I decided to sit out January crits this year, mainly as Hog Hill in a 2/3/4 did not particularly appeal. So it was back to Hillingdon a year on and a category up to see where my legs were at for 2017. Weight has come down nicely to around 73.5 kgs, which is pretty much as low as I’d got last year (albeit briefly!), training has been going well and I’ve felt pretty good around most of the early reliability rides so I was hoping not to be too far off the pace. Still, this is early days and more a toe in the water than a full on cannonball jump. There are some crits later in the month at Cyclopark which I plan to race with a bit more ambition.
I’d entered the 3rd cat only figuring the 4th cat only last year was pretty easy going until the terrifying 3 lap gallop at the end. I don’t really like Hillingdon counter clockwise to be honest, particularly the long left hander before the finish where I always feel like I’m going to lose the front or clip a pedal. There always tends to be a few silly crashes too and there’s not much room to avoid them if someone does go down. Not really selling this am I?
Anyway, my buddy Dan was also testing his legs in the 4th cat race so we stocked up the car and headed over. Dan was pretty reserved about his chances but I reckoned he had a solid shot at some points.
At sign on I bumped into a 1st cat buddy and found out pretty much by accident that the 3rd cats didn’t race on their own but instead raced with the E/1/2s for separate points. I must have looked like the wide eyed emoji. Shit, this wasn’t part of my plan! Cue Dr Pepper “What’s the worst that could happen” song ringing through my head for the next hour.
I had a little time before my race whilst Dan warmed up for his so I passed on the few things I’d learnt about crit racing. I figured learning from my mistakes may be of use to someone so I’ve listed them below. I learnt most of these the hard way!
- Get to the line early and get yourself straight into the first 10 wheels off the line. Let’s not talk about Ixworth….
- Stay in the top 1o wheels. The elastic band effect will be smaller and it will keep you out of the carnage further back.
- Do zero work. Nothing. Nada. zip. Unless you are racing with team mates there’s no reason to work unless you are trying to get into or make a break. There will be plenty of characters that want to hammer the front so leave them to it. Breaks in 4th cat races don’t tend to work. They do sometimes work in 3rd cat races though so maybe worth a punt.
- Hold your line. Not as obvious as it seems as the line often changes. But basically don’t make any abrupt changes of direction mid corner. You can’t hit the apex if you tip into the corner with three guys on your inside. You’ll usually find the guy shouting “hold your line” isn’t in fact holding his…..
- Don’t put your front wheel anywhere stupid. i.e. don’t overlap the guy ahead. He might not be holding his line (and require some verbal coaching post corner), but it will be you that ends up with a face full of tarmac when your wheel is taken out from under you.
- If the there’s a crash ahead or a touch of bars try to keep a straight course. Usually the first incident is minor and often no one goes down, the mega pile up follows when someone throws out the anchor and tries to avoid whats happening ahead.
- Lastly, this one is Hillingdon specific when the circuit is being raced counter clockwise. You need to be in the first 5 wheels going into the tight right hander before the long final sweeping left hander if you want any shot at the points. The first 10 wheels can work but you need a little luck or to be an absolute hero through the corners. Often the hero is the guy that ends up in the long grass on the outside though.
I didn’t see the finish of Dan’s race but whilst I was sat waiting to get on to the circuit the 4th cat bunch rolled in on their cool down lap and he was up there with the leaders. Promising I thought. We had literally 20 seconds to chat before my race and he had only gone and won it!! Amazing, first race of the season and he bags 10 points. Plus, just look at that sprinting position!
So, my race. Well I got to the line early…..After that I pretty much ignored most of my advice on positioning and proceeded to drift to the back. A slightly damp track, that inbuilt wariness of the last corner and not having raced in a bunch since July meant I was a little cautious for the first few laps. I was happy enough sat on the back getting my head back into it when the E/1/2s made themselves known and promptly strung the bunch out for several laps. It was brutal! We were not far off hitting 50 kph down the start/finish straight and absolutely hammering it through the bends.We were taking the corners faster and in much closer proximity than a 3rd cat only race which took a little mental adjustment, particularly after the time out. Saying that the manners were pretty good and there were only a couple of guys in the bunch that scared the crap out of me. One particular lap early on averaged 46 kph, 336 watts and 183 bpm so it’s good to know the legs are there.
I worked my way up a bit to mid pack but I was finding that the bunch was rotating pretty quickly and I didn’t ever really get much further forward than that. Despite the faster pace and closer cornering there was only one major crash and it was one of those crashes that you could see happening ahead of you in slow motion. A few guys lost skin but hopefully no major injuries. Doesn’t matter how many times you hear it the sound of metal and carbon crunching into the ground always makes me cringe.
Three got off the front at some point. Didn’t even see that and in fact I’ve just realised the chalkboard being held up was showing the time gap! Haha! I spent ages wondering when the lap board would come out, particularly as I was expecting an hour of racing. Still, the legs lasted and I was moving up through the last 5 laps as the pace built. No idea where I finished other than in the bunch but a solid start to the season. Back again next week and I promise I’ll get the elbows out.
- Time: 73 minutes
- Avg: 222 watts
- NP: 255 watts
- Avg speed: 42 kph
- Points: Only a warm fuzzy feeling