You can never be too sure how the first few races of a new season will go. Did I do enough steady miles over winter? Should I have started the speed work earlier? Did I eat too much cake? What the hell am I doing here? All of these thoughts (and many more) will go through a bike rider’s head when they take their first start line in March.
For me though my main thought was, “why do I feel so rough?”. I’ve never been one for doing huge mileage and I race a lot better than I train so I know that March always hurts. But March always brings me up to speed and I love that. But this March felt different before it even began.
On February 19th I took to the start line of the first round of the Midland XC mountain bike series. I actually had to call British Cycling and explain that since I hadn’t raced a mountain bike for about 5 years how could I really still be classified as an “Expert” and could I please request a shift to “Masters” (for riders aged 30-39)? I resist calling it a downgrade, afterall Sam Gardner and Matt Barratt were riding Masters last year. My request was granted and there I was, my first ever race in the Masters category.
It didn’t go well. The course was more BMX than MTB and I wasn’t feeling great from lap 1. By lap 5 I was toast. I was also getting caught and passed by a load of Sport riders. Seriously, this was a regional race, was it really that long ago that I was standing on the podium after the Sport race in the National Champs? For anyone who fancies a chuckle the full results are here and there’s a nice little video here. To make matters worse, Spurs played out a nil nil draw with Stevenage.
I was planning a lot of training the following week, for me that’s anything more than 10 hours riding and I managed 16 so I was really happy with that. With hindsight it might not have done me a lot of good. Spurs didn’t have such a good week, they let 5 in against Arsenal.
5 days rest and the road racing began. Saturday saw the first round of the Northamptonshire Cycle Racing Assocation’s mighty Easter handicap series and I still wasn’t feeling good. It was a very windy day and in his infinite wisdom the handicapper decided to set me off in a scratch group of 3 alongside mountain bike riders (and thoroughly decent chaps) Ryan Henry and Richard Jones. If you clicked the link above you’ll recognise them from the sharp end of the Elite field so I knew I was in for a hard time.
The wind blew the field apart but the three of us worked well enough to catch a decent sized bunch. I should confess that I probably sat on a little too much but I contributed as much as I could. Sadly in classic NCRA handicap style once the scratch group catches you then you suddenly stop working. We didn’t see anyone else. Ryan and I led our little group over the line but unfortunately 13 riders had got there before us.
The following day was the Crest Spring Road Race. I made my first mistake when, at 5:30am, I got out of bed. I really should have just stayed there. I rolled up in a wet and miserable Essex and was greeted by a clubhouse straight out of Dad’s Army. Seriously, someone call Nick Knowles. Starting a race when the temperature is 4 degrees and the rain is looking like its here for the day is bad at any time, but when you don’t feel good it is horrendous. The course only really had one climb, and it was one that I have ridden down on a mountain bike en route to Saffron Walden many times. Ordinarily I would have relished the chance to take a 2/3/4 road race up it but on this day I was suffering at the back. The first time up it I was nearly dropped at the top, the second and third times up it I barely hung on, I couldn’t face a fourth time up it. I turned around at the bottom of the hill and I rode a wet and lonely ride back to Walmington on Sea. Two thirds of the field pulled out but I was proud to see that St Ives Cycling Club had 3 of the 21 finishers, including Malcolm Smith in 3rd and a very respectable finish from first year junior Luke Hattersley. Very impressive stuff lads.
10 minutes later I was changed and on the way home. A few hours later I was watching Spurs get beaten by Man Utd. The day started crap, but it ended worse.
I had (I have) man flu. At least I have something to blame. The virus forced me to miss the second round of the NCRA handicap series, which incidently looks like it was run out in glorious sunshine. Spurs got beaten by Everton. When will this end?
With any luck I’ll be over the worst of it by Saturday and lining up for the 3rd round of the NCRA handicap series. It’s on a course that I’ve won on before and if we can work the scratch group hard enough to catch the longmarkers then I’m confident I can do so again. The following day sees me representing Nottingham Trent Old Boys as they take on Nottingham University at the second round of the Midland XC series, but maybe that start line is a cough and a sneeze too far.
Although Spurs have got Bolton, maybe its time both of our fortunes took a change for the better.