Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my first taste of cycle racing it’s that I might not be Superman but I sure can fly.
It’s just the landings I need to work on.
I guess I should have realised it might not be my day when I awoke to see the weather forecasters had been spot on, and it was very soggy indeed. The hour’s drive to Longcross Test Track was made amid unrelenting drizzle, as was my warm up on the turbo and the handful of ‘practice’ laps we were given in the company of experienced London Dynamo riders, this being billed as a ‘beginner’s race’ even though full British Cycling points were available to the top finishers.
Among the sagely advice we were given was to take extra care when the course turned left from the wide oval that forms the perimeter of the Test Track and entered ‘The Snake’, a more sinuous infield section. Keep your line, they said. Don’t brake unnecessarily, they said.
Oh, that a certain fellow competitor had heeded this advice. But he didn’t. With just one racing lap completed we headed into the left turn to The Snake all guns blazing. I was fairly handily placed in midfield of the 40 or so riders and feeling really good.
Then our friend ahead braked too sharply as the course narrowed, losing grip on the wet tarmac and causing his front wheel to slew from under him. He was hit by one rider, then that rider collected another, then yet another who prostrated himself about six feet ahead of my front wheel.
Interestingly, I discovered that it is indeed true that time seems to slow to a crawl in the moments before these incidents play themselves out. Unfortunately bikes don’t, especially when they are travelling at north of 20mph and the brakes are sodden wet.
I’m going to hit him. Oh shiiiiit…
With no hope whatsoever of avoiding him I promptly t-boned the unfortunate chap amidships with a sickening thud. This successfully brought the bike to a dead halt, but sent yours truly straight over the handlebars in a graceful arc, to land square on my left hip and elbow with another sickening thud.
Though both are very sore now the adrenaline has worn off, at the time of the crash I felt no pain at all. Relieved primarily that I’d suffered no collarbone break (as a writer having an arm in a sling would be inconvenient to say the least) I picked my bike up with thoughts of getting back to the bunch.
That was until I realised that when my handlebars were pointing at perfect right-angles to my frame my front wheel was at about 10 to midday. Human bodies are soft, but not that soft…
I thought I was out for good, but luckily an experienced marshal came along and explained that if I gripped the wheel hard between my legs and yanked the handlebars sharply they would come back into line. Which they duly did.
However, with so much time wasted by this point there was no hope of me getting back into contention. So all that was left was to cruise for a few minutes and rejoin the bunch a lap down, having informed the organisers that I would continue but not contest the race.
And that was where it started to get really annoying, because 10 laps riding with the lead bunch showed me that I very much had the legs to have given the race a right good go, had things played out differently. I was never under pressure even when the pace quickened considerably for the closing two laps. Not that it made a blind bit of difference to the end result, of course.
I rolled gently up the home straight keeping out of the way as the bunch contested a sprint finish, with a busted brake lever that’ll cost a few bob to put right, but no snapped forks and no serious damage to myself, thank God.
As my Bayeux Cycling Team directeur sportif Mark says: “Welcome to the world of bike racing.”
After I’ve licked my wounds and fixed the bike I’ll be back out there, don’t you worry dear reader. I simply cannot let today be my only taste of racing. I’m more convinced I can hold my own pace-wise, and I must be due a little luck now…