It’s what I do…

For a while during my time in London I frequented the same pub as Shane MacGowan, the legendary hell-raiser and sometime lead singer of The Pogues.  The passage of time had not been kind to the Irish Rover by that stage: sallow of complexion, shabby of dress, his feet so swollen that he no longer wore shoes, he was a (just about) living embodiment of the price that must eventually be paid for a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle*.

I never spoke to him directly, but if I had I might have asked why, with the damage he was clearly doing to himself, he continued to neck the drink down so unabashedly.  I’m guessing the answer would have been two-worded, the second one being “off”, but ask the same question to anybody else in the house on one of those evenings and they’d surely have shrugged and answered: “He’s hooked too deep to give it up now”.

The point of that little anecdote is to try to put into context what appears an indecently hasty and, on the face of it, inexplicable decision to end my retirement from bike racing, little more than a week after deciding to call it a day.

What am I thinking?  What earthly reason can there be to put myself back into a world where my ‘conservative’ (to put it charitably) attitude to personal safety is given such a thorough working over?  Why throw all the good wishes and messages of understanding from friends and acquaintances right back into their faces with such a brazen U-turn?

The answer, as with Shane MacGowan’s boozing, is that I just can’t bring myself to leave the bike racing alone.  I’m hooked too deep to give it up now.

For a moment there I was definitely quit, of that there’s no doubt.  Thanks to a misalignment of various stars I’d tumbled into what – even for me – was a pretty dark place.  More specifically, my bottle for bunch racing was well and truly gone and my motivation to continue putting myself in the danger zone was zero.

I’d even ordered a pair of clip-on tri bars ready to make my first foray into time trialling, a desperate reflex action to rescue some purpose for the substantial investment of time, money and effort I’ve made in the sport of cycling.

The tri bars duly arrived… and they didn’t fit any of my bikes, due to me specifying the wrong size clamp.

Sorely tempted to take out my – by now screaming – frustration on the tri bars with a claw hammer (I’d already built them up and stuck the armrest pads on, so there was no getting my money back), I eventually decided to hurt myself instead, while also getting in some desperately needed hard training miles.

At Hove Park.  Of all places.

Readers who’ve been with me since the early days will recall I raced twice at Hove Park last season, getting lapped three times and then twice, on each occasion while riding in grim solitude after being dropped virtually from the gun.

Those experiences were the key to my return. It’s not really racing when I’m going to be shot out the back to huff and puff round on my own, is it?  Decent logic on the face of it.  What could possibly go wrong?

What went ‘wrong’ is that even by half distance, when about a third of the field had been unceremoniously shelled out in classic Hove Park style, I was still safely ensconced in the pack and feeling pretty pleased with myself.

We even started to lap some of the slower riders, an extraordinarily satisfying experience given my past history on this course.  Though we had plenty of room I couldn’t resist a cheeky “riders coming right!” shout to one poor unfortunate, a moment of pure schadenfreude that can only be adequately explained if you read my first Hove Park race report from 2011.

As each lap ticked off I waited for the devastating burst of acceleration that would drop me; but it never came.  The five laps to go board (the race distance being 35mins plus 5 laps) confirmed that I would get home in the lead bunch of about 13 riders – now it was time to think about finishing position!

I knew I had the measure of a few of my rivals on the final climb to the finish line, since we’d been up the bloody thing about a hundred times already.  But to be honest I was so blown away by still being there or thereabouts that I probably didn’t position myself as prominently as I might have done during the final lap.

Instead, a rider from Brighton Excelsior – who’d previously been riding with me towards the rear – made his attack and motored away on the flat section before the last climb, the uptick of pace leaving me little room for manoeuvre as the climb began.  Despite this, I passed a few riders on the hill, before running out of track as I approached another two, enabling them to cross the line a bike length ahead of me, two abreast, leaving me in 9th place.

If it sounds to you like I’m being a tad ungrateful with regards to my finishing position (and one BC point to boot!) then you have all the evidence you need as to why I couldn’t stay away from this ridiculous game.  I may be taking part in bike racing’s lowliest category, but I can’t help a burning desire to do well, a savage competitive instinct that remains undimmed despite all the evidence amassed to date that I am, in fact, not good enough to justify it.

