My First Cycle Race
My First Cycle Race
It’s only taken three years to pluck up the courage, but now finally I’m a Cat 4 Racer. Read about my first cycle race.
As a kid I had various bikes, I used to cycle everywhere. I remember a racer that I used to take through the woods in Shirley Hills and Lloyds Park in Croydon where I grew up. There was a mountain bike that I could wheelie pretty much at will and even go round corners on one wheel (I don’t know how because I can’t wheelie now).
I also remember buying my first cycling jersey. It was a Banesto top, because I’d watched Miguel Indurain win The Tour De France. Somewhere along the line, instead of joining a cycling club and racing, I pretty much stopped cycling. I was even asked by a friend of my Uncle if I would like to go and join a club based at the Herne Hill Velodrome, because that’s where he cycled, but I had lost interest by then.
I’m 36 now. In the last 4 years I’ve started to feel the need to go cycling again. It started with winning a hybrid bike in an Evening Standard competition. My first goal was a charity sportive, which seems to be quite a common thing now, and perhaps instead of turning our noses up at them, maybe we should thank them for encouraging people to discover or rediscover cycling.
Once I’d done the 100km sportive, I started doing longer and longer rides up to 100 miles. Then, last year I started riding with some cyclists who had formed an informal group. Some of the members raced, so they talked about it, and the more they talked about it, the more I thought about it. I still had a lot of work to do before I thought I should race, but there was definitely an idea in my head that I should do it at some point.
I found myself starting the long road towards track induction at Lee Valley Velopark. The bonus of this was that as well as being inside away from the rain and cold, I would learn how to ride close to others safely and build up my confidence. This was something I was struggling with and knew I would need to do in a race. I also bought a turbo trainer so I could fit in the odd 30 minute or less training session if I really was pushed for time.
I wanted to do this on my terms, but there are other more conventional ways to get ready to race. The most obvious way is to join a local Cycling Club, go out on club rides and get advice from their more experienced members. Unfortunately I work shifts, and have a young family. The way I approached it was a little more flexible, I could go out for an hour or so before work. The track sessions I did were booked for my days off. In fact I’ve got stuck on stage 3 of the induction because the sessions are only on certain days that I am normally busy with work or the kids, but I have completed stage 2 several times and it’s a good session for group riding skills.
Last year I was lucky enough to ride the Tour of Cambridgeshire and the Revolve24 amongst other events. These two, and watching lots and lots of road and track racing, further gave me the appetite for racing. I had decided that in 2016 I’d like to be at the front of the start at the Tour of Cambridge because I had some friends who had done that last year, so I needed a race license for that. I realised I had better do some racing to justify the expense. I even visited Hillingdon to watch some of the Handsling Racing Team in action to gee me up.
Because of my lack of spare time I decided that my local track at Redbridge Cycle Centre would be a good place to race. Unfortunately it is considered quite a hard track because of the huge Hog Hill. I accepted that I would just have to push on and hope that the added incentive of not getting lapped would help me push up the hill.
The East London Velo CC runs a Winter series every year starting in January at Redbridge. I was off on the date of the first race, so I entered. My Giant TCR was cleaned and fettled, I bought myself an aero lid – because everyone wears an aero lid at races – and they really do. I lost count of the number of Specialized Evade and Giro Air Attacks that I saw. I only saw one other Giant Rivet though.
It rained a lot in the preceding days. Indeed, the day before the race the bottom track was closed due to flooding. I checked the morning of the event and it was all clear. This was pretty lucky because with all the rain we raced in, the next day’s races were cancelled due to flooding too. Now, had I done enough training? I had a pretty lazy week leading up to the race, just a few turbo sessions and one commute to work. Then of course there was Christmas just a few weeks ago. Luckily I don’t drink much and I was consciously not going too hard on the rich food that my wife seemed to have stockpiled in case we were inundated with visitors.
The day of the race and I couldn’t decide what to wear. It was likely to rain, but wasn’t that cold. I
eventually decided on winter long sleeve base layer with summer jersey and gilet over my bibshorts and leg warmers. I put my merino socks on, with my velotoze covers to keep the rain out and the warmth in. It turned out to be a fairly sound choice. I managed to get through the race without losing the feeling in my extremities or overheating.
The actual race was quite nerve wracking. My wife and kids turned up just as we lined up at the start line. They never come to the sportives I do. I was reminiscing on the 400m and 1500m races I won at school. Neither race was won from the front. The 1500m race was the most likely racing scenario for a cycling race. After a gentle start, the two favourites pushed on with me sheltering behind them saving my energy. It was a 300m track so we had 5 laps to do. On the last lap I found the energy to sprint, and I overtook the other two leaving them in shock and unsure what to do. It was a surprise to me as much as them but I had trained hard that year and it paid off with a win.
The race start was a particularly unspectacular affair. After a short briefing by one bloke, another one just said “off you go lads”! I was taken unawares and went to clip in. Most of my riding recently had been on my commuter bike which has mountain bike type SPD pedals. The SPD pedals are easier to clip in to and are double sided too. On my TCR I have Look Keo road pedals. They aren’t so easy to clip in, and my lack of practice meant I missed the clip. By the time I clipped in and put the hammer down, the rest of the pack were at the first corner.
I desperately tried to catch up, praying my Schwalbe Ones would grip on the damp track. After two laps, I had to concede that I wasn’t going to catch them. I would get close on the rest of the track because I didn’t have to slow down as much in the corners, then at the hill I would just lose all the ground I’d made up and more. I still set a PB on the hill, and everywhere else on the track. The rest of the race I was on my own. I caught up and overtook several other riders though, I wasn’t last.
The race format was that if you get lapped after the 5 laps to go board is out your race is over. I was determined to make it to at least then before getting lapped. They were getting closer and closer, I reckoned less than half a lap by the time the board was put out. I made it. By the time I got to the bottom of the track I could see that by the next ascent of the hill they would be right behind me. It was also raining quite hard by now. I didn’t fancy being taken on the hill so I chickened out and let them go past so I could take the hill nice and slowly and end my race with 4 laps to go at the top of the hill.
As a first race I don’t think I did too badly. I pored over strava for hours after, looking at lap times and segments and flybys. I convinced myself that if only I had clipped in a bit quicker and managed to get on the pack I certainly could have finished the race without getting lapped, my average speed was around 2mph down on the race winner and he had a pack of riders to take turns in the wind.
I need to put the same Look Keo pedals on my commute bike so I can practice clipping in. I’d also like to get some performance testing to find out what my strong points are, and to confirm I’m rubbish at hills. I need to have another go, but I’m working the next two races. I’m very eager to try a flatter track now too. I’ve also noticed that in the Spring there is a race series at Redbridge which doesn’t use the hill as part of the course…..
Compare prices and buy road bikes from: