Last April, I joined Regent’s Park Rouleurs (RPR) and after a few weeks of pain and misery, I started to get a lot stronger. I wanted to join them ever since I saw just how fast some of their guys were and how much they could hurt me, even riding in their draft. Within the club, many had success at the entry level of racing – Matt A and Justin lapping the field and winning bunch kicks at Hillingdon respectively. So I fancied a go at some races myself. It didn’t go especially well, racking up a whopping 1 point from my 7 or so crits at the Velopark.
I was short on points, but never short on excuses for why this was in a race. I tried not to become that guy who was always boxed in, behind a crash, always chased down etc… So, it became a running joke that I was still a 4th cat. I saw the funny side that I could do 350w for 25 minutes on Col d’Èze but couldn’t take down these crits.
Some of this is down to experience and racecraft. There isn’t a lot I can do except race more to gain these things. Anyway, one evening I was watching a video about using some features in Golden Cheetah (ride file analysis software). The narrator spoke of choosing races and more specifically, courses, that play to your strengths. It occurred to me that this was something I hadn’t done – I’d gone for the flat, somewhat technical Velopark course.
So I decided to race at Hog Hill, the most selective course available, as part of the East London Velo winter series. I really only decided to race on the day at about 8am as a few beers were had the night before (#3beertaper). I’d also ridden 14 hours in the previous 4 days which brought doubts into my mind about form but I had a real urge to just go and get involved.
I only told a couple of people of my plan to race because I didn’t want to feel any pressure. This backfired when I took a few wrong turns getting to Redbridge, arriving with about 10 minutes to spare before the race, and when my garmin auto uploaded my ride to the circuit… ‘I wonder what you are doing out there‘ – one comment on Strava read. To the racing.
The race could be split into two very different parts:
Off the back
We started with 45-50 guys racing and the race would be 45 minutes + 1 lap. I started at the back as I hadn’t raced the circuit before and also hadn’t raced on my 60mm carbon rims before. The bunch was strung out from the start and because most of the corners are taken at full speed, the bunch sat in one long line until the start of the Hoggenberg. Lots of people tried attacks, but they never got away from the bunch. I was gapped off the back a few times where people lost wheels in front of me or where I took a bad line through a corner. I didn’t panic and just rode my way back to the bunch. My fault for not turning up in time to learn the corners.
After 2 very hard laps, I learned the lines and speeds of the corners and settled in. My average power dropped from ~320w to 260w over the next 3 laps and I was back to being really comfortable. I think the over-active attackers got tired and burnt through their matches. The random attacking and surging had stopped and everyone seemed content to roll around. Guys from UCL were pacing the bunch and I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to shed a few people up the hill.
Off the front
It just so happened that I moved all the way up the bunch on the downwind side and rolled off the front. I was surprised that no one responded (30s @ 400w was all it took) and halfway up the hill I looked back and confirmed a 15m gap. I hit the steep part of the hill fairly hard (30s @ 550w) but I couldn’t believe they were letting me ride away that easy. I looked down at my garmin and there was just under half an hour to go to the finish. The race hit a weird moment where I didn’t really want to go solo, but the group didn’t really want to bring me back just yet. I was waiting to be joined – and rode tempo for the next half a lap – but by the time I hit the hill again I realised this was my chance and it was time to go.
I got to work building my gap and it blew out very quickly once I set into time-trial mode. I hit the lap button on my garmin to get a fresh average power for the breakaway and set up two reference points on the adjacent parts of the course to keep tabs on my gap to the bunch (one at the hairpin and one at the start/finish). After 2 laps off the front I now had ~40s on the bunch that they pretty much couldn’t see me except at the hairpin where I felt everyone’s eyes were on me. I kept a blank stare ahead to look as chilled as possible – no looks back or any signs of weakness. I kept focused on railing the corners, putting the power down where it would make the most difference and staying low. Basically what I try to do every morning in training.
I now started to lap riders and that gave me a good boost and something to chase. Riders would ask if I was off the front and some shout encouragement. I was really focused on just staying ahead of the bunch. I wasn’t thinking about the finish or how many laps to go, I was just working on staying away.
2 laps to go was the first time I thought about winning. I knew I had a decent gap, but also thought the bunch would inevitably speed up with so many fresh riders. Lots of doubts crossed my mind, but I knew I had the power in reserve to ride so fast that these guys wouldn’t be able to close me down. The last time through the hairpin I knew I had enough of a gap to win – I kept going full gas all the way to the line where I instinctively chucked both hands up in the air across the line. I’d won by 30 seconds from another solo escape, then some more to the bunch.
My final breakaway stats were: 27 mins @ 320w AP / 342w NP / 193 average HR.
What I’d done hadn’t sunk in until I was riding home and later seeing messages from loads of people was awesome. I couldn’t believe that I’d won a race, and won in style. It has really motivated me to race more and the spike in confidence I’ve got from it is great. Shout out to guys from Sunday Echappée and RCC for the cool route back into London.
The ride – https://www.strava.com/activities/471487459
The flyby (fun!) – http://labs.strava.com/flyby/viewer/#471487459,UWscHA==
The GoPro video – https://youtu.be/E0mJv8ybFFg
*As of today, still a 4th Cat (maybe until Saturday/next Saturday..)