No, it’s not that gory really. I stayed up right, no scrapes, no bruises, just a big smile and one exhausted woman – and many lessons about women’s bike racing learned.
After the immense confidence boost of the women’s novice road race training session, I cycled home on a fluffy cloud of invincibility, having visions of crossing that finish line first, ripping my arms in the air to celebrate. Oh yeah! Where yesterday, I was dithering to enter a bunch race, I put my bike in the corner headed straight for my computer, still in cycling kit, bought a British Cycling membership added on a race license, and egged on by some of my friends from my old club in Scotland, Stirling Bike Club, I entered the Crit on Campus. All in the space of 15 min of arriving home. Best strike while the iron is hot.
I had planned to go to Scotland, ride with friends and marshal at the Crit on the Campus anyways, so why not take 2hrs out to race. The Crit was 2 weeks away.
During the following week, I got stuck into my bike training as more news trickled through: the biggest women’s field ever assembled in Scotland (45) and the British Champ and a Commonwealth Games medallist entered, along with some proper women’s team riders. I started to doubt the sanity of my decision and most of all, whether it was a good decision to make this my very first race.
Cue the ever bubbly and enthusiastic Alison Salthouse, who I’ve met at the women’s training day. Alison posted in our Facebook group about a circuit race in Shrewsbury, 3 days hence with a women only race. Shrewsbury has a purpose built cycling circuit, which is accessible by public transport. Entries on the day were possible: this sounded like an excellent idea.
Having no clue what to expect, I was glad to meet up with Alison, safety in numbers. Around 15 women had signed up, half of them para-cyclists. But that’s the beauty of cycling in a way, the lines blurr. I’ve got my numbers and got everything prepped. As I had come on public transport, I had no turbo, so Alison and I zoomed round the parking lot, producing something vaguely similar to the warm-up we had learned at the session. The other girls all looked so terribly pro doing their sprints on rollers.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had vague ambitions to hang on to the front group, but predominantly I just wanted to practice what I had learned: bunch riding and cornering. After two short familiarisation laps, we assembled at the start line, me in my brand spanking new Cult Racing kit, and got our instructions from the Commissaire. We all pretty much had first row seats and I was quite excited. Focused even. Or so I thought.
I had my strong leg at the top to push off, the whistle went, I pushed down, pedalled to pick up speed, got my foot clipped in and checked where I was in relation to the rest of the field. The sobering truth: after only 200m of racing, I was already 50m down. Bertram, what we’re you thinking!? For about half a lap I attempted to make contact, and interestingly I caught people up at corners. And so I figured, I’d better focus on the other stuff, make the most of it as a learning experience.
Looking around, there were 3 other girls close by, so I dropped back and slotted in with them. At the corners I caught up, on the straights I hung close to the next rear wheel. I was very pleased with myself. I tried to animate the group, getting us to change leads and share the load. So I went to the front took a turn. When I thought I’d had enough, I looked, flicked my right elbow and looked again to drop back on the right side. Blooming heck! Just as well I looked because the other girl came past me on the right, not on the left. Communicate and look, important lessons for sure.
One of the other girls in the group had no concept of changing through and shot straight to the head of the group each time. When this happened for the third time, the rest of us looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and let her pull us round. I focused on my cornering and staying close to wheels. The hairpin turn was ace for that and I found I passed half the group in the corner.
At 20 min into the race I struggled. I found myself wishing the race was over. It was hard work. I gritted my teeth. Managed a sip of water. Clung with my teeth to the girl’s coat tails. The corners brought respite.
All of a sudden a swoosh from the back. Shouts of ‘Stay left’ and ‘on your right’ which are the same thing, but my brain was in no position to process that and I just got very confused for a moment while we got lapped by the lead bunch. I didn’t even contemplate trying to go with them, after all we weren’t supposed to interfere if lapped.
30 min into the race I had a second wind. The knowledge that the race would soon be over and all I had to do was hang on to the group for a little bit more and the think about how I would finish this. I knew out of hairpin I had to get to the front and through the last S turn out the hammer down for the uphill sprint. We got lapped – again. My brain was in no state, all I could focus on was the front wheel. Unexpectedly, we got a sign ‘2 laps’ – oh! Race nearly over then. Time to put the plan into action. Problem was: the other girls had the same plan. We had all sat back and enjoyed the ride, this was the business end.
Out of the hairpin. The other two girls had pulled away out of the corner quicker. Darn! So I went after them, but the gap grew, on the uphill I started catching them, but the straight wasn’t long enough.
I was gutted, but quite delighted. I had finished my first race, I had stayed upright, I was still in one piece, but I’d had fun! On the warm-down lap I had a chat with the other two girls and they were members of the para-cycling squad. Incredibly strong. Just awesome! Simultaneously, my tummy started cramping, I couldn’t have given much more.
After the race I caught up with Alison for a little warm-down round the parking lot. A panini, chips and coffee later, I felt ready to tackle the way home. On reflection, I was not ready to race (physically). Crits are incredibly demanding, eyeballs out racing for however long it takes. But it was SO MUCH FUN! I did what I came to do, practice my freshly learned skills, and get some experience under my belt before tackling the Crit on the Campus. I couldn’t wait!