successful, but it’s not going to stay at max HR for an hour!)
- It might seem like the pack is disappearing, but if you chase, you can often get back on and save yourself the above bad experience. If you give up, that’s it. And don’t rely on a rider who looks strong to chase for you – if they get dropped, you both will.
- I still need to learn to corner better. Being right on someone’s wheel and copying their line is the best way to learn
Onwards, and upwards.