Monday, July 13, 2009

Oakley, Oxfordshire - An Egotists View from the Back

Before we started the race on Sunday I popped over to the signing-on desk to pick up some pins for Sorelle and Sharron’s numbers, joking that my contribution to the day would be solely along the lines of the dutiful domestique. My start to the event was thwarted by a puncture on the startline followed by the slow realisation that the pool of high-tech spare wheels was never going to work with the 8-speed chain on my cyclo-cross bike – the only reasonably lightweight bike I have for road racing.

Drowning my initial resignation to “pack up and go home” I switched out the punctured inner tube and set about my first lap. Half a mile later, one of the links on aforementioned 8 speed chain started to pop undone so I retreated again to the van for a chain tool before embarking on the race once and for all.

After half a lap, I came across Sharron, recovering from the discovery that her wheel wasn’t in straight and the brakes locked up in the middle of the pack on the first corner. Wheel straightened and brakes re-set we began 2 laps of chatting like a couple of Sunday club-run riders, waiting for the pack to catch us. Despite the slippery windy roads, I was fairly sure we wouldn’t catch the pack no matter how hard we tried. In retrospect, I should’ve tried to help pull Sharron back up to any groups which fell off the back of the main pack but when you’re pretty sure you’re 25 minutes off the back of a 6 mile lap, these suggestions don’t come easy to an adrenaline-fuelled brain.

Finally, the men caught us and Sharron made a very brave effort to sit with them while I, ever aware of my limits, continued to wait for the women. After what seemed like an eternity, the pack finally emerged, sadly without Sorelle but I managed to join it and surprised myself by staying in it.

Genevive was still in-tact in the group and seemed relieved to see another Swindon rider to help out. Envigorated by joining a group with 3 laps more fatigue in their legs than I had, I set about causing a stir by stomping out some fast pace on the right hand side of the pack – where all the elite riders were making their moves to avoid the potholes on the left of the road. I tried to mark Gen, giving her a break from the wind and opening little doors in the constant stream of changing places. Sharron joined in the fun, having left the men to their own devices and for the first time in my life I actually felt like I could contribute to team tactics.

The penultimate lap of the course passed with little event until I got another smug “first time for everthing” feeling from crossing over the last lap marker, still part of a coherent group. The fact that I was a lap down just didn’t matter to me anymore.

The last lap pace didn’t start to accelerate until about half way round where a very sharp left hand bend is followed by a steep hump-back motorway bridge. Rather than my usual performance of slowing to a snail’s pace and dropping off the back, I found myself keeping pace with many of my peers and, quite astonishingly, still had my eye on Genevive.

As I marked “breakaway alley” on the right, I noticed a very strong solo-rider start to sneak by with purpose in her legs. There was no-way anyone was getting past my moment of glory and all of a sudden, in my head, I was the Hincapie to Genevives’ Cavendish and I could see my explosive sprint leading her out to take the 1-2 for Swindon road club (ignoring, of course, the fact that I am still one-lap down). So I jumped on the wheel of miss Breakaway and gave my all to dragging whoever else would follow from the main group across the 20m gap she managed to open up. My plan worked, plenty of others saw her go and despite the evil glances of death she kept throwing my way (or perhaps she wanted help), we succeeded in dragging her back.

That was my moment of glory more or less spent as I glided to the back of the pack.

Pride got the better of me though and I managed, somehow to cling on to the group and keep pace around to the last corner. We all knew it was going to be fast as a short climb led to a long, flat tail winded finish. As I planned to chase down the attack lines on the right, the pace just got too frantic and my muscles wilted into melted cheese.

I let the pack go and rode close to the verge, waving the support vehicles to go past me then whoomph, 6 riders on the right hand side of the pack exploded into the air in a mass of bikes and limbs.

Having declared my race “over” about 3 hours earlier, I set about doing what I could to pull bikes and people off the pile of wreckage. A number of riders rode on to the finish whilst I stayed to help out. One first aider was faced with 2 casualties to tend whilst the rest of the cavalcade lifted bikes onto the support vehicle and pacified the local bobby who was genuinely surprised to find out there was a bike race happening in his area.

Everyone safely moved and ambulances called, I picked up my bike to find Genevive and Sorelle had come back to check on me as my absence at the finish line had been noted. In times of such woeful failure it is always really nice to find that, not only do your team-mates know you are missing but the lap-scorer is still patiently waiting for you to return.

Trepid Explorer – resoundingly last but by no means disappointed.

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