“Riders coming left!”
Those dread words that all bike racers fear the most. The hors d’oeuvre of a lapping.
My heart would have sunk had it not been beating at an intensity akin to a Gabber techno 12” playing at 78rpm. My mouth had filled with sticky phlegm so viscous I was unable to spit it out, forced instead to lick my tongue against my arm warmers just to shift it. My lungs had all but given up the ghost and as I rasped for breath I began to notice a ghastly metallic taste in my throat, a taste I was certain would turn out to be blood.
I looked at my watch.
We’d been racing for 12 minutes.
Welcome to the Brighton Mitre Hove Park Series Crits…
Hove Park is the hardest circuit I have yet had the lung-busting displeasure of riding. Tight, twisty, technical and unrelenting in its undulations, the circuit is a proper test – no chance of ambling about at the back of the bunch having a chat like Goodwood or even Longcross. My Dad had come along to watch and take a few snaps; he waited at the tight left-hander leading to the main climb and chatted to the marshal stationed there, who gleefully informed him that if I hadn’t raced Hove Park before I was in for a rude awakening, adding that if I finished at all it could be considered a minor triumph.
To think that my only concern as I drove to the park was staying out of any crashes or other Goodwood-style big bunch mayhem. Ha! Within a lap I was pedalling along in complete solitude as the peloton of 20-odd riders was smashed to smithereens by the ‘take no prisoners’ nature of the course and the astonishingly fast opening burst of the stronger men.
And on my own I jolly well stayed; my only danger (apart the ever growing likelihood of a heart attack) coming from a pair of overly-exuberant dogs who strayed onto the course in my path, their owners earning a swift rebuke from the marshals.
I did finish, lapped no fewer than three times by the four leading riders, although in mitigation the last time they passed was while contesting the finishing sprint. By that point I’d slowed to almost a standstill. I felt nauseous and my right leg was cramping badly. I’d never successfully got my breath back since the very first lap and I was ready for a bloody lie down if I’m honest.
The same marshal who’d chatted to my Dad told me afterwards that Hove Park suits a small, nimble rider. He did this while eyeing my gawky, 6’6” frame with a resigned smile on his face. Not really for you then sonny.
But, you know what, once I’d recovered a bit I was actually pretty pleased with my night’s work. Sure I rode like shit and was utterly uncompetitive, but at least I’d been compelled to give my all, to push myself to my limit and then hold it there for a while. Afterwards I really knew I’d been in a bike race, and that counts for a lot after recent disappointments. I’ll be back, I reckon.
All that said, any pipe dreams of glory in Eastbourne on Sunday have been knocked firmly on the head. On the evidence of Hove Park I’m nowhere near strong enough to be competitive on what promises to be another tough, leg-sapping parcours, especially with strong winds promised for the seaside.
It’s going to hurt – again – but I guess that’s the point.
Time for a favour if you will, dear reader. If you derive even a passing pleasure from this blog you are very welcome to vote for it in the 2011 Crank World Cycling Blog Honors.
The link is here and you simply have to insert the name of my blog in the “other” box of the Road section, since it is now listed on their site. Thank you!