Diary of a fourth category racer: April – the custardy battle

Heading out of the city to battle for custard and rice pudding in Devon

Until now all the racing I have done has been on purpose-built criterium tracks. Living in a city means crits are the reality of regular racing. The circuits tend to be about a mile in length and the racing lasts under an hour. There are lots of attacks off the front but very few of them ever work out – you have to be a good bike handler in order to take all the turns and maintain your position.

Crits are not exactly boring, per se, because how could riding in a bunch of 50 dudes trying desperately to maintain a steady 41kph and not crash ever be boring? Terrifying, yes; boring, no. What I would say is they can be a little samey.

It was with great enthusiasm then that a clubmate and I signed up for Tavistock Wheelers’ Brentor Road Race on Dartmoor over the Easter weekend. The race would be conducted on an eight-kilometre circuit on real roads and the triangular route was advertised as having one gradual downhill, one flat side and one slightly rising side. We would race for 8.8 laps, completing the 0.8 first, as we would not be starting from the actual finish line.

Who needs a death star like Team Sky, when you have Rufus the Renault Clio?

It was with even greater enthusiasm that we received the race manual a few days before the event. To our delight we learned that the race would feature primes on laps three and seven. The prizes for the primes were to be provided by Premier Foods – the makers of such fantastic and delicious products from my childhood as Ambrosia Custard and Ambrosia Rice Pudding. That’s right, there was a possibility I was going to win custard for riding my bike.

The objective from there on was clear. This race was no longer about possibly accruing some British Cycling ranking points by placing in the top ten, this was all about custard. We were going to fight the other racers for custard. It was a custardy battle.

Our race plan became to attack a little way into lap two and forge clear; go 100 per cent full gas for the lap three prime, then disappear into anonymity of the bunch/withdraw from the race/collapse into a ditch. Honestly, who cares what happens after you win custard?

If only it had been that easy.

Welcome to Dartmoor

We arrived in Devon on Thursday night, with the race on Sunday. It made sense then to make a weekend of it and get a few miles in the legs and experience some of the truly stunning riding to be had around the Moor.

Quite how that scheme ballooned into 150km and 3,000m of vertical elevation I’m not sure. In retrospect it was a Mooronic way of preparing for a bike race.

After a recovery day on Saturday – mainly eating ice cream in Salcombe – we got in the car on Sunday morning and drove to Brentor for the race.

With a neutralised start for the first 500m or so, we rolled out of the car park where we had mustered for the pre-race briefing and headed downhill behind the two marshal cars. The first left turn was closed off to traffic by two motorbike outriders – from here we were ‘racing’.

Riding in Devon has its perks…

The peloton thundered downhill at speeds touching 65kph. It was eye-wateringly fast, but with the surreal effect of the peloton around you making it seem normalised, like floating along on a regular club run. We turned left again, onto the ‘slight uphill drag’ – and that is where my participation in the race ended. Yup, that’s right. Dropped before we crossed the start line for the first time proper. Dropped on the 0.8 of an 8.8 lap race.

As soon as we hit the incline (which was, I might add, a hell of a lot more than a slight uphill drag) I felt like I was going backwards. More and more riders were passing me. I felt like my lightweight Bowman Palace frame had turned to lead.

As the peloton disappeared into the distance, my chances of winning custard with it, the excuses came flooding through my mind: my legs were still cold from the car journey; I had done a big ride two days before; I’d only eaten two pain au chocolats and a banana for breakfast. None of it helped. My legs were jelly – the perfect accompaniment to the victory custard I would now never taste.

Before long I was alone. Up ahead I could see another couple of riders who’d been similarly blown away, and behind me a few more stragglers. I plodded on. Determined to avoid the ultimate ignominy of being lapped by the field.

Climbing with the grupetto – dreams of custard over (Pic: Cordelia Preece/Tavistock Wheelers)

After roughly a lap alone, I was caught by a group of three riders working together. I had found the fabled grupetto. Taking turns on the front, we soon reeled in a couple more riders. There were some jokes in the group about our misfortune. I was beginning to have fun.

On our seventh lap, as we turned left onto the flat side of the course we had a great view back the way we had come. To our horror, the marshal cars could just be made out heading down the hill. That meant the race was gaining rapidly on us. All of a sudden we were no longer in the grupetto – we were in the break. Sort of.

The priority then became staying away until the finish line. We would still have one full lap to do, but at least we wouldn’t be lapped.

The finish line was placed just 400m beyond the crest of the hill up which we had now struggled seven times. The eighth time would be the ending of us. With about 200m to go until the ‘summit’ the marshal’s car pulled alongside us.

“Could you pull over, please?”

Five words and with it, heartbreak.

The leaders whizzed by us and then we were left with a choice. Ride the half kilometre to the finish and call it a day, or stubbornly complete a final lap just to say that we’d finished the distance. Needless to say, stubborn to the end, the grupetto continued.

I won’t lie, it was a little disheartening to find that by the time we’d got round a final 8km lap the finish had been totally dismantled leaving no trace whatsoever that there had been a bike race at all.

And the real winner of the day is… Team Novo Nordisk’s Alfie Peters celebrates with his bonus prizes for winning the primes

Prime time

After the race it was time for the much awaited presentation of custard (and there was some boring stuff about the actual winner of the race too). Having been so far behind, I had absolutely no idea how things had transpired at the pointy end. I was gratified to discover that my clubmate had also been dropped by the peloton a little bit further into proceedings.

I don’t want to say that Alfie Peters is my hero, because a grown man with a 17-year-old hero would be pretty pathetic. What I will say is that Alfie Peters won all the custard – getting across the line first on laps three and seven, as well as placing a respectable third in the finale.

A member of the Team Novo Nordisk development squad, I have no doubt we will be hearing much, much more about him as he progresses into the senior ranks.

Tom would like to thank Tavistock Wheelers, Premier Foods, CHICKS Moorland Retreat and Velofresh for putting on a fantastic road race. The second in the two-race Brentor series is on 28 May. He still can’t fathom why the event is not called The Custard Classic.


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