Monday, 23 February 2009

Cat 3!

The cycle racing bug bit me a few years ago when I joined Hellas Triathlon and did Thursday night rides with the faster club members (mostly guys). After some warm-up drills and a main set of "hills" (in central Holland!) we always did something called Eigen Tempo (Own Pace) on the way home. It was always on the same 7km stretch of flat, straight and often windy country road, with a small S-bend jog in the middle over a bridge. Object of the exercise: ride as hard as possible in the group, and if you got dropped it became a dreaded solo ride at your Own Pace.

That first summer I got dropped before or at the bridge every single week except for the last, when I managed to stay with the lead group til the end -- I remember being ecstatic that day. By my third summer with the club, I was riding near the front for the whole 7km and sometimes off the front, and I had learned a whole bag of tricks to riding successfully in a group: sensing when riders were coming past me, anticipating accelerations and gaps opening up in front of me, tucking behind and beside others to stay out of the wind, and simply knowing my own limits and how hard I could go before I blew up.

Since moving to the UK, I've joined the Kingston Wheelers cycling club and found myself more and more drawn to the world of racing. Four races in the Imperial Winter Series at the Hillingdon circuit in December and January served to get my feet wet (results: nearly last place, last place, 16th place, and finally a breakthrough 8th place for 2 points towards my category upgrade). But while racing with a pack of men on a narrow short circuit was fun, I wanted to see how well I could fare against women. The Surrey League's Beginner's Race at MOD Chertsey yesterday was my first test. I wrote the report below for the Wheelers' news site, but if you don't want to read right to the end, here's the executive summary: I came in 2nd place in the sprint finish behind a seasoned vet, gathered 8 more points on my racing license, and upgraded to category 3! Only 40 more points to get to cat 2...

The first Surrey League race on the weekend for ladies was billed as a "beginner's race", and the mild weather brought out more than 30 women to give it a go. Officially it was a 3rd/4ths race, but many of the ladies had next to no racing experience, so under the tutelage of some higher cat London Dynamos we set off in groups of 10 to do a few laps of easy through and off. Afterwards we massed for the race itself, 10 laps of the 2 mile MOD Chertsey circuit competing for both BC points and Surrey League points.

The 4th cat men set off a minute or so before we did, then we were off with our Dynamo mentor riding alongside and shouting instructions and encouragement. Having done a few Hillingdon races before, I was somewhat confused by this insistence on setting up an organised paceline in the early laps -- the wind wasn't strong and the small hills were disrupting the rhythm of the group, and on top of that, wasn't this supposed to be a real race where tactics and strategy played a role? Given that the Dynamos were well-represented and most of the rest of us had one or two teammates at best, I figured I had 2 choices: sit in and leave the work to them, or attack and get away.

On the second lap I chose the latter and managed to get 100m on the group, but my legs protested loudly and after a hard week of training I realised I probably couldn't stay away from the bunch for long. Instead we rode the next 3 laps together at a reasonable pace, interrupted only by the pace car forcing us to slow down as the 4th cat men streamed by, accompanied by strong warnings by our mentor that we'd be disqualified if we attempted to latch onto their group. After that, a few more small attacks split the bunch into a leading break of 10 or so, with the rest in a second group behind.

Passing the start/finish line for the bell lap, the pace increased substantially and I kept expecting an organised attack by the Dynamo team that never came. Instead some of the other ladies took to the front and drove the group forward. I marked every attack and was sitting about 5th in a group of 7 or 8 coming around the final corner when the eventual winner sprinted away. Everyone else followed and I had a sneaking suspicion that some girls had gone too hard too early, so I stuck to their wheels until 200m to go when I went out on my own. Someone else had the same idea because I could feel her creeping up beside me, but I geared down to my last cog and just gave it all I had to finish a strong 2nd place. Top speed was 50km/h at the sprint, which I think is the fastest I've ever gone on a flat with nobody in front of me! Overall speed for the race was 34.9km/h, with the first half averaging 33.6km/h and the second half 36.3km/h once the field split.

All in all a fun race and a different (but good) first experience racing with women instead of men. Next weekend is a similar event, and hopefully there will be some more KW jerseys out there with me! Looking forward to racing with teammates so that we can organise the attacks...

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