The middle of April and it seems a little premature to talk about this year’s season. However, with baby number two due at the beginning of May, the end of season is already looming. So here it is, my mid-season review…
The Winter Series, Redbridge Cycling Centre (Hog Hill)
For those that don’t know it, Hog Hill is a challenging 2km circuit in East London. Races are held at least weekly, with summer and winter series organised by my club East London Vélo, as well as other one off and short series by other clubs and organisations. The main feature of the circuit is a challenging hill, and with the circuit being only 2km, you end up doing this every three minutes. Inevitably the circuit rewards not only the very strong, but also those that ride it most frequently, as they develop a specific kind of fitness, so I was extreemly pleased to finish fourth in one of my three Winter Series outings. Especially as I finished ahead of my team-mate Nick (5th), who is not only a strong rider but also a bit of a Hog Hill specialist. The race itself was very attritional, with Hackney CC’s James Fairbanks relentless attacking at the front, dragging the bunch around for long periods, trying to repeat the previous week’s breakaway win. In the end, the sprint was disrupted by a rider jumping early, and as we reached the bottom of the hill it was lined out. There was space on the left hand side, the longer way round, but I buried myself from the bottom of the hill and held on for 4th.
This fixture of the early season calendar is held on the same day and course as the Roy Thame Cup, an E123 race that typically attracts a good field. Accordingly, you receive the same treatment as the “big boys”, including neutral service and motorcycle outriders. The 47 mile course is basically flat, but this year had seriously deteriorated over the winter with long sections of extremely broken up road. The wining break of 6 escaped at the start of the last lap, and unfortunately I missed it, or more accurately thought that it had been controlled. However, I managed to survive the hairy run-in and took second in the bunch sprint for 8th overall. The picture above shows the run-in, I’m on the right in the black. Yes, I know I need to take my own advice on aerodynamic sprinting!
This 50 mile race was held on the Hanbury circuit in Staffordshire, a bit of a trek from my East London home. However, I combined it with a visit to my parents and made a weekend of it. The race was pretty grim in parts, owing to a snowstorm that morning(!) and was very cold. The conditions led to one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a race – a rider dressed in long mountain biking shorts, with his race numbers pinned on to a body warmer. He didn’t last long. The course itself was quite testing, with a long hill. I made several attempts to get away, but couldn’t get anything to stick. The finish was a 0.8 mile uphill struggle, rearing up to 1 in 7 at points. Suffice to say this isn’t my favourite kind of terrain, and with my earlier efforts I couldn’t stay with the leaders and finished 12th.
This was one of the early season goals for both myself and my team, and with four strong riders in the field we felt we had a chance. The course was the Bulmer circuit in East Essex, a rolling course with some testing shorter hills, at a distance of 54 miles. The tactics were for Will and Jason to control and cover any moves for the first two laps, with Nick and I to come into contention and hopefully force the break in the last two laps. Pre-race nerves got the better of Nick, and whilst we were helping him pin numbers on his jersey, having changed out his skinsuit, I forgot to put my bottles on my bike. Fortunately the weather wasn’t too hot, but it knocked my confidence. Despite this, I rode strongly for the last two laps, trying my hardest to get away. With half a lap and two off the front we had a quick chat and I agreed to lead out the sprint. I buried myself, bringing back both attackers, but we weren’t quite able to finish it off, with Nick finishing 6th. I limped in somewhere in the 30s, a proper little ring finish. I was pretty disappointed with this, it knocked my confidence a bit, but I guess the test of these things is how you recover and move on.
This is the first race I’ve ever properly cramped. Though the course was basically a flat one, the pace and distance of 65 miles (my longest race this season) made it tough for me. After the Braintree race the week before I was determined not to waste too much energy, but despite this I rode proactively, attacking and following a couple of moves, all of which came to nothing. Unfortunately this meant that when the winning move went, a solo attack, I was out of position recovering. Another rider bridged across and the two of them stayed away. When the second rider went I knew that this was the winning move, but I decided not to go – partially I thought that a third rider would spoil their chances, partially I just wanted to try the sprint. In the end, I should have gone – despite being 5th wheel coming into the finishing straight, I picked the wrong side; the road was narrow, two late attackers sat up, and it was all I could do to close down the gap to finish 8th. Happy with the a top 10, but should have done better.
So there it is, a 4th in the winter series, and two 8ths on the road. Not bad, and much better than this time last year, but I can’t help feeling I have a road race top five or top three in me. I’m still learning, but if the stars align, maybe I’ll make it. Tomorrow is the infamous “Milland Hill” road race organised by CC Basingstoke. With a 20%+ hill in it, really not one for me, but having been dropped last year I have a “bunch finish” score to settle…