After last week’s successful outing to Barcombe in the Surrey League for my first ever road race, it was time to have another crack at these longer distance races. I was told there were spaces going in the CC London road race a couple of weeks beforehand and I snap decided to sign up so I would have a couple of road races close together to see how I would do. Last week I was pretty nervous as I hadn’t ever raced on open roads before. I’d heard some ‘stories’ and my heart rate was somewhat elevated compared to normal throughout the race. This week however, I knew a bit better what to expect from the race and was riding on the back of a win. Confidence is an amazing thing…
I felt strong and fresh last Sunday, so I took a similar approach in the lead up to this week’s race with training to try and replicate that feeling. I had 48h recovery after last Sunday’s race before I started riding hard again on Tuesday (pm), Wednesday (am & pm) and Thursday (am). Almost all of the hard riding was @ vo2 of around 5-6min efforts with some shorter higher intensity stuff thrown in too (to lead out the Regent’s Park KOM). Then, a clear 72h of no intensity before the race.
An even earlier start…
I didn’t have a lift to the race this week and on Saturday when I checked the trains to Chelmsford there were none…Silly error but, I ended up catching a train to Harlow and having to do over an hour an a half of riding before I even got to the HQ…
I arrived with plenty of time to see many friendly and familiar faces from CC London at the Roxwell village hall. After a quick sign on, change into skinsuit and last minute caramel shortbread fuelling, it was time to get ready to race. I had a chat with a few guys beforehand to get an idea of the course and how the race might play out. The consensus was the course was very fast, but the Chelmer CC RR was won by a solo breakaway for the whole of the last lap – lots of scenarios were possible.
The course is 15 miles long and is predominantly flat, with a few undulations. Many of the roads are wide and virtually straight. There is a section just after the beginning of the lap (just out of Roxwell – far right on the map below) where the road narrows and there are sequential left-right-left-right tight corners, before an uphill drag onto the main road. With very little wind on the day (faint Westerly), this section would prove to be the only bit that could get selective and was marked up as being the place where you *had* to be in position.
The convoy was led through the s-bends and up onto the main road where the race was started. Attacks started and were chased down instantly. I sat back and watched, not too worried about anything moving away. I knew from some Strava recon that the race speed would be above 26mph on such a flat course and a break has to work exceptionally hard to stay away for 2h+ at that kind of speed. Sitting on wheels in the bunch really costs nothing, so my thoughts were that there would be plenty of fresh legs to bring an early move back over the race duration.
Anyway, a small break went off the front and then another small group followed shortly thereafter. We were 15 minutes into the race and a decent sized group of 8-9 riders was riding clear, with no real chase being organised. They gained a decent gap of 20s in a really short amount of time. I was averaging 188w over this period and feeling pretty good about conserving energy.
A big break goes away
The break’s gap doubled by the end of the first lap and soon after the bunch was given it’s first time gap on the loudspeaker- something around a minute with 20miles covered. There were loads of negative voices around at this point saying the race was over – pretty surprising given that there were still 40 miles to go! I couldn’t believe people were writing off the race so early and getting annoyed because nobody would chase for them. There were a few teams (well represented and with no-one in the break) who did zero work and I couldn’t understand that either…
The debate about whether there was still a race to be won let the bunch get further away and we were updated before the end of the 2nd lap with a gap of 1:40. I’d been having chats with Alistair throughout to discuss what our options were. He’d suggested that if the gap wasn’t falling by the end of the 2nd lap we would have to make a move at that point if we were to see the front of the race again.
This is where the s-bend section became the most important part of the course – the short rise afterwards was one of the few springboards to launch a move from. The bunch was always strung out in one line after this from the succession of tight corners and you could get a gap easily by punishing anyone not in good position. I’d noticed another strong rider (Martin Smith – London Phoenix) was also around the front of the bunch and I said we were about to attack and he should come along too as I knew he was up for working with us from before the race. There was a real fight for position coming across the finish line about a half mile before this section – we came into the corner at almost 35mph!
