Last week I finally bit the bullet and signed up to a race. I saw the first round of the Imperial Winter Series appear on my Strava feed the Saturday previously, and after a quick Google I discovered it was a mere £12 to get a piece of the action for myself (+ £5 membership + price of a BC race licence). So I did.
I had no idea really what to expect, with previous ‘racing’ experience limited to quick 5 minute races at the end of coaching sessions, a dash for the line at a sportive or some virtual racing on Zwift.
A customary bit of googling before race day as to what to expect and any circuit specific knowledge for Hillingdon revealed the following:
- There will be a fast start and loads of first timers get dropped immediately
- There will be loads of crashes
- To get away you need to attack multiple times
- Positioning on the last couple of laps was crucial
Some of that was useful, most of it didn’t materialise. How it actually unfolded was as follows.
My main aim for the day was to see what it was all about, see how I found the pace and get to the end in one piece.
There were around 60 (guess, full results not published yet) of us on the start line. I was fairly up near the front, maybe in the 3rd row on the ‘grid’, anticipating the furious pace from the gun I had read about. A BC commissaire said hello and with no fanfare or build up, blew his whistle and signified, apparently, the start of the race. I clipped in and rolled away, keeping on the wheels of the riders ahead, waiting for the pace to ramp up. Which it didn’t really. By the first bend and round the clubhouse we were cruising at around 40-42kph which is fairly normal speed for a group ride on the flat in my experience.
So far, no trouble.
One lap in, I realised I was up at the front of proceedings and spent a couple of laps dictating the pace on the front of the bunch, which was fun. I wasn’t sure if this was a rookie error, but my heart rate and how I felt suggested I wasn’t really pushing myself so hard I was about to pop. And I didn’t. I then maintained a spot in the first 10 riders or so on the road for the next half hour with only pretty minor accelerations in the bunch along the way. I was conscious to get on a wheel in the finish straight each time, with a relatively stiff headwind making that part of the course harder and slower than the rest.
One rider, in Sigma Sport kit, made a break for it fairly early on in the race, and got away without issue before riding to victory solo on his own for what must have been nearly 45 minutes. The rest of the race, mainly the first half, was peppered with a few riders attacking without getting away. There would be shouts from the back of the bunch of ‘up up up’, warning us of the impending missile being launched up the road, but usually by the time they had made it off the front of the bunch and gained 10 yards on the peloton they had run out of steam and quickly fell back, usually into the bunch, once at least straight out of the back and out the race (this is always much funnier when the rider in question is wearing a skinsuit…). The first few times this happened I found myself on the front upping the pace to bridge the gap to the break, but after doing this a few times it became clear the breaks wouldn’t stick and there was no point burning too many matches to bring them back. It was tempting to try one myself but I found myself quite happy where I was and decided to play the waiting game rather than risk blowing up.
I checked my Garmin and saw we were 45mins into the action, and with the Imperial Series website saying these races usually last around 50 minutes, I found myself wondering if I had missed something and that the race was about to end without warning. Fortunately on the next pass of the finish line, a commissaire held up a lap board, announcing there were now 5 laps to go, at just over 2 minutes per lap. I was still near the front at this point, pretty comfortable and ready to follow anything that looked like it could have been a decisive move.
4 to go…
3 to go…
2 to go…still not a lot had changed. The pace was a constant 40-42kph and nobody was trying anything to get away (with any real conviction), presumably waiting for a sprint.
On the final lap, having read about the importance of being in the right position going into the last two corners I was again pretty near the front, for most of the lap. However, following the left turn after the clubhouse I was momentarily blocked in on the inside and immediately passed by around 10 riders, and that was just about that. I caught back up, tried to go around to the right, but again got blocked off and forced onto the grass which killed my momentum. I got back on track, but by this point the risk of gaining 10-15 places back by riding through or round the riders ahead was outweighed by the need to keep my collarbones intact for future races and I rolled through the line in a non-descript mid bunch position.
There were a few angry shouts from riders during the action. Usually these were just requests for people to hold their line or leave room on the inside, which was generally respected. There was a fair bit of shoulder to shoulder contact in the bunch which you expect with that volume of riders together, but nothing I’d construe as particularly dangerous or reckless, and other than a few trips onto the verge, myself included, I don’t think there were any crashes or serious incidents.
I’ve just signed up to #4 and #5 in the series and now have a few ideas on how to get amongst the points next time out for the BBBC.