I joined OTCC in January 2016 to try out group riding and meet people that also love riding. I’ve been a keen cyclist since the day the stabilizers were removed and I experienced what riding a bicycle is all about! I was purely an MTB rider and enjoyed riding round the local trails, Ridgeway, and even managed the London to Brighton and London Night Rider on it. In December 2015 after a ride on my friend’s road bike (to the pub) I decided it was time to switch to a road bike. I bought a second had Giant Defy off eBay for cheap, so cheap in fact that it I felt like I was robbing him.
So I rolled up to the Outdoor Traders in Abingdon shop for a Sunday Social ride. I was greeted with a warm welcome and there were lots of friendly faces and was quickly shown the ropes on how to ride safely and communicate in a group. After a while I was asked whether I’d be interested in joining the race team? To be honest I wasn’t sure because I didn’t want competition to affect the simple joy of riding. I might have misjudged my feelings on that. After a few months of club riding I was asked by an old school friend, Martyn, who is a member of the race team, whether I would be interested in joining a team training ride? Martyn said “Don’t worry mate. You’re fast enough”. My first training session ending embarrassingly early when I managed to accidently unclip my right foot from the pedal and kick the front wheel in. I broke a spoke and buckled it quite badly. Well at least I stayed on the bike and didn’t end up on the floor (that experience comes later).
The second session was a real eye opener, as I had to ride my hardest to keep up and ride through the pain barrier of cramping calves. It was great fun and the lads were seriously rapid and I had some work to put in to get up to speed!! After a few months of training I thought I’d give racing a go and got myself a British Cycling race licence and entered a 4th Category only criterium race at Enstone. Up until this point I’d never ridden competitively. I started the race with the following advice: stay up at the front, don’t put in efforts on the front unless it’s a proper attack, and when it comes to the final sprint always go early (never late). At half way through the race I thought a little attack might thin the group down to ten or less which might bring me a few competition points. My attack resulted in me gapping the field which I managed to hold for the rest of the race to win. I was really surprised to say the least! I was told riding fast is all about how much you can suffer, and I now see what he meant. I followed that up with a second Cat 4 win at the Milton Keynes Bowl to achieve a Cat 3 licence.
Being new to the race team I felt very lucky to be selected for the 2016 Oxfordshire Road Race League title defence. We started with a solid 3rd place in the nine-man team time trial at Weston-on-the-Green. Then came the Arncott road race which became our lowest point of the season. Four of our team were caught up in the bunch sprint crash. Two riders touched wheels and went down at the front of the bunch taking another ten or so riders with them. Adam Whitfield, Daz Milligan and myself went over the bars at about 35 mph, writing our bikes off in the process. Toby Franks lost all momentum. We looked like we were going to finish with a few riders scoring points in the top ten, but in the end were lucky just to walk away. One Henley rider couldn’t. He left in the back of an ambulance with a fractured hip and a neck brace on. This knocked us all back not just physically but mentally too. Road racing has its ups and downs! So the rest of the season we were playing catch-up. At one point we dropped as low as 5th place but with a strong team effort we finished joint 3rd with Cowley Condors. I finished the league as second in the individual rider standings, with two 7th and two 1st place finishes.
It was the conclusion of a very satisfactory and rewarding first season of cycle racing.
First Race: 1 May 16 – My team mates’ advice was to stay up in the top ten avoid being on the front and when it comes to the final sprint launch it early so not to get boxed in. Enstone is a closed road circuit on an airfield with a couple of decent straights mixed with some good twists and turns. The surface is very grippy and pot hole free. Lovely! Race time 30mins + three laps. From the start due to the chicanes and hairpins the field stretched out into one line and luckily I was able to stay up in the top 5. My adrenaline was high! I hadn’t been in a proper race, but it felt something similar to racing my mates to the street where I grew up. There was a strong head wind which was keeping things together. Half way through the race I looked back and there was still at least 15+ riders in the lead group. I thought put a sharp attack in and break the group up into 10 or less, so to try and guarantee a points finish. I didn’t fancy myself in a sprint finish. Coach says when you attack, you ATTACK, so that was what I did. It was a snap reaction and I went from 5th wheel, the adrenaline had taken over and I found myself on my own with about a 7 second gap by the end of the next lap. I only wanted to take a few riders up the road that would work together. I quickly found myself at my maximum effort and I thought you might have bitten off more than I can chew here. Staying as low as possible into wind and recovering down wind, I was able to keep the gap around 5 to 10 ten seconds. When I started to lap other riders it helped take mind off of the pain of maximum effort. I even lapped some of my team mates. The relief I felt when I finally saw the three laps to go board go up was immense as I really didn’t want to give in and sit up and let the group catch me, although I was battling with the thought. On the beginning of the last lap I turned to see that the group had started to slow and position themselves for the sprint for second. I thought I’ll practice and sprinted for the line anyway, finishing about 20 seconds in front of second. I really couldn’t believe I’d won and how knackered I felt! This experience gave substance to what Nick had said to me “bike racing is all about riding fast and suffering”.
Second Race: 21 May 16 – The pressure was on to get the final 2 points I need to get my Cat 3 Licence. Milton Keynes Bowl is a closed road venue circuit that is run either clockwise or counter clockwise, sometimes with additional gates open to add technical corners to the simple Indy Car speedway style circuit. We had a strong team presence in the race that enabled us to employ some tactics. I sat in whilst we had riders in some early breaks. After some breaks had gone and been chased down, my legs started to feel like they were switching on. Then a break was initiated by my strong team mate Martin taking two other riders with him. This one looked like it had some legs so decided to bridge over to them, attacking the bottom of the climb. The four of us then worked together well and we began to gap the rest of the field. I kept pushing the pace. Eventually the break was left with me and another strong looking rider. When the final laps board appeared I had a couple of digs to test his legs. He was able to respond so it was going down to a final sprint up the hill to the line. The pace slowed into the beginning of the last lap and he sat on my wheel. We reached the bottom of the hill and I positioned myself to make him go the long way around and waited for his attack. I reacted and out sprinted him to the line! These two results were way beyond what I ever thought possible! I did want to get some more experience in first but, Cat 3 here we come!