The South East Road Race Championships is a key road race in the season for those of us who race in London and the South East. I remember the day when the standard in this race was such that a person of my modest calibre could show up and still be in with a chance of a top 5 place. In fact a few years ago I did it and finished 3rd. And no, I haven't slowed down since then !
The standard of racing witnessed in this race has increased significantly over the years, to the point that the main contenders are good national level riders, rather than Jill Soaps that are just out for a good old pootle with their local buddies.
So around 20 of us made the start line at Ellens Green in Surrey last Saturday afternoon. With the London Dynamo ladies out in force it looked like they could well be having things their way, and it was practically a foregone conclusion that recent Women's Team Series winner Charlotte Blackman would claim the top spot. The only other team that could have challenged the Londoners was the up-and-coming Agiskoviner set. For my part I was just going to hang on for as long as possible - hopefully to the end.....
Things were hot from the gun, thanks to the Dynamo trio of Charlie, Susannah Osborne and Rebecca Curley, plus Jo from VC Meudon who were motoring things along. There was attacking at every corner, every incline, and every descent. Hell, there was just attacking the whole time for in those opening miles ! With the bunch having already shaken off half the field, including some of the said Agiskoviner girls it was apparent that the Dynamettes were out to kill !
I hung on quite firmly at first, but as the attacks came thicker and faster my grip began to steadily slip, as the cord was becoming more and more frayed. I clung onto the last few threads with my fingernails, really concentrating on not getting dropped. But was that really going to be enough to see me to the end? We were only on lap 3 of 7 ! Then half way through that lap, I lost my focus and the cord snapped. I was shot backwards as my Dulwich Paragon team-mate, Eryn surged forward to fill the gap I'd left. I waved goodbye to the depleted bunch and didn't see them until when we were back at the HQ for the prize-giving.
There then followed the difficult question of what to do once you are dropped on a road circuit that is 6 miles long - wait for the groups behind, or just time trial it on your own to the end. As the course was fairly flat I chose the latter. Wrong choice.
I ended up knackering myself out, and by the time Melissa from Agiskoviner caught me I was beginning to feel the effects of my earlier efforts. Although the work was evenly divided between us I was still flagging. We were then caught on the last lap by a gruppetto and we worked as a group of five. By this time I'd lost interest. I'd wanted to stay in the front group and I wasn't feeling too impressed that I hadn't stayed in very long.
I just sat in with this group and let their speed take me home. The sprint for the line and the points that were up for grabs didn't interest me either. So I rolled over the line in 13th spot - to match the race number I'd been allocated, and my fortune for the race !
Meanwhile, the front group had pressed on and continued to shed riders until they were down to just 7. Surprisingly, the victory was not taken by the in-form Charlie Blackman, but by the youngster and promising trackster (or even track star !) Emma Patterson (Agiskoviner). Charlie managed third, behind her London Dynamo team-mate Susannah Osborne. And as if to add more disappointment, she was brought down at the finish line by another rider. (And that was a bit controversial too !) Still, I think she got a very good result, especially given her dogged approach to digging and attacking.
Credit also goes to Michelle from Addiscombe CC (my second claim club) who managed to stay with the bunch and get 4th place in the event. She's a relative newbie to road racing and showed real strength at the event.
So the South East Champs have come a long way since those days when it was held just as an adjunct to the men's race on a grim Sunday morning in Goodwood. I may not ever come third in the South East Championships again, but I am happy in the knowledge that I will be a stronger rider after today's efforts.
Photos courtesy of Keith Lea and Surrey League