The UK festival scene is a huge business, with bands from all over the world headlining Glastonbury, the Isle of Wight and many more. The ECCA Festival, with a history dating back to 1910, is perhaps less well known, but equally important to the Eastern Region calender. Played out over the three days of the May bank holiday, the Festival covers Time Trialling (of many and varied disciplines), Map Reading, 100km and 200km Audaxs and two road races – an E123 and a 3/4. Like last year I entered the 3/4, but unlike last year I had good legs going in to it.
The race gives priority to clubs who are a member of ECCA, and as such the field is somewhat weaker field even than a normal ERRL race, hence I had reason to be hopeful of a result. The first three laps were about as attacking as I’ve seen a 3/4. From the gun Trevor of Lea Valley slipped away, and as no-one wanted to chase, a rider from Hertfordshire Wheelers and I bridged across to him. We were soon joined by a rider from Chelmer (I believe) and started some through and off, but we were brought back after a few minutes. However this set the tone, and a group of about 10 riders set the pace at the front, attacking, forming small groups and being brought back. I really enjoyed this, it’s the kind of racing I get up early for. After about one and a half laps, into a long section of headwind, a Chelmer rider attacked and was sitting a couple of hundred metres off the front for a minute or so. Coming across to him, I could see he was suffering already, so I sat up and cleaned my ear, slowly accelerating past him. The tactic worked and the bunch let me slip away. I managed maybe a quarter of a lap away, all into the headwind, before I heard the clunk of someone changing gear behind me and knew that the game was up. As I sat up, a rider from Cambridge attacked, and for some reason the bunch let him go. He quickly gained over 30 seconds, and lead two dropped in to the gap. This galvanised the front of the bunch, and I saw something I’ve never seen in a 3/4 before – a chase organised irrespective of club affiliation, with perhaps 15 of us doing through and off on the front. Full credit goes to Damien of Eagle for getting this going, and it was great fun. Unfortunately the pace told on discipline, to my cost, and whilst following a wheel I was led into a pothole 2 foot long and six inches deep – and I’m not exaggerating. The result? Impact punctures to both wheels and a badly buckled front.
Pre-race I was discussing with my teammate whether, given the rain, it made sense to ride my carbon deep sections – Essex is renowned for sharp flints after rain – and after last weeks puncture, I plumped for shallow section clinchers. One thing is certain, hitting that hole would have cracked my deep sections, so the decision was justified – albeit for the wrong reason! Hopefully the rim isn’t damaged and I can get it repaired. Fortunately Nick made up for my misfortune by finishing 5th in the bunch, and has almost made second cat. I was also discussing punctures with Wayne, and he to suffered from two (separate) punctures during the race. He brought it up, so I’m blaming him for cursing me. I still gave him a lift home though – and hopefully cheered him up a bit.
Five weeks ago I was feeling optimistic. 3 weeks ago I was complaining about shipping my chain. Right now, I’d be happy just to finish a race, let alone have a chance to compete. The story does have a happier side though. Stuck on the back side of the course, with a double puncture, no repair kit, no-one around, and maybe 5 miles from the HQ, a passing cyclist stopped, gave me an inner tube for one wheel and repaired the other and cheered me up. The unexpected kindness of strangers is ofttimes humbling.