Spring is here at last and the racing season is well and truly underway. One of the traditional ‘season openers’, on the first Sunday in March, is the Hainault Hilly time trial which follows a route a shade under 30 miles that takes in the climb of Theydon Mount twice. We had three riders entered for this, but things didn’t really go according to plan: the weather forecast was for hours of torrential rain, strong winds and temperatures of just 2C. Two of us bailed leaving just Adam Bishop to take part. He discovered that they had had to amend the route (so the hill was no longer in it), but he didn’t get that far anyway, puncturing after just 20 minutes. A resounding success for Lea Valley.
The following weekend saw the first event that we organise each year: the Frank Truman 25-mile time trial on the E1 course which starts and finishes near our race HQ in Ugley. The weather forecast was pretty similar to the previous week, but fortunately this was wrong and the event took place in dry conditions and without usual killer headwind on the return leg. The E1 is not a fast course and you are doing well if you can get under an hour there – nevertheless, the top 18 riders all managed this and the winner, Stuart Travis (Team Bottrill / HSS Hire) set a cracking time of 51:49, more than two minutes ahead of the second-placed rider and only about the same margin short of Alex Dowsett’s course record.
We had eleven riders from our club taking part in the solo event: Colin Ross, Barnaby Barford, Charlie Gregory, Alex Galloway, Adam Bishop, James Morris, Tim Holmes, Chris West, Jamie Fake, Neil Davies and Chris Pollard (in that order). Colin did a 1:01:05, 15 seconds faster than Barnaby, while Chris’s time was 1:08:07 which meant that even our slowest riders averaged over 22mph on a slow course in their first race of this season – a better sign than the previous week’s washout.
This time trial also contained a two-up event. The fastest pair were John Mulvey (Cambridge University) and Sebastian Dickson (Thanet RC) who got a time of 52:52, while from Lea Valley our pair of Mark Freeman and Dave McCarthy did 1:12:31 and Trevor Whittock came out of semi-retirement to partner ex-LVCC Gary Boyd 1:08:51.
The following weekend there was a smaller ‘interclub’ time trial (between Shaftesbury CC and ourselves) on the same course but in brutally windy conditions. James Morris and George Kemp took part and both managed about 1:07:00 on a day which was probably two minutes slower than the previous weekend.
On the first weekend in April, many of us were in road racing action. On the Saturday four of us headed over to Hog Hill for CC London’s ‘Hog With The Occasional Hill’ crits. This involved an unusual course: most of the race is on the lower circuit and in this edition it involved taking the lower cut-through (rather than the usual one halfway up the hill), but every twelve minutes or so we would be directed up the Hoggenberg to complete a lap of the full circuit. To be honest, the lower cut-through didn’t prove popular with us: the corner is really designed to be taken from the opposite direction which made it very tight. Unless you were at the front of the bunch you had to grind to a virtual standstill to squeeze round it which made everyone bunch right up and people got squeezed out every time.
Anyway, there were just under fifty starters in the fourth cat race, including me (Jamie), Charlie and Huw Thomas. Charlie was most active at or near the front, although Huw did manage a short-lived dig off the front mid-race. The pack stayed largely together, though a few were shelled out early on and others lost contact each time we were directed up the climb. The riding was a bit sketchy and jittery and there were a number of small crashes, although thankfully most of the time this just involved single riders going onto the grass and managing to get back up again. The exception came when we were in the closing stages of the race – as we descended the full hill from the third and final full circuit it meant we were approaching the right handers at nearer 40mph (instead of accelerating up from about 5mph having squeezed round the cut-through). On the second and longer bend there appeared to be a touch of wheels between two riders on the outside just ahead of me and one went somersaulting off at high speed. As we continued round for our final laps we could see him lying on his back not moving while the organisers tried to look after him: a constant reminder of the danger of cycle racing.
After 45 minutes the race reached its climax and Charlie found himself in a good position for the sprint with space opening up ahead of him on the right hand side. One guy got a length or two clear to claim first place, but the battle for second was an incredibly close four-way lunge with Charlie being judged to have come fourth overall in the photo finish. With those early season points on his licence it shouldn’t be long before Charlie makes the move up to 3rd cat.
Huw finished mid-pack in 24th place and I was a second or so behind in 30th. After that, Tim was our sole representative in the 2nd & 3rd cat race. This was also over 45 minutes and on the same course, but whereas our race had average 24.4mph, Tim’s one showed the higher standard with an average of 25.6mph. I think this was Tim’s first race involving 2nd cats, so a bit of a shock to the system after the winter months off, but he coped well with it and managed to come in with the bunch in 31st place.
The following day saw more riders in action in the two road races put on by Chelmer CC on a 14-mile loop in the Roxwell / Leaden Roding / Willingale area of Essex. The two races are run simultaneously (about ten minutes apart) with the ‘challenge’ event (which is mostly 4th cats with a handful of 3rd cats) doing 42 miles and the higher cat race doing over 70 miles. The challenge event is very rare in that it prioritises entries from 4th cats giving them an opportunity to race on the open road which can be difficult to come by normally (most 3rd/4th races are the other way round: 90% 3rd cats and a handful of 4ths). We hoped to have a team of six or seven riders in this event, but unfortunately it was massively oversubscribed (the organiser said he had over a hundred entries) and in the end only Barnaby Barford made the cut, with Tom Orr making it onto the reserve list.
