Well, after the damn fine 'mansion house and grounds' scenery of round 2, the organisers of round 3 played a blinder with the backdrop for their race. "Beach of the year" according to various newspapers. Even on an overcast October morning it looked very nice. I promised myself a stroll along the prom after the race to make the most of it as I rolled round the course for a few sighting laps. Oh yes, the course was ace too. Very compact, centering around an old outdoor velodrome (I wondered if any of the vets attending had raced on it before it fell into apparent disuse...) it seemed to be 90% swoopy-uppy-downy corners (technical term), 5% grovelling into a headwind (is it wrong I quite like those bits as well??!) and 5% sand pit. Bone dry too, for the practice session, at least.
I warmed up as the rain began to fall, which made for lots of turbo trainer wheels slippage (must start bringing the awning for the van to these things...), but got my legs ready enough and headed back over to the race arena to check everything was ready in the pits (not that I was expecting to have to change bikes as, even though the rain had made a lot of the corners slippery, mud didn't seem to be an issue for the v50s finishing their race). As per usual, the pits was full of friendly NW faces - a proper community nestled in the middle of the course - sadly they couldn't see the sea beside them, tucked down in the lower part of the course, but they would get a grandstand view of a large part of the race and plenty of opportunity to heckle/encourage :)
Actually got clipped in OK for once. Still slipped back a few places on the initial charge towards the course-proper but nothing too bad. then into the "only really one line, despite the course tape being 2 metres apart" corners and all the argy bargy, elbows out stuff started again. As I've said before, I've no issued with a bit of leaning on each other, here and there, but there was an irritating amount of people just chopping (flinging themselves up the inside into tight corners with no chance of actually getting round without blatantly banging into other riders) and once again, accompanied by the sound of spokes twanging as other wheels and feet were jammed in them, I lost lots more ground keeping upright. Despite being start-of-race short of breath I found myself shouting out "It's not a f-cking rugby match" more than once.
I was about 20th on the first pass of the pits. Oh well, at least I knew what to do after being in a similar position at round 2!
(Thanks to Scott Weston for the pic)
Working my way up through the field started off OK until, and I've no idea why I did this, I tried to swap from one rut cut into the long sand pit to another. The front wheel dug into the soft sand and catapulted me other the bars. It was a nice soft landing so the only thing hurt appeared to be my pride...until I tried to shift the bike into a bigger gear once back up and riding. Nothing. There was no distinct 'click' from the shifter and no movement at the rear mech. For the next half a lap I span round looking like a Benny Hill sketch with a silly high cadence and no power on any straighter sections of the course.
A swap to the other bike while shouting "the gears are buggered" at Angela in the pits (a pretty crap piece of information for her to work with and I've no idea what I was expecting her to do anyway!) and back to trying to recover the places I'd just given away again. The tyres on the spare bike weren't quite as grippy, but I was still getting places back and actually riding the tricky sections well as far as I was concerned.
To my surprise and delight, a lap later I heard Angela and Steve shouting from the pits that the 1st bike was usable again - in just a few minutes they'd managed to get it clean, find the problem and get it all working again. I've no idea how they managed it, but I swapped back to see how well it's shifting as soon as I could.
It took me a about half a lap, while still chasing people down through the almost constant brake/corner/accelerate/brake/corner/accelerate nature of the course, to figure out that the shift lever needs a bit of manual assistance to drop in to a bigger gear, but once I'd quickly taught myself how to help it, it didn't cause any more delays.
I crossed the finish line and saw the "2 Laps" sign. Rather than get despondent that I'd missed another chance at a great result, I start chanting cheery ditties in my head and chasing everyone in front of me down.
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside. A couple of riders in a group were caught up to, and passed in the space of a few corners. Another was caught up to as I started the final lap and swooshed through the sand pit for the last time.
(Thanks to Phil "already raced" Simcock for the pic)
Oh I do like to be beside the sea. I actually caught up to and ran past someone on the steep sand dune like slope, up to where Dave Haygarth was waving a Pot Noodle hand up enthusiastically.
Where the brass bands play... With half a lap remaining I can see what I'm convinced is the rider in 10th place. I've no idea how I know it's 10th place, but I'm sure it is. My two lap charge continued and I manage to surge past with a few corners left.
Tiddely-om-pom-FUCKING-pom. Manually assisting the shifter to release the cable and drop into a bigger gear, I get my head down on the start/finish straight to the finish line and manage to stay ahead, just.
So, 10th. Happy? Well, sort of no. Very much a "could have done better" feeling about that race. Also very much a "could have been much worse" feeling but, mostly, a strong "what a bunch of absolute bloody heroes" feeling about everyone in the pits. I had enough support, technical assistance, encouragement and enough mid race information fed to me to save what should really have been a total disaster and turn it into another top 10. Thank you all - you're all bloody brilliant :)
And - I can't overstate this - HUGE thanks to Lee at Advance Cycle coaching who's got me into a place where I can ride my way through the field in two laps to get back into the top 10 from mid pack. It's a brilliant feeling to be able to ride like that. Ace stuff.