Tomorrow We Ride

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.

Riding Across the Cotswolds

Hubris ( /ˈhjuːbrɪs/), also hybris, means extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

The adjective form of hubris is “hubristic”.

Today I managed a PB on my commute to work. The average speed for the 12 mile journey was a shade over 12 miles an hour. It’s a form of evens. Technically, today was a rest day but due to the unscheduled car mishap I had to ride. I took it very slowly. I think it might even be a PB by as much as 10 minutes. It was a genuinely impressive achievement and certainly more than a marginal gain.

Steve sent me a text earlier; he went out today after riding hard and fast in yesterday’s Betty Pharoah road race:

taking your lead, i went for a long hubristic ride in the wind and rain today. with rain-smashed legs and just a banana, I bonked HARD and crawled up the gorge into a tormenting headwind. haven’t fucked myself over like that in a long time. there would have been tears if i could have spared the energy.

Yesterday i set out early on a scheduled ride to Cheltenham, whereupon I was to meet with the inlaws and wife for a lovely luncheon. The wife opted to drive. She is still feeling the after effects of a 55 mile Tintern Trek with Suzi Douchebag, the Audax Queen, and a nice spin up and over the Cotswolds did not particularly appeal. I planned to take my Condor, which I am going to be using for some road races next month, and ride the route at a hefty lick. The weather forecast put the kibosh on that, and what with the Ark not being quite ready yet, i opted to take the Mercian with its full mudguards and the guarantee of a dry ass, rather than the guarantee of a mud-splattered obscenity stripe across the gusset and ass crack.

On the way out i felt positively super-charged. There was a gift tailwind, and as is the norm with all gift tailwinds, i managed to convince myself that it was only a mild tailwind and the reailty was that I was super strong. I tore up the climb out of Wotton, pausing only briefly to exchange pleasantries with a Bristol South rider labouring up the lower reaches. There were two other nasty climbs, one of which wasn’t that nasty but merely a bit long, before a fast descent to Cheltenham. I averaged over 20mph for the ride with 2615ft of climbing. I felt quite pleased with myself, i even felt some form of vague pride.

I had a lovely lunch. It was delicious. Fortified with ginger and treacle pudding i decided to ride home again. Through a process of elimination I can now deduce that this initial decision may have been the cause of subsequent events. I can certainly deduce that I experience both ‘a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of my competence and capabilities’, especially when i opted to start the ride with an ascent of Birdlip. I can safely say that this climb is a purgatory for cyclists and both times i’ve ridden it I’ve had real difficulty. It pitches up nastily in several key sections and averages 10% for the 2 miles. It’s disgusting. Last time i rode it i used a 68″ gear which was nearly fatal. This time i’d opted to use a range of gears and still it wreaked considerable havoc on my sense of being. I survived, and in due course I felt fine. I even managed Selsey Hill without too much bother. Things were looking up, I got to Wotton with about 25 miles to go and most of the climbing in the bag. I was feeling good and the sun was shining. Thus far for the entirety of both rides I had avoided the rain. I even seemed to have avoided the worst of the headwinds. I chatted to a random stranger whilst eating a flapjack, he was impressed by my efforts and asked me how i felt about the remaining 25 miles to come.

A Piece of Cake (picture courtesy of The Cherry on Top)

I left Wotton and headed towards Kingswood. The road surface had been replaced with a sort of loose aggregate which makes riding difficult. A roaring headwind suddenly picked up out of nowhere, racing across the estuary with merciless force. I could just about cope. Up ahead grey and darkening clouds massed in formation and the wind picked up further. I finally encountered my first rainfall of the day, initially a gentle few drops which then gathered in momentum. I stopped briefly under a railway arch somewhere north of Nowhere-by-Wickwar to don my overshoes, but before i could pedal off the rain suddenly poured down, so I opted to stay put. Within minutes it turned into freezing hail and continued unabated for around 10 minutes. I felt glad to be dry, but also experienced that curious dilemma, wondering whether to press on or wait…

It eventually eased and I headed out. The headwind remained the same, dispiriting and soul-destroying. After 80 hilly miles ridden at pace i was starting to suffer. I hunkered low on the drops and tried to carry on regardless, but my spirits sagged like a week old birthday balloon stuck in a hedge. I knew I had a mere 18 miles to go but was struggling, and it was the blustery, horrible headwind that broke me. I crossed the ring road with my average speed dropping through the floor and limped back through Bristol, my legs were shot to pieces, undercarriage malfunctioning, and spirits no longer soaring. I just made it home.

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