I finally made it over to Crystal Palace for the Tuesday evening races - the first time since 2006. Why the delay ?? Work commitments not having allowed me to get there in time, and then rain stopping play a number of times meant that I didn't race a single time during 2007.
Earlier this year, when my place of work moved to London rather than in the western 'burbs I resolved to do the Palace league. Also, with the added incentive that there is now a separate women's race, there is even more of a drive to get over and race against my contemporaries as much as I can, and raise my game.
The circuit in Crystal Palace Park is so local to me, that I have every reason to be there. I'm even embarrassed that I haven't been there more often.
So yesterday I made the very easy hop, skip and jump across three streets to the race. This was all the easier as I am currently not working and so don't have the worries of getting through commuter traffic.
One feature of these Tuesday evening races at Palace is the friendly local atmosphere. Lots of people turnout not just to race, but also to spectate, or even just to meet up with other cycling buddies. Crystal Palace park on a Tuesday evening is a real hub of social activity for the South London cycling community.
So, I signed on and said hello to other ladies. There were actually 10 of us racing, but promising youngsters, Jo Rowsell (Bikehut/Halfords) and Corinne Hall (Twickenham CC) actually raced with the 3rd/4th cat men, while we eight remaining "oldies" had our own women's race.
What can I say about my race. It was a real rollercoaster. I didn't get into my pedals quick enough at the gun, so had to sprint to reach the other women. But then had to screech to a near halt to negotiate the 180 degree bend. A few riders actually overshot it and rode through the grass ! I accelerated out of the saddle to regain momentum, then flew around the next 90 degree right hander, which took us down a fast descent. The sweeping left hand bend between the bushes and trees at the bottom meant I had to use my brakes to be sure I didn't overshoot and roll down the banking, or even hit a tree. I then had to accelerate again out of the saddle to give myself the momentum to get up the 7% climb.
Now, those of you who know this circuit know that it's not necessary to apply the brakes that much. Unfortunately I am a wuss who fears taking corners at speed, so I ride very cautiously.
Consequence : I probably used twice as much energy as my competitors just to get round the course, went into the red twice as quick, breathed twice as loud, and probably only rode half as fast. Not a very efficient way of racing.
In fact, half way through I ended up making two stoppages to stretch off my calf muscles which suffered severe cramp. (A fit of vomitting the previous day probably had not helped matters on the hydration/minerals front !)
Our race was split from the start. Charlie Blackman (London Dynamo) was on the front the whole time, while other riders rode in ones and twos. I was with Tamar Collis (Addiscombe CC) for half the race, then I later rode with Hannah Stirrat (City of Edinburgh CC). Eventually, after my difficulties I crossed the line on my own. I think I finished 7th or 8th, but all that's academic in light of how my race went.
Despite the setbacks, I still enjoyed the race. I felt that I was stronger than I had been the last time I raced there. I felt I tackled the climb neatly, and I was smoother than before. The profile of the Crystal Palace circuit is definitely not boring. There's always something to keep you on your toes. Your heart and lungs are in your mouth, the adrenaline is really pumping, you have a scared "how will I get through this?" feeling. But afterwards, you feel a real buzz.
I just need to ride the course more smartly. That's to say, I must learn to like corners and let speed be my friend. So I will be back and hopefully this course will become my favourite rollercoaster. The type that makes you say: "Mummy can I go again, let me have another go", rather than the one that has me quaking in my boots the whole time that I'm standing in the queue !