Been looking forward to this as my second proper road race for some time, especially after Kirdford was cancelled a couple of weeks ago. Having not raced for a week or two I was really keen to make sure I was in good shape. I’d had a strong week too with new power pbs across the range by quite a margin, so felt confident within reason.
I had arranged a lift over to Elstead with Benoit, a guy who was interested in joining Paceline after having been a member of a tri club with only a very small bike racing contingent. On the way to the race we chatted about what might happen, talked tactics and the like for a fair while and discussed the circuit. Having heard the course was one of the toughest in the Surrey league I was pretty concerned about it, but was also confident I had some decent form.
After arriving fairly early Benoit and I rode up the course to check out the finish, where the main climbs were, on arriving initially I had thought how much less steep the climb was than I had anticipated, but that’s pretty easily said when cruising up a hill two up.
We rolled back to the start and began the usual number pinning ritual whilst chatting to all of the other Paceline guys, of which there were plenty! Good to see so many people in the team colours for sure.
After getting ready eventually we rolled out and started the short neutralised zone towards the circuit. After a short while we took the right hander onto the bottom right hand corner of the circuit (This would become a sharp left hander on the circuit.)
Once onto the circuit there is a series of curves on a tight lane, littered with potholes which was pretty dodgy to say the least, the road then opened out up towards the first left hander. After which the road then kicked up in several varying inclines, with one noticeably steeper section before the finish, followed by several shallower inclines, and some other steeper bits thrown in for good measure. The hills are followed by a very quick descent then the road steepens again, before a very sharp left hander, and then some more descending back to the start.
The first time up towards the finish hill I was having to dig pretty deep as the pace was pretty meaningful from the off. There were some strong riders as well, and I guess most are probably lighter than me anyway meaning they’re going to be faster up the hills. Looking at the power I was doing up near 400w for several minutes on the steeper parts. I purposefully put myself towards the front before the hill, and found myself near the back towards the end of it! Need to lose some bloody weight!
The descent was pretty exhilarating at 40mph+ in a bunch, but it was also very dangerous, with oncoming traffic, catseyes, big potholes, and the odd bottle to contend with I was really having to keep myself sharp, but it was a big buzz.
For the first lap or so the pack seemed to stay together, second time up the hill felt better than the first as I’m sure I had warmed up a bit by this point, but I was still having to go much deeper than I’d have liked this early on in a race. It was becoming fairly clear to me I wouldn’t be getting in any breaks on this course, I just wasn’t quick enough up the climb, I could descend well and make up a bit of time there due to my weight no doubt, but it wouldn’t have been much help. My aim would just be to finish with the group.
We rounded the sharp left hander at the bottom right of the course and back through the tight lane with the pace still high, I purposefully moved up towards the front before finding myself in clear air at the very front, hoping to set myself in a reasonable position for the climb once more. However just as we rounded the top corner onto Littleworth Road I felt that familiar bouncy feeling in my rear wheel, as it began to go soft. Up went the hand and I slowed to a stop. Neutral service stopped to ask if I had a wheel in the car, to which my reply was no, so they were off up the road and I was soon on my own about 2 miles from the HQ. So I began walking back. Passed numerous riders off the back of the main bunch, who had either been dropped or punctured as well.
On getting back to HQ caught up with a couple of Paceliners several of who’d had punctures or had dropped out. Managed to fix my wheel and rode up to the finish with Paul to catch the end of the race.
Got up there with one lap to go and watched a breakaway group of 6 come through with a very strong gap to the main bunch. Pat was in the break so at least the team would get something out of the race. As the break came up the hill for the last time James Lowden of Neon Velo went long and nobody trouble him for the win, with Pat shortly after in 5th. Seemed like a really impressive ride from Pat who I’m told was in every break. Also impressive ride from Benoit on his road race debut, bit of a baptism of fire on this course, but a good effort nonetheless.
All in a pretty shit weekend of bike riding. The more I thought about it when I got home the more it annoyed me. Even though in honesty I wasn’t going to be troubling anyone for any points, and probably wouldn’t have even finished in the group, its still that unknown that’s niggling, knowing that I didn’t even get the chance to try!
I have the May 3-day stage race coming up now next weekend so am now even more concerned about that. Especially given that Stage 2 (Bletchingly) is also known as one of SL’s toughest due to its climbing, and the field looks pretty strong.