Again, this season has been nothing but disjointed. The Litherland circuit league had taken another break all because of the Premier Calendar Races (That were now open to Regional B riders). I’d been told to enter a couple, apparently the experience of racing in front of thousands of spectators is surreal, not to mention the viewing of the Elite race; but unfortunately I couldn’t get down there as I’m still reliant on the Team mechanic for transport, who is bound by the parameters of the 9-5 working day. I couldn’t argue though, I’d used the three weeks well. I’d been given a new training programme from Barry, it was more direct and meant that I could now do more miles without being in pain for the subsequent week.

I’d managed to warm-up in the wrong manner – Note to self: Always warm up with the big names because they generally decide the grid position at the start – and now put myself at the back of the group.

“Riders Away” The first five laps are agonizing! After the smashing of pedals, I was Yo-yoing off the back at 34mph, this is again a ridiculous speed to be at the back, I couldn’t help but think “why wasn’t I off the front?” I didn’t find this fair. As the group starts to settle down, I’ve found myself with them, in the midst of the group, I couldn’t help but mutter to myself: “Thank god the pace as backed off”. As the group was recovering, I heard a smattering of shouts, I couldn’t quite comprehend what the group were saying until I saw the swerving of bikes and a football glance across my front wheel. This was certainly the most dangerous experience I’ve had during a race. Circuit racing is dangerous enough! Riding at high speeds in a compacted bunch can throw up the occasional problem, but adding the danger of a football could have brought down the entire group. This not only scarred the group, but also caused a split. Those in the back half of the group had now lost a couple of bike lengths; this gap was too hard to bridge for the best of riders. The groups pace picked up, frantically trying to draw in the leading group of riders, and this was the end for me, I was now dispensed, and exhausted. At this point in the race I’m trying desperately to recover at 25mph whilst the usual culprits, i.e. Mammoth Man flew round me like I wasn’t there.

I swing through the hairpin desperately trying to conserve my energy until Barry and my Father (Team Mechanic) are yelling, imploring me to pick up the pace. I was finding it increasingly hard, the wind was battering me, but I was conserving myself at the wrong parts of the track (Another Newbie error – They seem to be popping up left, right and centre); and in hindsight what was the worst that could happen if I was too push that little bit harder? Maybe a little cramp, something that I could stretch out whilst on the move. However, the severity of the race was shown by the size of the main group. A starting group of 30 or so riders was now down to 15 who were dispensed across the track, apart from the Elite culprits who seemed to be dominating, gliding past fast riders as if they weren’t there.

The Bell Lap: I’m in an awful lot of pain, grimacing after pushing for the latter half of the race. I come out of the hairpin, and try and sprint for the line, but I couldn’t seem to attack it completely, it was as if my legs were restricting every circle-like movement; ‘I was pedalling squares’. At the end of the race I talk to Barry, I’m in pain and still making my Newbie errors – I was being too conservative, it was as if I’d lost my drive to race; and my lack of experience was showing, my riding position wasn’t as efficient as it could have been, it begins to become frustrating… No matter how much I train and improve my lack of experience still seems to be tarnishing me with this Newbie status.

I got over to collect my license, when the Father and Me are met by the Mammoth Man (A man who I have come to know as Andy, a very unassuming name for such a good rider; I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe something from the realms of Greek mythology?!). He was asking about pictures, but he’d too stumbled across my Blog, and had come across the coined name Mammoth Man (Which came across in a sur

prised manner: “I’m Mammoth Man!!!”); but he too, as has Barry, emphasised that it takes couple of years to get truly good. In others words I can’t expect to turn up with four months ‘proper riding’ and expect to be winning… Maybe next year?