The plan was to let Alistair off the front, ideally with Martin, then I’d bridge up to them and drive it away. I let them get in front of me through one of the earlier corners in the sequence so that they were on the front with me just behind and I back everyone up through the corners to give them the gap to start the move. A Viscious Velo rider had been marshalling around the front (they had 1 in the break already) but he let my 2 guys go and I happily attacked him as the gradient kicked up on the main road. I looked back to see a mess behind as people were scrambling out of the corner to react to our move, but it was too late as they had given the 3 of us a gap.
After all the negativity in the bunch, we now had a slight gap and we had to keep it. I was in the mood to ride all out so I didn’t have to sit in that bunch anymore. The whole ‘the race is over’ attitude was rubbish and that definitely encouraged me to ride harder just to show that actually, the race wasn’t over at all – if you commit, you can still make things happen. 1h10″ in to the race and I had averaged 191w (228w NP) – basically I’d done nothing this far and was completely fresh to rip it up.
This was the toughest part of the race – 28 minutes of pulling hard turns and normalising somewhere just under threshold (339w) for 188bpm average. I knew this was our chance and tried to do as much work as possible. The early turns were shorter and a bit harder as we pulled to get the gap and attempted to snap the elastic of the chase. I found out after the race that once we got away random people began riding all out on the front the bunch. I knew a few people had to be working because our group got 5-10s but we were being held in sight. I was riding in a full aero position over 400w and the other guys more than that. We were hardly pulling out any ground.
To our luck, an East London Velo rider (Christopher Thomas) bridged across the gap and let us know how destroyed he was and that he needed to sit on. Fair enough! We told him to recover for a couple of turns and he started working, helping the group consolidate the maargin over the bunch, pulling strong turns too.
The 4 of us were completely committed, but the bunch was back on us after our hard work was almost spoiled by being strangely caught up behind a learner driver(!), losing 10s over a mile. On the hills, we could look back down the road at the bunch and see people attacking to try and bridge across – this served as extra motivation to stay away. More came when we caught sight of the men up the road and the magical sight of the lead car. A few long pulls later and we were undertaking the 2nd commisaire’s car and back at the front of the race. It was a pretty surreal situation to have flipped the race around in 30 minutes of hard work and now be at the front coming up to take the bell for 1 lap to go.
The bunch behind completely sat up at this point, leaving a few riders to make a well-timed bridge to join the front before it got organised, to make the lead group of 13 riders.
Back at the front!
Initially, the group formed a daisy chain and we rode a smooth through-and-off rotation. Then it all broke down because people noticed 3 guys sitting at the back refusing to do a turn. I didn’t get why they were sitting on:
- we didn’t have a time gap at this point
- the break didn’t know it was the winning break yet
- if everyone rolls a turn the group keeps momentum
- the race is down to 13 people instead of 50
- guaranteed points?
A lot of shouting and flared tempers ensued, but they still wouldn’t ride. Most just chose to ignore them and continue riding, some took turns to go and berate them after pulling a turn. In a group of that size it is always possible to have passengers, but I didn’t know who was sitting on because they trying to hang on and who was sitting on because they were trying to win the race.
The disruption to the break’s rhythm caused a succession of attacks and re-groups, and from these some valuable information was gained – how quickly each rider accelerates, how far off the front they get, who responds and how quick, who’s breathing hard, who is keen to try and split the race and who is just sitting on the wheels. Who has attacked? Maybe more importantly, who hasn’t yet?
I was trying to gauge who the strongest riders were and who’s attacks to follow. I thought the strongest rider left was Thomas Power (Strada) and he was the main guy I was watching, with an eye also on Charlie Passfield (CCA). They seemed to have the most ‘snap’ left when they attacked and I think we had a 3 up going at one point after Charlie attacked on one of the uphill drags and brought us off the front.
