My first ever 4th Cat criterium. Preparation: five pints of lager and half a bowl of porridge. Conclusion: there’s nothing like a Road Race to sort out a hang over.
In 2015 I watched the Bristol Grand Prix Road Race in awe. I’d never raced my bike in anything but a triathlon, but the pang of envy I felt as I watched those girls saw to it that in a year’s time, I’d be on that there circuit, rocking out the open-mouth-fish-face-race-face with the best of ’em.
Ideal Race Prep.
Before the morning of the race I had accidentally drunk at least five pints washed down with a jagerbomb. Unsurprising then that I also had broken little sleep and felt too sick to eat any breakfast. I cracked open one eye at 6am and groaned. How the devil was I going to do it? I just knew that I was, and that was that.
I forced half a bowl of fairly congealed porridge down, feeling sick, and pulled on my bib shorts and Bristol South jersey. I drunk lots and lots of water in the vain hope that this would save me from probable heart attack during the 30 min + 3 lap technical course of corners, man hole covers, cobbles and inclines. Yes I thought I might die. No change there then. I’d texted a friend 10 minutes before the race, who assured me that I probably wouldn’t die, and that I should just keep drinking water.
|The Cat 4 girls. Waiting for the off.|
Nothing, prepares you for the shock to the bod of road racing except for doing it. It really is learning on the job. I signed on as the final and 22nd girl racing that day.
In cycling racing you start off in 4th Category, and to get up into the 3rd Cat you have to win points. My points day might come – but this was definitely not going to be that day. No amount of PMA was going to see to that. My plan was simply not to come last.
People think that because I sometimes do ok in triathlons and running races, that I should do ok in these races, but cycle racing is a whole difference game. It’s not particularly well attended at the bottom end (me) for that very reason, which means the standard is high and really quite terrifying. Combine this with a hang over and you have to question one’s sanity. But I didn’t have time for this sort of contemplative introspection, I had a race to do.
Race Faces On.
We all had our race faces on in the briefing. I was aware that I had adopted some sort of scary bionic woman face. If I was going to do ok, I was going to have to drop the smiles and laughs, and mean business, not to make other people think I was as hard as nails, you understand, but to tell myself I was going to do this. So it was mean face and sick feeling inside time. I just wanted it to be over, and for me to one: finish, two: not crash beloved carbon Contessa and three: not come last.
The three warm-up laps were an intense shock. Do these girls even realise these are warm up laps?! I thought to myself as my legs quickly started to burn and my chest began to tighten before the race had even begun. On the third warm up lap, I dropped back for my own good. I needed to bring my heart rate down a little before the start. This meant that by the time I’d arrived at the start line I was not exactly at the front… everyone says you need to start at the front to be in with a chance, I guess this is why they were all racing to get there!
We followed the Mud Dock support vehicle around for a lap, now that was exciting. I focused on holding my line, holding onto the group and not crashing. The car peeled away and the race was off! Boom! Leg burningly, pant-inducing, jaw-clenchingly off! To hold on tight was going to be the theme of the next thirty, hurty minutes.
Nothing can prepare you for racing. Did I say that already?
It’s like nothing else. You rag your beautiful machine as much as you rag your body. The technical course meant constant gear changes with mighty clunks, the result of zero let up to the pressure I was pushing through the crank as I shifted between gears. I looked around at the other girl’s front cogs, they were all in the big ring. There was one shortish climb on the lap course which I had to change up for several times, and sometimes I forgot to switch back into the big ring which probably cost me time. I’ve noticed in bike racing that if I can stay in the big ring and suck it up, I can get ahead.
|Credit: Andrew Parsons|
Big ring, sweat and dribble.
So I tried to big-ring it. I glanced at my watch half way through the race. Just trying everything I could to stay ahead and not fall off the back and get lapped. The lead group had long broken away. It was around the time that I got lapped by the leader that I sicked up my breakfast, offering a ‘sorry!’ to the woman on the bike behind me.
I sucked up my secret weapon – a delicious Rhubarb and Custard Torq energy gel that was tucked into my shorts. Sucked up some water. My fish-face was stuck now. I couldn’t do anything but just hang my jaw open, eyes on the road, working to burn through and hang on for dear life for that bell of joy that would signal the last lap.
Towards the end of the race, the crowd was becoming noisy, and people were shouting at me from all over the race course, it was utterly exhilarating. I think I did some fist pumps, which is definitely not cool unless you win. I was not winning.
Coming through the start/finish on the penultimate lap, the banging and the shouting broke my pained fish-face into a smile. As it got harder I shouted to my bike a couple of times, ‘come on Contessa!’ (again, so not cool, but I was having fun by this point). I got everything I could out of my bike in those 30 minutes. I pushed and pulled so hard that my front wheel came off the ground on the uphill. And finally – the bell rang, the final effort was nigh.
|Credit: Andrew Parsons|
I had been cat-and-mousing with two other woman during the race, I was quicker on the corners and they were quicker on the hills so we’d evened out. As soon as I heard the bell, I put any power down that I had left in me. I had become confident on the course by now and I took the technical corners at a decent pace. I whizzed through the finish, and saw a black and white flag waving, as I shouted ‘is that it?’
I headed back to HQ, and covered my face with my hands in utter disbelief and cried a bit. My body was shaking, my left leg was covered in snotty dribbly stuff and my right leg was covered in energy gel. I was wet with sweat. I was 16th out of 22. I had been lapped, and I had lapped. I was one very happy, and incredibly, less hung over lady.
Til’ next time.
|Credit: Headset Press|