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There I was after completing the most gruelling exams I’m supposed to undertake, and more importantly I hadn’t been able to touch a bike for the past three weeks. I was waiting until the day I could go out and train. I had a new training programme written up, one that I could focus all my time on… I now had ‘nothing‘ to do and thought that it’d be best for me to focus on cycling… Training had become my new best friend and more importantly it emphasised how much I was enjoying the sport. After a week of training I’m itching to get back racing, I phone the Team Mechanic (And after the last race) the Team Tactician, and organise the regimented trip down to the track… Within a space of 5 minutes of arriving I bump into Barry Warriner, a man I have to come know as the Obi-Wan Kenobi of the cycling world – Also a man I can’t seem to get away from. Within 30 seconds of seeing Barry he exclaims, “You’ve lost Weight” and “Someone’s been training hard.”

“Riders Away” Brimming with confidence and a bit unsure of my current fitness I place myself at the front of the group. With some serious pedal crunching I find myself off the front of the group! Another rider goes with me, followed by a third Southport CC rider. I latch onto the wheel of the rider, and have two laps of this intense pace (In again very windy conditions). The pace must be at 30 plus mph, and still we’re only 10m off the front of the group. This 3km of pain has shattered the group, and more importantly me and the Southport CC Rider. The Peloton is now blown apart around the track, with shards of riders working and grimacing in pain. We were soon reeled in by the chasers and had to settle down for a difficult hour. I was still churning a decent gear but I was in damage limitation mode. The wind suited the bigger riders… I was getting buffeted left, right and centre. blown around in the wind, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stop the prevailing winds throwing me from side-to-side.

The minutes ticked by painfully slowly, I was now truly suffering, with every opportunity glancing at the lap board, imploring the commissaries to post 10 laps to go… As each lap goes by I’m hunched over the handle bars like a dog. This was my first race back, and my fitness is suffering. I’m stronger, but my lungs are again raw. I’m fit, but not race fit.

There it was the Bell Lap, I’ve never been so happy to hear a bell. I find myself sprinting with the rider I’d worked with for the majority of the race. He’s physically a lot bigger, and the Bookies favourite, but I beat him. I had won my first sprint; even if it was a minor victory… A personal battle, I was working my way up to the glorified heights of a Race win.

Looking back I can’t help but be disappointed. I should have done better considering my start, and my physical condition. It was obviously a fish out of water scenario. I’d suddenly found myself with the big boys, and instead of settling down and playing the percentages, I was reckless, and more importantly I panicked. Coming away from the race, I can honestly say I learnt two things: firstly, my fitness is vastly improving, especially as I can now dedicate the time to it; in other words for all those who are starting out it does get better, but there is no easy fix, and secondly, I need to plan my way around a race; as I’ve said earlier, bike races are won through percentages, being a good tactician tells you when to play this percentage game.

Cycling is definitely a sport where you need to mature as a rider, and a sport where I think cyclists aren’t credited for having a brilliant mind, whereas in other sports athletes are praised because they can pick a pass… I bet they couldn’t do it at 30 mph whilst riding inches away from their opponents; now that takes true composure. Composure I may be lacking at the moment, but something I’ll fight for every time I don the Oakleys.

Note to self: Sitting an A level exam hours before a race isn’t the best preparation. I thought that a good hard ride would be a great way to blow off steam after hours hunched over an exam desk (the desks that only exist during the months of June and July, and were not built for comfort). How wrong could I be?

Me and Father (Team Allen mechanic, and now master tactician) decided that, in the race, it was best if I tried to pick out riders that I could work with, those with a similar pace and perhaps some complimentary attributes. I knew my weaknesses (The wind, no matter how hard I tried, I found myself being blown around like the feather on the opening credits of Forrest Gump.) I needed to find a bigger rider, one who didn’t resemble a telegraph pole like myself, someone who was powerful into the wind and could give me some shelter.

“Riders Away” And from the off I’m making mistakes. I miss my clips and I’m immediately on the back foot, struggling to keep contact with the back of the group. I try and make up for my mistake and, burying myself, I manage to catch onto the tail end of the group but already I’m struggling to hang on…

I scan the field, looking at my competition, in other words, fellow juniors. There is only one other junior left; unfortunately I also know he’s former Talent Team (An elite development programme headed by BC). This not only shows the challenge and severity of today’s race, but the strength of the up and coming juniors across the country, holding their own with Cat 1 senior riders.

