Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Hillingdon - a real soggy affair !

Everyone has at least one during the season - it's all part and parcel of the joys of competitive cycling. Given the "summer" that we've had so far many people will have had a few of them. So it was only fair that I get to experience one too - what am I talking about ? A really sopping wet road race.

The type where you've got driving rain whacking you hard in the face as you struggle through a head wind. You try and shelter behind the rider in front of you but you've got the taste of the muck from their rear wheel as you battle to hang in there. So it was my turn today - at the Hillingdon women's road race. Not the best way to end Team Quest race series, but probably a memorable one.

In the old days when this series began, rainy days like this would have scared the riders away. And with the resulting low turn-out it would have been a case of "how many points will I get ?" rather than "let's try and finish in the points". But today, we had the same 20-odd girls turn up to race as usual. Women racing cyclists are definitely getting hardier.

The ride up from my office in Hampton Court, to the Hillingdon Cycle Circuit just west of Southall had been a pretty damp journey. So I wasn't too bothered by the wet.

Of course once the race began, things were a little different. The close proximity of other wheels meant the inevitable faceful of kak. (In fact I could still feel the grit in my teeth an hour after finishing the race.) We were moving that bit faster than when commuting, so it was a slightly riskier situation where cornering and braking were concerned. In fact I found it pretty scary. I really wasn't in a mood to crash !

I suppose on days like these it's quite good for those riders who are seasoned from the rain swept plains of Belgium to come into their own. They can attack hard, much to the chagrin of those, like me, who are more used to riding nearer to the Mediterranean. So the attacks kept coming and coming thanks to the likes of Jayne Kilmartin (Rapha Condor) and Charlotte Blackman (London Dynamo).

I was able to reply for most of the race, but I couldn't handle them attacking on the home strait. The accrued speed I'd picked up going into the sweeping right hand bend that followed made it a lottery as to whether I could stay upright. The fact that the road descended as well made life worse. How do you brake safely in the wet when doing nearly 30mph ?? I've never been that comfortable with that section in the dry. Today I was very nervous.

The race continued on through the evening gloom - only a handful of spectators, prudently bunched under large umbrellas, to shout words of encouragement. There was no talk of any sort between the riders as we cycled across mini streams and splashed through deep puddles. Even though we were riding along as a group, we lived our own personal purgatories to survive the hour long duel. This was a battle against the elements rather than against each other.

Surprisingly, no one crashed. There were some near misses though - in particular during that famous right hand bend a Dulwich Paragon rider swerved and gave everyone the jitters.
I don't know who won - maybe Charlotte from London Dynamo, maybe Jeanette from Team Luciano - it was too dark for me to see much more than 3 meters ahead.

Only at the end of the race did people seem to come alive and talk about the experience. "What a nightmare race", "I've never seen anything like it," "I won't be doing that again in a hurry."
To the menfolk it must have made very interesting viewing seeing all these girls with hair and kit pasted to their skin. A wet T-shirt competition would have been a great way to round off the evening !
Instead, we all just dashed into the shower rooms.

I didn't win the race. I don't even know if I scored any points. But I'd won the battle of the elements. I started the race and I finished it. I wasn't put off by the rain - not the easiest thing to do when it's all too tempting to pack up and go home. Now I know that I will be able to cope with another soggy one in the future. Bring it on - just not for a wee while yet though !

(photos by John Mullineaux)
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