At last - I'm getting to see sunsets on the way home at night! Well, I was before winter came back... It's getting towards the tail end of march and it's freezing still, here's hoping that means we'll have a good summer!
Yesterday was the second round of road racing in the South West Scotland Cycling Project race series. The 4th cat race started at 9:30am and was scheduled to head up over the moor behind Corsock and back down the A713 along the shores of Loch Ken to the finish at Clarebrand. Unfortunately the weather was, once again, a little wintery so the route was changed to avoid the high ground and stick to the shores of Loch Ken. I'm glad it did, it was cold and wet with a couple of snow flurries, being higher up would have been even more miserable!
After my experience the weekend before, this week I decided to hide in the bunch and wait for the end. Unfortunately this didn't quite work out as planned - and it was entirely my fault. With the tragic events of a couple of weeks ago still fresh in everyone's minds, we were warned not to cross the white line at any point during the race by the organisers or we'd get disqualified. At the start I found myself right at the back of the bunch. Without crossing the white line and nipping up the outside of the group I really couldn't see any other way of getting nearer to the front. I waited for an opportunity but the conditions were so bad and I didn't have the bottle to force my way to the front through the middle of the bunch. As it was wet and cold people were sliding all over the place and puncturing constantly. The pace kept dropping then suddenly accelerating as various hazards were negotiated. Being right on the arse of it I had to brake harder and accelerate harder than those up front. So I was working really bloody hard to stay on the tail. Every other rider at the back with me was getting dropped. I fought and fought to stay on, sprinting over 50kmh to keep in touch every time there was an acceleration. By the time we got to the final few km's I thought I was going to get dropped. I lost the tail of the group on a wee climb outside Laurieston. I could feel the elastic stretching to breaking point so I hammered like mad to get back, which I did, just. I steadied myself and even gained a few places as we swept through a right/left sequence of bends onto the finishing run. Then it was just head down and keep going. Once we were into the final km the pace went up, I somehow kept with it and started to gain places. Once we were sprinting I flew right up the field! From dead last to 18th and finishing in the body of the main sprint. I was utterly spent by the end, I worked very hard to even keep within touch of the bunch and can definitely feel it sitting here now.
As it was finishing where I did was as good as I could have hoped for. More lessons learned and more to ponder for next time.
Unfortunately there isn't another local race until well into June, but this means I have lots of time to train and work hard in preparation! I might have to look around for some other races nearby so I can get some more experience as I think that's the key to doing well (if you're not a naturally talented rider like some people seem to be!) I have to say I'm surprised how much I'm enjoying road racing. I'm sure if I think hard enough I can think of some new bits of kit I'd need to make me faster too...
The first weekend of March saw the opening event in the South West Scotland Cycling Project's race series - a 20km 3 up team time trial around the roads near Kirkpatrick Durham. There was a good turn out of 70 or so riders and despite the cold I think everyone enjoyed themselves! The course itself went out from the village and up towards Corsock before turning back along the River Urr before finally hanging left and a wee kick back up to Kirkpatrick Durham. It was fast and the three man teams were making short work of it. Unfortunately we had only managed to cobble together a two man team so myself and my partner had a bit more work to do! We gave it our all and finished just outside the top 10, so not too bad considering our deficit. This was the first time I'd attempted a TT so I wasn't sure how I was going to fare. In the end it felt good to be racing, knowing the distance was short I could just bury myself in the effort. My legs felt good and I enjoyed the experience a lot. It was a nice warm up for the real season opener the next weekend - the road race!
Unfortunately the day after I developed a rather nasty stomach bug. I spent the following week off the bike and not eating. It wasn't until Thursday that I had my first proper meal of the week! Not the ideal preparation for a race on the Sunday. I really wasn't sure I'd race. But somehow, inevitably, I found myself cycling out to the start on Sunday with no real idea how my form would be or what was going to happen.
The circuit took us out from the village towards Loch Ken, up the side of the Loch then right across the moor towards Corsock before following the River Urr to Bridge of Urr then a nasty little uphill finish.
I rode the final climb on the way to the start and knew it was too much for me. I wasn't going to finish well on this circuit - but seen as it was my first race, finishing with the bunch and not getting dropped should be my main objective. The race start was neutralised until we got onto the A713 on the side of Loch Ken. Then the pace upped, bit of a desperate sprint at the back! I'd found myself right at the rear of the bunch, there was a way to go and I didn't see the point in fighting to the front straight away. We sped off up the side of the Loch, the bunch twitching nervously.
I may not have raced before but I'm used to riding in groups and following wheels. A lot of people there were not. When we turned off the the A-road to start climbing up to the moor, a junior rider careered into the side of the bunch (right in front of me) and caused a bit of a pile up. Other riders were coming together for no apparent reason. It was chaos! I decided the safest place was nearer the front. And I got a little carried away. Sitting on the front was quite fun and trying to break off the front of the bunch was quite fun too. So I wasted a bit of energy playing at being Jens for a while. The headwind was vicious and energy sapping. My legs hurt a little too much so I dropped back into the main bunch for a while.
