Although we are still in August the weather seems more like autumn and the racing season is drawing to a close unless you intend riding cyclo-cross. In his last 25 of the year, Dai Long went under the hour again, another PB in a time of 59.00 in the Cwmcarn Paragon event. Jeff Rees also made another of his regular improvements, recording 1.03.54.
The WCA 100 miles Championship was decimated by the weather [and the forecast] with 39 DNS and 7 DNF. Only three Acme riders had entered and with Kevin Bartlemore unable to ride because of changes to his shift pattern that left just Gary Flower and Simon Kinsey to challenge for our club championship. Gary did an excellent ride to become our 100 mile Champion with his 4-27-14 which placed him 12th overall. Simon finished in a disappointing [for him] 5.15.00 and his personal story of a gutsy ride is reproduced below.
Ten Acme riders entered the WCA 10 mile Championship with eight starters eventually competing for our club championship. Simon Kinsey recorded 27.46,Jeff Rees 25.04, Steve Williams 24.19, Dai Long 24.09, Kevin Bartlemore 23.23, Neale Lewis 23.04 and Dan Taylor becoming our 10 mile Champion with his 22.46.
THE WCA100, 2014
In the sport of Formula One the teams do their development and testing away from the racetrack, then come to the races in an informed position regarding equipment reliability. They don’t do their testing on race day. As an avid fan of F1, I’d have done well to remember this in the days leading up to the 2014 WCA 100-mile event.
I approached the event with a target of beating the 5-hour mark. The arithmetic for this works out very conveniently: 100 miles in 300 minutes; 3 minutes per mile; 20 miles per hour. I’d ridden 100 miles [and more] before this event. I’d ridden for longer than five hours. I’d ridden faster than 20 mph. Reaching my goal would require putting all these things together and, while I knew it would be tough, I reckoned I had a decent chance.
On the TT internet forum all the pre-race chatter focused on the impact of Hurricane Bertha–it was clear that the R100/8 course would lie squarely in its path. For the elite TT riders, of course,the weather is a massive factor in determining their performance on the day.
But I have limitations more significant than a drop of rain
, so the pre-race forecast wasn’t going to faze me. That said, as more and more people announced that they were withdrawing I did wonder if the event would even go ahead.
And so to race day. The 4:30am alarm, the trip to another unfamiliar part of Gwent [there have been a few of them this year], the heavy rain. All exactly as expected. But a lost key meant that a large crowd was assembled outside the HQ, unable to get into the building.
Some had been waiting for more than an hour. Finally we able to get in and sign on. For the early starters this meant a mad dash to get to the start on time — the start sheet had indicated a twenty minute trip, so this was going to be a challenge. For me at number 29 there was less pressure but still no time to waste.
That’s when things started to go wrong. Reaching for the bike from the back of the car, I heard a suspicious hissing sound. Sure enough, the rear tyre was soft. I removed the wheel and was all set to change the tube but was relieved to find that the valve was slightly loose. Perhaps there wasn’t a puncture. Time to decide. Spend time changing the tube, or just inflate the tyre and hope for the best. I went for the latter and set off for the start, not sure if I’d made the right call. If I was wrong, it was going to be a DNS for me.
And then there was the question of the start itself. I didn’t know where it was but had counted on being able to just follow the crowd. But I hadn’t counted on there being so many withdrawals — there was no-one to follow, no-one to ask. My start time was now only thirteen minutes away. I had to rush, but which way? Again I had to guess and again I got lucky. I found the start point just as they were calling “DNS” for number 28. I’d made it with less than a minute to spare. My pre-race warm-ups haven’t been very good this year, but this was something else!
Three-two-one-go. A couple of miles through some country lanes before joining the dual carriageway and settling into three laps of the roundabouts between Abergavenny, Raglan and Monmouth. The rain was heavy and the visibility was quite poor at times. Unfortunately in my haste to get to the start I hadn’t managed to get my lights strapped onto the bike. I had them with me, but they were not much use in my back pockets! But for all the rain, spray and noise the conditions were quite calm. There were the occasional gusts but in general there was very little wind.
Things started quite well. I was averaging three-minute miles without stretching myself and reached the Monmouth tunnels feeling reasonably in control. It was impossible to know if I could carry this to the end, but that was the scenario I’d had from the outset. So I made the first turnaround with about 20 miles on the clock, thinking that things were about as good as they could be.
