Funny how quickly things change.
In 2016 my aim in a local crit race was to stay upright and not get dropped. Now we’re in 2018 and I’d be disappointed not to be in the top ten if it’s an average crit race. But for the Good Friday track meet, I well and truly returned to the ‘stay upright and try not to get dropped’ mentality.
The Good Friday track meet has been attracting a mix of elite riders and local heroes since 1903. Formerly run by the Southern Counties Cycle Union (SCCU) at Herne Hill Velodrome, it’s earned the title of the oldest track cycling event in Britain. In 2017 it was held at Lee Valley VeloPark, and in 2018 Full Gas took over as organisers, keeping the event in its new home. They did an excellent job of providing a smoothly run meet, too, so kudos to them for taking up the mantle.
In the women’s field, there were 24 signed up. We were arguably lucky in that in our races the riders to fear were all on the development end of the scale – such as Junior and Under 23 GB academy riders Ellie Russell, Abbie Dentus, Lauren Dolan and Anna Docherty; sure, they’re all in the 17-21 age bracket but they’re also in a whole other class. Then there were a handful of senior ‘fast girls to be scared of’ such as the riders from Boompods EDCO NRG. Then a few familiar faces from track league/HHV training who I already knew well.
You know you’re in a bit over your head when the organisers ask for a bio, including ‘favourite event’ and you assume they mean ‘to watch’ – making yourself look like a right numpty before you’ve even signed on.
In terms of nerves, I was on the constant nausea train all day leading up to the event. Not at the thought of the racing – the fear was more down to the knowledge that there would be an audience. My only indoor racing experience thus far is the Full Gas winter track league (in which I came third overall, which was rather nice), and no one really comes to watch that except a few parents and spouses.
Once the first race – 30 lap Scratch (first over the line wins) – got underway, the nerves disappeared. I completely forgot the crowd was there and focused on what was going on in front of me. The nausea didn’t do the same disappearing act, because the first ten laps were vom inducingly fast, but the pace settled down except for a few attacks (I even had time to inwardly ‘lol’ when someone thought it was a smart idea to attack with 10 to go.. round numbers are obvious, right?).
I didn’t even manage to completely shirk duties on the front. Though clearly I was out-wheeled…
Come the final three laps, I was still in the mix. It was a close bunch though – I couldn’t see any easy (safe) way to move up the placings so I rolled in 14th. To be honest, I wasn’t going to be in the top six or top ten so it didn’t seem worth taking risks to get any higher – even if I could have.
The second race was the Elimination (/The Devil – last rider over the line eliminated – leaves the race – every 2 laps). For a brief spell The Devil was my favourite race – I won it once at HHV. Then I moved up two categories and realised that other people are a lot better at it than me.
Usually, the frustration is that I go over the top (the Devil takes the high road) until I get a bit over comfortable, relax, and get eliminated because I’ve tried to slot into the bottom line (all the other devils ride over the top at this point and there’s nowhere to go). I was determined not to do this – so stayed high. Then, suddenly the bell went and I was neck and neck with two other girls – high up, but stuck in the middle.
The only way not to be last over the line would be to accelerate – I couldn’t as there was someone in front of me – or decelerate, go behind the girl on top and overtake her. Definitely no time for that. I was several riders apart from being first out but as always left the track feeling cheated for lack of skill as opposed to fitness.
Come the 40 lap Points race, I was pretty tired. It was 7pm and we’d been there since 1pm. The pace was high, the field got pretty strung out but was generally accordion like, by which I mean it snapped back into a bunch after each set of sprints.
I didn’t really try for points. In fact, on one bell lap I even moved up to let a train of two Breeze riders come through. I knew I wasn’t going to come top six, so I didn’t much see the point blocking their way from doing so. Not my most competitive state of mind – but you have to pick your battles.
In all, I set out to prove to myself I could race in a top class field without letting fear of the crowd get into my head – and I did just that.
In terms of other races since my last update, I won one at Preston Park – a crit race run by Sussex Cycle Racing League. It was somewhat less competitive but felt good to cross the line first.
Mainly an exercise in confidence building and timing practice, I went to the race with every intention of winning it.
There were three slightly more experienced riders there, and quite a few beginners – so the three of us attacked all race to get the bunch (of 14 or so..) down and I sprinted for the line at the end – I can’t pretend it was my most challenging race ever though pictures suggest I still went all elbows out.
The other notable event so far was the South East Race Race League Newchapel Kermis.
For an early season (February) road race it was well attended – 50 signed up though only 34 finished. I had new Norwood Paragon team mate Anna Hughes with me at the start – but her race ended early due to a puncture in the opening miles.
It was an odd race – a couple of Le Filles plus one Fusion RT rider went off the front early on, and the bunch seemed quite content to let them go. I didn’t think I’d get anywhere on my own, so I suppose I shared the same mentality. From the midway point it all got a bit sedate – which was frustrating but having done nothing about it I can’t complain.
Come the final laps three more made a break for it – I didn’t believe they’d make it to the line. Unfortunately neither did anyone else, so they did – which left us all sprinting for 7th – and I got 8th. Not a bad start to the season, though a lesson learned; sometimes that last minute break is worth taking a punt on.