Oh my God I’m fourth… Fuck! Shit! … Tuck in, sprint now, no tuck in… They’re coming, get out of the saddle… aaaargh too painful, keep pedalling… oh, bollocks.
My first genuine bunch sprint, as recorded in real time from inside my mind.
On the face of it last Friday’s race at Dunsfold represented yet another failure, since my final placing of 14th was comfortably outside the points. But to me it was a lot better than that. You see, for the first time ever in a 4th Cat race I was properly competitive. Right up to the line, which I crossed drowning in an ocean of lactic acid just a few metres behind the winner, rather than the more traditional country mile.
While any half-decent amateur cycle racer must just laugh at the miniscule progress this represents, my 13th race of the year has rekindled my enthusiasm for this whole, ridiculous project and left me wishing that this coming Friday represented the start of the road season, rather than its dying embers.
Apart from the final 150 metres the Dunsfold race unfolded exactly as I wanted it to. Having shot my bolt far too early the previous week, I decided to stay back in the bunch and let others do the chasing/bridging should anybody clip off the front. Of course I risked missing out on a potential winning break, but I figured it was a risk worth taking, since a break has only succeeded a couple of times all season at Dunsfold. And in any case, it’s not as though I was actually looking to win*.
Sure enough, people tried to get away, some of them trying very hard indeed, but nobody could make it stick. I bided my time, keeping out of trouble as we whirled around at speeds well into the mid-20s MPH. With a relatively small field of 25 riders I was content to wait until the very closing stages before making my move. This is one of the reasons I much prefer racing at Dunsfold to Goodwood. On the latter course, the generally bigger fields and a nasty, gap-inducing chicane before the finish straight mean everybody goes crazy to get a good position on the final corner, which happens to be a tricky double-apex job that always seems to cause mayhem.
At Dunsfold, on the other hand, the final corner is a wide, sweeping left-hander, which leads into a finish straight probably twice as long as Goodwood, keeping everyone sane and focused on their own race rather than jostling desperately to be second or third man into the chicane. And if you’ve ever seen 4th Cats jostling for position you’ll know exactly where I’m coming from…
While my legs weren’t quite on a par with the previous week, the effortless way I moved up the outside of the bunch as we rounded the final turn surprised even me – this being usually the point at which I’ve tended to drop off the lead riders due to a painful lack of top end speed.
I guessed it was down to my new aero innovation of getting onto the drops for such manoeuvres. Yes, stop giggling at the back, I know that’s what you are supposed to do. However, until last Friday I simply hadn’t been in a position where it was worth making this commitment to bend my creaky, 44 year-old 6’6″ body into the required shape.
My heart was starting to pound and it wasn’t just exhaustion. Blimey, I’m in here! At that point a rider surged forward and I followed his wheel, hitting the home straight in the aforementioned fourth place. Then began the frankly ludicrous chain of events I opened this piece with, as fourth turned to 14th in the blink of an eye.
Boy it hurt. I was still sore the next morning. The bike also developed another fearful ‘power wobble’ under acceleration, which I’m hoping to rectify with the application of a shorter stem courtesy of a loan from our team boss Mark.
But it was bloody exciting for those few moments I was up there challenging all those other lunatics, who by rights should be spending their Friday evenings having a couple of nice pints somewhere instead of tearing round a windswept airfield pretending to be Mark Cavendish.
It doesn’t really matter now whether I finally score that elusive BC point when I take to Dunsfold for the final time this Friday. I feel the thousands of training miles and tedious sessions on the turbo, not to mention hours of bike cleaning, fettling and maintenance, have been worth it whatever happens.
Actually that’s a complete lie. I’d kill for a top ten to round the season out. In my present form and mood I’ll probably not have a better chance…