But as I approached the end of the first lap, there was a new challenge to overcome. One of those occasional gusts pushed me sideways into the hard shoulder. No real drama in that, but on moving back out into the carriageway my tyre lost grip as crossed the white line. I was on the ground in a flash, falling onto my right side and skidding a short distance. I was aware of a car passing me in the near lane but I don’t think there was any danger of it hitting me. Cuts, bumps, bruises, embarrassment. They were all in the mix. But the prime concern was the bike — twisting parts and a derailed, jammed chain. I lost about two minutes in that incident and more in the next few miles. But I was grateful to the riders who passed me and asked if I was OK, and gradually I managed to pick up speed and feel that the target was still in reach.
That was still the case midway through the second lap with fifty miles on the clock. I’d managed to eat and drink regularly until now, even though I hadn’t wanted to. But then I dropped my last [and full] drinks bottle. I should have stopped to retrieve it. Up until now all my drama had come from bad luck. This though was a major mistake. I left the bottle on the road, deciding that it was worth the risk as I felt OK at that point.
The next thirty miles were uneventful. I’d maintained my target pace and the 11 o’clock lightning storm just added to the already surreal feeling of the whole event. There had been discomfort in my lower back but I’d coped with that in the past. As I exited the tunnel for the third and final time, there were about twenty miles remaining. I was on pace, just, but it going to be close. Then the back pain become too strong to ignore.
I had to give up my aero position as it was impossible to maintain. I knew this would be a major setback, but there was no other option. Inevitably my pace slowed. I tried the aero bars again, but that just reinforced the message — forget it. So after a few miles in an upright position I’d fallen a couple of minutes behind pace. It doesn’t sound a lot, but when you’re slowing down there’s no prospect of being able to claw it back. There are about 15 miles to go and I knew that the five hour target has gone. So the revised target was
five hours and five minutes for the Acme bronze standard. That
. I’d need to stop the decline in pace though.
But things got worse in a hurry. By the time I’d reached 88 miles the back pain was debilitating. There was no position on the bike that would relieve it, no way to ride at anything resembling race pace [even by my lowly standards]. Now the only remaining target was to finish. Those last twelve miles were the worst I’ve ever endured on a bike. I’d felt pain in my martial arts career [a detached retina is not pleasant], but nothing like this. I’d felt pain in previous TT events — that’s part of the deal — but, again, nothing like this. In the shorter TT events there was always a choice — ease back and the pain immediately disappears. But in this situation even that didn’t work. It wasn’t the pace that was the problem, it was just being on the bike.
When I crossed the line there was no real sense of achievement. I’d failed in my personal goal and was in excruciating pain. Then I remembered — I’d finished the event, but I was still a few miles from the HQ! There was no way I could ride another yard. But I couldn’t get off the bike either — my back wouldn’t straighten! At least the pain meant that I was unable to feel any embarrassment! And the good thing about being one of the last people on the road is that you don’t have to wait very long for the broom wagon to come around. I grabbed a lift back to HQ, had a hot shower there and slowly started to feel better.
Of 26 finishers, I was placed 25th. But at least I’d finished. There’s some sense of achievement in that now. Seventy two had entered, but only 33 had started. By my participation in TTs is not about racing others — I’m not in their league, but can still “win” by achieving personal targets. I’d missed out on this one, but learned some important lessons in the process — albeit some very hard ones.
Did I mention my finish time? Five hours, fifteen minutes. I’d lost fifteen minutes in the last fifteen miles. But, back to those lessons:
- In cycling, as in F1, you need to push things beyond the breaking point in order to know where it is.
- The TT community is a very supportive one. I’m grateful to dozens of people who supported and encouraged me throughout the day. It seems that most people share my outlook — they’re competing against their own targets, not against you, and there’s practical and moral support in abundance.
- The Acme racing standards don’t come easily, and ability at one distance doesn’t automatically translate to others.
- There’s a world of difference between riding and racing!
- There’s more to endurance racing than just fitness. I have enormous room for improvement in my fitness, but ultimately that wasn’t my downfall on the day. For me it was a lack of flexibility and strength in my back. In the longer events, every aspect of your cycling will be tested and if you have a weakness it will be exposed.
Whilst this race report has been something of a personal story, I hope others might glean some useful information from it. Maybe benefit from the lessons I’ve learned.