On the day, Tom did get a ride. He was with the bunch for the first twenty minutes, but then found himself suddenly losing contact: “Was badly placed going into a corner and wasn’t expecting the mega acceleration out of it, so found myself about 10m off the back, and couldn’t close. I knew it was over for me as a race when the commissaire came through I pretty much knew I wouldn’t get back on. Swept up a few other dropped riders, but none of them wanted to ride with me so I basically rode a 30 mile TT.”
Barnaby, on the other hand, had a much more successful race (until the very end): “That was fun, classic Barford. I’ve been on tougher club runs to be honest. I didn’t listen to Uncle Trevor or Michael. It was fairly easy, put in 4 or 5 attacks, chased down attacks, kept in the first 6 riders most of the race. Wasn’t sketchy at all, quite polite actually, knew a few ELV riders so that was nice. Got to the final km or so and a Range Rover came the opposite way heard a big fall behind me, the clattering of carbon on road – ouch! Only a few left in the sprint I was super well-placed, I could almost smell victory, got up to sprint and my hamstring totally cramped – haha! Had to sit up for the last couple of hundred metres and didn’t contest the sprint at all. So all in all good fun, quite a bit of faff one way and another. I’m not very good at sitting in, I found that a bit boring so it was fun having a go, but to be honest each time it was difficult to get a cohesive through and off break and as the race wasn’t that fast I think everyone still had the legs to close things down. I guess I hoped to do better but for my first race it was fun.” A major improvement on last season when Barnaby’s race-ending cramp occurred in the opening seconds of his first race.
Meanwhile, new member Michael Krukov was in the higher category race on the same course. Michael has only started racing this winter but has been making incredible progress and had already been promoted to 2nd cat status by the time most people started their seasons. He has been racing crits mainly, but is very keen to get involved in the ERRL road races and this was his first taste of the action. “My race was just over 71miles, covered at a 25.7mph average. If anyone wants a breakdown… There were some very strong riders/teams on my start list so I got paranoid that a break would go from the first lap, never to be seen again. I spent the first 30mins near/at the front, responding to everything and my Garmin showed 310W -5W/kg (normalized) so I was close to blowing up. Having wasted enough energy and it looking unlikely that a break would form, I went to the back of the bunch, where I sat for 90 minutes, soft-pedalling and averaging 180W, which felt amazing. With about 45mins to go, I followed the wheel of a rider overtaking the bunch and slotted in among the first 10 riders at the head of the race, a position I held until around 3miles from the line, when I started rapidly losing position because the rider I was drafting faded hard (possibly cramped?) and trains of riders moved up on both sides of me. Rolled in with the congested bunch despite legs wanting to sprint! All the big hitters I singled out before the race placed outside the top 9 so the finish was a bit of a lottery as the race wasn’t really hilly/windy, which would have rewarded those strong/brave enough to detach themselves from the bunch. A few lessons learned and absolutely stunning weather are the positives! Not too many negatives as it’s only my first road race and there’s a lot to learn!”
Michael was back in action the following weekend in the CCA Primavera 2nd/3rd/4th cat race near Cambridge. “The race was a lap too long. I ran out of fluid/food early, which had a huge impact in today’s heat. Five went off the front with 2 laps remaining and the bunch completely gave up, almost coming to a standstill.
I attacked on the last lap with another rider – we got a solid gap quickly and caught one up the road. Worked well as a 3-up before I got dropped on the long climb with around 10km to go. Happy I didn’t give 100% to stay in contact, as I would have likely blown up and been swallowed and spat out by the entire bunch.
Dehydrated and dying, I have no idea how I held on solo to the line, before collapsing. 10 points in the bag though, but can’t stop thinking about what might have been if the race was shorter or I had just two more gels.”
That same weekend saw our club’s second open event of the season, a 25-mile time trial on the fast E2 course up near Newmarket. This attracted a VERY high quality field and the times were superfast. Amazingly 24 riders went under 50 minutes with two riders managing 45s: Matthew Smith in 45:59 and winner John Dewey (both of Team Bottrill / HSS Hire) in 45:20. Until last year, this would have been the competition record!
Our own David Veitch came 30th overall with a time of 50:23. This was a personal best, beating last year’s time by about 30 seconds, and means he has broken the club record again for the second year in a row! Rather than celebrating, David was bemoaning the fact his power was 25 watts down on last year. I recognise this perfectionist streak in myself: many is the time that I’ve sprinted to 31st place in a 4th cat race but instead of basking in the post-race glory, I’ve berated myself because I knew deep down that if I had focused more and tried harder I could have been 28th. Anyway, congratulations (yet again) to David and thanks to everyone who helped out with marshalling and other duties at the event – we will be looking for more volunteers for our next time trial, a 10-mile time trial (also on the E2 course near Newmarket) on Saturday 6th May.
Other dates for the calendar: the very next day (Sunday 7th May) we will have a circuit race on the lower circuit at Hog Hill. This is for club members only: you should have received a newsletter the other week which told you about this – if you didn’t get this, your membership has probably lapsed so click here to renew: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/club/profile/1376/lea_valley_cc And following hot on the heels of this, our Tuesday Tens series of time trials at the Velopark circuit begins again on Tuesday 9th May.
The club runs are still going strong and we have been able to split into more and more groups to cater for people wanting to go different distances / at different speeds. The ladies’ group rides have now become a regular monthly event and Monika is leading the next one tomorrow (Easter Sunday). Now that the evenings are lighter and warmer again the plan is also to revive the weekly Thursday evening rides on the Velopark circuit – this should happen later this month.