Sunday 10 June 2007

Fear and Loathing in Brentwood

I made it down to the start line at Brentwood high street - something which is an achievement in itself for me. Women's National Series cycle races are quite scary affairs. Just looking at the list of names on the start sheet is enough to make me quiver, wonder what I've done, and ask for my money back !

It was a warm day, The sun was out, and this was only going to last for an hour at most so I knew the pain would be only short lived. I hadn't done any of the Hillingdon women's races, or the Crystal Palace circuit races at all this year. The last criterium race I'd done was at the WCRA circuit races at Milton Keynes in February. Many of the girls from there would have raced an awful lot since then. And there was I, hoping I could mix it with a peloton containing the UK's elite riders at this round of of the Women's National Series. Oh well, I'd paid my money and made my choice. If nothing else this would give me an idea of how much work I needed to do, as well as a good hard interval session. Hey, when else would I get the chance to tear around an Essex town centre on my bike ?? I was going to savour the moment !

My aim had been to get as near as possible to the front of the field on the start line, so that I would not be at the back of the pack once the gun went off. I knew I wouldn't be able to stay with the group for the duration, but at least I would get the chance to see a little of the peloton if I wasn't tagging on at the back. Unfortunately that plan was foiled - I arrived at the line 10 minutes before the start to find all the women (just 25 of them) had had the same idea as me - except they'd arrived there 10 minutes before me ! So I was relegated from the start. Not wanting to compromise myself further, I removed one of my drinks bottles from my bike. Even in the hot humid conditions most girls only had one small drinks bottle for the hour long race. A few lean, mean types had no drink at all. They definitely meant business.

Finally, just before 2pm the Commissaire explained proceedings to us. Standing at the back, I couldn't really hear what he was saying - something to do with primes, I think. That wouldn't concern me ! A minute later the race began. Oh no, trouble - a couple of women in front of me struggled to get into their cleats. They faffed around. Guess who was stuck behind them ? So all I could do was wait and watch the group disppear down the road before I'd even started pedalling ! I might as well have not bothered to start. I did anyway, but I knew I was not going to have a race.

The best I got was a bit of a spa-ing match with the woman from Twickenham CC who'd had problems with her cleats. Then she dropped out. I got lapped by the bunch after about 15minutes. I picked up pace and tried to latch on, but I lost them on the chicane. They absolutely tore round the bends. It was quite impressive to see. There was a crash on one of the 180 degree bends - fortunately, nothing serious.

Later a gruppetto containing strong local riders lapped me, but this time I was able to sit in with them. Probably if I'd started off ok in the first place I would have formed a group with them earlier. I felt more comfortable riding around with them, and being in a group made me feel like a credible road racer, rather than a joker. But we were all lapped later on, and were eventually asked to stop after 45 minutes. The race was won by 17 year old Alice Monger-Godfrey of Glendene CC. Shouldn't she have been at home revising for her GCSE's ??

It wasn't my finest hour by any means. I did manage to get in lots of cornering and sprinting practice, so it wasn't a wasted afternoon. But it would've been nicer to have done it as part of a bunch. This was meant to be a road race not a time trial !
It was a tough lesson in criterium racing, but at least I now know what I have to aim for.

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