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!
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.
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)
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.
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 email@example.com with any questions. This is what we’ve got lined up:
Remember, racing is the best training!
(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).