I think like most of the planet emerging from lockdown, there was an element of nervousness in me as I threw a Fendrien jacket over my club skinsuit and fixed the lights to my time trial bike before heading off to the start of the race last Wednesday.
I didn’t know how I would feel or what my performance was like. Things that help you understand performance, such as power meters had been sold last summer to keep things ticking over at home so this was a real step into the dark for me.
The first drama was some light drizzle as I crossed the A16 and got on the country lanes, that was followed by the East Coast Mainline stopping me for two trains at the crossing. This was stuff that in previous years would have phased me, it would have affected my concentration and added to the nerves of bike racing.
This year though, it just feels so nice to be out there that I took it all in my stride as part of the experience. It’s like lock down has actually given us more time to do things and think about what’s going on.
I collected my number, socially distanced of course, and fixed it to my new number belt. Yes I know I look like a triathlete, but skin suits aren’t cheap so any avoidance of pin damage is fine by me!
I stashed my jacket and bottle in the undergrowth near the car park and started to get my act together as other riders were arriving.
My start time was nice and early so I was able to do my 10 miles (25:15) and get back to the finish before layering up and riding home.
This reminded me of when my kids were first born and I did little in the way of training. With that in mind I rode the St Ives (Cambs) CC 10s mid week as where I lived meant I could easily ride out to the event and back for extra miles, usually it was a 50km evening. Those tired rides home with my lights twinkling and the fens looking splendid were some of the best I can remember.
The same applied here and as I waited for another 2 trains at the crossing going home I reflected on a successful evening for the club and enjoyed those last 8km home without sprinting for village signs or eyeballing the heart rate numbers on my computer.
And if a weekly stress relieving ride home each Wednesday is as good as my truncated cycling season gets this year, that will do just fine.
I would like to go a bit faster in the race though!
It sounds quite an arrogant or big headed question when you look at it in isolation. And I suppose if you judge it against yellow jersies and number of participation’s in the world championships then no, I am nowhere close to completing cycling.
But if you go back to the 1980s when I was a small boy growing up in the fens spending my summer holidays in the maroon and gold Fenland Clarion jersey riding all day, my dreams of what I wanted from cycling were quite specific.
I dreamt of being a racer, riding up Alp D’Huez (like Steven Rooks was doing in the 1988 Tour de France), hitting the cobbles of Flanders and riding through my home village of Yaxley with a number on.
It has taken me some time but I have met all of those goals.
Racing has been part of my summer schedule since 1991, and apart from a couple of years break at the start of the 2000’s I have regularly competed in summer club 10’s with a smattering of opens.
The course have been based on variants of Helpston (3 of), a run between Weymouth towards Lulworth Cove on the South Dorset coast before a couple of variants for St Ives based on Sawtry pavilion.
Since moving to Lincolnshire I have come full circle and am back to riding around Helpston.
Road racing was always something I struggled with as I was quite little and used to get bumped of wheels and blown away by the wind (believe it or not!). I have latterly got into the less competitive world of sportive’s.
I have been up Alp D’Huez twice now and have scratched the itch of riding mountains in both France and Spain. There is something about watching grainy 1980’s TV pictures of a road and then getting the full clarity and enhanced senses from riding up it.
Those blurred images were crystal clear as the sun beat down and the sights and sounds of the mountain seemed to cover up my rhythmic breathing and struggle to get up. I love the pro spotting element of these sorts of rides and the image on this website of the aG2r hunting me down on the Croix de Fer remains one of my best memories on a bike.
One day races always appealed to me and it felt like the weather would start to warm up and the daffodils bloom as the Northern classics appeared on Eurosport. Flanders in particular felt like “my” race and to ride the sportive in 2015 with my name on the start list next to the union flag was something quite special. Those of you who know me will know that my family was going through a terribly tough period and it was touch and go I would get chance to ride.
But it all came good (apart from the Flemish weather) and despite the pain and suffering of that last 15km or so, my friend James Fordham and I battled through before I had a good cry at the finish.
4 Mr Kipling apple pies post ride remains my record and it was set in Oudenaarde on that day.
Later in 2015 came the first Tour of Cambridgeshire and I rode through Yaxley, my home, in the race part of the Fondo. Again there were tears as I passed my home, my old infant school and the house I grew up in with my Parents and Grandparents. In true cycling tradition the group I was in allowed me to go a few bike lengths ahead to blow a kiss to my wife and kids.
So what next?
That is the question I am currently facing. As I get nearer to 50 than 40 the winters seem colder and the effort required to get on the turbo trainer at six in the morning seems greater. I can’t be the only one thinking the drivers are getting closer to me and the headwinds are getting stronger?
I have had a few accidents and a few concussions and the fear that something like that could happen to me again does play on my mind.
Maybe its just the fact its windy, cold and dark outside that makes me think I have done all I can in cycling for the moment, or maybe reading the Cyclist magazine interview with Phillippe Gilbert where he explains that when he retires he will be gone from cycling so he can spend another portion of his life doing something else is food for thought…