In many ways I wish it wasn’t so.  But it is.  See you at the Lewes Crits…

 

* It should be noted that MacGowan has since decamped to Ireland and appears to have at least arrested his decline…

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Hallelujah/I Know it’s Over

In the end, there was no cataclysm, no serious injury, not even a disastrous lack of competitiveness.  Just a persistent, nagging, unarguable voice in the back of my head…

“I don’t want to be here.”

Hardly an ideal scenario in the high risk, testosterone-fuelled world of bike racing.

You see, I’ve simply lost my nerve, if indeed I ever had one.  It’s not a proud admission to make, but it’s the truth and that’s always the best place to start.  Maybe if I still had the boldness of youth?  Maybe if I’d had better results to pay back the hours of toil and rivers of sweat I’ve shed in training?  Or maybe not.  Just as a leopard can’t change its spots, neither can I suddenly become braver than I actually am.

For two races in succession – Friday’s Dunsfold 4ths and then last night’s opening Lewes Crit – I spent the entire time fretting about danger, like an over-zealous health & safety inspector unleashed inside a Chinese metalworking factory.  Every swerve, every brake jam, every near miss dampened my enthusiasm a further notch, until it eventually reduced to zero, leaving me wheeling home barely out of breath and well away from the sharp end of hostilities.

To be honest I was ready to call it quits after Dunsfold, but with an entry to the Lewes Crits already paid for it seemed to make sense to give it one last try.  I’m glad I did, if only for the purpose of confirming the initial evidence from Dunsfold.

So, that’s it.  There is clearly no point whatsoever in persisting with a hobby whose only present purpose seems to be my unhappiness, so with a good deal of reluctance I have to call time with the job only half-started.

Not on cycling per se, you understand.  Just the bunch racing bit.  I could never stop cycling now; it’s become such a crucial part of my personal identity I would feel invisible without it.  I’ve no intention of quitting my team, either (assuming they’ll still have me) – those guys are the best around, a source of friendship and camaraderie that has made adapting to a new life outside London many times easier than it might have been.

So anyway, at the risk of turning this into some sort of maudlin, Oscar acceptance speech-style blubfest, I do want to sincerely thank everyone who has followed and commented on the blog, all the guys in my team and others who’ve offered tips and support, plus the Twitterati and Facebookers who’ve also been along for the ride.

The training will continue – if I don’t keep it up I’ll be as fat as a house within months – and I’m definitely going to dip my toes into the dark arts of time trialling, which may well suit my diesel-like riding style and – apart from when others overtake me – should offer less close contact with my fellow competitors…

I’ll probably still put the odd post or two on this blog in the coming months, although clearly the updates won’t flow as thick and fast now there are no more race reports coming.

In the meantime, I can reflect on having given this nonsense the best shot I could, allowing for my physical and especially mental shortcomings.  My solitary top five finish will always be in the record books and, of course, there was also the career highlight of racing alongside the legend that is Sean Yates.  I guess I’ll settle for that.

Cheers everyone and ride safe!

 

P.S. Full marks to anyone who got the Jeff Buckley reference in the title without googling it… keepin’ the flame alive since 1997…

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Crashfest dummies

A big bike racing crash makes a sound all of its own – a heady combination of high pitched clang as the carbon fibre bounces on the tarmac, squealing from tyres locked up solid and shouts of the fallen as they hit the deck.

I knew half way round the final lap that a major spill was inevitable… there was just too much energy left in people’s legs, coupled with too much testosterone as too many riders allowed the sniff of victory in the bunch sprint to override good sense.

As a result, I took a fairly wide outside line, horribly exposed to the wind but with plenty of room to escape any trouble.  And trouble duly arrived.  In spades.  It appears an unnamed “well known switcher” was the primary culprit, his sudden sideways movement unnerving other riders and causing them to lose control as the finish line approached.

