Waking up at 7.30am in a decidedly rainy South Derbyshire, I thought back to the optimistic submission of my card details and clicking of the ‘Enter’ button on the British Cycling website in order to get a place for the Beeston RC Nottingham University GP. Through breakfast and the trip to the campus, I religiously refreshed my go-to weather app – and played different apps off against each other – in an effort to shift the heavy clouds. Getting ready out of the boot of the car however, it was a case of full commitment to getting soaked along with the other 12 women on the start line.
A Men’s Cat 4 race had come before us and with it, unfortunately, a lot of crashes. This was mostly due to a pretty technical corner just after the start line which was flagged during the briefing. In order to combat the tricky bend, we had a neutralised start and rolled out behind one of the commissaires until he dropped out after a kilometre or so.
The first lap was frenetic, with our small bunch testing the wet tarmac and testing each other to get an idea for what might play out over the hour of riding ahead. Despite some heavy breathing as a result of getting the limbs moving, we all stayed together for the first of the two-mile laps, taking in the corners, speed bumps and drags. Over the next four laps or so there was a lot of movement as we traded positions, with the exception of Melissa Pritchard of Moda RT who sat at the front and showed incredible power throughout as something of a one-woman time trialist.
Somewhere around the half-way mark, gaps started to appear in the bunch and the two climbs were pretty effective in making these stick-worthy. After another lap or two of punchy efforts to make some progress and patchy commentary from the start/finish line, we realised that our group of four had likely done enough to take it to the finish. Our different strengths and weaknesses meant that it was difficult to truly work together despite remaining close, and again Melissa drove from the front.
Whether we were all too broken to launch an attack or the others fancied their chances in a sprint, we remained together almost to the end. There was one drop-off on the penultimate corner which meant that the battle was down to three, but the other girls were simply too powerful on the final drag and were within inches of each other, while I finished on their wheels.
After gaining control of our respiratory systems and getting feeling back into our legs, we congregated at the HQ tent to pick up victory bottles of fizz and try to look relatively presentable for the photographer. Being held at the Nottingham University campus, we were also treated to massages from undergrad Physiotherapy students who, as well as doing a pretty good job, were also complimenting pretty much every rider on the toned nature of their legs and thinking about taking up cycling themselves as a result. Not a bad way to finish a ride!
With this being my second race, the main thing I took away was just how far you can push yourself when it matters. Now I’m aware that my list of improvements is substantial, but it’s interesting to compare your relative level of suffering with something like the weekly club 10-mile TTs I’ve now done a couple of: lining up next to other riders makes a huge difference! So next time I’m riding alone, I think I’m going to have to call on some sort of ghostly posse and get my race face on.
The only other thoughts to add are around race etiquette, where the bunch could definitely have been a little more vocal. And while the commissaires warned against dropped litter, it was actually the problem of dropped (and lapped) riders trying to jump back on to the leading group that was a bit peculiar. Definitely something to be avoided!
A well-organised event in its second year, with a neat little course and good coffee!
All photo credits to Andrew Peat at AP Sports Photography.