And so it came to pass, Winter changed to Spring, then, on the 25th of March, slightly earlier than billed, Spring jumped straight into Summer for one whole day. Happily, this coincided with the first round of the all-new Vets’ Road Race Series – the aptly named “Is That My Knee or Your BB”, with about 55 riders ‘of a certain age’ lining up to try and display that there’s life in the old dogs yet, and indeed there is…
With a field of riders a bit older, the organisers had sensibly scheduled a start time of 13:00 for the race – none of this early morning, 10:00am nonsense, and so it was, we all congregated at Fenwick Church for our respective sign-on, warm-up, and pre-race briefing.
The course, itself, was not entirely inspiring – starting at a roundabout on the A77 (at Juntion 7 of the M77), we were to race 3.5km up to the next roundabout (J6), then race back to the first roundabout, eight times. With ideal weather conditions, and only a slight breeze (and no big climbs to think about), the race was going to be fast, but it would be interesting to see if anyone would be able to force a break.
This time, I had the company of three fellow teammates: Craig Kidd, Alan Lamont, and Franco Porco. With four strong team riders in the lineup, we had an excellent chance of getting a good result.
Neutralised from Fenwick out to the course, the race soon got underway with some probing attacks once we were heading down to J6 for the first time. I planned to take it easy for the first lap or two in order to check out the condition of the road surface at each roundabout – always good to know what level of grip is available before you actually need to use it! Conditions were good.
David Dalziel (Glasgow Nightingale) was the first to attack, and he established a decent gap rather rapidly. A couple of other riders gave chase, but it was pretty clear that this move was not going to stick, and within half a lap, we were reeling them all back in.
On the third lap, Kenny Riddle (Moray Firth) launched, and was joined by another rider (I’m not sure who). The pair were working together as they headed down to the J6 roundabout, and I decided that this may be a good break to join, so I accelerated and started to bridge across.
Round J6, I was catching up (and getting away), and it was a bit of an effort to close the gap – there’s a bit of a rise on the return leg, and despite there only being a gentle breeze, it was a headwind in this direction, and a noticeable one at that. Eventually, I managed to join them, and we started working together to keep the pace high. With a decent gap to the main bunch, I could see a second breakaway of three riders bridging across – if they could make it, and the six of us put the hammer down, we’ll be away!
As the lap closed in on J7, our break became six riders, and we managed roughly one full rotation, with high hopes of leaving the bunch behind, before we were chased down, and reabsorbed into the main peloton. As we cleared the roundabout to start the fourth lap, I remember thinking that my effort was wasted. What was the cost going to be…
For lap 4, it was the turn of teammate Craig Kidd to give things a bit of a poke. He accelerated past us all, and got a good thirty seconds up the road. I, for one, was impressed by the gap he pulled. I tried to keep the bunch at bay, but riders were simply going past, so I just sat in and enjoyed the ride.
Around J7, just starting our fifth lap, and Craig’s moment of glory was eventually shutdown, but it was certainly a worthy solo effort.
Lap 5 was the ‘interesting’ lap. The bunch were cruising down to J6 with not much happening. I remembered noting the rider (let’s call him Rider ‘A’) to my right and slightly in front was overlapping wheels with the guy in front of him – not a sensible thing to do, but not much was happening. Unfortunately, Rider ‘A’, for some, inexplicable reason, decided to look over his should to see how things were looking behind him. This is not a good thing to do in the middle of the bunch. For one thing, the race is in front, not behind, secondly, all you’ll see behind you is a bunch of riders behind you – it’s not as if he was attacking, and trying to get a gap. Thirdly, when a rider turns to look behind, the body movement invariable causes the rider to move off their line and gently veer in the same direction their head turns, and this was exactly what happened.
Rider ‘A’ turned his head to the right to look behind, his bike drifted slightly right, and his front wheel, overlapping the wheel in front, came in contact, and the crash was inevitable. As if in slow motion, Rider ‘A’ started falling to the right, but, as his front wheel had been turned left and was going from under him, the whole bike was sliding left – right towards me. I had zero time to react, other than to ready myself for the inevitability of having my wheels swiped out from under me, and the certainty of hitting the deck at speed.
By some miracle, Rider ‘A’s wheels missed me (by some extremely small margin, I’m sure), and I was lucky to carry on, unscathed. The riders behind, unfortunately, were not so lucky. With plenty of space around me to safely look back (this was a conscious consideration!), I looked round and saw a mess of bikes and bodies flying through the air, a sight nobody wants to see, and a cold reminder that road racing is not a risk free past-time. No matter how good a bike handler you are, you’re still at the mercy of other riders.
