I have large blisters on the palms of both hands. Ouch! These appeared on lap 3 of a 9.5 lap closed circuit race at Millbrook Circuit, yesterday. The hills were fierce, the decents fast and fun and the wind brutal. I have been racing for the Fred Baker Women's RR team this year and the Bedford 2 day stage race was my second outing for them - part of the national women's team series. Two weeks ago I raced at Maidenhead with two team mates and managed to stay with the bunch. I love the exhilaration of the bunch - grappling for position, holding your line and your nerve round the corners with adrenaline-fuelled ladies twitching their handlebars milimeters from yours. I love the energy, the excitement, the total unBritishness of of it all. Suits me.
So I was looking forward to Bedford. There were 6 of us in our team from Bristol for this race plus our Directeur Sportif and a couple of WAGS (or should I say HABS). The first day was a 50 mile road race on the open road, after a team tt. The Team tt was great fun and we ditched two of our riders (who sacrificed themselves for the greater good) and the four who remained saw the team finish in a respectable time half way down the list. Good effort girls... since we only do once of these in a blue moon!
The road race was fiercely windy. How is it possible to have a head wind on all four sides of a square? The first lap had me wondering what on earth I was doing there. It was seriously fast and I was burning matches fast. There was a short steep climb after some undulations where the prime was (and finish) and I just about hung on for lap one but on lap two (of 5) I didn't have the oomph to stay with the bunch as they disappeared into the distance and battled on for a lap on my own.
This was a terrible mistake. Eventually two of my team mates in a chasing bunch of 15 caught me but I was so battered from my lone lap that I couldn't cling to them after the climb and got shelled at the same point. I didn't know what to do and being inexperienced thought it was sensible to pull out and save myself for day 2.
I stopped, faffed, tried to find our DS. Failed, turned around, pedalled on, turned back again. Then I asked directions to the race HQ and started to pedal slowly towards it... at which point our last remaining team mate, in a group of about 8, caught me up and I started to ride with them. I decided, as they were moving pretty steadily, to do one final lap with them and then pull. Well, as it happened we all got pulled because of the time gap on the leaders, but becuase we were pulled and didn't retire we were allowed to race day 2 - which I wouldn't have been allowed to had I stopped! Thank goodness I faffed for so long before deciding what to do! I never normally retire from races but thought it was the 'done thing' in rr. Obviously not.
Valuable lessons learnt (about having a contingency plan if/when you don't stay with the bunch), we moved on to the second day.
Day 2 arrived and I had the bit between my teeth to prove myself (to myself - my team were lovely about my mishap) after a disappointing day 1. My individual tt was respectable given my legs were screaming and my bike is rubbish compared with most. One of our team who had retired lent me her pimpy wheels so I had a bit of help. Thank you Kat!
Millbrook Circuit is hilly, quite technical and the wind was fierce. Ruth, Gillian and I stayed in the bunch for the first 3 climbs but then the bunch was stretched and smashed to smitherines by the Maxgear and Horizon girls who weigh 6 stone and are supreme climbers. Gillian and I got caught in a chasing bunch and Ruth cramped (after her supreme tt effort earlier) and was in the bunch a few minutes down.
Gillian and I stuck in and worked with the group, who luckily were a very experienced group of girls. We rode hard and fast and mopped up more riders as we stormed through. Each climb was exhausting and as I said, I have rubbed big holes in the palms of my hands from turning over the hoods. But each time I made it with the group and caught some time and some breathe on the descent before plunging back into the head wind and around the 'speed bowl' (in the photo).
Gillian and I supported each other with breathless words of encouragement as we rode past during our through and off. It was the hardest 50 miles I have ever ridden and when we hugged at the finish I knew we were both desperately grateful to have survived it without being pulled and very pleased with our performance.
The whole team had a great weekend full of ups and downs and amazing performances. Although the scenery isn't exactly what I'm used to when mountain biking, road racing is purely exhilarating and leaves you with a deep fatigue from hours putting in max effort chasing lycra-clad pairs of legs into a head wind.
Time to recover now, and prepare myself for my first big Adventure Race of the year. Nothing if not varied! I need to get some running and kayaking in!