Last Saturday I was down at Hillingdon for the 60th Archer Spring Criterium to race the Cat 3/4. At the time I’d already achieved my Cat 2 points as they weren’t on BC yet I decided to enjoy one last Cat 3/4 and in true RPR fashion wanted to make it a smashy one.
After rolling around the first lap and clocking a headwind on the back straight I’d made a mental note that this might be a good spot to attack, so straight into lap 2 it was time. After navigating through the hairpin in 3rd wheel I kicked, 6s @ 1000w to bring the pace over 55kph followed by 40s @ 500w to hold it. The attack was chased straight away and although the group strung out, it very much remained a bunch.
I settled back in down the home straight, rode through the chicane towards the front then at almost exactly the same spot another kick, 4s @ 1200w up to 50kph again. I think the rest of the group had established exactly what kind of race I wanted it to be at this point. Again the bunch slowly pulled it in.
Lap 4 and I rolled the back straight with the group this time sensing they’re waiting for it to happen again round the bottom 2 corners and 11s @820w to get back up to 55kph momentarily. I’m sure by this point it was obvious I wasn’t trying to get away, just be a nuisance. That being said, it was getting to me too so I thought I’d settle in. As we rolled into lap 5 Ben from CC London tells me if I want another hit at the bunch he’ll block, change of plan, through the chicane and Ben gets himself on the front. From 5th wheel, 7s @ 1450w to turn the screw again. Ben’s efforts were somewhat in vein as the front of the group came over and hauled it back. I settled down for a while to collect myself and think about whether I wanted to apply some strategy to this race… Nah…
Coming around after nine laps of racing and over the start/finish the megaphone rings out ‘prime lap next lap, prime lap next lap’. I had no idea the race had primes, but I was definitely interested now. After a good few laps of no action I was ready to have a punch. I maintained good position in the front 4-5 riders coming through the first half of the lap. The rest of the guys doing work were reluctant to lead and were peeling off one-by-one until I was at the front. I came round the final corner in first position. I sat at 500w and kept myself facing backwards waiting for someone to jump. Eventually someone does and I instantly kick, peaking at 1646w and averaging 12s @ 1288w to hold everyone off. 1st.
As soon as we relax and roll into the first corner an attack is launched; one that I’m definitely not about to react to. The next lap was just about getting my heart rate back down and collecting myself. For the next 4 laps I average around 260w just maintaining position is the front half of the race and following wheels. I decided to fire a move off at the start/finish into corner one just to do it somewhere a little bit different, that and I figured if no-one chases straight on I can sling the extra speed through the tight corners and hold the pace down the back, perhaps making one of these attacks actually useful… 6s @ 980w pushed me through the first 2 corners at 50kph and through the tighter hairpin at 45kph, a lot of fun! Having a clear run at it allowed a small gap to open but the stronger riders at the front of the bunch weren’t willing to let me go. Secretly I’m relieved as I look down at my garmin and see there is at least 20 minutes of racing left. That is something I definitely don’t want to do on my own at this point in the race.
Just as I think I should settle into the bunch we are greeted at the start finish by another prime lap announcement. I pushed through to the top 10 in the first 2 corners to stay out of the inevitable surge and headed down the back straight around 4th/5th, an ideal spot. The 5 or 6 guys who are having a stab at it and are in good position kick straight out of the last corner forcing a prolonged sprint. I passed the first few guys quite quickly but still had a Dynamo rider ahead, we ended up going right to the line and I squeezed it by maybe a wheel length. The entire sprint was 14s @ 1131w with a finishing speed of 66kph.
The next 3 laps were pretty uneventful, I moved back into the bunch, conserved some energy and kept good position. I’ve learned by this point in the race who the smoother riders are so I’m hunting their wheels for a safe draft. The odd attack is coming but none of them very strong and I leave it to the others to close them. On the 22nd lap, 48 minutes into a 50+3 lap race ANOTHER prime is announced. Everyone seems a bit confused about the timing of it and it takes another 30 seconds before the surge starts. I’ve decided I’m not going for it as to prepare for the finish. Coming into the final corner you can sense everyone isn’t very eager, I’m 4th wheel back sat on the Dynamo rider who I pipped in the last prime thinking, ‘if he goes I’ll follow his move’. 150m to go and he hasn’t jumped!? I knock it down a gear, allow a meter or so to open in front of me and hit the gas into his draft and come over. Short and sweet 7s @ 1200w and its 3 out of 3. It was strange to come over the line in a sprint and see a 2 to go being held up. It was time to focus on the finish.
I held my place in the top 10 and coming round to the bell lap I was up in the front 5. Coming through the chicane was fast but smooth, with that last lap buzz present yet without the fear of the bunch behind getting choppy. Into the back straight I’m 3rd wheel. A rider kicks from behind and comes past with speed. No one gets on and I make the snap decision to get onto him. It turned out to be a poor move and think it cost me my chance of a win. This is exactly where my race craft lets me down. Nobody has gotten away all race, but the last minute panic of it happening 2 corners to go means I spent a lot of energy before the sprint. The effort to get onto the rider was 35seconds at 530w. As seems to be the norm at Hillingdon the sprint starts straight out of the corner. I latch on to a wheel coming passed, perhaps the 3rd or so and sprint in his draft before kicking to come over. Were on the left, on the right others are making ground faster. I hold my place to finish 5th overall.
The final sprint was 12s @ 1000w. As I look back on the race I think if I’d held my place 3rd wheel and not chased the attack 2 corners to go maybe I would have had 1200 or 1400 in me and maybe a better position to. Either way it’s all experience in the bank and I’ve walked away with 3 primes, a reasonably good position in a bunch finish and a fun first race in RPR colours.