A win's a win

Last year I finally gave in and joined the League of Veteran Racing Cyclists. I also rode a road race under LVRC rules. It was exceedingly hard, as everybody familiar with LVRC races said it would be. But then, aged 49, I was at the oldest end of the possible age grouping for the event, which put age groups A and B, 40-44 and 45-49, in one race and C/D in another with E and so on in yet another race, all running at the same time with a staggered start.

It was in expectation of the same arrangement that I recently entered the LVRC Epsom Spring Road Race, which took place yesterday. Newly elevated to category C, I was looking forward to being at the youngest end of the age range in my race.

On reading the start sheet, however, I got a nasty shock; there would be just two races running concurrently, a 50-miler for categories A, B and C and one over 40 miles for categories D, E, F and G. This was even less favourable than last year’s event. The race circuit, around Norwood Hill, didn’t look like helping, including as it did a long steady drag and a short, sharp lump as well as the usual Surrey undulations.

Fact is, of course, that this is not really the way to look at LVRC races. There’s a separate prize list for each category, so although I was in a race ridden by three of them, I would only be racing for a prize against members of my own. Which made a big difference on the day.

For some reason I have never found road racing quite as straightforward as time trialling – or track racing , for that matter. Infuriatingly, something usually seems to happen to impede my chances of winning. As often as not, it’s the eagerness of my fellow competitors to do the winning themselves, of course; its just so hard to beat the bunch…

This time, however, I got it just about right. The first of five laps was a lively affair, the bunch splitting and reforming several times as attacks were nullified. Then, as we started the second of five laps, the bunch eased off, as it does, and spotting a lone rider dangling 100m off the front I accelerated up the outside. Joined by Craig Wilson, we quickly rode up to Ashley Holding. Looking back, there was a sizeable gap and we set about increasing it.

On the steep climb to Norwood Hill cross roads, we collected Craig Peter and had a four-man break. With a 30 second lead and about 35 miles to go. How hard were those miles? Hard enough; the race distance of 52 miles was completed in about 2h 08′, which is knocking 25mph…

The break worked reasonably well, AH driving hard while CP, who looked strong throughout, tried to convince us that he was on the limit at all times. With two laps remaining we were informed that we had a lead of just over a minute, which then began to tumble. By the start of the last lap, it was back down to 30 seconds or so and we were obliged to push hard if we were to stay away.

Until this point I had seriously – if optimistically – pondered the tactics I might use to win the race, but with the bunch breathing down our necks there was no point in fencing – and besides, I was the only category C rider present. Which meant that, if we stayed away, I would win. Time to give gas – and some.

Once over Norwood Hill for the last time, we had just one small lump to climb – just outside Leigh – before the last mile or so to the uphill finish. Unfortunately, my legs were about to give out and I lost contact on the lump. There was just enough left to claw my way back to the three ahead, behind whom I stayed put until CP and AH began the sprint with the former rolling out the winner. CW, who had taken a few turns out, was gentleman enough to stay behind me until, looking back, he saw the bunch closing fast and felt compelled to surge past. Cramping up, I could do no more than creep over the line a matter of three or four seconds ahead of the winner of the bunch sprint – but it was enough to secure me the cat C win.

And fourth place in the actual race, of course. And it still has to be said that racing with those young chaps is very, very hard.

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