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2014 Season so far

by Will Ranoe I think after reading this everyone will agree that I’m better off sticking to riding my bike than writing words down and stuff, but I’ve been asked to report on the club race team’s first few races this season so here goes.

The first race of the season for most of us was the last of the Imperial Cycles Winter Series at the Hillingdon Cycle Circuit just off the M4 near Heathrow. We were greeted with gale force winds and a headwind on the start-finish straight that slowed the peloton to about 14mph! This meant that on the other side of the already fast and winding track we were blown at ridiculous speeds into the sharpest corners of the course and on one occasion whilst attempting a breakaway I followed my sole companion onto the grass only to witness the poor chap ditch over his handlebars when trying to rejoin the track! Woody and Elliot were either being more sensible enjoying the shelter of the 40-strong 4th cat peloton or being class teammates and waiting for me; anyway I hopped on the back and off we went. 

The wind really was howling but still four chaps managed to get off the front (without any of us noticing) and stayed away for nearly the entire 40 minute race. A few laps and several barks later I remembered I’d left my fox terrier Cabbage tied to the outside of my car parked at the side of the track (it was either this or leave her inside with the alarm going off). This was motivation to try and finish the race before she gnawed her lead off and tried to join us on the track. So off I went to chase down the breakaway and finish the race a bit earlier. Only after a few laps killing myself did I realise that the race was going to last 40mins however fast I went! 

Exhaustion aside, it became apparent that I was catching the tiring breakaway and there was no sign of the main peloton behind me – the beauty of the Hillingdon course is that you can hide from the peloton around the next corner, and it is possible to pedal round all of the corners if you get your angles right. The result was that I caught three thoroughly exhausted riders with 2 laps to go and enjoyed their company for a lap before dropping them on the final lap only to be joined by some cheeky bas***d who tried to outsprint me out of the last corner! (I think there was about a tyre's width between us in my imaginary photo finish!) 

It turned out that there had been another rider up the road – Matthew Thorne of Paul Milnes Cycles – who had apparently escaped from the break in the last 10 laps and stayed away for a brilliant and convincing win. So it was a 2nd place for me and my first 8 points. Woody and Elliot claimed 18th and 21st in the group sprint. For once the breakaway stayed away, and even though 9 out of 10 times they seem to be caught, I can recommend trying to get involved with every one! Thrilling.

Next up was the London Bike Show criterium. An experience! Painted concrete floors so plenty of crashes; the fear of heart attack from the constant sprinting out of every dead turn corner of which there were only two as it was a rather unimaginatively created truncated circle track; and no drink bottles allowed inside the baking Excel centre. I’m not too sure I enjoyed it much, particularly as a wild ranting 'Aussie' came flying past me with a few laps to go! However the photos were pretty cool so it was just about worth it. Woody finished 6th and I got 7th, apparently. 

Awesome support from Anna, Mrs Woody and the little Woodies!

In March we raced at the Mountbatten Centre. It’s a really well attended and supported track and there were so many 4th cat riders that they split us into two races. Woody went first and did very well to finish at all on his borrowed bike. How much can I take the piss? (I know what he’s like, anything I say here will fuel him to thrash me in the next race!) Anyway, I got 4th in the sprint in my race, and enough points to move up to cat 3 - bugger! Woody, I understand, has been concentrating on his modelling career! (Photo courtesy of MTBepics)

Preston Park in Brighton was the next venue; the oldest velodrome in the UK so I’m told, and really quite stunning. It’s been great to watch a good few VCGH boys down there – Nathan Hoy, Woody Scotson, Mark Pritchard and Chris Parker have all had a pop at the 4th cat, with Chris opting to have a lie down on the track towards the end of his first race, then a lie down in an ambulance, then hospital. I’m pleased to say he’s now fine and back on the bike and shopping for a new pair of forks I’d imagine!

