Road racing on the bike is a very different beast to time trialling. This is a truism, but it certainly becomes apparent very quickly when you make the leap into the dark side. Today was the Bristol South Road Race, taking in 8 laps of Stowey Hill near Bishop Sutton, with an 80 strong field. It was very hot indeed. I took one bottle, which may or may not have been an error. There was a KOM competition on Stowey Hill; on the first lap i sat back and let it go, waiting to warm up a bit. On the second lap i moved to the front and rode hard, and may or may not have been pipped on the line by an Exeter Uni rider who was full of beans. He was on the right and i was looking to the left – another schoolboy error.
After the climb i sat up a bit, only for a team-mate to come through and ride hard on the front each lap. I didn’t really want to ride hard on the front but couldn’t really stop him. He got in a bit of a ding-dong with the Exeter Uni rider about his overshoes. It was like two bald men fighting over a comb. ‘Overshoes are illegal’, said the Exeter guy. ‘They’re aerodynamic’ said the team-mate. I don’t think it makes the slightest bit of difference either way, and i don’t think the scrutineers could really give two shits, but i kept my counsel. Nevertheless, it was typical of the dialogue in the bunch that crops up from time to time for no particular reason. Where’s Le Blaireau when you need him.
On the third lap i held back a bit and then moved through the bunch to line up for another pop at the climb and was feeling confident. A large car with an even larger caravan came round the corner – the front part of the bunch passed through ok, but as it rounded the corner it nailed first one rider then the others fell like dominos. The combined sound of aluminium caravan meets carbon fibre meets skin and bone was jarring and the crash left a scene of chaos. There were 3 BSCC riders taken out immediately and one Bath Uni rider, possibly some others. The front of the bunch slowed up and we neutralised the race. I rode on ahead to check with the marshals at the top of the climb what was happening, they told us to race on and listen out for the commissaire. As i passed the message up from near the very back – after talking to a fairly damaged looking rider and suggesting he might retire -the bunch got rolling again, but one rider took the ‘opportunity’ to attack and immediately rode off the front. i was at the back at this point having only just got back on. I was distinctly unimpressed. I guess it depends how you see the race and what you think is acceptable or not acceptable, and how much you want your points. As we looped back around the course past the crash site the section was neutralised and there was a rider lying on the road in a BSCC jersey. This was enough for me. Without even thinking about it I climbed off the bike and went back to the HQ. A number of other riders did the same. On each subsequent lap the race was neutralised past the crash, which was essential but effectively prevented there being a real selection or a timely break and meant the race came down to a bunch sprint – anathema to climbers like me.
In hindsight, the race was fantastically well organised and the commissaires have to make a tough decision when there is a crash on a looped circuit. They chose to continue, which was probably, on balance the right one. I chose to climb off, which was also probably the right one.
Lessons learnt from Rocky 1 to Rocky 5
– Road racing requires a bit of a freaky mindset.
– it can be hard to summon up the motivation to ride tempo in a bunch that undulates and shifts like the stinging tentacles of a portugese man of war, and it’s particularly hard to ride hard to the finish if you struggle with some of the more existential questions that tend to pop up in the race; i.e why are we riding when three riders have just been reduced to angles of limbs and blood on the tarmac by an enormous motor caravan? i struggle in that respect.
– if you’re going to road race then that means riding 3rd and 4th category races. That means crashes, smashes and the pain of fractured limbs, torn face and mouth, road race and abrasions, missing teeth, broken bike parts and torn clothing. Frequently.
Lastly, it made me yearn for the simple pleasures of riding my bike in the countryside with friends, connecting with the landscape around me and enjoying the flow activity in all its infinite glory.
nb: i’ve edited this post a bit after going out for a walk in the evening sunshine. it’s softer than it was.