Riders are dispensed with left, right and centre (including myself), the group is fractured because of the sheer pace, and for once, I had seen one of the strongest riders (A rider known to me as ‘Mammoth’ – due in part to his jersey sponsor) grimacing in pain. He had gone off the front and I’m pretty sure he was responsible for the subsequent fragmentation of the group. In the midst of this chaos I somehow found myself with that ideal rider- he was big and strong in the wind – someone I could work with…

I was however, spent, yo-yoing off his wheel, only catching up through the corners. And there it was – I exited the hairpin, pressed hard on the pedals and felt that unmistakeable terminal spasm of cramp.

My race is over. I pull off the tarmac and again find myself talking to Coach Barry, he stretches my leg out, which honestly is probably one of the simplest tasks known to man, but when tired, I found it perplexing, as if my body and brain had fallen out and decided not to talk to each other. Barry Warriner seems to appear, ‘as if by magic’ at the (sometimes premature) end of most of my races. I can only assume he’s attracted by my perseverance, not because of my obvious ‘talent’.

On the way home, it seems as if I’m moving backwards. I thought I was getting fitter… I try to blame my preparation for the race, but most riders there would have had the same problems – being stuck in an office all day, or behind the wheel of a car, or on their feet all day. I still find myself making silly rookie mistakes, and the only way for me to actually progress is to try and cut these out, until then I will forever be the newbie.

…And to ‘MrPumpy’, I have read it and thanks. It was certainly the hardest race; quick and windy – It was a newsflash – Races don’t get slower, they only get harder…

After coming home again disheartened, I attached a cycle-computer onto my bike; I needed to see how slow I was going. I went out and trained… my top end speed was 28mph so how can I still be getting creamed? These riders aren’t human…

There I was, warming up when I noticed a horrible grinding noise from my front wheel. I could only assume that it was my recent ‘repair job’. I’d noticed the problem days earlier, and replaced the bearings. It obviously hadn’t worked, and now I had a disconcerting noise coming from my front wheel; a noise that does not instill confidence when entering corners at 20mph and coming out of hairpins at 15.

“Riders away”: Again, with that certain sound of crunching pedals, it’s another hard couple of kms, and unfortunately pretty uneventful. I tried to keep a good pace, and was noticing that I could hold on to the group for longer periods of time. About 10 minutes into the race, I fly into the hairpin and the crunching noise coming from my front wheel suddenly got a lot worse. I could only assume I’d made a mistake and as a result ruined my set of Mavic wheels. I fly around the course for a few more laps, each lap looking over at my brother (guesting as team mechanic!) trying to assess the damage whilst on the move at 25mph, only being able to exchange a few syllables at a time. I am dispensed from the group, mainly because of my inability to average 28mph, but I’d like to think it was because of my wheel which was obviously slowing me down considerably.

I latch on to the back of a group flying round, when it comes to my turn on the front I pick up the pace down the hairpin-straight – Trying to string out the riders, seeing who was strong, and more importantly who was willing to work. I feel strong and in control of this small group of riders, but my downfall was again my aggressive nature. When other riders came onto the front I’d become easily frustrated, and pick up the pace at the more favourable parts of the course, namely, the hairpin. I had put the thought of my dodgy front wheel out of my head only to hear it again, above the ambient noise of panting, pedal-crunching, and the whirring of wheels. I can no longer stand the sound the wheel bearings grinding away, and have to pull off.

I come off, feeling very frustrated, my brother tries to approach me, until I throw a tantrum throwing my helmet across the ground, kicking it several times. It wasn’t fair; I’d had more than my fair share of mechanical problems. I walk over to the office to collect my licence, with my bike and front wheel in hand when Barry Warriner (whom I have come to know as the Mr Miyagi of Merseyside cycle coaching) comes to see what has happened. He takes me to the workshop, taking apart my front wheel, and embarrassingly shows me that I’ve put too many bearings in it. I couldn’t help but think that he was merely fixing my wheel in an attempt to calm me down.

