A Week in Racing
By Flipper FingersMay 15, 2017
Caspar wins his maiden road race! And what a tale it is too, full of all the things that make him so feared yet so loved among the Walrus clan.
“I wouldn’t class it as dangerous, it’s just the nature of the beast”. The somewhat contradictory words of Andy Colsell after a local bike race last year. Andy is of course the man in blue taking a rather unusual line at the Hillingdon circuit.
“Are you racing the (Sp)Hillingdon series this winter?” a club mate asked me in October “of course, if you’ve never raced you’ll need to do your accreditation as there were so many crashes last year”. I paused, not knowing exactly what the correct answer was. “I’ll add you to the Whatsapp group anyway…” The invitation duly buzzed through with the photo of Mr Colsell taking centre stage.
“…a one-time self-loathing 20 stone city boy now preacher-come-coach and a sender of horribly regular, smug emails”
I had of course raced before at the Tour of Cambridgeshire and subsequently the Amateur World Championships in Aalborg but it would appear that The Surrey League was notoriously treacherous. And only two days of training with a man named Tall Paul (a one-time self-loathing 20 stone city boy now preacher-come-coach and a sender of horribly regular, smug emails) would ready me for such perils.
I tolerated Paul. But Hillingdon, Mr Colsell and the icy dark of November were a combination too far. The conundrum was thus: I wanted to race on the roads but this luxury is usually only reserved for 2s and 3s as the 4s are left to ride into each other on Go-Kart tracks . I also wanted to race with my regular club mates, most of whom are cat 2s and 3s. But to get to cat 3, you need to accumulate enough points as an entry level cat 4. And cat 4 meant danger.
The solution was a handicap race. This is (oft) a road race for Elites, Cat 1s, Cat 2s, Cat 3s and Cat 4s. The 4s set off first, then the 3s and so on. The basic premise being that it all comes together at the end for a high octane and insanely dangerous lung busting sprint. So, two Thursdays evenings ago, I found myself in deepest darkest Surrey (these races are always somewhere near Reigate) lining up with 8 men in club-crested Lycra. Behind us, somewhat resembling the reverse evolution of man sat 40 others, every rider looking leaner and meaner than the one in front. And our task was to keep these slavering hordes at bay. It was never going to work. After 2 minutes of racing, I came to the stark realisation that we were just there to be hunted for sport, like hare coursing on wheels if you will. So I set off on my own and like a man possessed, I thrashed blindly round the course waiting the inevitable whirring of deep section carbon. After 6 laps (from 9) I was devoured. I pedalled furiously to stay with the bunch and finally settled into a rhythm. And there they were, my 8 companions all to a man looking relatively fresh. I now understood. Pride dictated that I attack again. Gears dropped around me and a blur of colour sprinted across the line ahead.
“People were being shelled like peas”
A week later, also somewhere near Reigate, I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. And as my fellow cycling Neanderthals and I clipped into our carbon pedals I rolled to the back and waited for the 3s to turn up. And there I sat. The group swelled in size as the better riders caught us and the pace slowly increased. By the 4th and final lap it was frantic. 50kph. People were being shelled like peas. The rain lashed down and the wind howled. It was pitch black. I had sunglasses on but the prospect of taking them off at this speed was terrifying. As we approached the finish I positioned myself on the far right behind a man with glistening, tattooed calfs. He looked good. So very good. It was uphill and I fancied my chances. Here we go. The lead out men were charging. But tattoo man wasn’t responding. Why? Maybe he’s not that good? Panic. I went right. Bloody great van coming down the hill. I went left. So did Tattoo man. He rode right into my handlebars knocking me sideways but somehow we stayed up. I wobbled and began to chase but it was too late, the move had gone. I reeled a few in and finished 11th. The top 10 win points. I may as well have finished last.
“Two collar bones last week of course”
From agony in week one to anguish in week two. I checked the race calendar. There was one the very next day in a place called Dunsfold which was probably near Reigate. It was a Cat 4 only 10 lap circuit of an airfield, brutally exposed and with a pot-hole ridden 300m downhill sprint to the finish with a fairly aggressive tailwind. I didn’t like the look of it.
“Two collar bones last week” muttered one man to no-one in particular as a 40 strong field sat nervously on their frames, trying to look “pro” with one cleat clipped in and arms drooped limply over their bars. I looked around me. I still didn’t like the look of it. And then we were off at a pace noticeably slower than the handicap races. The slower it goes, the more nervous it gets. Tension has time to fill the air. Brakes were being applied for seemingly no reason and one man seemed to be riding on the grass verge. Tension was in the air. “No one is getting away in this wind” mumbled another man. I rode at the back, all the while keeping my eye out for any breaks. After 2 laps, I’d had enough. We were going to be here all night. At the start of the 4th a man from London Dynamo hit the gas and I tore off in pursuit, screaming at him to get on the wheel as I hurtled past. I looked back. He was in no man’s land. So I just carried on, churning a big gear into the wind. After 8 laps the game was up, I had been caught and the pack prepared for the inevitable, that bone-breaking, elbow-tangling surge to the line. The pace dropped to a standstill, it was ridiculous. We were riding a road race like an Olympic track sprint. The lead out car honked behind us and the Women rolled by on their last lap…
As lap 10 began, a young lad went off the front and I chased him down. The pack closed in. A momentary lapse in concentration saw me boxed in, riders on the left and in front. Claustrophobia reigned. I had been shackled. Then the lad went again. “Chase” I bellowed, “Don’t let him get away”. The truth is that he was never really going to but a man in crimson lycra on my right panicked and set off in pursuit, I darted out and followed suit. Break neutralised. The pace slowed. I had space and I attacked again, motivated by the terror of the sprint. I looked back, no one was chasing, no one wanted to lead anyone else out. I slammed my feet into the pedals and rode like hell to safety and with it, a maiden victory.