The carnage was such that prone bodies were still lying in the road by the time I made my way back to the finish area from my mini warm down.  It looked absolutely ghastly, a Lycra-clad war zone, a ludicrous expenditure of blood and treasure wholly out of keeping with the meagre reward of a decent placing in a Surrey League chipper.

Silly old 4th Cats?  Actually, no.  These were men who supposedly should know better – mostly 3rds or better and not a man under 40, an age where even car insurers start to allow for a degree of sensible maturity.

Team-mate Mark before his unscheduled faceplant (pic: Glyn Durrant)

To think that my first Surrey League vets race had been so… well, so sensible.  Enough to persuade my team boss Mark to make his first foray into the vets world, a decision he probably regrets now since he came upon the crash at full gallop and ended up crossing the finish line face first on the road’s grassy apron, while shredding a tyre and damaging a pair of on-loan Enve wheels costing almost two grand…

I knew he’d gone up the inside so I feared the worst as I returned to the mayhem, but luckily his soft landing had enabled him to escape with ‘just’ a few sore limbs and some impressive grass stains on his jersey and bibshorts.

The worst affected were not so lucky; one poor chap from Southdown Velo remaining flat out on the tarmac even as we drove away 30 minutes after the finish.  We passed his ambulance coming in the other direction as we exited Dunsfold… I understand he has a broken shoulder for his troubles.

At least the hot weather enabled me to race bare-legged for the first time in ages… (pic: Glyn Durrant)

Even my pal Paul Webb got inadvertently – and very painfully – caught up in it all.  He was sprinting behind me but had taken the same ‘safe’ line up the right hand side, only for one of the spectators to step out directly in front of him in an effort to go across to the crash victims.  She was bulldozed, he got a beat-up face and a shoulder injury that threatens his participation in the 2012 Marmotte.

Most people, Mark included, have seemingly shrugged this incident off as ‘just racing’.  And I suppose to an extent I have too, since we’re both heading back to Dunsfold for more of the same this Wednesday.  But how justifiable is this laissez-faire attitude?  Should significantly dangerous actions be simply put down to the pell-mell nature of the sport at this level and left unsanctioned?

There was another tiny incident in the race that sums up the sort of idiots we have to contend with.  On the penultimate lap I was riding on the left hand edge of the bunch, keeping a watchful eye but basically minding my own business, when some absolute dimwit in a predominantly brown kit (didn’t get the number or I’d have named and shamed, believe me) came past me on the left so close that I’d have struggled to fit a Rizla paper between us.  And this when the bunch were towards the right edge of the road so there was room to drive a bus past me on his chosen side!  The flinch this near-miss induced was such that Mark, who was behind us, actually thought he’d hit me.  Six months ago it might have had me off – I’m a better rider now so all was OK, but that doesn’t justify the brainlessness of his actions.  Oh, and having pulled off this daredevil manoeuvre he came to a halt two riders in front of me, still in midfield, and tapped along.

To be honest, I am starting to think I must be the only amateur bike racer who takes to the start line with the preservation of his health and livelihood – and that of his fellow competitors – as Goal Number One.  I mean, is it really so difficult to sprint up a straight, four-lane road without causing a sickening, multiple ambulance necessitating pile-up?  To take a quick glance behind before changing lanes?  To know the difference between intimidation of other riders in the heat of battle and rank stupidity?

I used to think bike racing was no country for old men.  Now I just think it’s no country for sane men.

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Standing on the shoulders of giants

Oh my God, that’s Sean Yates!

Sean Yates.  Yep, the Sean Yates.  And I’m on his bloody wheel in the Dunsfold 4ths.

At the stroke of a pedal my sporting life scaled a peak it will never reach again.  And if that sounds overly melodramatic to you well tough, frankly.  For one night only I got to race with Sean Yates and, even three days later, I’m still on a high.  If I must make a football comparison it’s like turning up for your Sunday pub team’s latest fixture and finding Gazza among your opponents.

