This week, I returned to the Lee Valley Velopark to race in the final race of the Dulwich Paragon Winter Series. I went along the week before and didn’t feel like racing, so I supported a few guys instead – Elliot Colley made the break and made it stick – which was awesome to see.
I’ve never done well at the velopark before because I didn’t have the experience or confidence to mix it up with 60+guys (of varying levels of bike handling ability). I’d get bored of the pointless fighting for positions and just sit at the back, moving up only for the final laps. Needless to say, this wasn’t a great tactic, and I remained a 4th cat at the end of last season…
The race would be run clockwise (usually the LVVP is anti-clockwise), last 60minutes + 5 laps and have 60 starters. The course featured a big tailwind on the finishing straight, and a sapping headwind on the return leg. I almost missed the start of the race becasue I was changing into a new pair of overshoes (I wanted to look better for Justin’s camera…).
I started in my favoured position – tailgunning the bunch. It is really helpful to scope the corners and get into the flow of the race before starting to get close quarters in the bunch. The added benefit was that I was joined by Michael Evans (UCLUCC) to chat through the opening laps. I knew he was on the start sheet and he had won at Hog Hill the previous week (and punctured out of a winning breakaway with me 3 weeks ago). I thought he might enjoy breaking away again…
The first 4 laps passed in the usual fashion, with plenty of over-excited legs launching attacks in odd spots, resulting in a lot of surging. I was surprised to see a dozen or so riders drop early on and the bunch began to slow up shortly afterwards. I was cruising through the bunch when I realised someone had spat on me (by accident – he apologised). I was a little annoyed, maybe a little fired up after this, but just wanting to get away from that kind of rider. Spit down!
We entered the finishing straight with the tailwind making moving up along the outside of the bunch very easy. I got to 20 riders back when a gap opened up and I launched out of the pack at full speed to go off the front.
I pulled the next minute or so into the headwind to see what would happen. I was joined by 3 riders, but nobody wanted to come through and the panicked bunch caught us up. It was here that Josh (Hemel Hempstead CC) suggested trying again and working together. He seemed keen to get in a move and I’d seen him doing well in tough races. Mike (UCL), fresh off winning in the 4ths at Hog Hill and upgrading, was also right at the front.
Coming into the hairpin I backed off the pace and let a gap open to Josh and Mike, and jumped hard out of the corner to catch and pass them. Josh jumped on and the break had begun. The next 20 minutes were spent establishing the break and consolidating our gap, which we were told by the support on the start/finish was 13s.
We were working very well together and adding a couple of seconds each lap. The race was in the balance once we hit 24s and the bunch began to bring it back down as the many Dulwich riders began working on the front. In the break, we knew all we had to do was keep up a high pace for 2-3 more laps. If the bunch didn’t start to see us come back, the riders working would tire out or get frustrated that others weren’t working and sit up. We had no such problems and knocked out big turn after big turn and really flew around the course.
The elastic snapped 40 or so minutes in where the gap hit 1 minute. The race would now be decided between the breakaway, and I started to size up my opponent. I felt I’d given a lot early on to get away and could feel the beginnings of cramps in my calves. This generally happens when I’m beating my previous best power curve performances. Once sure we would stay away, I dropped my pulls down a level and made sure I was riding my turns into the tailwind and being sheltered in the headwind.
We took the bell lap – ‘so I guess this is it‘ – and shook hands as a mark of respect to the effort we had both put in to get to this point. I knew my best shot was to let Josh lead it out, as the bigger rider. The last half lap, I didn’t leave his wheel as I shook out my legs and clicked my gears over and over to find the perfect one to launch out of the hairpin with – not too light to have to change gear in the sprint, but not too hard that I couldn’t accelerate quick enough to catch Josh’s wheel.
Josh led it out from the corner, jumping hard up to speed. I hit 1100w responding to get onto his wheel and then the cramps started on my calves. I wasn’t able to get out of the saddle and felt like I was going to have such a bad cramp as to stop my legs turning all together – the burn was unreal! Somehow I kept the legs turning over and came to the slight-rolling-downhill-before-slight-uphill-finish.
I was right on the wheel and spotted a gap on the inside – the shortest line to the finish. I gave it absolutely everything I had on the downhill, hitting 1ooow+ @ almost 130rpm, drawing level, before making the pass and pulling away to win by a bike length. Just enough to get one hand off the bars to celebrate.
I couldn’t pedal for the next couple of minutes, but it felt amazing to fight and win the sprint. I just couldn’t have finished 2nd after working so hard and putting so much into the effort. I’ve broken my velopark curse of crashes and near-misses (touch wood) and its nice to win my first 3rd cat race, and also win a flat race (which is exactly what RPR trains for).
The final stats: