Friday, 25 November 2011

Season Review Part 1.

Well that’s it for 2011.  No more races, no more competition (apart from maybe a Boxing Day TT), no more zipping round on the good bike. Now begins the slow but inevitable departure of ‘form’ and the slow and thankfully inevitable march of time towards spring where it all starts again.

I started off this season back in February (the 27th to be exact) with the Clayton Velo Spring Classic Handicap. That was one hell of a race to start with. Still, it was better than starting last season with the Eddie Soens!  Although to be fair I did the Soens the week after this year...and finished in the bunch!  This was followed by the first few CDNW races. The second of which, Capernwray (a brute of a circuit) I got my highest ever placing in an event-13th.  
Post Soens. 

Pimbo. March. Bit nippy.

Bashall Handicap. Tongue out cornering obligatory.

Capernwray. I missed wearing the red gloves in summer.

Last year, while technically my first season, resulted in no top ten placings. No BC licence points and not much experience (as I only did about 5 races). This year I was up for it. And a decent placing on a hard course was encouraging as early as Capernwray.  Anyway, not much else happened for a while. Tried doing some Crits to improve my ‘sprint’ and ‘cornering’ etc, but without much success. I really seem to struggle with them. Maybe I’m too tall? Maybe I just don’t have that punch. Maybe I just can’t make myself hurt like that. Who knows? What I do know is that I had my first crash in one. It resulted in mild concussion, a cracked helmet, quite bad roadrash and a slightly relieved me; as you see I knew I’d come off/be brought off eventually so it was kind of a relief to have it happen in the relatively ‘safe’ environment of a crit and not hurtling down some remote descent somewhere at 40mph. I also switched to racing for the Bill Nickson Cycles RT from Southport CC at this time, got a shiny new race bike and then didn’t do any races for a while. Until the Horwich handicap that is. Me and 5 other 4th cats stayed away for the whole race minus 1km, where we were caught by 4 Elites. I won our ‘bunch’ sprint and got myself some licence points! Wahey!  They were 4 very painfully acquired points though. I then went along to a Crit and picked up another 2 points! Rather unexpected...and then. Well, I got my first win on the road.
Litherland. I was beginning to realise crits and I didn't get on well. 

The Calthwaite Road Race is known for always coming down to a bunch sprint. So I wasn’t really sure whether it was worth riding, as I’m not really your archetypal sprinter. Rather spindly and tall. But I thought it would be a good one to ride aggressively just to see what happened! It was a rubbish evening, really cold, heavy rain, mud/cow poo on the roads and I spent the whole race nervously watching for the crash. Luckily it was a good bunch, no cowboys, and everyone played it sensibly. It was clear it was going to come down to a bunch sprint (not for lack of anyone trying to get away-it was manic throughout with people jumping off the front left right and centre). Me and my mate Garth found ourselves at the back with about a mile to go and joked ‘Well, now’s the bit where we get our arses kicked by the sprinters’. Quite. I’d been planning (if it came down to a bunch kick) to go up the outside (as you do) but saw a mini train with last year’s winner on the back moving up. Instead of latching onto the back of that I decided to go up the inside instead. Cav can apparently remember the details of all his victories, and I can understand what he means. All my movements and decisions in that closing 2 mins or so are still crystal clear. A gap opened. I started to move up. I squeezed through a tiny gap between a rider and the verge. I shouted ‘INSIIIIDDEEE’ at another guy, and to my amazement, he moved aside for me, seems to be a 4th Cat phenomenon that. He ruined his own chances just because (I presume) I sounded like I knew what I was doing...anyhoo, that put me at the front of the bunch. One guy had gone for a long one and was a few seconds off the front of the bunch with about 200m to go. Doing my best impression of a ‘sprinter’ I jumped out of the bunch and got on his wheel, left it late enough to ensure nobody had time to come round me-and nipped round him to take the win. Phew. It was a lot less tiring at the time. The strangest thing was the sprint didn’t hurt. From being at the back of the bunch to crossing the line was one looong anaerobic effort, but seeing the line flicked a switch inside that just seemed to make my legs impervious to pain. I seem to only be able to access this ‘reserve’ on special occasions. Used it twice more this season, once when I was going for 2nd place at Smithfields and would have got it (just one of those things, I would have-trust me) and then got blocked in one of those amazing Chopper moves where somebody suddenly decides in the heat of a sprint that they don’t like the line they’ve chosen and decide to switch across to the other side of the road. That pissed me off big time. The second time was at the last RR of the season, but I’ll get to that later. So yeah, first Road Race win! And I didn’t even get my hands in the be honest, I had to check I’d won after. It’s illogical. I had crossed the line first. I had beaten everyone and I knew it. But I still had to get somebody to tell me, as it’s the sort of thing you really don’t want to get wrong! So, £50 prize money, 15 licence points (enough to get me my 3rd Cat) and the ability to say ‘Yep, I’ve won a road race’ good evening’s work. Still makes me smile thinking about it. But I didn’t get my hands in the air, something I plan to rectify next year.  Then it went arse-over-heels again (quite literally) when some prune decided to fall off in front of me in the next race. It was one round Pimbo industrial estate. It really is the sort of course that you really shouldn’t have to use the brakes on. And yet someone managed to fall off, towards the front of the bunch (not always the safest place to be it seems) on the longest straight on the circuit. He brought about 6 of us down in a big mangle. The annoying thing about that was I was keen to use my sprint again, (Pimbo is always a sprint) and the more annoying thing is that the guy who won it was the guy I’d just nipped round at Calthwaite! But fair play, it was good to see him win. If I’d been riding though....well, ;)
How cool is that? :D

