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Cycling Race Reports

Abingdon Airfield ART Crit Race – What Happened?

Let me get straight to the point – I was shockingly rubbish. Even falling short of the exceptionally low bar that I had set for myself! Beyond bad in just about every significant manner… So having got that out there, perhaps a short “race (event!) report” to document my first attempt at Crit Racing….

Wot no pics?

This event was staged by ART (Abington Race Team), a BC sanctioned race., and held at Abingdon Airfield, Dalton barracks. However not only was this bicycle race using the space, so too was a film production company. As a result everyone was under pain of death if they took any snaps (of anything!) as the film company were paranoid. Is this true or a way to make sure the “official” photographer got exclusivity? Don’t know, but it was the story I was given. A little web based research show that they are filming a Spielberg movie with Tom Hanks ‘Masters of the Air‘.

Like a lamb to the slaughter.

I think I “earned” the laughable result that I ended up with! Entering was a last minute decision a few days ago to fill out my training week. No focused training (beyond what I have done for next weeks Duathlon), and no real thought to the skills I might desparately need. Still, when has piss poor preparation ever stopped anyone entering a race!

I have had a bash at Time Trials and enjoying them even if my performance is in the mediocre and unexciting category still. I have finished a number of triathlons and expect to do the same with some Duathlons over the next few months. Have ridden on many a club ride. And yet none of this gave me the first major skill I needed… to fearlessly ride in a VERY FAST moving peloton with confidence and tactical awareness. To date, races have been non drafting and the club / social rides are often with people that I either don’t trust to ride in a predictable way or I know can’t, therefore in both cases I wouldn’t dream of ridding properly close and even if I did it would only be two abreast not a large peloton. Skills I imagined I had but now know that I need to add to my Christmas list…

The other (and partly linked) competency I was missing was fitness… I know!! How painfully ironic is that 🙁 I generally consider myself of fair fitness and have been training for a race next weekend, so should be in good shape (for me). Today I learned that Crit racing requires a very different type of fitness – I needed to produce a f**k load more power and sustain my fTHR for 50 mins. My watts/kg is not particularly good, and I can sustain a high HR for about 10miles, about 20 to 30 minutes. What I can do (but we will soon discover how well!) is bike after I run and vice versa. What I can do is produce a steady pace for a relatively long period of time and then recover actively (and quickly) from harder surge (short) efforts. None of which helped as a died on the airfield alter, a lacking sacrifice to the racing Gods.

The Logistics

Never having raced this format before, I had no idea what to do and when, turning up with a bit of theoretical knowledge and hoping the organisers would be helpful. Not much to it really! This was a flatish course with one slightly tricky corner (but really on VERY slightly!). It’s an airfield and we were on a runway – guess what it was windy… exposed, and the direction of travel was into the prevailing wind. I say again it’s an airfield.

Not really aimed at the first timer (although a lot were there!). Having said that there was a Cat 4 specific race so a definite nod to the less experienced, as that is your entry point into Crit Racing. Not really sure what I would have wanted by way of intro… Overall it’s just not that complicated. You basically peddle as hard as you can for 50 minutes.

One point the could have been beginner friendly and more welcoming was signing on…The event was using chip timing which was rather fancy and more sophisticated than I was expecting from what otherwise felt very “grass roots” and similar to a TT meet. Being a triathlete my natural thought was to attach it to my ankle. Only dissuaded by the fact we were given cable ties… Must go on the bike then!

Now a wiser person would have asked or at least looked at what everyone else was doing. Sadly I’m not wise so just attached it to my seat post – seemed fair enough to me). But alas, 6 minutes before the race I was asked if I was racing (really?!?! No I’m just a random bloke on a bike that is waiting literally on your start line… ), because I wasn’t going to be allowed to unless the chip was attached to my front fork. OK, no worries, please can you help me move it quickly? NO – we don’t have any spare cable ties… I used a well know running mantra at this point! Luckily I had a spare in my car, so a quick sprint (actually that was probably the fastest I moved all morning), back to the car park and then back to the start line. Flustered. Cross. Not focused. Feeling like a complete amateur and wondering what else I hadn’t been told! But made it back with literally 60s. And then we were off… (It would have been lovely for them to mention it when I collected my chip… “incase you are not familiar, this needs to specifically go on yada yada).

Big Boys Drafting

I have trust issues. But also, I have never previously really experienced any material benefit on a “club ride” or “out with mates” of riding on someone’s wheel. Because frankly they are never really going fast enough. All that changed today! At last I experienced (for a very short time) that actually if the group is big enough AND it is going fast enough there is a serious benefit! To be blunt noodling along at 16 / 17 mph in a tiny group of a dozen riders two abreast, I really don’t see that there will be any real advantage. Just seems to me that “club cycling bores” like to make a fuss about how they “got towed” or “sat on someones wheel”. Maybe there is a psychological benefit for them, or maybe they just like living in a fantasy world which might also explain their wardrobe choices (but that is a whole other post).

