After six weeks without racing, I had my first taste of Cat 3 life at the Lea Valley Velopark (aka Olympic park) yesterday. It was run by Full Gas Cycling, and was the 15th in their series of 18 Winter crits.
I had the option of either the 3/4s race or E/1/2/3, and went for the former on basis of it being my first race as a 3, and it being earlier in the day and having stuff to do in the evening.
I’m going to Mallorca next week, so was pretty keen to avoid any danger and keep both collarbones in one piece as best I could. Consequently, I had a plan in mind pre race to attack on my own, lots, to avoid being near anyone and thus avoid all the crashes.
As with most plans, it didn’t quite work out that way. From the start, I found myself in the middle of the bunch, pretty happy for a few laps and coasting round with fairly minimal effort. It became apparent though that passing through the bunch and getting to the front wasn’t going to be easy. I’m not sure exactly what it is, maybe the track is slightly narrower than Hillingdon, or that the windy conditions led to less gaps, but either way I couldn’t see a safe or easy way to pass through or around the bunch to get in any kind of position to attack. From this point onwards, whilst keeping an eye out for any gaps, I pretty much chilled out at the back of the bunch, keeping an eye out for anything that could lead to me spending 5 days in Linekers Bar in Puerto Pollensa rather than climbing Sa Calobra.
Through the whole race, there was a lot of what could be called ‘bloody stupid bike riding’. People cutting corners rather than holding their line, moving into gaps which weren’t there and slamming on the brakes for no apparent reason. Despite this, somehow everyone stayed upright for 99% of the race.
At the start of the race when the commissaire announced the first lap would be neutralised to give new riders a chance to see the track, there were a few riders who quipped that it’s usually the first 30 laps which are neutralised. They knew what was coming. The final straight was into a fairly brisk headwind. This had the effect, on every single lap, of bringing the bunch right back together, and made life nigh on impossible for those who were able to attack. It was like a giant slinky, as the peloton stretched out with the tailwind and then squashed right back together again, every time.
In terms of effort, mainly due to hiding towards the back of the bunch, I pretty much coasted round for 45 minutes, without putting much effort in at all, whilst still averaging 41kph. Below shows the data from this race vs the last one at Hillingdon, which backs this up. (Lower NP, IF, HR & TSS).
Anyway, the exciting bit is still to come. There was an absolutely enormous crash, again. Not a crit goes by without the sound of carbon and collarbones being snapped in two, it seems. This one came in the final sprint. I sat up coming round the final corner, with no interest in, or chance of reaching, the top 10 spots. Shortly after this, I heard the all too familiar sound of bikes hitting the floor, soon followed by the sight of wheels, limbs and frames being ejected in all directions across the track, as if a bomb had been dropped. I braked and stopped to see if I could be of any help, and much like last time, I realised I am next to useless in these situations and should really go on a first aid course. There were five or six riders involved. One lay motionless in the middle of the track and was displaying all the signs of a bust collarbone, at best. Two more were lying in the ditch on the right of the track. One guy, who I had been riding next to all race, looked in a bad way, with blood pouring out of his chin. I managed to establish he was still alive and probably didn’t have any broken bones, which was sort of positive. The other riders were staggering around with ripped Lycra and road rash to the fore, but no major injuries evident. The damage to two of the bikes involved was astonishing. One Planet X had snapped clean in two, in multiple places, leaving it resembling a Brompton, whilst a Kuota had also been snapped clean in half. I think I’m right in assuming carbon is pretty strong, so for these bikes to be so destroyed the forces involved must have been phenomenal. Most of the injured made it back to the Velodrome under their own steam, but the chap who came off worst required an ambulance. His Strava post of the ride clarified that he did in fact break his scapula, punctured a lung and was enjoying much morphine to take the edge off. Nasty.
I’m not sure at all what caused the crash, but I do have a feeling these guys weren’t in the fight for the win, which does beg the question of whether or not they should have been sprinting at all, risking so much for so little.
Things like this do make you wonder if it’s all worth it. It’s certainly the last time I’ll opt to race in a race with 4th cat riders and run the risk of a complete rookie causing undue danger. Having done two of the race training sessions which are mandatory for the Surrey League and SE Road Race League, I wouldn’t be averse to these kind of sessions being compulsory for all races if this is the kind of incident which is normal. It shouldn’t be normal for amateurs to turn up and do something fun (and it is really, really fun) and have a pretty serious chance of breaking bones, bikes and other people in situations you have zero control over. Racing bikes is never going to be 100% safe, but there are some very basic principles which riders should know about before getting involved and putting the health of fellow riders at undue risk.
Having said all the above, there’s only so much you can do to stop crashes, and they are probably as prevalent in the professional peloton as they are in 4th cat crits. Put a group of people in close proximity at 40kph and stuff can go wrong.
Anyway, I had a fun day out. Mallorca next week, no more races booked in just yet, but will be getting stuck back in over April and May for sure, I’m particularly keen to try some longer road races.