Yesterday was beautifully calm and sunny. Given that this is officially the worst winter since the quaternary glaciation, it felt like summer had arrived. Which made it all the more inevitable that today’s race would be run off in a darkening, ferocious gale with the omnipresent threat of rain.
Having been frozen out by the weather at this time of year in ice ages past, i again opted for discretion over valour. I wore a full length, long sleeve merino base layer over a short sleeve merino baselayer, with a long sleeve skinsuit, full legwarmers, winter gloves and industrial strength winter neoprene overshoes. I took no chances. I also wore my spangly new helmet, which fits very snugly and weighs next to nothing.
The Severn Road Club use the U17, it’s a tough course with about 1300 feet of undulations. The roar surface is pitted and getting beyond repair. They’ve done that thing where it looks a giant with an enormous tub of gritty black polyfilla has scraped over a huge hole. If you measured the distance and took into account the size of the depth of the fissures and tectonic gaps you’d find the course is significantly further than 25 miles. I think this is known as self-similarity, but i might be misremembering my studies into Chaos Theory.
I took it relatively easy on the way out, emboldened slightly by the mother of all tailwinds, but nervous about the last 9 miles after the turn and the savage assault to come. At 5 or so miles I had an average speed of 32mph. This dropped around the two short loops where the course deviates into the Alveston badlands, but heading for the turn i was up to a tidy 27mph, which i felt was perfectly reasonable given the swirling tornado. By this point my number was flapping violently in the gale, the wind had torn the pins out on one side.
I circumnavigated the roundabout at Slimbridge with a degree of caution. It’s a big roundabout. By the time I’d started to turn into the wind it became clear that things were about to change for the worse. I was using a Hed 3 trispoke on the front. It always raises an eyebrow on a windy day. I had a few spicy moments when a gap in the hedge made me wobble slightly, but generally it was within tolerance, whatever tolerance is. Some people really don’t cope with a gusting crosswind. I don’t mind it too much.
The journey back from the turn was an exercise in damage limitation; i had one overriding desire: to come in under the hour. I haven’t gone over the hour since i used a road bike and didn’t want to start now. I turned the Garmin screen off and clung on, trying desperately to make up time on any sheltered and downhill bits. It seemed just about manageable, but the drag up towards Stone was exhausting. The wind picked up and it was squeaky bum time; the bike was starting to do strange things, flick and twitch. Once through the funnel of doom I pushed to the line and managed a 59.32. It’s by far my slowest 25 for about 4 years, discounting any hilly courses, and shows just how hard a day it was. I scraped a 22mph average for the return leg. Nevertheless, it was the same for everyone and it was good enough for the win, with only one other rider coming in under the hour. There were several 2-up teams out on the course, Ben Anstie and James Cartridge glided round to a 55.30, making the most of company riding with a superlative effort.
Clubmate Jo Knight took the women’s prize with a 1.14, an incredible effort in the circumstances. She was going to ride home, a piffling 19 more miles into the teeth of the headwind; i gave her a lift.
It’s peculiar to take a win in the first event of the season. The pressure’s off, I guess. It’s also good to be racing and seeing the familiar faces coming out of hibernation.
Next week the hilly season starts, with the Chippenham Hardrider. I am silently hoping for benign weather.