First round of the National Trophy done and...well, not dusted, but it wasn't really wet, so not 'mudded up' either.
Not the best result for me, certainly not what I wanted (or, and I'm being honest here, not doing the whole"I coulda been a contender" thing, what I'm capable of).
It was one of only a couple of round this year that were reachable 'in a day' (ie not needing a classy overnighter in a Travelodge), but only just, the 4:15am alarm call was not pleasant and the 2 hour drive through an awful lot of unforecast rain wasn't how I'd choose to spend a Saturday morning but hey, at least the traffic's nice and quiet at that sort of hour!
Every time I've raced at Derby it's been dry and, despite a bit of rain in the preceeding days, it was pretty firm underfoot while dragging the jetwash over to the pits once again. Not bone dry - a lot of people were swapping to full mud tyres which seemed overkill to me - but it made dragging two barrels of water all the way from the distant car park feel a bit pointless. I foresaw a one bike race with not much more than grass attaching itself to the bike.
A couple of practice laps on the PX with it's intermediate tyres showed me that there was still a bit of greasiness in each corner. What that meant was there was a lot of greasiness because...there were a lot of corners. In fact, with the exception of the start straight and the one section around a football pitch (and one entrance to the pits) the whole thing was just a constant, weaving, changing curve. There was a 'new bit' with a short drop and steep climb back out, but even that had more corners in it that you'd imagine possible. Basically, you needed a nice smooth headset on your bike and real skill in the bends to go well here. Power was less of an issue as long as you could string a load of turns together. I resisted the temptation to to start swearing (internally) and instead started telling myself I wasn't as bad at cornering as I sometimes think (usually while lying on the ground halfway round a bend...).
I dropped they tyre pressure on the PX but left the less grippy tyres on, still believing that it would dry out before my race enough for the faster rolling nature of them to be an advantage.
I'd intended to race on the Vitus, it also had intermediate tyres on it so would still roll quickly enough but I prefer it in the bends (it's a very marginal thing and seomthing that doesn't really have any noticable effect in my speed if I'm being honest), so I left the Px with Angela in the pits - telling her it wasn't worth cleaning as I didn't think it would be needed - and warmed up on it, with a different rear wheel on so I could connect it to my old turbo trainer. Rather stupidly, I somehow managed to catch the spring in the brake on the rotor as I refitted the race wheel after warming up, bending it so it jammed and clattered between the rotor and pad. The noise was incredible for such a tiny sliver of metal and I decided I'd rather not risk anything jamming so swapped back to the PX on my way to the start line, not bothering to check it before rolling down to the front row of the grid (woo!)
Go! Straight off the start I get my left foot clipped in OK and, although I've maybe dropped a couple of places in the first few feet of the race, for me it's not too bad a start. Then my right foot (already clipped in from before the start, of course) lurches out of the pedal causing me to wobble, nearly ninja kick the barriers and, in the process, lose all my momentum. A frantic stomp as a whirlwind of riders swoosh past to my right to get it back in, a coupld of hard stomps to try to get back up to speed and it pops out again. There's obivously something clogging the pedal, a stone, a bit of stick, who knows. Whatever it is, it forces me to resport to doing a sort of semi soft pedalling sat down acceleration that means when I glance across after about a minute of getting back into the race, the places I should have been battling with are several bends ahead and I'm trying to regain places without sprinting out of the saddle, round 'midpack busy' corners while simultaneously squirming my right foot around in the pedal in the hope of clearing whatever's stopping the cleat from engaging properly.
Suffice to say I did not regain places in the first few laps - though I did get to watch Lewis ride his way back up to the front of the race, from the back, with such politeness and good manners that any mothers in attendance would have been pointing it out to their kids - and I nearly came a cropper over the bridges as my Michael Jackson style pedal disconnection leg kick thing happens again, but by the 3rd lap it seemed to have resolved itself.
(Thanks to VeloUK for the pics)
With the pointy end of the race now far, far ahead I admit I got a little dejected. I'm cheered up a bit by actually making progress in the corners, well, some of them. One section round the athletics track seems to still be slippery enough for my intermediate tyres to struggle on, but elsewhere I found myself gaining time on people ahead by just trying to ride smooth and slowly but surely II drag myself back up a few places.
With two laps to go, as I cross the finish line on the only straight bit of the course I see a group of about 6 riders a little way ahead. A few 'heavy' pedal strokes and I'm on to the back of the group as we turn (yes, there's a corner in the middle of the straight bits) into a horrible headwind. Remembering how hard it's been to pass people in the twisty sections still to come I decide to just go straight past, even if it does offer the chance for anyone in the group to jump on my wheel. A few more heavy pedal strokes and I'm past them with a bit of space ahead of me.
(Thanks to VeloUK for the pics)
I can tell at least a couple of riders have tucked in behind me but, just as I'd struggled to get past people earlier in the race, despite me having to take it quite gingerly round the slippery sections, no-one gets past. One lap later I can tell they're still there as I mince my way round the bends which means only one thing. Everyone behind is going to try to jump me down the finish straight. Bugger. A summer of TTing has not given me a Cavendish style super sprint (we're working on it, BTW, but it's not there yet!) and leading out into the headwind probably isn't in any technique guide book you'll find out there, but that's where I found myself so that's what I did. I lost one of the places (should have probably put my 'timing chip' leg forward in the lunge for the line, hindsight, as I lost the place by 0.2 seconds) but if I'm being honest I was still internally grumpy about being off the pace from the start, so it didn't seem to matter too much.
Looking for positives (because, lets face it, these things are meant to be enjoyable and it's pretty lame to sit around being morose about a bicycle race that didn't go brilliantly!), at least I got a 'finish' rather than binning it into the barriers or causing a huge crash off the start, which could quite easily have happened with my foot coming out of the pedal. My laps seemed to get quicker as the race went on, so as well as not being the worst in the bends I've obivously got enough endurance to hang on if I can get myself up to the pointy end and, well, I got to race my bike in the sunshine with loads of other nice people - as long as it's exciting and fun coming last wouldn't matter. 16th will do, it can be the low mark for the year or something :)
HUGE thanks to Lee at Advance Cycle Coaching who is putting up with my "either end of the cycle racing extremes" demands beautufully as I move from TT to CX, to Phil who spent his post race hour fettling my bike in the pits with only my rushed "the back brake's noisy and not right" advice for guidance as I buggered off to the start, to everyone who cheered me on (this helped a lot while I was grovelling around mid pack feeling sorry for myself) and to everyone involved in the race, despite everything, I still left thinkingi it was a brilliant event. Onwards, to Falkirk for round 2 in a couple of weeks and a course I loved last year!