So I rolled into Hillingdon Cycle Circuit the day before yesterday for the women's fortnightly Team Quest race. These 40km criterium races had quite humble beginnings when they started in 2003. They would be held on a Friday evening - just when elite racers were saving their energy for the weekend races, when other racers were recovering from the rigours of their week - or quite simply when us mortals were savouring our well earned pint ! If 10 women turned out to race it was considered a record. Generally the numbers would be around 6 or 7.
With the racing now being on Wednesday evenings and with women's racing have developed significantly in the last couple of years, numbers racing have swollen, and the quality of the racing is definitely higher. Generally the women who race there are the regulars of the racing scene at national as well as local level.
At the sign on desk I didn't feel on top of the world. I had an even bigger heartsink feeling as I saw the steady stream of riders signing in - all stronger than me !
The rainy weather forecast had kept the number of women down to 18. As British Cycling points were available down to 15th place I figured that if I could finish no worse than 4th last I’d get something. But from the start sheet I couldn’t find 3 women that would definitely be slower than me ! They were mainly seasoned racers there – Louise Mahe (Cycles Dauphin), Jeanette Caldicott (Team Luciano) a few Agisko Viner women, Nikki Wheeler (Team Velocity). I only really stood a chance against Liz Rice (London Phoenix) who I’ve beaten in the past, and possibly Jayne Wadsworth (De Laune) who is a good cyclosportive rider, but was brand new to road racing.
When the race started I was quickly dropped after I failed to get into my cleats quick enough. I ended up working with Liz Rice and a girl who I didn’t recognise
(wearing No.3). We worked hard together, sharing the work on a very windy back strait. Then Liz got dropped. Suddenly out of the blue Jayne Wadsworth caught us. She’d also been dropped at the start, but had clung onto the concurrently running male vets race to get back up to us. We then worked together as a new group of 3. As we went along No.3 was shouting to us to dig in, and was giving encouragement.
We managed to catch a couple more women who’d been dropped off the main group – Jo Foster (Twickenham CC) and a girl from Welwyn Wheelers, so our group grew to 5. We all shared the work on the windy bits. About 2 thirds of the way through Jo went off the front. We thought she was chasing down the vets who had just passed us. None of us went with her because we believed she would soon be on her own again in the wind and we’d catch her. In fact, the group just ahead of us was not the vets race but the main bunch in our race ! A lap later the remaining 4 of us got back into the main bunch. So basically, the 5 of us had been riding faster than the 12 woman group ahead !!
Because it was so windy along the back strait, no-one in the main group had wanted to do any work. They couldn’t get organised at all. At times the pace was really pedestrian – which was good for me as it gave me time to recover. Even when we had 5 laps to go, still no one was willing to do anything. Half hearted attempts to break were made but it came to nothing.
Along the back strait during the final lap I could really sense the lull before the storm – Louise Mahe was eyeing Jeanette Caldicott, who was looking at Nikki Wheeler. Jane Kilmartin (Rapha-Condor) was in turn watching over the 3 of the women. Everyone was waiting to see who would go first. Then Louise kicked straight after the last bend and it all kicked off. So it all came down to doing a long one from the bottom bend out of the saddle all the way to the finish line. I had been on the outside (where I felt safer) and used my novice track rider skills to get on the drops and follow Nikki Wheeler as far and as fast I could chase her, my lungs bursting, and breathing through my ears.
It was a fast finish for us all. For my efforts I gained 8th place. I was really pleased because I’d been thinking 15th would be an achievement. I must have beaten some fast girls in the process too. I was so happy to have finished in the top 10 out of a quality field, so hadn't paid attention to who won. I believe it was Emma Patterson (AgiskoViner).
I am really glad to have raced in the small group with No.3 and Jayne Wadsworth. No. 3 had really encouraged us to keep going. It had been hard for us, but we all chipped in and had shared the work to get back in the race. Unfortunately No. 3 got cramp so was unable to contest the sprint. Jayne didn’t contest the sprint because she doesn’t do sprinting ! She was happy with the race though. Jo from Twickenham finished in seventh place, and she seemed pleased with her race too.
Thanks to this Hillingdon race I am now half way to gaining my 2nd category licence. That makes me happy. Hopefully I will have more races like this !