The Race (such as it was)

Start procedure after a bit of a race safety brief was rather low key… “3, 2, 1 GO!” and we were off and into the first corner having just clipped in. I had anticipated a really fast start (too much time on Zwift Racing) but was delighted that everyone was being much more conservative.

Out of the first bend and one large group formed as we enjoyed speeding down the super wide smooth tarmac. A glance at the Garmin showed around 44kph and I had nicely settled into the middle of the back of the group.

A 180 bend that tightened on the exit was next. I took a safe position and slowed (no confidence) and noted that there was also traffic around as this was next to the main access to the disused runway. The group didn’t slow (I imagine that they considered the bend a non-event) and then they pushed hard out of the corner. This created a gap but luckily I had the strength to put in a hard sprint and get back on. I did wonder how sustainable that would be for the next 45 minutes!

The next straight was a slight uphill gradient and into wind. Here I experienced the true value of drafting a tight fast group. Cruised along at a still fast pace and yet my energy expenditure was minimal. This was cycling heaven!

A 90 degree turn at the top and a bit of a “home straight” to fly over the timing mat. This was basically it then… just rinse and repeat until you have done your 50mins.

Trouble struck on lap four 🙁 As we got down to the 180 corner there was a white van stopped and waiting for the gates to open so it could leave the circuit. My mind was on how much I could put into the next catch up as the group would pull away again on the exit… Distracted, I looked up to see that I was perfectly lined up for the back of the white van! Bother. Sharp braking and swerving out to keep clear of other riders. I was suddenly going super slow and a million miles away from everyone. And as they exited the corner they pulled away even more.

I was toast and that really was the “end” of the race after just four laps. I carried on riding but now on my own and somewhat dispirited. The into wind section felt much tougher. Speed had dropped away to a rather pathetic Sunday pleasure ride pace. And suddenly everything seemed about “can I even bother to keep riding or shall I just pull out?”.

Then 45mins or so into it, I see a row of marshals walking down the track towards me urging me to slow down. Ironic given I was slower than an elderly lady on a shopper at this point! Apparently the race was being stopped – black flagged.

Ambulances and Crashes

There were crashes in every race! Quite clearly this is more dangerous than I expected it to be… Although being at least 500m behind the main group, probably put me in a very safe spot.

Virtually everyone got up from these incidents, although there will definitely be some new skin suits being ordered. However, one poor chap was not so lucky. In the Elite race, he was squeezed in to the side and clipped a cone. This apparently (I wasn’t there to see it) caused a bit of a group tumble. He must have hit the ground hard and on his face. Three teeth gone and a broken jaw… He looked in a lot of pain. A lot of blood. A lot of… Luckily the event emergency plan swung into action and I was very impressed with how well they managed this. Soon an ambulance arrived and after some initial “work” in the back he was whisked away. I gather that his facial injuries are going to require surgery. Eek.

So the race was stopped whilst he was attended too.

A number of riders decided that they had had enough for he day and left. The rest of us were given the option to finish the race – which basically amounted to two more laps. I decided as I was there I might as well!

lap one went well and I stuck with the group. Lap two highlighted my complete lack of experience as for some bizarre reason I positioned wide and infront of the group going into the 180. I then remember to “not cut across them” as they took a proper line through the corner. Again separated from them, but this time my stupid error. A surge to try and catch them up (felt VERY hard) and just as I was getting to them, the group started its home sprint.

Toast for the second time in one day.

The result

Actually result is not a good choice of vocabulary as it implies “success”. Perhaps outcome would be better… First three laps, whilst in the group averaged at around 20mph (which included a long drag into wind!). But soon as I a was dropped and fending for myself my average lap decayed down to 15mph and even 14 when I was particularly tired towards the end. Properly pathetic and not at all impressed with my self. Last. Lapped (twice ffs!). Slower than being out on a shopper bike. Rubbish lines through the corners and no confidence of being in the bunch. Much to work on and complete shambles of a first attempt. Still… I lived and finished unharmed.

The End?

Only of this post!! I am not done with this “Crit” thing by any stretch of the imagination… Yes I set the bar low today and put in an utterly hopeless performance. But for me this is like 2017 when I could not run 1 kilometre non-stop, and now I *can* run a kilometre non-stop 😉 Same.

So until my next “race ramble”, probably next week after Chomberly Castle, cheerio!


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Ed Stivala

Coach & Founder

Founder BitFitter, an innovative easy to use Training App. 
L3 Personal Trainer, British Cycling Coach, England Athletic Run Coach & Swim England L2 Instructor
When not Coaching, he competes in Duathlon and plays golf very badly!