29 starters lined up for the last of 3 races in the Go Sport criterium. T2A had done okay in the first 2. I took 3rd in the first race, Jimmy Cresswell nearly made a romantic solo break stick in race 2 but both races had featured some pretty lazy riding from others and a Revolution Cycles team bossing the race. With a race format of one hour plus one lap round the camel track 8k loop with a sprint around half way, we thought there was an opportunity to get a group away which could make it to the finish.
Several people showed interest and a team was formed with myself, Piers, Sellar, Andy V, Jimmy and Marshall. Glen even made a special trip over from Oman to join in the fun. The plan was to try and get me the intermediate sprint with help from Glen and Piers and then for the other 4 to launch an all out attack as the group slowed down. Like all great plans, it nearly unravelled before the race even started. Andy Veall had an accidental party the night before and turned up unsafe to ride, then it appears James got stuck behind some learner riders at the start and that was the last we saw of him. To be fair to James the start was brisk. At 47 seconds into the race we hit 49.8kph and then after a slight lull, 50.5kph – you’re not getting back onto that train riding on your own.
As with all bike racing, the average speed does not tell the whole story – 38.3 average for the first 8.05k Garmin split sounds comfy, but my peak heart rate would beg to differ. Glen and Piers may have some interesting power numbers, my heart rate topped out at 178bpm on lap one. The next lap was pretty similar – lots of attacks being launched but nobody strong enough to get away. Glen, Simon, Sellar and Piers kept an iron grip on the bunch making sure no groups of 4 or more got off the front without one of our riders in it. Smaller groups we gave some latitude to as there did not look to be anyone strong enough to last for 5 laps out there alone.
Lap 3 got a bit cagey as everyone got ready for the intermediate sprint. There are 2 problems with the sprint at the camel track. First, the final straight is longer than anyone ever thinks, it’s 1.7k from the last corner to the line. Second, in the morning it normally has a headwind and most people are used to the tailwind you get at night. The plan was to stay out of trouble with Glen and Piers taking me up the outer, windy side with about 500m to go, dropping me off with about 150m to go. The group got pretty tense round the top bend with 2 big surges from the 38kph we had been doing to 45kph twice. As we slowed from the second surge we hit the front a bit earlier than planned with 1.2k to go and then Piers and Glen just lit the afterburners, putting in a 2 minute turn that took us from the 32kph we had dropped to, all the way up to 47kph with 150m to go (into a cross/headwind don’t forget). Piers dropped me off in perfect position, but I’d burnt too many matches staying with him as he cranked it up and my heart rate had skyrocketed to 190 by the time I hit the front. Suffice to say that I wasted the guys good work by exploding about 10m after Piers dropped me off. It felt like someone had opened a parachute on my back and about 10 people dashed past me before I finally hit the line
So, a failure on the first part of the plan and only 2 riders to implement the second part. As we rounded the corner after the sprint and the speed came down to 30kph, Sellar and Marshall dropped the hammer. They quickly put 50m into the group as they got away with one other guy. The peloton initially started to react, but the ferocity of the previous sprint meant some of the stronger people needed to recover and the chase fractured into 2 groups. Glen, Piers and I were in the second of the 2 groups and had to put in some work to get to the first chase group. My hope was that as the groups merged, people who had been working would look for others to do their turn and the chase would lose some momentum.
Sure enough, after 3.5k at an average over 40, the pace dropped and the break got some breathing space. By the start of the next lap, Simon and the other chaser had lost Chris and he was out on his own. There were some counter attacks at this point and the speed came back up for the next 4k, but there was also a bit of confusion about whether there was anyone still out there – we certainly weren’t going to tell them. Piers, Glen and myself sat near the front, but when we rolled onto the front would take our turn at a speed about 1kph slower than the group had been going and wait for people to come around. I even managed an oscar winning performance of ‘man working very hard on bike’ when I got my turn
There was a pretty nervous moment at the end of lap 5 as we wondered whether Chris would go by the finish in under an hour. If he had done he would have had to last 2 more full laps rather than 1. Fortunately, the klaxon sounded for the start of the last lap with Chris rolling through with around a minute’s gap
The bunch started to ready itself for the sprint, but this time Piers was feeling like stretching his legs after working hard for others for the remainder of the race. He jumped off the front with just over a kilometer to go and held off everyone else to finish second to Chris, 2 seconds clear of the remains of the peloton. Everyone else finished safely in the bunch and James bravely battled round doing 6 full laps on his own to finish just 10 minutes down
Chris picked up both the win and the fastest lap. I now need to go and get myself into some kind of shape before next year’s races. Many thanks to everyone for coming and racing today. Everyone seemed to have fun, maybe coach can be persuaded to get some cycle kit on next year’s kit list. It would be great for everyone’s bunch riding skills and top end to get involved in this kind of stuff. You do need to be careful, but I feel it’s worthwhile giving it a go.