A lifetime of cycling – part 5

Posted: March 8, 2011 in 2011, General

Yesterday, I touched on one aspect of my multi faceted cycling life… Time Trials. Fortunately, there is more to life than testing and there are two other, notable, components to look at.

Earlier references to circuit races may have implied town centre crits but in my opinion, it was much,much better than that. If you know Bury St Edmunds, as you approach from the East or the West, the skyline is dominated by the Sugar Factory. A hub for local sugar production, the roads of Bury are taken over by beet lorries every autumn and the processing has an odious side product – an all pervasive, nutty kind of smell. You get used to it in the end but it never gets any nicer. Anyway, the smell and the ‘campaign’ only have a limited lifespan and the rest of the time the factory seems (to all intents and purposes) moribund. It was this lack of activity that lead someone, back in the depths of time, from West Suffolk Wheelers, to approach the factory and gain access to the pad.

The pad is a vast sheet of (precision laid) concrete where beet is unloaded, washed and taken away for processing. The centre comprises a channel with an auger running along its’ length; this was covered up with sheet metal during closedown. I can’t say how large the pad was suffice to say it was many football pitches in either direction, in fact it would be better to imagine it as a decent sized cricket pitch or two albeit rectangular as opposed to oval or square.

Each Tuesday night in the summer the West Suffolk Wheelers would meet up and lay out a rough oval course. The idea was to have fun but it also served as a training ground for road racers and people who wanted to see what it was all about. It was fantastic for learning tactics, riding in a group, drafting, how to sprint, when to sprint (almost as – if not more – important as ‘how’) and everything in between. Races were loosely based on those you would find in a velodrome with scratch races, devils, handicaps etc. A bit of clever organisation and a keen eye on rider potential allowed the organisers to run two separate races at once – a slower and an faster group so riders could race within their peer groups but, if they were canny, they could also participate in the bunch sprints if they had worked together and kept the fast group at bay until the end. The gap in standard and fitness between the two groups might make this sound improbable but it was surprising how many times it came down to the last 100 yards.

Being in such close proximity allowed riders in the slow group to hook up with the fast group if they were caught, and experience the thrill and pace of riding with the self styled ‘fast men’. When you were blown away you could just sit up, let the group (fast or slow) get away and then rejoin as you were caught up by the slower riders, or you were lapped by the fast group. There were no numbers, there was no cheating and there were surprisingly few accidents. In all the years I went down there, I only ever saw three or four, and one of those was me. I was in the fast group and we were chasing down an escaped rider, someone had put the hammer down on the straight and I glanced at my speedo…. it read about 28mph. We swung into the bend and I had a massive front wheel blow out. Unable to control the bike I fell onto my side, smacked my head hard on the concrete and slid to a halt. The race went on, so I had to get myself up and off the track in about a minute. I hobbled off the racing line and took time out to survey the damage. Helmet – broken, head…ok. Legs, both work but my left leg was a little sore…hmmm, that’s going to sting. Road rash…. ouch. Shirt, shredded, arm bleeding from more road rash and my chest, that was bleeding too. My ribs were also a little sore. Most importantly, the bike was fine, I had simply shredded the tape on the bars. A little shocked, I hobbled up the pad to the start/finish area where someone cleaned up my wounds; being allergic to plaster I had them slap some vaseline on the broken skin, I packed up my kit and rode home.

I had my main race of the season that Sunday morning, the Olympic Distance Triathlon in Cambridge. An international squad qualifier (not for me, for the proper athletes) it was to be my first open water swim. I had trained like mad and here I was on Tuesday, sore, bleeding and in a bit of pain. A quick visit to the doctor on Wednesday followed by a visit to the hospital and the X Ray department confirmed my fear, a cracked rib. I was given some pain killers to chew and sent on my way with advice not to race. The race is another story in itself but suffice to say I stalled maybe 2 miles into the run and hobbles to the finish, one of the last to get home.

Anyway, the circuit racing was brilliant, but for one reason or another it came to a halt. Daunting at first, it taught me more about bike handling and race tactics in one summer, than I learned before or since.

This leaves my introduction to mountain biking but my 20 minutes of writing time is over and it’s back to work for now.

  1. PeterH says:

    Good series this John – keep it up 🙂

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