About a third of the bunch was caught up or held back by the crash. Up ahead, Kenny Riddle was off the front (again!), but he wasn’t going especially hard. I accelerated across, and pulled up alongside to let him know about the crash, and asked if we should ease up to let the other riders get back on. He shrugged and commented that they’re unlikely to get back on – in hindsight, he was maybe thinking of the riders on the deck, rather than the riders that were simply held up. Either way, we just carried on.
We approached J6, and I led-off round the roundabout, unintentionally creating a gap as I headed back up the road, so I decided, “What the heck”, I might as well give it a nudge, so I did. The gap opened, and I got into a time trial position, and settled into a manageable pace. I was hoping one or two other riders might bridge across, but, once again, by the time I made it up to the other end of the course, the whole bunch was bearing down on me, and it was all for nought.
The race was entering the end-game as laps 6 and 7 flew by. We were finally on the last lap, and it was clear that the finish would be a bunch effort. Given that the run-in from the roundabout was slightly downhill with a gentle tailwind, it was going to be a fast one, and race position and getting up to escape velocity early was going to be key at the finish.
As we headed up to the J7 roundabout for the final time, I made a point of ensuring I was sitting no further back than fifth wheel in the bunch. Despite the big wide road, it doesn’t matter how much power you have in your legs, there’s nowhere to use it if you’re boxed in with nowhere to go…
Round the roundabout, there were about 2,000 metres of racing left. I was managing to hold my position in the bunch, and made a point of keeping fairly central in the left side of the road giving me space to move around if needed. Stuart Munro (East Kilbride) was directly in front of me. Having ridden with him plenty in the past (Stuart joined me and four others for a week of riding around Annecy last year), I know he’s a strong rider and would be a good wheel to follow. He didn’t disappoint.
With less than 1,000 metres to go, Stuart made a beautiful move between two other riders to take the front of the race, and I smoothly followed him. Things were looking very good so far. Riders were lining up behind, but I had space to move around as needed.
With about 500 metres to go, I started thinking that either Stuart needs to speed up, or I need to consider going early as someone was likely to jump us. Stuart must have read my mind and he opened up the pace, and accelerated nicely. Another two hundred metres covered and this was working out very nicely indeed.
I normally open my sprint later rather than sooner, but today I was aware that the advantage would be to the guy that gets up to speed quickly. With about 250 metres to go, I launched.
Stuart started to blow, and I had plenty of room to get around him and accelerate towards the line. I focussed on getting the power down, and getting as much speed as possible. With less than 40 metres to go, it was clear that I had caught the bunch off-guard and nailed the race. Ten metres left and I could ease off and raise one hand in victory (I decided that raising both hands might not be a great idea – I was riding on 88mm wheels, and I didn’t want to run the risk of an unexpected sidewind snatching at my front wheel).
My goal for this race had been realised – first across the line – closely followed by Paul Rennie (Dooleys) in 2nd, and Kenny Riddle (Moray Firth) in 3rd (Kenny also took the prize for 1st V50+ Vet), with the rest of the bunch immediately behind.
What should have been a day for celebrations, however, was marred by the carnage in the remaining sprint for the line. It turned out that, in the final 100 metres, a rider further back in the bunch decided to change line abruptly, causing considerable carnage. My impromptu lead-out man, Stuart, had been swamped, and was caught in the resulting crash culminating in a destroyed frame-set, not to mention cuts, bruises, and ripped kit. Others suffered broken collar bones. Teammate Alan Lamont was also brought down, landing flat on his back – not good for someone that had back surgery the previous year (I hope you’re recovering OK, Alan!).
The worst, however, was the sight of my friend Alastair Pell (Glasgow Nightingale), laying in the middle of the road unconscious. Three other riders were looking after him whilst we waited for an ambulance to turn up (he was in good hands: an oncologist, a vascular surgeon, and an anaesthetist). I later found out that his CAT scan and spinal checks were all clear. Alastair suffered a bit of concussion, and a couple of minor broken bones (I’m not sure what they were though). Hopefully, he’ll soon get back on the bike and this incident won’t put him off racing in future…
As for my teammates, Craig’s effort was rewarded with tenth place, and Franco managed to avoid the carnage to salvage (I think) 14th place.
A good outing for the team (Alan’s crash notwithstanding), putting us in a good position for round 2 at the end of May, up in Alford.
Next up: Crit on the Campus (that’ll be a shorter report! 😉 )