Second season syndrome, it’s something football pundits refer to – a weaker team does well in the first season in the big league but in the second season, with added pressure, the form disappears and everything falls apart. Second season syndrome – will I suffer it!? That essentially is the one idea that looped round my brain before my first race of the season last Saturday. You can train as much as you want to but you never know how you’re going until you’re forced to jump across to a break, to work on the front, to sprint for the line. How did I go on Saturday then…
Thanks to Aidan for driving me over to the race circuit, at Croft, near Darlington. As ever, without a car, I rely on the help of others to show my ability on the bicycle, not ideal but something I work around. We arrived with perfect timing to sign on, not too early, not too late – enough time to get my number, throw some banter around, and pee – I’m back to the lack of bowel control before racing! Thankfully the temperature wasn’t too cold, a pleasant 10 degrees, and there was little wind to worry a light weight like myself. Before I knew it, it was time to race!
E/1/2/3/4 category races dictate that riders go off depending on ability, so 4ths, then 3rds and so on. There was roughly a minute between the groups (1/2 mile). Mostly these races finish with an Elite category rider winning – 30 miles at a decent pace is enough to sort the weak from the strong. After the 4ths had a minute on us, we got rolling – I like to warm up so I was pretty happy that things started easily – no fireworks on the first lap. I moved up and waited to see what happened. Come the second lap, shortly after the hairpin bend, a couple of Rock Racing riders went off the front, followed by Carl Donaldson (the days winner) – it was here that the race was won as it turned out but at the time I had misgivings to following the move, surely it’s insanity to do an effort 3 miles into a race!? For whatever reason, I clicked up a gear and darted across to Carl’s wheel. From here on in, things get a little hazy, due to the effort…
A few other riders came with us, about 10 in total. For the next 10 minutes my heart rate was rarely below 180 bpm – we had to make the move stick. After a couple of laps we had bridged to the 4th cats, who we rounded and rode past. A few came with and contributed to the break which really helped. Eventually things thinned out, we looked across the circuit and realised we had 90 seconds on the bunch, with about 10 laps to go (each lap is 2.5 miles) – very quickly we all decided to work together and do steady through and off. Nearly everyone contributed, it was a real team effort and not something you might expect. There was the occasional dart – I remember a Rock Racing rider and Carl having a gap at one point and I drove everyone back across, the legs were screaming after that.
Eventually the laps clicked down. 5 to go. Getting there. 4 to go. Keep going. 3 to go. Where am I. 2 to go. We are going to make it. 1 to go. Relief, pain almost over. It’s the hardest I’ve ridden for awhile, I’ve hardly done any chain gang this winter – my legs are strong though, the mind was too. I don’t remember a huge deal, as the effort increases and the body directs all energy to my muscles, the mind wanders – I lost myself. Repetition – ride to front, go round back, repeat. Corner. Fight for the wheel. It’s not romantic anymore, it’s purely survival, trying to win, or at the very least get the most out of it I can. Did I have moments where I thought I might be dropped? Yes. Did I have moments where I thought I could attack? Yes. The body moves in cycles from good to bad at such an effort. For the numbers people out there, averaging 177 HR for 75 minutes is hard for me, never seen before.
Last lap mind: “Bell goes, can hardly hear it, has it gone? Please nobody go here, I’m struggling, I need a rest. Hairpin coming up – I’m cornering well. Rise up and sprint back up to cruising speed. Carl’s on the front, I don’t want to be on the front, I’ll sit at the back. There’s at least 30 seconds back to the bunch, we can sit up a bit but not much. Ah, another rider on the front, you’re toast, now I only have 5 more to beat in the sprint. Two teams with 2 riders in the break, if they work together that leaves 3 more to beat. Let’s not do myself down here, I’m riding well here, maybe everyone else is tired. Who am I kidding, I know Carl’s fast, he’s the man to beat. But the Colomba rider won the prime. Okay bring it on, skinny me against the bronze statues of power. Round this last bend. Speed has come off, I wonder who gets nervous and sprints now, 300 metres to go. Everyone goes, two out of it already. I can’t sprint, my techniques all wrong, get low, concentrate. I can’t. I might win. Passing people here, this is good, I can see third place. Carl’s gone, no catching him, chapeau. I hold on for third. I’m glad it’s over.”
And so that’s the mindset of a lactic brain over the last lap of a race, or mine at least. Revealing maybe. Things to work on – yes. Podium in first race against some local players – yes. Bring on this season!
British Cycling Report (I’m Bob Shields): http://www.britishcycling.org.uk/road/article/road20130302-road-Road–Donaldson-takes-win-in-Velo29-Winter-Series-0