I’ve taken part in three Cat 3 races now at Preston Park, and have accumulated a whopping 2 points from a 9th, a 23rd and a 10th. Turns out the Cat 3 guys are a bit quicker! Besides the obvious, what you do get from moving up a category (he says with his vast experience) is a more organised group of riders, better communication, maybe a tap on the thigh or shoulder or a ‘word’ in the ear to let you know who’s there, and a lot more breakaways. As with the pro peloton in the first hour or two of any major race the attacking is constant and this really is ruddy good fun!

As far as race reports go for these Brighton races my first was a group sprint. It’s a tight circuit and everyone wants to be on the front in the last 5 laps so you may need to use the grass and shout a lot to get through. I found a gap up the inside on the last lap to move up some places then bellowed in someone’s ear on the last banked corner and he kindly let me through to steal his 9th place. 

My 2nd race there I did not hear the lap countdown or see the boards as they’d moved to the outside of the track and when the bell went I was nowhere near where I needed to be to contest the sprint: Lesson learned; watch the clock! 

Race 3 I spent most of the race in a 4-man breakaway with half a lap on the main bunch at one point but there wasn’t the final push in the legs to lap the field, we were caught and there were several other breaks before one more strategically sound rider got away with 2 laps to go, and with most of the pack wanting to save any remaining energy he got away and stayed away. I finished 10th in the sprint. 

So I now have 2 points and I need 40 points to move up to Cat 2! Then I think it’s 60 or 100 to go up to Cat 1 then Elite! (For those starting out in Cat 4 you need just 12 points to graduate to 3rd). Whatever the point situation, the emphasis is definitely on having fun.

Here’s a couple of insights into racing from Elliot: 

In being eager to experience racing at the beginning of the year I entered the Hillingdon Winter Series. Hillingdon is a closed circuit with a lap taking just over 2 minutes with racing throughout all categories (E1234). The races are separated into E1/2, 3rds & 4ths. Twisty, fast and exhilarating are all words I would use to describe the races. Average speed was generally circa 24mph – the wind being the biggest factor if the pace is faster / slower. Races last about 40 minutes and the bunch sprint at the end decides the outcome for the masses. 

I also tried a handicap race at Longcross (near Chertsey). A different structure with the various categories setting off at intervals with the view of catching the one ahead. Concentration levels go off the scale, never have I been so aware of bike wheels being all around me! Pace was quick at around 25mph avg. but paradoxically it did slow slightly when all the categories came together. Sprinting against elites is a new experience…when I say ‘against’, what I really mean is they flew past me! Longcross isn’t a closed circuit so you have cars and junctions to contend with, albeit well marshalled. A different type of racing to 4th Cat only; more difficult in my opinion, but equally enjoyable!’



So you’re all massively enthused and want a go? You can contact me at racing@vcgh.co.uk with any questions. This is what we’ve got lined up:

  • The Southdown Velo Goodwood Summer Series kicks off in May with handicapped E/12/3/4 racing everyday Tuesday evening from 7pm. (You can read Elliot's account of handicapped racing above).
  • There’ll be Wednesday night closed circuit racing at Eelmoor near Farnborough which is a great track to start out on with long straights and two hairpin turns. It's Cat 3s and 4s together so you get a decent-sized peloton and can do nothing all race if it suits you until the final sprint out of the last turn!
  • There are also races at Hillingdon on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
  • The 2-stage Tour of the Milburys on the 10th of May.
  • I'm doing an open road race on the Cutmill circuit out of Elstead on the 11th; an Omega crit race at the Park & Ride in Winchester on June 15th; and the 1st of the VC Venta Summer Crit Series at the same venue on the 29th. For some town centre action there is the Eastbourne Festival crit on June 1st, the Guildford crit on July 9th and Winchester on 17th August.

Remember, racing is the best training!

Will

(Photo above: Will on a solo breakaway at beautiful Goodwood motor racing track for the 1st of the Southdown Velo Summer Series on May 6th).