After purchasing a race licence last month, I thought I’d better put it to some use by signing up to a crit this week. The weather leading up to this was horrendous as you can tell by a few of my Instagram posts. There was rain and brutal winds for at least 48 hours leading up to Tuesday night, which lead me to doubt whether I should attempt my first race in those sort of conditions.
It seemed quite whirlwind in that one minute I wasn’t even registered with the league and the next I’d put my money where my mouth was and we were driving to the circuit after work.
I hadn’t ever been on the circuit before so I was quite keen to go round slowly before attempting to hang on to the race. As soon as we rolled on, the headwind made itself felt. It was a 50/50 split down the track but annoyingly the headwind struck straight after a tight hairpin where typically, riders sprint to gain an advantage.
Out of the field of 14 riders, 8 were Manchester Wheelers, 2 VCUK, 1 Holmfirth CC, me for Rapha CC and a couple of others I can’t remember.
We lined up at the start line and after a pre-race briefing, the whistle blew and we were off. Before time, the lead bunch sped off the front all working together to take turns in the aforementioned headwind. Cornering was something I’d always been nervous about at speed but I soon learned that it’s something you just do when you’re in the moment. I imagine any photos captured of me cornering would’ve shown a pretty impressive angle to the ground!
I was with two others in our bunch: the third of four bunches that had formed throughout the race. I quickly learned that not only is crit racing a physical challenge but it’s an even bigger tactical one. The questions and thoughts that run through your head go a little something like this:
- Should I try and drop the girl on my wheel?
- What if I just squeeze on the inside of this corner up here?
- Should I take my turn in the wind now or after the next corner?
- I don’t want to stay in this headwind for much longer than I have to, when is it cool for me to flag through the next rider?
- What could I have done differently at the start that would’ve got me in the bunch in front of me?
- Am I approaching this corner way too fast? BRAKEEEE!
- Man, I should’ve just gunned it through that corner and I’d have made it
- Right, I’m going to go full gas on this straight so that I don’t have to work as hard into the headwind
- Why didn’t I go full gas on that straight?! This headwind is brutal
All of the above fleet in and out of your head in milliseconds but I can remember each one vividly.
The lap board was ticking over nicely as I whizzed past each time. Eventually there was one lap to go and I knew I had to give it my all if I was going to place. Given this was a Band 5 race, I needed to be in the top 10 to get points. Even though the chances were in my favour with a field of just 14, I knew this being my first race I had every chance of falling into the group that didn’t score.
The last corner of the bend and one girl from my bunch left our group then it was me and the girl behind going for it. She snuck in from the outside of the corner and had about 10cm on my wheel over the line. I was devastated! The two spectators I knew thought I’d come 11th or 12th, neither of which was eligible for points. Ho hum, at least I didn’t crash and it was my first race after all.
All morning Wednesday, I trawled the results to confirm that I hadn’t got any points. After a couple of meetings pulling me away from various websites, I found them. This was it! With trepidation, I opened the results: 9th!!!!!! Turns out, the girl who’d beaten me to the finish by 10cm actually crashed out of the first lap so despite beating me to the line, she finished a lap less. Another rider from the 14 at the start crashed out and graze much of her face – she’s otherwise ok though.
I was so excited! Not only had I safely completed my first bike race but I had also scored a point!
Ladies, if you’re thinking of racing, my advice is to just give it a go. Even if you don’t score points, the first time you do something should always be about completing it safely with some tips to take away for next time. I honestly can’t wait for my next race and I’m already scouring the British Cycling events calendar for what’s coming up in the next few months.
Photo credit: Patrick Nestor