I don’t know what on earth possessed me to enter the National British Road Race Masters as my first road race… must’ve had a bang to the head! Still, 2021 for me, like a lot of people, has been about mixing it up and trying something new. So why the hell not?? In the 24h before, I had some really useful chats with an old sports acrobatics (and former elite road racer) friend from uni, who gave me some really sound advice.
I travelled up on the Friday night and stayed with my parents in West Lancashire, before travelling up to North Lancashire on the Sunday morning for the race. I knew of at least one person racing, my virtual Socks4Watts teammate and very talented Saint Piran rider Gemma Sargent. After a flying visit to my cousin in his new pad in Lancaster, I made my way to race HQ feeling relatively calm. The nerves began creeping in once I had registered and started getting my bike ready, though I managed to focus enough to get my numbers pinned on, a 20 minute warm-up in and 3 billion nervous wees done. I met another virtual teammate (Clare from KISS) and had a quick chat. My parents turned up just before the start to watch and wished me “good luck”, in return for the very important instruction from me not to drive the course (a DQ in my first race would be quite embarrassing!).
We set off on the neutralised start at a reasonable pace. This was very different to the manic balls-out starts I’ve experienced with cyclocross and Zwift racing! Once we hit the start/finish, the pace slowly and steadily ramped up, and there were a few spiky efforts required on the climbs. I’m not a bad climber, and I thought I’d eaten plenty the night before, but I struggled with breakfast on race day and therefore the hard efforts really took it out of me. The race was 7x10km laps and around an open-road loop which I didn’t think sounded too horrendous, but my HR was averaging near max effort, and this clearly wasn’t sustainable.
Near the start of lap 2 there was a massive pile-up on a short climb into a left turn at a T-junction. I somehow managed to dodge the bullet by riding around the mass of bikes and bodies on the floor – phew! I stayed with the main peloton for the first lap and a half, and then on the 2nd long descent the girl in front of me got gapped and unfortunately I never quite managed to close up again. Many solo miles ensued, and I felt more worn out and disheartened with each lap. 2 riders from Blaydon who had succumbed to the first crash caught me and we tried to work as a 3-up, but unfortunately I just didn’t have enough in the tank and they continued on.
The general rule is that if you are lapped or more than 10 minutes behind the leader, you are pulled from the race. I had it in my head after 4 or 5 laps that I would be done, as I knew I was >10 mins behind. Imagine my dismay when the race leader shouted to me that if I finished the next lap I would be placed – I was NOT mentally prepared for that! However, it seemed foolish not to continue, so continue I did. I had company from one of the Blaydon girls for the last lap and we did put a bit of effort in, but also managed to have a bit of a chat. Once past the line again, we waited for the riders to come through the finish. A solo breakaway had occurred, and she crossed the line jubilantly. We waited and waited for the rest of the riders, and continued waiting… finally it was confirmed on the radio that there had been lots of crashes and an ambulance was tending to Clare – eek! Eventually they started coming through, with Gemma in 4th. Bravo!
As I was about to leave and collected my car key from HQ, one of the organisers advised me to stick around for the podium ceremony… I’d gotten the bronze F35-39. Sweet! The pain and solo miles were worth it, just about 😉
In summary, a great little course with lots of undulation and a few technical descents. More food required (ED demons are a bitch). And possibly different gearing. Has it put me off road racing? My upcoming calendar says no!