Since November I have been following a structured training plan with the guidance of a coach. This is a brave new world for me and last week I finally got to test out my fitness in my first road crit of the year. Here is how my day went including the build -up and during the race!
I was not at work luckily as I needed time to get my bike prepared, this meant taking the saddle and seat post from one bike and the pedals from another to get it in racing shape. For the future I need to have all three bikes in one piece so I don’t need to faff about like this!
I had some toast for breakfast, sorted all my bikes out and then late morning I went to the dentist, fun, not great race prep. When I got home I had some curry and rice for lunch, watched some crap TV then mid-afternoon I had a small portion of pasta to try to up my carbs ready for the race. I made sure to drink water regularly throughout the day and had no alcohol the day before. Early afternoon I started to get quite nervous with thoughts of how the race might go creeping in my mind. I tried to reassure myself that it’s the first race of the season, I haven’t raced for months and I just needed to get the first one out of my system.
I got dropped in a lot of races last year and it was quite demoralising, I feared this would happen again this year even though I have been giving everything in training. That it was all in vain, but I didn’t want my anxiety to win and knew deep down I really wanted to race and was looking forward to testing my abilities.
When it was time to get ready and get my kit on I tried to start getting in the zone and remain focused on the race rather than my nerves. Luckily I have a supportive partner and she gave me a talking to when she got home from work which helped calm me down a bit. I got my things together and left the house to go to the Lea Valley Velopark. When I got to the sign on desk the organisers were all really friendly and I saw a few people I knew to say hello to.
Once I’d pinned my race numbers on I did a couple of warm-up laps and span my legs out at high cadence a few times, there wasn’t much wind and I felt comfortable round the lap. I pulled off the circuit and did some stretches and ate an OTE gel, the whistle then went to signal us to line up for the race.
I was in a field of 14 women, the largest road crit I’ve raced in for ages, it felt good and I felt positive about giving it my all. The women were set off 30 seconds after the men and when the signal went for us to go I tried to stay mid bunch to conserve my energy. In the first few laps there was a lot of jostling of positioning and a few times I realised I had moved to the back of the bunch and I made the effort to go up round the side or ride up through the middle to get to the mid/front of the pack.
After about 10-15 minutes I sat on the front of the bunch and held a comfortable pace whilst the other racers sat happily behind me, it was at this point I realised that my nerves had caused me to forget to start my Garmin! I turned it on and got my head in the game, I knew I had to get off the front so I started to soft pedal a bit and some of the other racers pulled around me to the front, perfect. I sat on their wheels and flowed round the circuit trying to keep a comfortable cadence.
Every lap or so an attack would form off the front and with each surge I pushed through and tried to keep on the wheels in front. I lost the wheels slightly a few times but used the flow of the course and the descents to my advantage to hard pedal whilst others coasted to make up ground.
There were a few wobbly lines taken through a few corners and there was some bumping of handlebars and legs at times, I called for people to hold their line a few times and so did some of the other riders although there wasn’t anything massively sketchy.
When the 8 laps to go warning came, the men overtook us and round the back of the BMX circuit two riders went off the front and merged with the men’s race. One of the other women called out for us to let them go and everyone else stayed in the main bunch. At this point a man had been off the back of the men’s race for a while and kept cutting up the women’s race, this was annoying at best and dangerous at worst. I suppose he couldn’t face being “beaten” by a bunch of women even though he’d been lapped by the men!
I was feeling good at this point, I’d hung on through a number of surging attacks and put down the power to stay with the bunch a number of times, I felt I had more to give so I tried to save my legs as much as possible near the front of the bunch.
With two women off the front, the rest settled in to our own race whilst wondering out loud a few times if the other two would be DQd (they weren’t). The lap board continued to fall until 2 laps to go, due to the gapping with the men’s race our race had a lap added, this was communicated throughout the bunch so we all knew what was going on, good camaraderie.
When the last lap bell went I was excited, I’d worked and stayed in the bunch this long, could I remain with the bunch over the line? I watched everyone carefully and made sure not to get trapped at the back of the pack. Once we went over the back bridges and turned back to go under the bridge to the finish line I tried to get in to a good position but I didn’t want to be forced to sprint too soon before the line.
I had never been in this position in a race before, I was going to get my final sprint for the line. We went down under the bridge and with many clicks of gears people were making their move. I got in to a higher gear and pushed with everything I had left, I surged past a few riders and went over the line, 9th and in the points! I could have worked smarter, I probably could have put in a better final sprint BUT the fitness is there, I can keep up and now I can work on my race tactics. It feels great.