Having missed out on racing recently due to cancellations caused by bad weather, I was keen to get in a bit of the fast and scary stuff over the weekend. With the Surrey League women's race at MOD Chertsey on Saturday being limited to 3rd and 4th category women, this meant that the other category women (Elites, 1st and 2nd) would have to get their racing at the Ford Vehicle Testing Centre at Dunton, Essex. Having such a field would make the racing fast. Also, given the steep bankings on the course and the wet conditions, the circuit would probably be scary.
With the closure of the Eastway Cycle Circuit (East London) in order to make way for the 2012 Olympic stadium a new circuit was needed for cycle racing. So the good people at Ford offered the facility at their Technical Centre in Dunton, as an alternative. The circuit is dog bone shaped and 1.5miles round. However, with steep cambered bankings (like in a velodrome) on the curves at each end of the circuit this makes for quite a challenging ride - both in terms of its energy sapping nature, and its trickiness in the wet.
So it was with a certain apprehension that I showed up at Dunton yesterday, ready to race in the Team Economic Energy Spring Rumble. The clash of women's races in the London area on Saturday meant that we had a small field - just 11 women signed up for the event. However, what we lacked in quantity of riders we compensated for in the quality of the racing.
The first couple of laps were taken cautiously, as none of us were familiar with the course. Then after 3 laps Charlotte Blackman (London Dynamo) made one of her trademark digs. Initially no one went with her, hoping that she would tire herself out on this lone breakaway into the wind. Of course, this is Charlie we're talking about and she doesn't tire that easily. We arranged ourselves to bring her back. We all worked well together, especially along the windy sections, though a few managed to get dropped from the group.
Further digs were made by Anna Grundy (Team Economic Energy) and Susan Wood (Maldon and District CC), plus Charlie again but our reduced group of 7 managed to stay together. I was just glad to be in for the ride. Having missed a few weeks of racing and still trying to find my form there was no way I'd be making any digs. I was just aiming to stay with the group and do my bit during the through-and-off along the straight windy sections. I had to really bury myself - nose practically on the stem just to keep the pace up. Deep down I was just keeping my fingers crossed that the pace would ease a little.
The numerous ascents up the banking took their toll on me during the hour-long race, and at moments I thought I was going to be dropped off the back with the other 4 casualties. I felt sick. I was breathing through my ears, as not enough air came through my nose and mouth. My panting was so loud I thought I should apologise for being too noisy ! Somehow, my determination kept me going, despite the heavy shower that fell on us half way through the race.
As the rain came down we needed to take care. The concurrent 3rd and 4th cats men's race had around 40 riders. They passed us a couple of times during the race - both times on the banking. It was a case of stay low, and pray that no one slips and brings us down. Risky stuff.
Then on the bell lap, some would say the predictable happened. The pace cranked up again, and was sustained all the way up the climb on the bankings. Unfortunately I was too tired and didn't read things properly. Aside from that, my fuel tank was on empty ! I lost contact with the group on that final climb, which after about 15 ascents just felt like a tall order - literally. Talk about falling at the last hurdle. I ended up rolling in over the finish line on my own. There's no guarantee I would have finished any better than 7th had I stayed with the group and contested the sprint, but I would have still liked to have tried. I must try even harder next time.
So 7th it was. Still, I'm pleased that I managed to stick with this quality field at all - two first cats in the shape of Nikki Wheeler (I-Team) and Charlie Blackman (London Dynamo) plus rising star Michelle Buck (Fat Birds CC), and the solid rouleurs, Anna Grundy and Susan Wood.
Hopefully I'll be stronger the next time I meet these riders. I've got a series of races with a load of Italians next week. I'm sure they'll sort me out and put me right by the time I'm racing in London again !