My socks had been white before the race. Still, cheesy grin :D

Then came Dolphinholme. The word on its own is enough to strike fear into the heart of many a North West racer. It’s a great course, properly hard. Climbs galore. Unfortunately I felt like crap on the day, but decided to bluff my way through by following a few attacks and never being any further back than 3rd wheel. It paid off, even if it was grim at times. I began to feel stronger towards the end, and hatched a plan. Unfortunately the super strong Mike Ashurst had gone up the road halfway round the last lap. He was just in sight as we started the final climb, and I realised it was going to require perfect timing to pull this one off. If I jumped out of the group too early, I risked blowing and coming in 99th. If I went too late I risked not catching him. I waited, and waited. And then my intuition told me it was time to go. Unfortunately, as a relatively inexperienced racer my intuition isn’t that developed and as such I got to within a cat’s whisker of Mike, blew and got pipped by my mate Garth on the line. Still, 3rd place on what is reckoned to be one of the hardest circuits out there was more than a little satisfying. It really, really, and I mean really hurt. I was redlined a long way out from the finish and apparently pulled some impressive gurns. If there’s one thing I can do, it’s gurn. 
Dolphonholme: Nearly got him!
Bugger....not quite. Nice one Mike!
Then came Oakenclough the week after. Another properly hilly circuit; I was confident but not complacent, if there’s one thing I've learned from this season it’s that a lot of little things need to click in place to get a result. It’s simply not enough to have good legs on the day. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened at Oakenclough. I had the legs, but somehow missed the break. To be fair, all the ‘favourites’ missed it; one rider had a seemingly futile dig off the front, then another and another. And before we knew it a break of 4 had a minute on us! It’s no good just marking those you believe to be a threat...I tried to bridge, attacking multiple times up the main climb for the next couple of laps (apparently causing much pain in the group-which is always good to hear!)-although sadly, to no avail. As a result of these frantic attempts to salvage something, I then had very little left for the bunch sprint and came nowhere. On reflection, it probably would have been more prudent to have saved it all until the last lap and attacked then, inexperience once again getting the better of me. Still, you learn through making mistakes!
Quite like this photo. Horwich Festival of Racing.

The next week was the Southport CC organised Bickerstaffe road race. An event I enjoyed last year, as I had finally found some form. Unfortunately this year it was not so fun. Sub 10 degrees C temperatures, torrential rain and inadequate clothing resulted in one of the worst experiences I’ve had on two wheels. I looked like Elvis doing his famous leg jig thing when I got off the bike I was shivering that badly. Lessons learned, more appropriate merino wool base layers bought for next season. Luckily the final race of the season went a little better. The Bashall Eaves circuit is one of those ones that doesn’t feel too hilly, doesn’t have big climbs, but is never flat and you definitely feel it in your legs afterwards! I now only needed to get 3rd place or better and I would have my 2nd Category licence. No pressure then. Long story short I didn’t! It came down to a bunch kick, I was (as I thought) perfectly placed. Rider in front of me went with about 500m to go. I hesitated. My reasoning: ‘if I follow him the chances are it will be a big effort to stay on his wheel, we’ll probably be brought back and then I’ll have nothing left’ so I let him go. Unfortunately that left me on the front of the group, reasoning #2: ‘if I ease up to try and get on someone’s wheel, I might just get swamped’ so I stayed where I was. So I basically ended up doing the last 300m on the front...and being overhauled with about 20m to go by a couple of guys. Fair play! I shouted a rather rude word when we crossed the line as I really thought I’d done it, but alas. Lessons learned once again.
C'est moi, on the right. About to shout f**********CKKK ;)

So I did a few more Crits in an attempt to find the 3 points I now needed, but with little success. I won’t go into details, but safe to say it wasn’t through lack of trying. Inattentive commisairing coupled with some rider’s inability to understand the rule that you are not allowed to jump on the back of a group that laps you did however deny me at least one or two points. Not that I’m still annoyed about that or anything. Moving on. To make up for it though, I got my 3rd Hill Climb victory, up Jubilee Tower! I’d won two club ones last year, but this was a bit bigger. Still club organised, but open to any club-although not a proper ‘open’ event. I’d also placed 4th in another ‘semi open’ Hill Climb behind winner Matt Pilkington a couple of weeks prior...
Before anyone says anything, I always wear a helmet...except when doing Hill Climbs :D

Stay tuned for Part 2...

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