Imperial Winter Series: Second attempt 

After surviving last months first attempt at a crit race in one piece, I was back on the start line at Hillingdon again yesterday for a second stab.
Everything felt reassuringly similar. Grey, mild and dry weather, 50-odd riders in the field and some familiar faces from the last race.

This time I was keen to be more aggressive and try and get into a good (top 10) position with 500 to go and try and contest a sprint for some points.

I was on the front row of the ‘grid’ and when the commissaries set us off, I rolled away and was up to speed by the first bend. I looked around and much to my surprise, 2 of us had unwittingly gapped the pack and had 50 yards on the bunch. The thought of a hour long 2-up breakaway was not particularly appealing, and after a couple of laps and most matches still in their box, we dropped back into the bunch.

Accidentally leading the race for the first couple of laps

The rhythm of the next phase of the race was totally different to the previous one. The pace had a lot more lulls, with more coasting and fewer attacks. The attacks that were launched had slightly more conviction, but ultimately came to nothing. I tried to avoid wasting energy chasing them down where I could and kept towards the first third of the bunch most of the time. 

With 5 laps to go, everything was still together and the pace was yet to really ramp up. By this stage it was an identical scenario to the last race, with everyone seemingly content to play the waiting game.

With around 3 to go, a group of around 6 riders made it off the front, and they maintained a small gap into the final lap, without ever looking too threatening for the overall win.

Coming round the bend into the small hill outside the clubhouse, the lead group were just a few metres ahead, and I was on the nose of the closing bunch. I had to make a call…

A) Get on the wheels of the lead bunch ahead and hope they had the speed and energy to stay up front until the end of the race, but risk being swamped by the bunch I was leading and lose all chance of getting in a decent position.

B) Go round the group and drop a couple of places back into the bunch and keep position there until the sprint

C) Attack, as I was carrying way more speed than the lead group and I assumed the riders behind would be expecting me to either join the lead group or maintain tempo, but risk not making it to the finish.

I went for option C. I gapped the leaders without too much trouble and by the descent into the hairpin bend I snuck a quick glance behind and saw something like 50m of clear tarmac behind me to the closing peloton. Bloody hell. I also snuck a glance at my Garmin which suggested I was on the brink of a heart explosion. Over the final little rise, and with just 2 left handers to go I was still clear. Legs screaming, breathing all over the place, surely I wasn’t about to win?

Just as the finish line came into sight with 200 to go, the first of the riders behind flew past. Quickly followed by a couple more. I put my head down and tried to squeeze everything out of my totally unresponsive legs and ended up crossing in around 12th place (unconfirmed) and set a new max HR by quite some distance.

Taking option C was definitely the best decision at the time, I’m not sure how any of the riders in that group up the road did at the finish, but I suspect they will have been passed and left pointless. It was also rather fun being on the front and alone, even if I was just a human carrot dangling myself in front of the peloton.

Same time, same place next week. Third time lucky?

TrainingPeaks data.


5 Comments Add yours

  1. JWJ says:

    Ha – That sounds like my first race!

    You really ought to look into joining a club. I thought I was pretty good but learned more in my first month with a club than I had done for years of riding alone.

    I see you like Hill Climbs – you should look into the Monsal Head – always entertaining.


    1. Cheers for reading! I do actually ride with a club. We’re not a traditional club, but it’s a club all the same…


      1. JWJ says:

        Yeah I’ve seen a few of these newer clubs popping up. Sounds like a great scene to be part of. Rope some mates into your next race. It’s not like they’ll be able to bring you bottles to the front of the race or form a lead out train but at 4th cat level its a simple as having someone in the bunch who will let you in in front of them. That way you know you ca. Ride up the outside of the bunch and your teamate will let you in infront of them (hopefully in a magic top ten position). This means you don’t have to fight to be at the front the whole time but can take it in turns to save space etc.

        Another tip is to use your voice. In lower level races you can literally shout your way to the front. “I’m here” “that’s my wheel” “chase” “go go go” all work wonders. If nobody listens you’ve lost nothing but if someone moves over for you you’re onto a winner!


    2. PS yes, got loads of HCs lined up this year, may even head north!


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