The Week Before
Last week’s race was the first I’ve really been fresh for this year (with a positive TSB), and wow, I needed that – the race was very difficult! I’ve noticed a downward trend in my CTL as I’ve been ‘spending’ my fitness to race in the ELV Winter Series. I try not to go as deep in training because I’d rather save it for when it really counts. Then again, with RPR sessions this goes out of the window. Fast. This week was a big week training-wise with 285miles in the 5 days before the race (and some 400+ by the end), trying to build my CTL back up a bit. Winter races are awesome, but summer is the time for peak shape (or maybe April…).
The 25mile ride to Hog Hill gave me a long time to think about the possible fatigue in my legs (into a headwind, of course) and generally how I was feeling. By the time I pinned a number on, any doubts disappeared. I also had the pleasure to arrive in good time to see Arlen (also RPR) take his 2nd win in 2 weeks, this time winning from a reduced bunch sprint, and Disco got 6th after his late breakaway was brought back. Once again, no pressure on me…
The field was a lot larger this week, with maybe 60 riders, possibly inflated by the ends of each of the VeloPark and Hillingdon winter series in the weeks prior. There was a strong easterly wind resulting in a tailwind up the hill and a headwind on the back straight. This made it easier for the group to stay together as the draft made the hill much faster than usual and the wind meant nobody wanted to work before the hill. Any dropped riders could comfortably regroup on the descent and the bunch stayed large throughout. It was annoying, but I had the chance to be riding elbow-to-elbow in the middle of a really tight pack and that was learning in itself.
The majority of the laps were taken really easy, then the hill would be attacked every time. The racing here was really fun – just hanging on and hoping the guy in front doesn’t drop the wheel. The elastic wouldn’t snap though, and a large group would reform on the descent each time. The intermittent racing led to some discussions amongst the usual strong guys about coordinating to break up the field. Alex Richardson (Pedal Heaven) was working hard to assemble a small group to break away over the top of the hill but the wind was too unfavourable and the remaining riders too fresh to get separation. 30minutes @ 264w AP and 347w NP wasn’t enough to break the field down – in previous crits, these kind of numbers reduced the field to under 10. The work wasn’t paying off.
After Colin Ward (Essex Roads) put the field into one line with a huge pull out of the hairpin at ~3 laps to go – and the field still didn’t break up(!) – the bunch sprint seemed to be the only possible ending. The bell lap came and I was positioned somewhere around halfway back in the ~25 or so group. On the rise before the descent I was passed by two riders from VCL, and I managed to get in between them on the descent. Dan Cooper (VCL) mowed his way through the field to the front, even gapping me into the hairpin. Justin had given me the heads up about Dan before the race. He had single-handedly brought back a working 3-man break before going on to win at the Velopark in style last week. I thought he was on lead-out duty for a team mate, but he actually has the power to go from 1 minute out!! Coming into the final hill I was in 2nd wheel, with James Jenkins (Southend Wheelers) and Alex Richardson right behind me. I thought it was game over rounding the final bend and starting the hill.
I was feeling strong, but worrying about being in front of these guys who were about to launch from a more advantageous position. I’m a bike length or two closer to the line than they are, but they have my draft in a 27mph leadout and a 25mph sprint – I think the draft is tactically superior in these conditions, but you play the hand you are dealt. I waited as long as possible before going, to about 100m to go, before I could feel/hear Alex Richardson launching on my inside and the other riders kicking off behind and outside. I kicked hard and quickly drew level with Alex, maybe losing some ground as I drifted to the outside on the shallower gradient. My bike was flying all over the place on the uneven surface, as I powered over the steepest section, re-accelerated and threw my bike at the line to win by half a wheel!
It was such a close finish. It was amazing to give everything in the sprint and come away with the win. Slightly behind, James Jenkins outsprinted Colin Ward by a wheel to take the series overall (they were joint first place before today). The win gave me 3rd overall in the series behind them both, which is amazing as I’d only done 4 of the 8 2/3/4 races. The ELV series has been a breakthrough in racing for me finishing: 1st*, 1st*, 5th, 2nd, 1st, 1st (* = 4th cat only races). The learning curve can be seen in the 2/3/4s, as I was beaten by smarter riders initially, but I figured out how to express my strengths (and still be in the race to use them) later on in the series to come away with wins.
RPR were also spoiled for support – the constant cheers gave a huge boost and this week I could actually hear them with big numbers on the sidelines going crazy! (Thanks to Justin, Jane, Arlen, Disco, Jamie, & Marlon – these guys were awesome).
The superstitions continue this week – I picked locker 22. So:
- held 2nd wheel from the 2nd corner of the final lap
- my 2nd win racing with 2nd cats
- 2nd win in 2 weeks
- 2nd double win (+Arlen) for RPR in 2 weeks
- 2nd 2-weekend win streak of the season
- 2nd place in race (Alex) beat me 2 races ago when I finished 2nd
- Colin Ward beat me to 2nd overall in the series by scoring 2 series points in this race
Maybe I’m looking too closely at the numbers and should go back to focusing on training…