After two consecutive wins in two weeks at Hog Hill in the 4ths, today was time to take a step up. I was riding on a high having upgraded to 3rd cat, but now I was largely entering the unknown as I’ve only raced 3/4 or 4th only Crits before.
The race would be a 2/3/4, last 1 hour +5 laps and have a roughly 60 rider field. The 4th only race only lasts 45 minutes, so that’s an extra 10-15 extra Hoggenbergs to climb and roughly half an hour of extra suffering to deal with.
With this in mind, I started with the aim to keep my matches for later in the race. Colin Ward (Essex Roads) forced a breakaway of 5-6 on the second lap and started to build a gap. It looked bridgeable, but with the strong winds on the day, chasing down a hard working break wasn’t going to happen without a huge effort (and wasn’t guaranteed anyway).
20 minutes of carnage followed as a couple of riders attempted to bridge, and then organise a chase. I went to the front and started taking some pulls (the race was pretty much over if nobody worked), but on flicking my elbow, nobody would follow through. I sighed to myself, drilled it up the hill in frustration and went back to sit in the ever-dwindling bunch.
Sitting in was fairly easy, though you had to pay attention each time up the hill as riders accelerated over the top to try and get away or force a split. At 5 laps to go, Jonathon Tomlinson (ELV) slipped away and would stay away until the end. Once he got out of sight the bunch began preparing for the sprint. I wasn’t overly confident in a hill sprint as there were more things to go wrong tactically and I hadn’t sprinted at Hog Hill before. So I started eyeing up breakaway opportunities to outsmart the ~20 riders left fighting for 5th.
I spotted that there was a noticeable slowing of the bunch on the back/bottom straight at 4 and 3 laps to go, and a huge tailwind in this section. At 2 laps to go the same slowing happened and everyone sat up at 20mph on the bottom straight.
I backed off from the back of the bunch, clicked down a few gears and kicked as hard as I could into the draft and then across to the opposite side of the track. 10s @ ~1000w gave me a huge speed advantage and I was going at 50kph vs the bunch’s 30kph before anyone realised what I was doing. The rearmost riders shouted ‘attack’ (probably to get someone else to continue to do all the work for them…) but I was clear and immediately had a gap.
Then I rounded the corner, hit the crosswind and rode the far right hand side gutter to rob anyone of any shelter, even if they made it across. I took the bell and was riding flat out to the finish to stay away. I made it through the hairpin on the final lap with about 10s on the bunch.
487w for 1:28 was then just enough to hold off the bunch sprint by a couple of bike lengths. Hog Hill is strange as the hill is so steep that the riders seem really close by at the end – I thought I had been caught and passed right at the line – but a bike length is still a big difference because of the steepness of the gradient before the finish.
A tough introduction to some tougher racing standards. I honestly think I wasted a lot of energy during the race, so to come away with 5th is a great result. As the break had gone and the bunch weren’t co-operating to bring it back, it was the best I could have hoped for. Gambling in the bunch sprint wasn’t for me (having wasted energy sprinting out of corrners and working early), and catching the bunch napping was great fun to exploit.