Why so significant to me?  Well, younger readers who’ve grown up on a diet of Cavendish, Wiggins, Thomas, Millar and the modern wave of British cycling stars probably have only the murkiest idea of the era I started watching bike racing in, when we Brits were pretty much a laughing stock as a road cycling nation; a position epitomised by the legendarily crap attempt on the Tour de France by ANC Halfords back in 1987.

A handful of names generally stifled the mirth whenever they were uttered.  One of them was Sean Yates.  In his day an absolute animal of a rider, he famously put Lance in his place when he first joined Motorola (though the two became firm friends and have remained so ever since), while on the road he wore the yellow jersey and won a stage in the Tour, was British Champion and always rode hard with precious little luck in the daddy of all one-dayers, Paris-Roubaix.  He’s a genuine, gold-plated hero of mine and I make no bones about that.

Even now, at 52 years of age (the race was actually on his birthday), he was worlds apart from the rest of the 4th Cats toiling around Dunsfold, and not just because he was on a super-bling Team Sky Pinarello with deep section wheels that hummed with a sound all of their own.  No, it was the cadence that really gave his pedigree away – more than half as fast again as anybody else riding and just the smoothest thing you’ve ever seen.  Pure poetry in motion.

A legend in our midst… Sean Yates (far right) with his not-so-secret admirer not far behind…

I know all this because I spent most of the race behind him, just watching.  Of course the Great Man wasn’t turning out in some vain attempt to rise back up through the amateur cycling ranks; he was there for one reason only: to look after his 18 year-old boy Liam as the lad continued his own fledgling racing career.  Until the climax of the race it wasn’t anything showy, just the odd word of advice and one enormous pull at the front that immediately dashed a late breakaway which briefly threatened to go the distance.

Once we entered the final straight, however, he simply blew everyone away in the guise of lead-out man, dropping Liam off for a facile win by several bike lengths.  If the boy Yates proves to have a career anything like as successful as dad’s I will always be able to say I was present for his first senior victory.

The bunch rolls along – I’m tucked in quite nicely.

All of this comprehensively overshadowed what was a hugely encouraging performance from Yours Truly.  Having stayed out of trouble throughout the fairly pedestrian but pretty sketchy race, I sorted my final bend position out so I was much better placed to stay out of the wind than the previous week.  A big young chap from the Blazing Saddles club was a good wheel to get on, although my gentlemanly offer to my team-mate Simon to slot in right behind him proved a slightly unfortunate decision, since Simon faded almost immediately afterwards and Blazing Saddles was gone by the time I’d got round him (B Saddles ended up 5th as it happens).

So there was nothing for it but to crouch down on the drops and just pedal like my life depended on it for the final couple of hundred metres.  Even though my heart felt as though it was about to burst from my chest like some out-take from Alien (I set a new all-time heart rate record of 208bpm while sprinting) I just went for it hammer and tongs and did not stop until I’d crossed the line.

A quick headcount of the finishers in front of me indicated 10th place, which was confirmed by the organiser Glyn upon review of his finish-line film.

So I got a BC point, finishing ahead of 41 out of the 51 starters, and continuing the progress I felt I made in the veterans’ race two days earlier.  It’s just one point, of course, but I had to wait until the very last Dunsfold race to get off the mark last season, so I reckon I’m well ahead of the game.

More importantly, I’m in the form of my life just now, thanks to my two months of following the coaching plans of Alex Welburn and then the fantastic team training camp in Majorca.  My legs feel strong, I’ve dropped another kilo or so and I find I can hold some pretty high speeds for some pretty decent distances compared with days gone by.

The challenge will be to hold my form and get some bigger points payoffs once a few more of the Liam Yates’s of this world have departed and the 4th Cat playing field is thus levelled further.  There’s still a lot of racing to be done, especially during the next five weeks before my summer holiday kills my racing fitness stone dead and I have to start all over again…

But that’s to worry about in the future.  In the present, I’m back at Dunsfold this week for another crack at the vets’ race.  Onwards and upwards!

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Grey power

I’ve seen my future – many would say my present – and I think I like it.

Fast but considerate bike racing, no suicidal moves, clever tactics and a right old tear up to the finish line… veteran racing rocks!