Unbeknown to me a rider had broken away right at the start and at that moment was well on course to winning solo. I also didn't know that the bunch had all but halved in size, but that became evident as we turned at Corsock onto the run to the finish. I sat at the back again recovering and trying to decide what to do. The B-road we were now on was tight and twisty with lots of little lumps. There was also a headwind so attacking on it wouldn't really work. I decided to sit tight to the finish and had picked out the wheel I planned on following up the climb. All I had to do was work to the front of the bunch for the turn off to the finish which was a little tight. I didn't want to get caught up in any other crashes! I picked my moment and started to move up the bunch, I kicked a little and suddenly, I was free. I kicked again and one or two bike lengths became three or four.
Bugger it, I'm not going to win so I may as well take a little glory and attack!
I flew off into the final climb with a decent lead on the bunch. But my legs weren't up for fighting up the final climb and I had to sit up. I got swallowed up and finished at the back of the main group - 22nd place. All told I'm not unhappy with that, I was the first Wheeler home and knew what I was doing by flying off the front. I enjoyed the race, I really enjoyed the tactics. There's a lot more thinking involved than in a XC race! I've already signed up for the next one this coming Sunday on a very similar circuit. This time I've been discussing a plan with my club mates. Let's see if it makes a difference! I think it's fair to say I've caught the bug. My goal for the season now is to get a full racing licence and gain enough points to move up to 3rd Cat - we'll see how that fits around the XC racing, I have a suspicion it'll make me a bit quicker!
It feels like it's been a long winter. The weather has been wet and cold which has made for some particularly foul riding conditions. Having said that, I've covered a good distance over the past few months. I generally managed to get out most weekends and I've commuted through all the weather had to throw at me, all helping to rack up the base miles. It has seen some casualties. I've worn out and broken quite a few bits of kit!
But today the sun is shining and the skies blue. Much as it was when I went out for the Sunday ride with the Stewartry Wheelers, (there is a new website in the offing!) a local cycling club I have recently joined. Clubs are a great way to meet other like minded people and to discover some new roads or trails. It can also get you access into the local race scene which is in rude health here in Dumfries & Galloway.
The South West Scotland Cycling Project is a little gem of a race series organised across the region. It offers riders of all ages and abilities the opportunity to try out different forms of racing from road to XC. I've raced XC before but never road. That all changes in a weeks time! My first road race is coming up (well, technically it's a 3 man team time trial) on the 2nd of March, then there's some XC the following weekend (Saturday) and a road race on the Sunday! I am really quite excited. I have no idea what to expect on the road - other than it hurting quite a lot, but I'm looking forward to the experience. If I can get through without getting dropped I'll be happy.
The Scottish XC series also gets underway in march with the first round in Forfar in Angus - I'll hopefully be there, ably demonstrating how to mince round a race course.
The weather forecast for this morning was for a balmy 3 or 4 degrees and no wind. That's positively tropical compared with the past few weeks and the lack of wind was a welcome respite, feels like spring is just around the corner! Unfortunately the past few weeks of freeze, thaw, freeze, snow, rain, freeze, thaw (and repeat) have really played havoc with the roads. Rivulets of water have gouged away the edge of the road in many places, there are permanent streams pouring out of fields, small potholes have become large potholes. I'll be commuting on my MTB soon! Combine that with an unexpected freeze this morning and conditions were a little dicey. The rear tyre was struggling for traction when I first left the house this morning. Unfortunately the back roads are sparsely populated so no one can see me execute the perfect two wheel drift as I slide all over the road. Which is a shame as I must have looked really cool. Honest!
Someone turn that thing up, melt the ice!
As the ride progressed and the sun rose the ice melted, which was a relief. Unfortunately though I managed to tear a hole in the sidewall of my rear tyre on a descent. There are so many loose stones it was probably only a matter of time. Once again I found myself with a repair I couldn't manage roadside, so once again I called in the cavalry. I did used to carry tyre boots in my saddlebag, but I have never actually needed them. They were so old and had got wet a few times so had pretty much disintegrated. Worst part is when the tyre let go it took out my rear crud raceguard too. Bugger. It's been an expensive couple of weeks (I tried to repair my damaged CX bike the other night only to find that not only had I torn the rear mech off the hanger but I'd twisted the mech too).
So looks like a weekend on the MTB for me. Which I don't mind. I love mountain biking, it was what got me into cycling in the first place. Though I've been reading blogs by pro racers who have all spent the winter either cross training in beautiful snow covered landscapes or riding awesome desert trails. Which is a far cry from braving a Scottish winter to grind yet more drivetrain components into the dirt! But the armoured 7 stanes trails are a god send this time of year and still a lot of fun even if it is wet. Won't be venturing out onto the open hillside for a while yet though.