After months of being goaded into entering the high stakes world of cat 4 racing, I finally caved, upgraded my British Cycling membership and bought my first ever race licence. Exciting!
On race day, to say I was nervous was an understatement. My body felt weak and tingly for the entire time I was at work. I didn’t want the day to end but time is a cruel mistress and soon 5:30pm was upon me and I was making my way to Castle Combe racing circuit.
True to form, when I got my bike out of the car and rolled over to race HQ, I could hear a rattling sound that wasn’t there the day before, so that only added to my anxiousness. I knew I was going to get a race number but I wasn’t expecting to get the number 1 dossard. This felt like it was tempting fate and a bad omen.
The amount of carbon and skinsuits that were on show was kind of intimidating. Even just at the warm up, the rolling thunder of deep section carbon wheels made me question whether this was a good idea as I desperately tried to make it look like I knew what I was doing.
So, on to the actual race. I was told to not sit mid-pack but to ride aggressive as I’ll get more out of riding like that than rolling around. I’m pleased to say that I remembered this once the racing had started and positioned myself towards the front of the bunch. I’ve ridden in groups before but not of this size and realised that the actual pace was fairly sustainable, something that eased my worries of my fitness not being up to par. As the race rolled on, attacks were frequent but didn’t last long. There was only 1 real attack that managed to stick for any amount of time but thankfully several others decided to do the chasing.
I had a few digs myself but nothing managed to become serious and after watching a few more suicide attacks and helping to shut down several other attacks, I realised that we were into the final 5 laps. There were probably about 10-15 riders that remained near the front of the pack throughout most of the race so you could sense that a lot of people were just rolling around waiting for the inevitable bunch sprint.
Going into the final lap I found myself fourth wheel, a position that I quickly realised definitely wasn’t optimal if I wanted to have a chance in the sprint. I’d hit the front too early. Coming through the final chicane, the guy in front peeled off and there I was, leading a pack of god knows how many wannabe sprinters. I realised that there was no way I’d be able to compete in the sprint so I went as far into the red as I could manage to hurt as many other legs as possible. I felt an intense burn like nothing I’ve experienced before in my legs as everyone opened up their sprints in the final 200 meters to the line. I didn’t finish top 10 but I think I finished around 15th. Respectable I think.
Having spoken to quite a few people about their first race, it was apparent getting dropped on your first race is quite common, almost a rite of passage so the fact that I finished mid-pack whilst being as active as I was at the front was a relief and a comfort.
Despite the pre-race anxieties, racing is a very exhilarating and exciting thing. You’ll never know how you fare doing something for the first time until you finally do it and so the only advice I can give, as a former first timer, is don’t worry as much as I did and have a positive attitude to the race. I know there will be a race when I get dropped for the first time, whether it’s this week or next year, either way, I know I’ll enjoy it just as much as my first race.
Distance: 31.4 miles
Speed: 26.7mph (avg)
Heart Rate: 173bpm (avg)
Unfortunately, no power data as my Stages decided to pack up the week before.