My goals for 2016 (set in November 2015) weren’t too ambitious. One was to simply enter a road race. They say goals should always be achievable – after a dozen clicks I had crossed this one off my list, all whilst remaining below threshold. Strong.
Some other goals were a bit more interesting: beat my power curve at every duration (absolute and/or w/kg), reach 2nd Cat, RPR Smashcamp, a sub 5.35 Regent’s Park lap and 20k km for the year. Since finding my racing feet though, some of these should change because I lacked confidence and set the bar too low (and I hoped no one would notice…).
- 1000h for the year (will come to approx. 18,000mi)
- 1st Cat
- Win a RR
- Win an ITT (road bike)
- Win a crit at each London circuit (Velopark/Hillingdon/Cyclopark/Hog Hill/Crystal Palace *stretch goal – I don’t fancy my chances at all in the Palace E/1/2)
Anyway, I was chatting away about racing last weekend and I decided on impulse to sign up to the Surrey League. Their race calendar is ideal for me because there are plenty of 2/3 races to gain experience of road racing in, before I start mixing with more E/1/2 fields.
Race video – being edited!
The race today was at Longcross Testing Circuit, a former MoD tank testing ground. It’s a 2 mile circuit, with long straights broken up by ‘the snake’ – a fun section with some high speed left-right corners and undulations. All the crits I’ve been racing definitely made me able to corner better than most – it makes a change to actually be able to pedal through every corner in a race. Longcross is a relatively short circuit for a road race (more like a Kermesse) as it’s basically 4-4.30 minute laps for an hour + 5. PPP: Specifity, specifity, specifity.
The weather was amazing, with blue skies, 15c and a constant Southeasterly wind (which would prove very important later on). I was the only rider wearing leg warmers. The wind only really featured on the finishing straight, where it was a crosswind from left to right. I was really excited to race on a more open circuit and see what I could do against what looked like a solid 2/3 field. There were plenty of teams present and the plan was to be in every break where those teams were represented. I had my eyes on a few, but HR Owen Maserati RT in particular because of a quality solo break from one of their riders last Saturday at the Velopark.
The race can be broken down into 4 sections:
- The early laps (0-15min)
The first laps were a bit nervous as they were fast and I didn’t know the course. I kept up at the front and followed the wheels. There were a few speculative moves off the front, but nothing serious enough to provoke a reaction. Following the HR Owens riders worked pretty well, as they were always keen to get to the front and I got towed up to the front plenty of times. The only cost was the energy for a brief sprint to 800-1000w to grab a wheel – definitely worthwhile to be at the fore as more and more attacks started to come.
2. Breakaway attempts (15-30min)
The next 15 minutes of the race saw a few breakaways attempts fly off of the front, with handfuls of riders joining together up the road. I found my way into a couple of moves that tried to bridge to the leading break, but I was just following wheels and marking the riders in the big teams so that I wasn’t caught out back in the bunch. That happened to me at the March Hare and was the most unpleasant experience on a bike in a long time…
As a circuit with long straights, Longcross shouldn’t favour the breakaway as you would need to have a very big gap to be out of sight (and out of mind) on the finish straight. The bunch can always see who is up the road and see the race situation. This meant nothing during the race however, as attack after attack went (seemingly just to get out of the bunch). Most moves broke down as people couldn’t get organised before being shut down and countered.
However on the 8th lap (14mi) in, a big break started to go away and it looked like a race winning move. I fought my way to the front, kicked up to 1100w, and spent the next minute or so @ 500w bridging across to about a dozen riders. After a quick rest on the back, I was straight to work as the move had a decent gap on the group behind. It was a tough 10 minutes or so, but because too many riders were involved the panicked bunch brought us back.
3. Recovery and Planning
After some generally unsuccessful match burning, it was time to think about how the race would be won. I’d worked hard to try to get away, but a looming sprint meant it was best to go back to conserving energy. I focused on the usual tactics: downwind position in crosswinds; drifting on the hills; moving up for free when the bunch slows and staying aero. I found myself tailgunning at 5 laps to go and another guy chilling at the back with me looked across at me and said I looked ‘bored‘. I couldn’t help but laugh. I told him I was thinking… well, what are you thinking about? … How to beat these guys…
4. Bridge and Break
This is where the race turned straight up ridiculous – and got very fun. I’d moved into the first third towards the end of the 5th lap to go and a break of 6 riders was about 20s away. I don’t know what it was, but it just felt like the right time to attack. I drifted forward on the downwind side of the bunch, jumped on a wheel of a rider attacking (who was zig-zagging all over the road) and then hit it at 1200w to pass as he was blowing up. The bridge was almost a flat out effort, 1 minute @ 550w, and I passed 2/3 others trying to do the same, who wouldn’t make it across.
The break ahead had split on the finishing straight, with 3 guys in the front and 3 guys in the back. I rode straight through the back group and into the lead group to make us a 4-up, rolling turns with a lot of hurt. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when a Dynamo rider (Barnabas Purbrook) rode straight passed our breakaway, easy as you like. A VC Meudon rider was on the front and bridged the gap, but the pace was so high he dropped 100m later down the road. I was on the limit but knew this was the winning move as the bunch was nowhere to be seen.
This brings me to the final 17 minutes/4 laps riding a 2-up with this guy who was absolutely tearing my legs off in his draft. My heart rate averaged 197bpm in the final breakaway. The power numbers were around threshold ~345w AP / 355 NP. This meant nothing at the time as I just couldn’t get any recovery – he was so strong. When I wasn’t chewing the stem, we kept communicating and monitoring the gap to the bunch – after 2 laps of riding flat out, we had over 30 seconds. At the time I was just hoping he wasn’t going to attack me because I was giving everything on my turns and getting back on was edge of the knife stuff.
We stayed together and rode incredibly smooth (considering being on the limit) to the final half a lap where it got a little tactical as we knew it was pretty much in the bag. A couple of short turns through the snake section and it was time to briefly recover for the final sprint. I was thinking it was going to be very difficult to win the sprint and my only option was to sit on the back – I probably could lead it out against a stronger, bigger rider but I like playing the percentages and the more draft I have, the more my chances of winning increase.
Coming onto the finishing straight is a short, steep s-bend descent. I let a little gap go through the bottom bend to see if I would get attacked, and by virtue, get led out. The wind was coming strong from left to right and this was important for positioning in the final sprint.
I did get attacked out of the corner, and managed to respond with some 15s @ 650w to get back onto the wheel. From there, it was a brief moment to collect myself, pick the right gear, ignore the flicking elbow, wait for a head turn and then kick as hard as I could on the downwind (right) side. I somehow had 9s @ 1000w left and it was enough to cross the line for 1st place!
I wrote last week that it was hands on bars for the next few races…Didn’t last long.
Thanks to London Dynamo and Glyn Durrant for roadside photos!