It was another biting cold afternoon at Hillingdon for my 4th crack at the Imperial Winter Series. Results were trending the right way, going from 25th, to 13th to 5th last week and my first BC points. It was good to see the Watford rider who crashed last week there at the start, arm in sling and shoulder full of metal, but only a few weeks from being back on the bike.
This week was also my first ‘recovery’ week in this years training plan, which would either leave me undercooked, or fresh, at the end with around 100km/3 hours less time on the bike than the previous 4 weeks.
The main learning from last week’s relative success was that there really was no point in doing much work early in the race, and that if you do pick the right wheels and get to the final couple of corners in the top few positions, you should be able to score some points.
It doesn’t make for particularly exciting racing, but with the main aim being to get a top 3 place and the 7 points required to move to Cat 3, I planned to do much the same as last week.
There were a number of more meaningful attacking moves this week, creating gaps and stringing the bunch out, but again none had either the teamwork or legs to stay away. As usual, with 5 laps to go, it was all together and everyone seemed content to wait.
With 2 to go there was a coordinated attack with a couple of Kingston Wheelers flying up the right under the finish banner who gapped the bunch and looked like they meant business. I was well enough positioned towards the front to follow the wheels until we swept them up around halfway through the lap. This surge in pace thinned out the bunch behind though, and put me in a decent position in the top 10 or so without having wasted any energy bringing the break back.
The first corner on the final lap was almost a disaster. It’s a left hander, but as I leant into the bend in the middle of the bunch, I was holding my line but being edged slightly towards the outside by the riders inside me, meanwhile the rider outside me started edging slightly nearer. My front wheel hit his rear and remained locked to his chainstay for a worrying split second, sending us both momentarily in a straight line when we should still have been cornering. Fortunately, we untangled, remained upright and carried on as normal, without (as far as I know) disrupting anyone else’s chances.
After the clubhouse, I put a short effort in to get up from around 8th wheel to 4th, and timed it well with a London Dynamo rider in front putting some big watts down which sucked me into the final two bends comfortably in 4th.
I was still on his wheel with 250 to go and feeling fresh. I started to sprint, moving up to third on the outside with two riders in my sights just ahead. It felt like I had the momentum to go past them, and sure enough I did. With 50 to go I was clear and just hoping I wasn’t about to be swamped on the line. I wasn’t.
And that was that, I’d won a bicycle race. That’s not something I thought I’d ever say. Mission Accomplished, next week it’s the E123 race which looks like a huge step up in speed, watts and aggressive racing.
I do slightly resent how boring my tactics were over the last two weeks, 45 minutes of energy conservation and wind avoidance won’t win any Combativity Prizes, but it does seem to be the easy way to score points in these races. Ultimately it all boils down to having the 2-3 minute power to get in position and then having enough in the tank to finish it off in the sprint.
Having a quick scan of Strava afterwards, it seems a lot of guys struggle with this final surge in the last couple of laps, effectively where ‘The Selection’ is made.
The first effort shown was the surge after the clubhouse which was 600 watts for nearly 30s. This is what took me from around 8th to 4th and was the key move to follow.
There was another short spike after this of 700w for a few seconds to maintain position coming round the ‘Omega Curve’.
The final effort was the sprint which lasted 15s and peaked at 973 watts, with a top speed of just over 56kph. Not exactly Caleb Ewan, but luckily for me, fast enough on the day. Top end speed is definitely something I need to work on to have any success in other races.
I wasn’t planning to write about every race, but hopefully this is interesting and useful for anyone either considering crit racing or wanting to find out about the specifics of Hillingdon. Nice to have some positive feedback from race organisers, racers and online about it too. The main things I’ve learnt are the following:
- It’s not scary, and you’d be astonished how easy it is to ride a bike at 40kph in a big bunch of riders.
- Attacking on your own is loads of fun, even if it gets you nowhere.
- Doing as little as possible during the race leaves you fresh at the end, but needs to be balanced with keeping towards the front of the peloton to avoid the inefficiencies of riding at the back and all the extra accelerations that requires.
- Try and identify the strong riders during the race and get on their wheels towards the end. This isn’t easy to do, and you definitely need a bit of luck to get it right.
- Better off being on the outside of a bend needing to ride faster, than taking the inside line and risk being boxed in.
- Hold your line in the bends. I’m pretty astonished I’ve only seen the one big crash in four races given the proximity and speed you take the corners at, it doesn’t take much for it to end in tears.
- Don’t panic. Throughout the race your shoulders, handlebars, elbows, knees and wheels will hit come into contact with other riders. It happens, just keep rolling and be aware of what’s around you.
- Make sure you know where the wind is coming from. The finish straight is long and exposed, and has had a slight crosswind from either left or right the last 3 weeks, bear this in mind and keep out of it where you can if you want to save energy
- Enjoy it. If you want to attack loads, go for it. My only regret is not trying a few more moves to see what I was capable of, and I assume it probably won’t be as easy to make them stick in Cat 3…
Turns out Jesper from CyclingHub.tv was there on Saturday with his camera, and caught the finish on film which is a nice little bonus.
(Finish is at 4m30s).