Three miles to go… as the bunch reached the bay the pace was already break-neck, around 30mph – everybody wanted this one and there would be no sitting up despite the 80-odd hard miles in our legs.
I had positioned myself towards the rear, in company with the best sprinters in the pack, refusing point blank to do any work on the front this time around. Although just minutes earlier I’d declared myself unfit to contest the finish, by now the competitive urges had taken over and I was ready for a do-or-die effort.
A momentary slowing of the pace gave me my chance. With the bike in top gear I moved up the outside, taking the left hand route to gain protection from the vicious crosswind coming straight off the sea. With my hands gripping the drops and in a tuck position so extreme my nose was virtually rubbing the stem, I pedalled as hard as I could, relying on the surprise factor to help me to sweep past and break free from the front of the bunch.
A brief glance over my shoulder confirmed that the elastic had indeed broken (the cause of considerable disquiet back in the bunch I was told afterwards) so this was it: shit or bust time.
Just a mile or so to hold out. I never looked back again, just kept pedalling as hard as I could even though my legs were already screaming and my breathing had been reduced to desperate pants. The final roundabout approached and I had to change down a gear just to steady my cadence, but I was still in front. Still no look back.
When the riders got on my wheel it was more of a sensation than anything – I could feel them there, I didn’t need to glance back to confirm the catch. Through the roundabout and with about 150 metres to go three figures suddenly sped past to contest the sprint; I had nothing left and waited for the rest of the bunch to overtake me.
They didn’t – in fact a quick turn of the head confirmed clear road behind me. I rolled in fourth, gasping for breath but feeling a certain amount of satisfaction: looking at my three conquerors, one races at 2nd Cat while the other two have achieved cycling feats of which I could only dream.
Don’t go checking on the British Cycling website for any official results of this contest, though. Sadly it was only for bragging rights over a cold, Continental lager rather than ranking points; the last of several sprints for signs that much enlivened our team’s truly wonderful training camp in Majorca.
Sitting here now, in the persistent drizzle of a Sussex morning, those halcyon days of last week take on an almost agonising lustre. What a week. What an escape from the daily grind, where the only considerations are eating sufficiently (!), keeping our bikes’ tyres inflated to the right pressures and deciding on the day’s route. Even my job, the nature of which renders it essentially a 52-weeks-a-year responsibility, receded mercifully into the background, requiring just a few hours’ labour after the day’s cycling was done.
That said, don’t assume such trips are just an excuse for a knees-up. We worked hard this year, a factor of the greater numbers on the trip, many of whom are very respectable racers or time-triallers and who ventured to the island with the stated aim of tuning up for the heart of the season.
That was certainly my aim and with just under 440 pretty hard miles under my belt, a dozen decent climbs including marquee names Sa Calobra and Puig Major (“The Pig”), plus many miles of virtual racing, I think I achieved it.
The proof will come in real-world, British Cycling sanctioned combat, not the ‘phoney war’ I opened this piece with. I have a relatively packed racing programme coming up, starting with a Surrey League handicap tonight, which I hope to use to shake off the rust of my lengthy racing lay-off.
Then the season-long Dunsfold 4th Cats series begins next Friday, representing my best chance of finally escaping the 4th Cat purgatory. And, of course, June’s Lewes Crits are looming ever larger.
Like my solo effort to reach the Puerto Pollensa sign first, I feel I have entered shit or bust territory…