I come away from the race feeling slightly dejected. I hadn’t finished and I’d felt strong, I was moving out of my little comfort zone, and thought I could mix it with the big boys. Of course I couldn’t mix it with them, it was as if the cycling gods were out to torment me, seeing that I was not yet ready to be relieved of my ‘Newbie status’; and to add insult to injury I couldn’t help but think I now needed a new set of wheels, but the big question is, was it out of mechanical necessity or was it because I wanted a new set of wheels – I fear that I’m becoming a kit fiend, and slowly turning into one of them, who knows… Next I’ll be Veeting my legs.

With the race looming I decided to train hard all week, then have a rest day. Then I got bored and did some more training on my rest day. At the time I thought, ‘Oh, what’s the worst that can happen?’. This is the first time I’d turned up to an event aching, wishing it would be a slow day. It wasn’t a slow race; in fact I’m pretty sure it was one of the quickest, with very little wind and temperatures in the 20s.

I thought I’d be able to shake off most of the pain in my pre-race warm up, but that idea came to a shuddering end with commissaires frantically buzzing around my bike, only lifting their heads to talk about gear-ratios eventually telling me to screw down my gears. No matter how elaborate or ingenious my ideas appeared – I had to comply, and then politely shake off their only ‘logical’ reply – “they’re the rules”.

The race for me started with problems, being stuck at the back from the start didn’t help, then after the usual 2/3 laps of serious pedal bashing someone loses a wheel. For the first time I was shouting like a true roadie, I had transformed from a timid sportive rider into an angry-jostling-for-position crit-racer; something worrying has obviously happened.

For the first time, I felt that I belonged in the group but had been dispensed with because of someone’s negligence. This will sound ridiculous to everyone apart from racers; it’s one of the most frustrating scenarios and something that is generally out of your control. I sat back and tried to settle into a routine, but after a few more laps with the fragmented part of the group I was in trouble. I was as a weak as a kitten, the good-intentions of training had come back and bit me. It was horrible, this was certainly the hardest race I’d ever ridden, but I still had opponents, I wasn’t last. I picked my pace up, and with some serious grinding of the teeth; I pulled away from the smattering of riders or who were behind me. I had realised being aggressive through and out of the corners was key. I set my eyes on a fellow junior who had also been ejected from the group, I knew he was a strong rider and would be good to work with, but once I’d caught him, he had slowed down, stretching out his legs painfully, grimacing and gliding to a halt on the grass. Cramp had claimed him, and I couldn’t help thinking that I was next. My legs were tired, and I was running on fumes, I was now in damage limitation.

Looking back, training the day before was a terrible decision, this coupled with attempting to be aggressive made matters a lot worse. I was too stubborn to allow others do the work, I would rather ride at a quick pace, rather than slow down and conserve myself. But it’s this metered-out effort that allows the group to ride at such great speeds, and makes you, and the other ejected riders, feel as if they’re riding at a snail’s pace. I’ve found hindsight can bring out the tactician in anyone, but it’s the ego that gets in the way when I don the Oakleys, and I think this is the same for any rider at any level…

I had made significant progress; I crossed the line, after lapping three riders, who in previous races would tear me to pieces. I even found myself sprinting with someone. This was a proud moment for me – I wasn’t last and I’d lapped someone – I was slowly erasing my ‘newbie’ status.

From the start I think this race was cursed. It had been raining all day, I was late signing on, and therefore had a rushed warm-up, but there I was in the group waiting for something to happen, I couldn’t help but think, if anyone is going to crash it’ll be today…

“Riders Away”: It was the usual scenario – The top riders churning a ridiculous gear stringing out the group. This was their survival of the fittest, whoever could hold on ‘deserved’ to ride with them. I was of course dispensed with quickly, but managed to catch onto the back of a group whizzing by. This was my first experience of through and off racing – trying to keep as close to your fellow rider’s wheel, a few inches of turbulent air separating back wheel and front wheel. This can be a recipe for disaster, especially in the wet.

