Saturday saw the first round of the Velo29 Winter Series at Croft Circuit near Darlington. With some members of the club resting their legs for the coming day’s BUCS Cyclocross Championships, this was a chance for those who had never raced before, like myself, to get a first taste of the scene.
The club fielded a strong team of 6 riders with veteran Ed Garrett leading a field of young hopefuls interspersed with the odd triathlete, rower and Durham University – AURA Cycles’ very own Bavarian Bulldozer, Jakob aka Jens. With a good entourage of supporters and team tactics laid down from the night before, we were feeling pretty confident that we could make our mark on the event.
The race would be 8 laps around the 2.1-mile circuit. As 30 other riders assembled for the start, I tried to concentrate on the job ahead whilst cramming in a last minute energy gel, ignoring the guy riding the 3 grand Pinarello who had pulled up next to me… Lesson 1: Don’t be intimidated by other people’s kit.
Pace from the off was fairly brisk and it soon became apparent how much you need to concentrate when riding in a tight bunch, especially around some of Croft’s twistier sections. One small misjudgement could result in a very expensive pile up and a lot of angry people.
Going into lap 3 I got the nod from Captain Garrett to attack a little bit in order to try and up the speed of the race. Perhaps being a little over-enthusiastic in my first race I took off full gas down the start/finish straight imagining the bunch strung out behind me as they tried to hang onto my wheel. The first time I dared look back I was shocked to see I’d developed a sizable gap on the field, although no one was putting in any effort to reel me back in… The public would later describe the attack as “epic and inspiring”, however, the race was not even at the halfway point and I was consigned to the fact that I didn’t have the talent to go it alone to glory. After 1 ½ laps of my breakaway I was back in the bunch. Knackered. Lesson 2: Don’t attack too early, unless your surname is Cancellara.
As the race reached its climax on the final lap the pace was high and attacks were coming thick and fast. At this point the Durham University-AURA Cycles train got into formation and was in its element, Richard Abraham ruthlessly pouncing on any attempts to get away. The team’s aim was to lead out the sprint for Ed, whether he actually needed this is a different question, as he charged over the line throwing his bike to see off the two closest competitors by a tyre’s width. Had he “gone too early”? Not at all, and Ed recorded the club’s first victory in what looks to be a promising season. Special mention also goes to Sam Hatfield who had a strong sprint to finish in 9th.
All in all it was a fantastic experience and those who were racing for the first time pulled up at the finish with massive grins, still pumping from the adrenaline. The club will be back at the three remaining events in the series to try and get more wins and hone racing skills and fitness for the rest of the season.