To be fair, I base this view on the evidence of just one event, Wednesday’s second edition of the new Surrey League vets series at Dunsfold.  Time and familiarity may temper my unbridled enthusiasm for the veteran format, but for now the expression ‘so far so good’ scarcely does it justice.  I had an absolute ball and was still grinning like a loon as I stepped back into my house after the drive home.

Don’t think for a moment that this is because it was easy meat; quite the contrary.  The average speed of the race was more than 2mph quicker than the previous Friday’s 4th Cat event (a little about that later), which doesn’t sound a lot but makes quite a difference when you’re in amongst it.

The early laps, when what proved to be the winning breakaway formed, were the toughest I’ve had in any race, blindingly quick (every glance down at my speedo indicated north of 30mph), leaving me hanging on for grim death.  And that was with my legs feeling as good as at any time since I started racing!  Thank heavens I had good form, otherwise I’d certainly have suffered the ignominy of being dropped despite my relative youth compared to many others around me.

Chapeau, guys! (pic: Glyn Durrant)

The break itself was a masterstroke by the two Charlotteville CC riders present (and pictured above).  As we readied ourselves for the start no-one paid them much attention, despite them positioning themselves a bike length or two ahead of anyone else.  Then, as we all faffed about, clipped in and rolled off they stepped straight on the gas, instantly forging a lead of 30 or 40 metres.  I slotted in quite near the front as the bunch took shape and, if I’m honest, I assumed they’d ease up and drop back into the pack – an assumption that cost me any opportunity I might have had to join in the fun.

When it was clear this was a premeditated move and not a mistake, a couple of others set off to bridge across, but most of us sat tight; it was very early in the race after all.  Crucially, riders from Brighton Mitre and VC Meudon, the two best-represented teams in the race, then got into the break, allowing their colleagues to block and disrupt the chase.

Once the race’s only 1st Cat (and subsequent winner, for the second week in a row… remind me to bring him some fish in a barrel next week…) had powered across, the game was pretty much up.  By that time, though, all hell had broken loose and the chasing pack was motoring along as already described.  I saw my only likely route out of the bunch as being backwards, not forwards, given that my heart rate was showing as 200bpm, a level I’d always reckoned to be my absolute maximum…

The chasing pack was well controlled by the Mitres… I could point out my helmet but despite the obvious double-entendre potential I won’t… (pic: Glyn Durrant)

Thankfully the race then settled down a bit and the cat-and-mouse of chasing the break began in earnest.  Having recovered well from my mini-crisis I started to ride smoothly and confidently, even contributing a few pulls on the front once a bit of through ‘n’ off had been organised by the Southdown Velo guys, none of whom had made the break.

The chase evaporated with a couple of laps to go, when it was clear the break wasn’t going to be caught.  I busied myself for the minor place sprint and, as the bunch sped round the final bend, I placed myself on the wheel of a big, powerful chap from the Brighton Excelsior club who gave me a lovely tow.  My ‘sprint’ took me past him even though I still couldn’t force myself out of the bloody saddle, then I kept up the pace until about 75 metres out, when the afterburners failed to fire and I slipped back a bit.  I finally finished 14th in my under-50s category, respectable enough when the first five finishers were among the breakaway artists.

That’s all well and good, but why, I can hear you ask, was it quite such a wonderful experience?  Simple.  Throughout the entire race I was able to ride in the bunch with almost total confidence in my fellow competitors, allowing me to concentrate on my bike riding rather than fretting about my imminent demise amid a pile of bodies and broken carbon fibre.

These vets know what they’re doing.  Sure, they’ll squeeze and intimidate you – it is bike racing after all – and if you leave the tiniest gap they’ll have it.  But I saw none of the swerving, unnecessary braking and other dumb manoeuvres that frankly put the willies up me in the 4ths.

Paul Webb, an online pal (and photographic contributor to the blog) whom I was delighted to meet for the first time at this event, raves about veterans’ racing and I can absolutely see his point.  As I mentioned at the outset, the Dunsfold series is a new one this year and numbers are still building, but once word gets around I can see it being a roaring success.  This, of course, will conversely affect my finishing positions, but hey, it’s not all about BC points, as was so amply proven last Wednesday.

