Race date: 01/11/15
So, yes, technically it is my second race, but really it felt more like my first ‘real’ race. I wrote about the first race back in April, however, that was an E-grade race; an entry level race, which is more of a training / introductory race, but a race nonetheless.
This, on the other hand, was the first race where it was racing from start to finish. No interruptions, no real guidance; it was just 30+ guys cycling around in circles, trying to cross the line first. Actually, many people aren’t trying to win, but merely enjoy taking part.
I was understandably quite nervous, but more than that, I was really excited. Watching the Women’s A-grade race fly round I couldn’t wait for them to finish and open the course up for us! It didn't take long.
After a quick warmup and then a couple of laps to get into the swing of things, we were brought to a halt on the start/finish line. I somehow, unluckily I felt, ended up right on the front. It was my first race, so I fancied sitting back a bit to begin with, but oh well.
The first couple of laps are “controlled” laps, which means no attacks and keep the speed down. As I was at the front, I didn’t really know what speed to go, so I set off at a fairly comfortable one, yet when I glanced behind me I saw that the rest of the bunch were not exactly on my wheel. I slowed.
Two laps down and the pace quickly increased. I was concentrating on staying up near the front. My ever so complex strategy was working: stay in the top eight throughout the race...if I can. The reason for this highly thought out, in-depth and complex strategy was that I had heard someone say that in D-grade, only the top eight can sprint at the end.
With my brain doing all sorts of complex calculations—trying to find a good wheel to follow, stay safe, and making sure I wasn’t left behind—a small group, of which I thought was a little breakaway, shot up the outside of me. It was a group of about 4 riders, so I let the 4 go passed and I hopped onto the back of them. Their pace was much faster and, at the time, I was glad I jumped on them because I thought this group could make it all the way.
We blew round for an entire lap, and one of the marshals came up to me and started shouting at me, saying something like “get off his wheel or overtake him”. This confused the hell out of me. Why would I get off his wheel? I had a race to win. This is a race, drafting is part of that. So I ignored him. Another half a lap passed and he returned to say “Get off his wheel or I’ll eject you from the race, I won’t tell you again”, and again I was perplexed. So I shouted back “What am I doing wrong?” To which he replied, “you’re following B-grade!!” I instantly shouted, “SHIT!!” and slowed down on the inside—You see, they have two grade levels going round the course at the same time, and what had happened was a breakaway from B-grade had overtaken us, and I’d innocently hopped on the back. So when I realised, I immediately slowed and waited for my grade, which took about half a lap before they caught me. If I’d have carried on, it would’ve been a pretty unfair way to breakaway.
After this, I dropped back into the ranks of D-grade, and although the speed was not quite as high as it was when I was following B-grade, it was still very very fast! To give you an idea, here are some stats:
There were a couple of lads that sat on the front for maybe ten minutes solid, taking it in turns to cause as much pain to those behind as they could. This was until they burnt out. This didn't stop the hurt though, as a few others decided to take charge.
There were breaks occurring left, right and centre! Nearer to the start of the race, like when I jumped onto the B-graders, I was jumping onto most of these breakaway attempts, in fear that they might make it all the way. And I wanted to make sure I was in the running. However, after a few more breakaway attempts I began to realise that breaking away was near enough impossible. We’re—D-graders—just not strong enough to stay out and away from the peloton for very long. So I started to sit back a bit more when people burst away. Sometimes the peloton strung them out for a little while until they naturally fell back into the bunch. This basically means we let them use up all their energy, and then have nothing left for later.
This happened throughout the race. Often happening from the front, leaving me to pull some turns; I tell you now, when you’re at the front, you really have to work hard! I could see my heart rate fixed on 191 bpm for an entire lap or two, and decided to slip back into the field to recover. After one such pull on the front, I found my mate, Keat, and sat on his wheel for a few laps. This was, as far as I remember, the only time I was more than eight people from the front. It was an unnerving time. I was not a fan of sitting so far back, so as soon as my heart rate got to a more comfortable 170 bpm, I started to make my way forwards again.
It’s so easy to slip back in the field without even realising. With everyone fighting for the front, you have people come around the outside and inside of you, and before you know it, you’re down in 10th position or worse, and then you have to work your way back up to the front again, which takes both strength and strategy, as well as a bit of confidence to push your way around.
After a while, I could sense we were getting close to our final three laps. To begin with the front of the field was one long string, and now it was starting to become a lot wider, and more bunched up at the front. This occurs when lots of people are all moving up into the front, and therefore means the bunch has to be wider. At this point I was getting boxed in a lot, and this also made me nervous, because I might not be able to get into a good sprinting position. I tried my hardest to stay on the outside so that I could keep moving up.
Finally, the race organisers put up the three laps to go board. And boy did that speed things up. We started hitting speeds of 50km/h+, not just on the straights but around the tight corners too. This is where crashes happen, although thankfully none this day. I wasn’t going to be bullied. Even though this was my first race. No. I was going to stand my ground. Hold my position. Fight for my line.
One break attempt was made. It was futile. We dragged him straight back into our grasp. Breakaway number two, against the wind. Again, no way he was getting clear. Lap one down. More breaks were made, and none were successful. Lap two down.
The bell lap! One lap to go. Things are really picking up now. The front of the bunch was pushing really hard, and I was slipping off that group. I felt my legs buckle slightly, there was nothing left in them, and my head dropped. But I got the faintest of pushes from a guy behind. It wasn’t much, but it was just enough to give me the strength to fight back to the front group. I was back in the race. There were about five of us out front, going round the last bend and I could feel my heart trying to escape from its prison, AKA my ribcage.
I thought I had absolutely nothing left at this point. NOTHING. But as soon as I saw the guys to both my left and right jump out of the saddle, and jump forward on the road, I had no choice but to follow suit—I'm too competitive not to try. It felt like we were still a long way out, yet I jumped and pushed hard on the pedals. I had no gears left to use. All I could do now was turn the pedals as quickly as I could. The guys ahead had but the smallest of advantages over me, so I pushed and pushed. Everything seemed to almost happen in slow motion. I gradually started gaining ground. I got closer and closer to them, and then all of a sudden the finish line approached. One last push and I threw my bike across the line.
That was it. That was everything I had. Left out on the course. My heart rate had hit its all time high of 201 bpm. I’ve never in my life seen it so high. I had a feeling I had come second, but I was hoping it was really first. And hoping even more that it wasn’t third. I knew I was top three though, which to be honest, on reflection, I was extremely happy with. Well I was once I’d managed to catch my breath.
I rolled around back to the finish area, and was called up to confirm where I had placed. It was second. I had accomplished second place in my first D grade race. I was elated. I didn’t even care that it wasn’t first at this point. I had no expectations for the race, in fact before the race I was just hoping that I could manage to finish it. So to podium was huge.
I’m hoping I can repeat, if not improve upon that next race. I’m hoping there isn’t a pattern being formed: 1st race - 1st place, 2nd race - 2nd place…