Women’s Stage Race at Exeter
2016 is the first year that I’ve had racing in mind from the get-got. Last year, I suddenly had the urge to race road, track and fixed gear crits sometime around June, which meant that I had already missed a large chunk of the season and I had to start from scratch really, fitness wise. I probably had a fairly reasonable base fitness as I’ve always ridden a lot but I’d never done any ‘proper’ training as I found it hard, annoying and boring.
After deciding to enter the Red Hook Crit, I began training with a coach and we worked together until around November last year, when I felt I needed some time to just ride my bikes for pleasure, particularly my mountain bike which was feeling very neglected. I did keep up some of the high intensity interval training and I made sure I squeezed in some good long road rides and continued with my gym routine but I didn’t fuss too much over what I was doing, because at the end of the day, I just race for fun and I don’t always want my entire life to be about that.
In January, I felt ready to attack the training with renewed vigour and I knew that the first race of the year, a women’s stage race in Exeter, would be a good test of my winter fitness. Doing well would be nice, and doing badly would be an incentive to train harder, so I couldn’t lose really!
I feel like now might be a good time to explain about road racing categories and licenses, as if you don’t race road bikes, you might not know this stuff and then nothing I say is going to make sense! So here we go:
In order to race road bikes in the UK at any official events, you need to buy a license from British Cycling, and though you can sometimes buy a temporary day license, they’re expensive and no good if you want to keep track of how you’re doing as you can’t claim any of the points awarded for winning races. Your experience and results dictate which category you are in – as a novice you’ll begin as a Cat4 , then by winning races/points you’ll progress through Cats 3, 2 and 1 until you become an Elite racer, or you will if you’re really, really good! Make sense?
Back to the race…
Last Sunday’s women’s race day at Westpoint included a Cat 4 only race and a stage race, which is a series of three races for E, 1, 2, 3, and 4 riders. I’ve only done a handful of races so I’m a Cat 4 myself, but I decided to enter the stage race rather than the Cat 4 as I feel there aren’t enough races for women and I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to race three times! It did mean I’d be in with some of the more experienced riders (lots of Cat 2s!) rather than just the other Cat4 newbies and that I most likely wouldn’t win any points but I’ve never done a stage race before and thought it might be fun.
We began with a points race, the first time I’ve ever done one. Around 22 of us lined up at the start and the commissaire explained to us how things should go – points races are more often run on the track/velodrome so I imagine I wasn’t alone in not knowing how it worked. It turned out that the aim of the game was to ride around together in a bunch, and then sprint for the line every 4 (or was it 5th?) lap, the goal being to place 1st, 2nd or 3rd and thereby grab some points. Naturally, the person with the most points would win.
It turned out to be a fairly relaxed pace for the 3 (or 4!) laps preceding the sprint and we all stuck in a tight bunch trying to shelter from the terrible wind that so often plagues Westpoint Arena. The lap before the sprint, a whistle was blown to remind those of us snoozing (me!) that the next time we crossed the line we could win points.
About half way around the points lap there would be a tremendous amount of hustling and moving around as everyone tried to get themselves into a good position to go for the sprint and having no clue at all what to do really, I found it pretty tough and was nearly always in the wrong place. The more experienced riders were not only better versed in what to do, they were also far, far more confident and as a relative newbie I found myself repeatedly boxed in and slightly intimidated really. The toughest thing about the points race turned out to be not fitness, but tactics and and remaining confident. It took quite a lot of nerve. In the end, I only found myself in a decent enough position to really contest the sprint once or twice.
Immediately following the points race, we lined up again for the start of the Elimination race, a race I’ve ridden once or twice on the track. On every lap, the last two riders over the line are eliminated, so of course the aim of the game is to stay in until the end!
The pace wasn’t crazily fast or anything but again, it was the hustle that you had to pay attention to – everyone would be riding round the course fairly spread out but at the very last minute they would squeeze together and surge over the line so that they weren’t last. I managed to stay in for a while but again, it was hard to get the tactics quite right – I’d be riding around with heaps of people behind me then we’d near the finishing line and everyone would suddenly move and I’d get stuck or boxed in and find myself near the back! In the end, I was eliminated without even realising I was one of the last two – I could have sworn I was further forwards but I got caught snoozing or was the victim of my shoddy race tactics I guess. It’s all good practice though!
The final race was a straight up Scratch race or criterium – the first over the line wins. Having done a few crits before, I felt more at home with this one but still found myself stuck at the back fairly regularly when I know that’s a crap place to be, not through being tired or unfit but through not really getting my placement quite right. I don’t think bullying is the right word as it makes it sound like other racers were doing something untoward and they absolutely 100% weren’t, but it was pretty tough to be assertive and I felt I got a bit pushed around. There were also some pretty sketchy riders in the race that I had to try and avoid, so that didn’t help with my confidence at all!
In the end, I managed a 6th in the crit, which is decent enough, all things being considered! I can’t wait for the next race and I’m looking forward to getting more and more experience.
Photos: Dave Noakes. I’m having trouble uploading many at the moment as the internet is bad here is Spain!