Ambulances! Aeroplanes! A family of deer on the track! Last Friday’s Dunsfold race certainly couldn’t be faulted for variety.
Sadly it also underlined just how much I still have to learn about race tactics, as I comprehensively wasted my best form since the Wivelsfield handicap with a display of such tactical ineptitude it would have prompted seasoned racers in my team to tear their hair out had they been present.
The problem was that if anything my form was too good, since it encouraged me to listen to my legs rather than my brain. The end product of this was forsaking my usual energy saving spot at the back of the bunch with a more determined effort to stay near the front; then – more critically – deciding not once but twice to hare off in energy-sapping pursuit of breaks I thought might stay away (but in reality had no chance of doing so. These guys aren’t exactly Philippe Gilbert).
The second of the solo pursuits was particularly damaging, since it occurred as we rounded the final corner of the penultimate lap. A rider in plain gear had already been away for the best part of a lap and was looking to be flagging, then two of the ‘team’ riders (one a Brighton Mitre) had gone off looking very purposeful. At that point my legs felt so energised they were ready to burst, so off I went after them, with visions of a Voeckler-style breakaway win.
Surging ahead, I gapped the bunch and reached the second breakaway rider’s wheel as we started the final lap… at which precise point they both sat up, deeming the effort closed for the evening.
What to do now? I was flying, but very exposed. And breathing hard from the effort, although not perhaps totally spent. To go or not to go? The $64,000 question. In a split-second I chose to sit up as well, not fancying my chances of a lap-long solo break in front of a bunch that was no doubt seriously gaining speed as they always do on the final lap of a 4th Cat event.
I tucked back into the bunch, unsure how much the effort had taken out of me, although wheezing like an old man on 40 Senior Service a day provided an obvious clue. No matter, as we sped round the long, winding final bend I’d recovered a bit and got myself in a good position, for once ready and willing to take a full part in the sprint.
Into the home straight the pace picked up still further… and I had nothing left. Not a sausage. The leaders swept away like a turning tide and, maddeningly, I couldn’t follow them. One final, desperate attempt to sprint out of the saddle revealed legs that had turned to warm marshmallow, almost throwing me off and giving the couple of riders who were somehow still behind me heart palpitations as the bike wobbled sickeningly.
I stopped pedalling immediately and rolled to the line, not even in the top 20 let alone the top ten that I’d set out with serous hopes of finally cracking.
“Nothing stays away in the last three laps,” a more seasoned Dunsfold campaigner informed me afterwards. And he was right of course.
Still, it had been good to play a reasonable part in the proceedings and, as is my Weeble-like approach to this season, the knockdown has only strengthened my resolve to get back in there and try (yet) again.
And my evening was still a lot better than the unfortunate chap from Dulwich Paragon who ended up being carted off in an ambulance. He’d tried to go off the front but made the mistake of looking back instead of forward while doing so, veering off the track and crashing into a big heap as his wheel went over the kerb. He remounted and made his way slowly back to the start/finish line, but apparently collapsed there and was down on the deck being tended to while wrapped in a silver sheet as we wheeled back after the sprint. Hopefully he’s OK – it was certainly a harsher lesson about bike racing than mine…
The taxiing light aircraft coming in the opposite direction (Dunsfold is a working airfield) also enlivened the early laps, while the crossing deer and her two fawns had thankfully cleared our path in time for us to steam past without a pause, but still added their own spice to a race, which, looking back on it now, was probably the most enjoyable of all the ‘4th Cat only’ jobs I’ve done this year.
So it’s back to Dunsfold I go this Friday. Surely this time it’ll be alright on the night?