======================

I promised a word or two about the previous Friday’s 4th Cat opener at Dunsfold.  Here they are: forty-first. Shithouse.

Tonight I go back to what – for all this vets racing reverie – must still be my bread-and-butter aim for the season, getting those 10 bloody points so I can finally put down this mangy albatross wrapped around my neck.  Full report to follow…

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All roads lead to Dunsfold…

….even ones in Redhill.

That’s the most positive way to look at the cold and fairly miserable hour I spent huffing and puffing my way around the soggy South Nutfield Surrey League Handicap.  The event was only ever intended to be a means to an end, a race-pace training session to shake as much of the post-Majorca lethargy from my legs as possible in the run-up to the first of this season’s 4th Cat series at Dunsfold Park.

Smiling in defeat… well, I’ve had enough practice by now. (photo: Mark Tearle)

The other positive: at least I finished this time, unlike my post-Majorca outing to the Goodwood Gallops in 2011.

That said, it was a pity my legs were quite so lifeless, given that the lead group – of which I was briefly a member – took advantage of some powerful pace-making and a shortened race distance to stay away, providing a rare points bounty to the 4th Cats in it.

In fact, the term lifeless is a fairly generous one.  Fossilised might be closer to the mark.  Or even atrophied?  Hopefully not.  Over the past five years I’ve grown quite well attuned to the various signals my body sends me while riding a bike.  And on this occasion, such was the paucity of power available to me from my very first pedal stroke, I came pretty close to pulling the plug before the off.  I hadn’t felt as clunky since my jour sans in Majorca last year.  This was really not good news…

The hilly South Nutfield course was ill-suited to such physical shortcomings, featuring two long upward drags in its six-plus miles, not to mention a couple of tight corners and a group of workmen stationed in the middle of the road clearing a flood just for added excitement.

Sure enough, as we neared the end of lap one the vicious pace up the final climb to the finish did for me and I was distanced, never to recover.  Already rasping for breath, I eased up, thinking that if I could recover slightly by the time the second group arrived I could latch on and all would not be lost.

This worked… for about half a lap, before they too shed me on an incline as my leg muscles simply refused to co-operate in any meaningful fashion, despite much mental pleading on my part.

Staying with the elite group as it sped past on lap three was simply not an option, so I spent the rest of the lap time-trialling as fast (and with as high a cadence) as I could just to make the most of the journey.  I was going to bail out at the end of the lap, but was saved the ignominy of a DNF by the failing light, which meant all the stragglers were given the chequered flag to prevent them having to do the fourth and final lap solo under dangerously dark skies.

So that’s 28th and 34th places in my two races so far this year.  A casual observer, inexperienced in the ways of bike racing, might look at those bare statistics and conclude that your author is little more than a ridiculous old fool who should pack in this silliness before he heaps yet more opprobrium on himself and his family.  Perish the thought…

In fact, this is just the moment things are about to get interesting.  Well, as interesting as a few dozen 4th cats plodding around an airfield can be.  I’m talking of course about Dunsfold.  This, as regular readers will know, is the basket into which I’ve thrown pretty much all my bike racing eggs this season.  Pan flat, reasonably safe, not usually over-subscribed and generally more friendly than most events, these races were pretty good fun last year.  Much more importantly, with Goodwood out of the picture in 2012 the Dunsfold series offers by far my best chance of totting up the 10 points I need to secure 3rd Cat status.

Various commitments mean I won’t be doing all the Dunsfold races, but I’m in for the first two, after which I’ll be able to take stock before the Lewes Crits join in to make it a Thursday/Friday one-two punch throughout June.

As a well-known TV chef once remarked to the Carrow Road faithful: Let’s be ‘aving you!

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Wot I did on my holidaze

Great weather + great roads + great pals = great days

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.

Reflecting on a descending mishap that saw me escape a big ditch with milimteres to spare…

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.

Don’t go on a training camp expecting cyclo-touring… they was hard miles…

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…

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