After a re-group I had another ‘tactical’ chat with Alistair with around 5 miles to go and the race all back together. He said to me that it must be my kind of range for an attack. I replied saying I was waiting for these guys to tire themselves out, then the plan was to wait for a big attack to go, then counter it hard. In a group of this size I’d have a better shot of counter-attacking to get away, rather than making the first move when everyone is fresh. In preparation for the finish, I was focusing on conserving energy and watching attacks, letting others chase the moves that weren’t going to stay away. There was a 5 minute section towards the end of the race where I averaged just 162w, whilst responding to a big attack and keeping good position coming into the final stretch (which was mostly straight with a slight tailwind).
I kept checking my Garmin to see roughly how many miles it was to the finish, to try and mentally prepare myself for how long an effort would have to be to try and win with a late attack. I didn’t mind the prospect of a small group sprint, but I think that is always more of a dice roll because there are far more things that affect the finish that aren’t in my control.
How the race was won (#Cosmo)
Whilst I was flicking through my Garmin screens, I saw the Strada guy click down a few gears and launch off the front. He had attacked up one of the last drags and I was out of the saddle doing 800w for 15s on his wheel – this was the serious move. The road surface was uneven and I had little traction as my rear wheel kept flying into the air, I had to sit down to stay with him. We quickly caught one other guy (Richard Wood – TMG) who was just ahead up the road, and he jumped on as we came past – I’m certain that he was sitting on for the whole of the last lap, but seemed happy to work now(!).
The remainder of the breakaway didn’t (or couldn’t) react, and we were away as a 3 with 3 miles to go. There wasn’t time to mess around as our gap was good and if we all worked the race would be between us. The problem was, the TMG rider we caught (who had been sitting on the whole last lap before his attack) decided now was the time to skip turns. I told him to stop messing around as he was (1) guaranteed 3rd or better, and (2) certain to far worse if we were caught. I came through for another turn, hoping to encourage TMG to do the same, but he sat up behind the Strada guy to force him through again. We had only 10s on the bunch with about 1.5mi to go…
This left a weird moment where I was pulling on the front, Strada was sitting up forcing TMG to get on my wheel, TMG sat up to force Strada through and a gap opened. I flicked my elbow to see nobody came through. I cruised for a few seconds and nobody came through. I looked back and they were still busy playing cat and mouse, arguing who should do the next turn. By the time they had decided, it was too late – I had already attacked.
I knew it was the right moment to go. It was a 2km pursuit to the finish, made favourable by the downhill gradient and tailwind. I think it’s my favourite place to attack too – taking advantage of people being cagey/hedging for the sprint. I was pretty quickly up to 34/35mph and to bring me back, the other two have to ride faster than that which isn’t going to happen as neither will want to take the other to the line. It’s also much harder to close down gaps at higher speeds because of the drag increase (+downhill, + tailwind).
I checked under my shoulder to see Strada sprinting out of the saddle to try and close the gap. I was thinking (as I always do) – he’s in the exact same pain – make him hurt. After about 45 seconds, his head dropped and he sat up. From there, it was a (difficult – 203-206bpm HR) cruise in to the finishing straight to put the hands in the air as the other two fought it out for 2nd amongst themselves. The numbers of my final attack aren’t massive – 370w for the last 2 minutes to the line – but the timing of the attack was perfect as I spotted their mistake and made the most of it, taking 19s out of them in 1.2miles.
The race was probably the most fun of the season, as afterwards Alistair, Martin and I were pretty amused that the plan to escape and bridge worked out. That never seems to happen in races. You always have a chat and say ‘let’s breakaway’, but it never seems to work out how you want it to in the race.
The other races I’ve done that have come down to a small group situation, and even to some extent, the London Ride 100, have given me great experience in how to handle myself in a small group scenario. It isn’t always the case that you are in the winning break, so when you get there, you have to make the most of the opportunity and get a result if you can.
As ever, thanks for reading.
Final stats will be uploaded later (no GC on my work computer…)