Rain. Wind. Cold. Some riders thrive in these conditions. Some don’t (see 2013 Worlds). I’m in the latter camp despite being a year-round commuter who likes the rain. In all my previous cold, wet, races, I’ve only managed to not be dropped once!

In blissful ignorance of the weather forecast, the silver dream machine is cleaned and prepped the night before. The nice aero wheels fitted (marginal gains you see, nothing to do with them looking good). But come 11:30 it is obvious that wind and rain will be a key feature of the afternoon’s proceedings. I switch back to the winter wheels complete with SKS Raceblade Long mudguards (truly excellent kit) and ride in from Windsor.

TCC have four riders in Cat 4 today. Newcomer Steve in his second race, Tim, who raced strongly last season and is looking for another “thoroughly pleasant afternoon”, myself and Toby Williams – a TCC Junior in his second race. I chat with Toby’s dad beforehand, and our plan is to follow my wheel and see if we can hold position in the middle third of the peloton for as long as possible.

Dynamos have another strong showing with about 10 riders, Thames Velo and Kingston Wheelers also have a good showing. A number of new riders and new teams, and the ladies are racing with us today, of course. The weather has taken its toll, however. The sell-out has not been a wash-out, but numbers are a little down. Someone asks me about riding in the wet. I reply that I just ride about the same as the dry, but that I don’t ride Continentals (pointing to his Gatorskins).

The briefing commends the Cat 4s on their high standard of riding and absence of crashing, the speed hump has been remedied, and we are off at what looks like a good pace. Tim and Steve make good progress through the bunch as I settle in for a few laps with Toby nearby. The riding, even at the back is commendable, with good positioning, holding of lines, and general good form.

After four laps the pace picks up and, as expected for the conditions, riders start to peel away. I drop off the back looking to give Toby a tow, but I see he has settled in with a group of riders, one of whom I know. He will be fine. Sprinting back for the bunch, BANG! The rider in front has a blow out right before Brian’s Bends. My back wheel feels slippery and squirms as I ride the bends as if on ice. Puncture! Wheeling in for a lap out and a wheel change the guy who I narrowly missed taking out comes in too.

Apparently I was almost horizontal as I absolutely failed to hold my line. Must be the tailwhips on the mountain bike that kept me up (not really I have the modest skilz to match my modest fitness). Just as well it was the back wheel at the back of the peloton. Back into the bunch and I settle. Laps pass. TCC are steadfastly avoiding taking too much wind and the pace is fast enough to feel safe. No team is dominating, and riders are disciplined, aware and communicating as we pass lapped riders. I call enthusiastically to Toby as we lap. I’ve been there before, and it’s a cold, tired, dispiriting place.

Five laps are called. The mighty blue Agent Smiths from Dynamo start to amass along with the usual teams passing on the outsides of the bunch. Two agents take control but Steve and Tim are nicely placed as I pull a stream of riders down the Bypass straight taking all the wind. Not much in the tank after that, so I lose position. Pace rises and I’m really just holding on.

Last lap and I have lost position about 18th. Tim and Steve are still right up in fourth or fifth, Pace is high as Dynamos command but up to Brian’s Bends and Tim is on the gas trying for the break. I pass a few riders out of the bends with my customary 130 rpm (spin don’t honk!), but can see the elastic stretching as the points accelerate up the road. Tim’s early break pays off but he is narrowly outsprinted by Velo Club Dulwich College to take second. Steve holds on for ninth place and his first BC points!

Winding up for my own sprint I’m dropping gears and pass two Dynamos. With the points gone and some thoughts for last week’s poor journalistic form, I shout “Come on! Dig in!”. Seems to have the desired effect as one of the Agents grabs wheel and narrowly rounds me for lucky 13th place. At least there is some vestigial sprint in my legs. Perhaps me and Mark might have something else in common after all.

This was an excellent race. Poor conditions but a high standard of riding. If you are nervous about racing, then there is no better opportunity to start. Cat 4 is competitive, but in this excellent series the riding gets better and better. The mix of new and experienced racers, good communication and a genuinely convivial atmosphere make it a “thoroughly enjoyable afternoon”. Come and try for yourself.

As for the E123 race. Alex is being modest. Conditions worsened as the rain fell and the skies darkened. James and Alex looked very comfortable in their groups defending their positions, Emma did well riding with another lady and the men. And Jake Martin, the resident Elite, rode off the front early on and won. Again. With ease. In sport the difference between “them” and “us” can be painfully obvious sometimes.

Kind regards,

Daren

Hillingdon Cat 4 Video

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