So, here we are with the first column from resident poseur, young gun, law student and scourge of the forum.
This column has been a few days in coming. I first elected to begin it some time ago, but whenever I started it I found myself blocked. First column pressure? Who knows.
My name is Tom Staniford and you can normally find me prowling across the RCUK forum seeking any opportunity for a well-placed jibe or sarcastic dig. When I’m not a-lurk, I quite like riding bicycles and making up excuses to myself to justify the various non-attendances inherent in the execution of the study of Law at the sainted University of Exeter. I say that only half-jokingly. Exeter really is a great place to study.
Through a mysterious combination of charm, commitment and emotional blackmail I have managed to successfully insinuate myself as a rider for Rapha Condor CC this year, and testing at Newport Velodrome has also given me the opportunity to ride as a member of the GB Paracycling Development/Talent squad for this year.
The aim of this column/blog/exposé is to permit me the soapbox I so desperately crave and hopefully provide you, beloved reader, with a regular source of information, laughs and sleazy innuendo. If you have no sense of humour, are easily offended, or do not like big words I suggest you look away or at the very least bookmark the OED on your browser. Away we go…
Last Saturday saw me participate in my first race of the season- the E/1/2/3 criterium at Ilton in Somerset. For the unacquainted, criteriums/circuit races (or crits) are basically bunch road races which involve several laps around an airfield or racing circuit devoid of the cars or hazards often found in ‘proper’ road races. For this reason, crits are often a very good introduction to RR-ing as the enthusiastic novice can warm up on the course, learn the route, and during the race only has to worry about negotiating their way through the delicate intricacies of the pack, and not about avoiding road obstacles.
Road racers begin their fledgling career as a 4th category racer, and after a few points for placing well at the finish of a race, move up to 3rd, then 2nd, 1st, and hopefully all the way up to the hallowed and lofty heights of ‘Elite’.
In years past I have generally slogged my way through the category 3/4 race due to a variety of reasons including poor training, inexperience and a part-time obsession with tarmac-surfing. However, no, this year it was not to be. An injury/crash-free winter and the gentle proddings of noted RCUK forumite and general crit legend Odd Brown Mutt (seriously, have you seen the legs on the man? Oiled to a seductive state of sleek muscular perfection) had seen me make modest leaps in performance, and with no little trepidation did I nervously provide my flowing autograph to the sign-on list for the elite race. My first elite race, and the first race of the season. A trial by fire, for sure. (Oh, and OBM, you owe me for the legs comment. Usual fee, and dead-drop, right?)
Needless to say, it was tough. The pace was high, but the Time Trial workouts I’ve been doing saw me manage these without any undue stress. The big difference between the 3/4 and the Elite race would appear to be the brutal crushing savage ferocity of the attacks. The elites, masochists to a man, have a penchant for going from 18mph up to 29 or 30mph in a few seconds. On a slight incline. With a crosswind. For kicks, presumably, or some repressed latent pain addiction due to being neglected as a child. I can only hypothesize. Anyhow, it hurt a bit, and each acceleration took a little more out of Thomas the Tank Engine’s tank. After several laps of this routine flogging, I was reacquainted with the entirely unwanted sensation of leg separation. They didn’t hurt; they just didn’t really do much. Resolutely refused to spin any faster when I, in a wheedling and slightly pathetic tone, attempted to encourage them into some form of faster locomotion.
And so, I was dropped. Shelled. Rollocked. Shafted. Cast-off. (Insert additional double entendres for being dropped and/or abandoned by a lover). For those who have not yet experienced the bittersweet conceit of shame and relief that skips merrily hand-in-hand through the fields of sunflowers along with ‘being dropped’, it isn’t pleasant. (But that is a story for another day).
Having spent half a lap catching my breath and trying in vain to pretend I was injured, the 3/4 group advanced upon me, and I became assimilated into their jostling throng. In contrast to the Elite bunch, the pace was slightly more sedate, and the accelerations less ferocious, and I spent a few laps chatting to occasional team-mate and fellow Exeter Uni rider, M. Dowler. In due course, I started to cramp up, exhausted as I was from prior exertions, and slunk sadly to the back of the group and finally isolation so I could choose my own pace.
The final few laps of riding alone allowed me to simultaneously analyse what I felt needed work (repeated accelerations at speed) and also become friendly with Charles Whitton, the photographer covering the event. Placing himself on the fastest corner of the course, my isolation provided him (and more importantly, me) with the ideal photo opportunity. Not to be one to shirk my duties as a euro-poseur, I naturally tried to provide him with a variety of thrilling situations to photograph each time I came past. Out of the saddle, out of the saddle attacking, down low in the drops, down low in a TT-position, etc. 2 of the finest examples of his numerous snaps are attached to this article, along with numerous other pictures of the day and various other races he has covered at: www.charleswhittonphotography.com
That covers pretty much all I’m prepared to say for now on the Ilton experience, but I would encourage all you first-time racers to take the plunge and see what it is all about. Racing can be hard, but it can also be a hugely exhilarating and memorable experience and anyone who rides a bike should give it a go at least once.
Next week I will be participating in round 1 of the National Disability Crit Series in Shrewsbury (7hr round drive) and will keep you all posted with how that goes. Upcoming blog subjects may include a review of Magnus Maximus coffee, an analysis of exactly what constitutes style on a bike, how to cope with the sinking feeling of getting dropped, and the proper methods of winter bike maintenance (ie, none).
Comments, questions, suggestions, marriage proposals, death threats, bribes all gratefully received at: firstname.lastname@example.org