First up was the Gifford Super 6 B Race, 5 x 8mile laps around some lovely East Lothian country side. I’d had lots of racing advice from people in the club – Garry: Stick to the outside, away from the kerb. Stephen: Try to stay in the first 15. George: Try not to do too much work. Well, within 500 metres of the race starting properly all 3 golden rules had been broken…
I was fairly nervous as I arrived an hour before start time, but soon got changed and out for a wee warm up. The start line was at the entrance to a car park so I got there with about 10 minutes to go, and positioned myself in the second row. “Excellent”, I thought, “in the first 15, slightly to the outside, drafting guaranteed”. However, this plan soon unravelled as latecomers, unable to get into the car park and line up behind, just joined on at the front meaning I was now in the back row! After the race brief we were off. The race was to be neutralised for the first mile or so until we got round a sharp downhill left corner. The roads were tight and there was an awful lot of stop starting making for a nervous bunch. I was trying to think how I’d get nearer to the front and guessed by sticking to the outside I could get round on a straight soon enough. We got round the sharp left corner and the race began!
The pace began to pick up and some folk in front of me were a wee bit slow on the uptake so I moved into the inside in order to get round. Just as I was doing that there was a crash up ahead and 8-10 riders hit the deck, covering the width of the whole road. There was nowhere for me to go so I mounted the grass verge in the hope of avoiding the collision but went straight into a hedge. With my heart pounding I quickly pulled my bike out and noticed a broken front spoke. I wrapped it around a neighbouring spoke and got back on the road. Weaving between casualties with bloody arms and knees and a few loose wheels I could see the bunch way in the distance. With the adrenaline flowing I took off as fast as I could but soon realised any hope of catching up was gone.
I plugged away, with thoughts ranging between, “why am I doing this, I should just saunter along and enjoy the countryside”, to, “you can catch up, you can catch up…”, with the more positive thoughts happening each time I overtook someone who’d gone out the back. I was on lap 3 of 5 and had overtaken around 10 people when I heard a sudden ping followed by a grinding and slapping noise from the back. I climbed off and noticed that a back spoke had gone this time. I twisted it round a neighbour and got back on. However, all was not right, the back wheel was wobbling and the rim was hitting a brake block with each turn. There was a lot of swearing right about that point.
I cycled slowly back to the finish, keeping my weight off the back and was overtaken by about 6 of the people I’d overtaken previously. Arriving back I decided to call it a day – bike in car, changed, handed in numbers, picked up licence and drove home.
With that experience in the bag, mainly the “what not to do” type of things, I entered the Moscow APR which was three weeks after the Gifford, more determined, and relaxed this time. I managed to get a new spoke fitted to my front wheel but the rear wheel took a wee while longer – they’re wider, bladed type spokes and apparently Trek didn’t have many of them left. On the Thursday before the Moscow APR I still didn’t have a rear wheel so I put Plan B into action – does the club have a spare rear wheel? Cue texts to Garry (on his birthday it turned out, sorry Garry…) and kept that option open. Turns out that the shop had my wheel fixed on the Friday so all good to go.
It was a dry, windless day for the Moscow APR (which didn’t go anywhere near Moscow) and I lined up in the first group of 15 on the A77. It was two laps of the A77 up to near Newton Mearns then back down to Stewarton over some lumpy bits. We were going well on the A77 stretch, dropping maybe 3 people and getting a good chain going. A guy from Dumfries CC told me I was doing too much work and I should take a break. I felt good though, so much so that I even managed a thumbs up to Pauline and Sean who were in their official roles in the car behind us.
At one point as the group was moving along the A77 I wanted to say something along the lines of, “let’s speed up a bit guys” but stopped myself. I’m glad I didn’t say anything because as soon as we turned onto the hilly section of the course the group split with about 8 pulling away. “Ahh, I thought, hills are my weakness, I should really work on hills a bit more”. I ploughed on though, managing a wave for Garry and Terry as they were taking photos at the highest point.
I was overtaken by the now consolidated bunch right on the finish line on the first lap, I tried to join on but the pace was too much. As I got back onto the A77 another group of about six overtook me and this time I managed to jump on. We got a great chain going with all seven of us taking turns along the A77 and going well, driven by a lass from Sandy Wallace Cycles, shouting at us if we let the slightest gap appear. It was a great wee group but alas, again as we hit the hilly bit I went out the back with two others. On my own again I just got the head down, determined to get everything out by the finish.
I finished, ironically it was an uphill end to the race, in 53rd place out of 80, 8 minutes down on the winner. Not great but a lot of learning – either I get my weight down and start hitting hills….or I stick to races on the flat…
All in all a great experience though, from the pre-race nerves to post race satisfaction at having given it a go. We’ve all got to try it at least once huh???