Having arrived at the Durham Ox pub in the plush surroundings of Orston village I continued to hydrate my body in preparation for the 40 odd miles I’d be racing. It was incredibly muggy and whilst my forecast suggested thunder, lightning and a downpour I was hoping it would hold off (it did). Before long I’d kitted up, pinned on my number and set about recceing the 5.5 mile course. I actually went a bit wrong on my recce missing out 2 of the 4 corners but hey ho I got the gist of it and arrived back at the car park for the race briefing. I think the British Cycling guy doing the briefing had received bad news, stubbed his toe, lost his life savings on the horses or was just pretty miserable, or potentially all 4 as he seemed incredibly grumpy, but I listened to the instructions and then we all rolled out to a neutralised start behind the car.
With 50 riders racing I was mid pack as the pace ramped up quickly, much quicker than the race at Plungar, but I felt good and settled in determined not to do too much work in the opening few laps. The circuit is basically a rectangle, so 4 corners, meaning 4 sprints every lap to avoid being dropped, throw in having to cover attacks and the heat and we were in for a tough night. The course itself was quite nice, well apart from the temporary traffic lights and a few parked cars. With the pace high it was difficult to move up and stay up but that was the initial challenge as I felt I was too far back, the further back you are, the longer those sprints out the corners need to be.
As the laps went by a few breaks were attempted and shut down, I went with a few but nothing initially seemed to stick, I was perhaps doing a bit too much at times but I seem to be able to recover from the efforts so it’s all part of racing really. Eventually a break did go, I stayed in the peloton, I think it was 3 riders and they got a big gap, so I just focused on staying in the main peloton in the hope we’d bring them back. I was flying the flag solo for SNCC, the only rider I knew was Tom Sutton from RST who works locally at CycleDivision, but as usual OVB, Beeston and VBCC had at least 4 riders which makes life difficult as they can do a bit of dictating or ride tactically.
After about 5 laps when sprinting hard out of one of the corners I felt a familiar feeling, left calf spasm, FFS! Thankfully it recovered as quick as it came but it put doubt in my mind with another 15 miles to go. The break remained ahead, I was yo-yoing from top 5 to top 25 within the peloton but generally felt good and confident that if my body held up I could be in the mix at the end. As each corner approached I tried to make sure I powered out to stay in positon, but now I was getting the same spasm in my right calf, net result I kept going backwards so needing more effort to move back up once it subsided. I was banging my calves, stretching them out doing what I could whilst trying to ride at 27+mph, as you can imagine not that easy.
Remarkably my calves kept recovering, I was still able to put in big efforts and as one of the OVB guys hit the front (break still away) I went with him on what I thought was the last lap. He moved over, I was then on the front for the uphill drag to the final corner, I was getting excited, I just wanted to get to that corner first then I could hopefully hang on for some points. I’d put in a massive effort then had 7-8 riders around me and a hungry pack behind me, but then my mind starting to discombobulate, why weren’t we going full gas to the line, people are leaving the sprint until very late here, then the bell started ringing for the final lap, silly Murph.
You can see the pain on the face
By now my legs were in agony, every time I pedalled the spasms were there and I then found myself in about 20-25th place thinking of pulling over, but the pace seemed to be dropping, no doubt everyone trying to recover for the actual sprint for the line. With the slip stream effect I managed to recover really well, recomposed myself and set about moving back up. I was doing well, I was still in with a chance of a potential top 10 as I moved up the inside. The last lap got a bit tense, one rider in particular was having a go, bemoaning at someone for cutting him up chopper style. Whilst I had a few head shaking moments throughout the race, we are not pro’s, you just have to deal with the slight errors people can make.
With the pace on, we headed for the final corner again, I pushed hard, was probably in about 10th (plus the breakaway of 2 riders), perfect. Then bang, calf went again, probably for about the 6th or 7th time, I tried to pedal but it was excruciating, I was going backwards and was in about 20th when we made the final turn. I then got out the saddle to wind up my sprint, miraculously I had no pain, but by now the points chances had evaporated, typical. On the run in there was a crash just in front of me, thankfully I avoided it and just pushed on to the line coming in around 20th.
Effort after effort
As I cooled down, I had a chat with Tom, he’d got an excellent 6th place, credit to the guys in the break too, with an average race speed of 27mph that took some doing. So another race, blighted by physical issues but a great experience nonetheless. I had a thought of jacking it all in, I mean what is the point if your legs can’t deal with it, but having calmed down I stopped being dramatic and then thought about how to rectify things, top of the list, cleats position, saddle height and some strengthening exercises, oh joy!
Having read the blog back it sounds like a lot of excuses, as cyclists we all make them (well ones like me anyway), the wind was wrong, my wheels aren’t fast enough, I got blocked, I’ve been ill, I’m on my training bike, yadda yadda but some days it just all clicks, I can see that day ahead.
I’m currently formulating a 50 things to do before I’m 50, one of those things is to win a bike race, 8 years to go. Thanks as always to the organisers, marshals and helpers, without you we cannot go racing.