It’s taken some 420 miles of racing, thousands more of training, plus a regime that’s involved cutting back majorly on all the things I like most in life (beer, crisps, curries, nights out, etc.), but finally, finally I have something to show for it.
Not much, mind. The likes of Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas can sleep comfortably in their beds; British cycling certainly does not have a new star in the making. But something…
The last edition of the season-long Dunsfold Park 4th Cat series was the scene of my ‘triumph’, as I avoided a big chute in the bunch gallop to come home ninth of about 25 starters, pipping a guy from the InGear team (see photo) on the line in the process.
That earned me one, solitary British Cycling point (for some reason, both 9th and 10th places get this same reward under BC rules). A point. My point. One that I shall love and cherish until it packs its bags at the end of December and I start afresh in 2012 with a clean slate and renewed purpose to my pedalling.
While my sprint at Dunsfold was hardly textbook stuff, the midweek stem change worked a treat and the bike was rock steady under final acceleration. That said, I still have to overcome this mental/physical block and get out of the saddle while on the drops if I want to achieve truly competitive finishing speeds – my maximum on Friday of 34mph (albeit solo into a decent headwind) is not going to be enough to get in the top three even of a 4th Cat race. It’s something to work on over the winter, although simulating the pain and brain-scrambling chaos of a race finish will be nigh on impossible.
There was hand-shaking and bonhomie aplenty at the finish, as several of the riders had made their 3rd Cat license with the points they gained on the night. Even the unfortunate Kingston Wheeler who’d come off – and looked like he’d been hung up by the shoulders on meat hooks as a result – seemed fairly sanguine about it all.
The whole thing had a distinct end of term feel to it, not least because quite a few of us had got to know each other and made good acquaintanceships, if not actual friendships, over the weeks. This is another positive aspect of cycle racing I shall explore in a future season review piece.
I’m not sure any of the new 3rd Cats felt quite as good as I did, though. I was beaming and back-slapping like Cadel Evans on the Champs Elysées, fired up by my greatest sporting success since scooping the Great Yarmouth Junior Tenpin Bowling Championship all the way back in 1983. Or possibly the Hotel Bonaire Benicassim Crazy Golf Open title* I also snagged in that same heady summer of sporting plunder all those years ago…
In any case, I wasn’t the least bit bothered about moving up a category. I’m barely adequate for the 4th Cats, let alone being good enough to race competitively a level higher. No, I’m happy to stay where I am, picking up experience and hopefully being in the mix more often than not. After all, time is on my side – it’s not as if I’m middle aged or anything…oh.
Dunsfold wasn’t the only milestone in my cycling life last week. Thanks to some great Bayeux team riding I also managed to achieve my first ever gold standard time in a sportive: the Haywards Heath Howler.
At 95 miles and featuring 2,500 metres of climbing, including Ditchling Beacon, this was no gimme, either. I had to turn myself inside-out to keep on the pace, especially during the final 20 miles when I managed the full house of both thighs and both calves cramping up mercilessly.
But make it I did, in the process gaining even more respect for my team-mates Ian and Shane, who coasted around effortlessly while I cursed and moaned and rasped for breath like Darth Vader up any incline steeper than a speed bump during those painful final miles.
The deep irony of leaving the sportive world behind only to come back and post my best ever result was certainly not lost on me. I guess it shows the difference between sportives and racing, in particular how much harder the latter forces you to try, and how much faster you need to be to have any chance of success.
On that subject, while I had initially looked upon Dunsfold as my season-closer, there may yet be some more racing to report on before the year is out. I’m sure you can hardly wait…