So then, good news. One race into my shiny new 2015 British Cycling race licence (they’re swanky plastic ones this year) and I’m 41.6% of my way towards my season goal of accruing the 12 points I need to move up to Cat 3. One race, fifth place, five points.
I went to Ludgershall this time. It’s a lot further to go than just round the corner to Odd Down, where there was a race today too, but I had my reasons. Firstly, the oval circuit at Ludgershall isn’t quite as stop-start and I thought that’d probably suit me better. Secondly, the 4ths race at Odd Down was at half past one and I was supposed to be playing bass in the panto at half two: how’s that for a rock and roll lifestyle. So Ludgershall it was, and a just-after-seven start for the hour’s drive there to give enough time to warm up for the start at nine.
I could have had an extra hour in bed. The circuit (an army testing track) was an ice rink when we arrived, and it was a struggle to walk round it, let alone ride. Some sterling work by commissaires and volunteers, along with plenty of bags of salt, managed to get things safe but we were an hour and a half behind schedule by the time we rolled out for our half an hour plus three laps. The downside of that salt was that most of it ended up in my beard, flicked up from all the wheels I was sucking. On the plus side, there was no need to pack an electrolyte drink. We had all the salt we needed. My lips may never be the same
Everyone took it relatively easy, for the most part. There was still the odd sketchy bit and holding your line round the two long corners wasn’t that easy. There was the odd shout and clash of bars, but it was generally good natured and everyone managed to keep the sticky side down. There was good progress to be made taking the Sven line round the outside of the corners at full gas, I managed to make up about 10 places on the bottom bend one time.
By the time the board went up for three laps to go we’d lost one guy off the front and he didn’t really look like he was coming back. But there was still plenty of points on offer. The pace went right up, then dropped back again on the penultimate lap as the pack decided it was looking like a sprint for second. Come the bell the hammer went down and I realised, for the first time in a race, that I was going to be up there at the sharp end. Round the bottom bend I was third or fourth wheel and I was still there or thereabouts after the jostling on the back straight, uphill and against the wind, brought us to the final turn.
Make sure you’re on the outside, Nick had told me, because the sprint starts before the bend finishes and you get a better run at it from wide. I messed that bit up though, and ended up right on the inside. By the time I could open up a few riders had stolen a march on me. I gave it everything I had and passed one or two, and given ten more metres I probably would have caught the fourth-placed chap too. But I came up short on that one, and to be honest I’m pretty happy with my race. I stayed out of the wind but near enough to the front to keep control and set myself up for a go at the line. And I got points! Points!
I’m torn now. I’d like to race more at Odd Down, where I can walk to the start and the tarmac is perfect and you don’t even need to wipe your bike down afterwards. But on the other hand I’n zero points from four races there, and five points from one start at Ludgershall in spite of the shoddy concrete surface and salt in my face and filthy bike and shoes and two hours in the car. But points are points. Probably I’ll do a mix of both, I’m booked in for next week at Odd Down anyway. Onwards and upwards and all that.
A big shout out to Dave Smith at this point, without whose help I’d no doubt still be languishing off the back of the Cat 4s, be it at Odd Down or Ludgershall or anywhere else. I’m two weeks into my second ten-week plan now and really feeling the benefits. And look! Points!
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.