We swing into the hairpin, after a shuffling of order; I hear the unmistakeable sound of carbon on tarmac and have to take evasive action. This is the first crash I’d seen whilst racing, the bike seemed to slip away from under him; it was almost in slow motion. The crash had given me a spurt of adrenaline, I string out the remaining two riders trying to pick holes in their technique, basically trying to figure out what their weaknesses were and capitalising on them. After a couple of laps of attempting to bully the other riders, I let one through on the hairpin, this was my first mistake in Circuit Racing – assuming that a fellow rider could enter a tight corner at speed. I touched his back wheel, the front of my bike slipped, and I go skidding across the asphalt at 15 mph. A bit dazed, I pick myself up, not knowing that a commissaire has picked my bike up and perched me on top of it, asking whether I was clipped in, without a single utterance from me I was being pushed along and my body sent into auto-pilot chasing the riders that had dispensed me. I catch up to the group, I gave a nod to the rider knocking me of, just making sure he was okay, and engaged in some pleasantries.

I was again on the front of the group – The adrenaline had worn off and I could feel blood pouring from my leg and knee. My knee started to seize up, the pain coursing through it, making every pedal stroke harder. There was no way I was the strongest rider anymore, they were doing what I did to them earlier in the race; finding out my weaknesses and capitalising on them. I was still churning a decent gear, so they had no reason to come through and help, and to be honest, I was too proud to let them.

Eventually the pain became unbearable, and I pulled out. My Dad had missed the crash, getting his laptop from the car, so when I came over with cuts, looking truly dishevelled, he is astonished; the most eloquent thing he could say being: “What the hell happened to you?” I was annoyed that he’d missed my crash, thinking the next time they’ll see it it’ll be a big one.

On the way home, I couldn’t help but think to myself “I’ve had my first race-crash – I’m a member of the club now! It’s only a matter of time until I’m up there with the big boys”. Naive perhaps, but I was undaunted and looked forward to the next race. I’d undergone another rite of passage and passed with flying, if bloody, colours.

Three races in and I found myself surprisingly relaxed. The confusion and bewilderment of the previous races didn’t seem a problem… … I set the bike up, signed on and asked my Dad to appropriately attach my race number – Number 6, and then headed out onto the Circuit. No matter how confident I felt in the undertaking of trivial activities the race still scared me. Even when warming up I clenched my handlebars when a stream of riders roared past. This was ridiculous; I couldn’t contemplate how they could ride so close without flinching or even seeming tense.

There I was in the group start, again a place that scares me… It’s a place where all riders put on their macho-cyclist façade, when they’re truly focused yet scared – This is where every cyclist has their ‘strategy’; which is generally ‘hold on for the 5km of pain and hope that it calms down’.

“Riders away” – I burst out after the group and to my surprise I held on… The moments of pain had passed… I’d reached the 5km mark and this is where I thought it’d slow down… It didn’t. Imagine recovering at 25mph, this is not a speed you should recover at; at this speed you’re on your anaerobic threshhold, in other words working at 100%. So I was now going a speed at which I knew I couldn’t hold for an hour. I was scanning the field for fellow juniors but no they had been quickly dispensed with, and I was next. Then it happened – an attack; it was one of the main protagonists – A man I knew as ‘Mammoth’ (due to his jersey sponsor) chasing ‘Kuota Man’ – the group stringed out and BAM! there I was with my heart in my mouth – out of the group. I swung round the hairpin with the stewards yelling “Catch the group, catch the group” – This seems like a relatively simple imperative but trust me, it’s not.

I was working like a dog again… In a lot of pain, slowly slipping through the field… I’d ridden as hard as I could for 30 minutes forgetting that I had another 30 minutes to go! Now I was in trouble… It was time for energy gel – This snot-like goo did give me some energy for about 10 minutes, I was thankful but what stopped me was again out of my control. I swung round the hairpin with the back of my bike sliding, I thought it was me being reckless and told myself to calm down, but no it was my back wheel. A fellow rider yells, “You’ve got a blowout” I limp over to the commissaire, then to my dad.

I know a puncture is something you can’t help, but why would it happen now… why not during the countless hours of training? I implored the wheel to re-inflate itself. But no, my race was over.

I walked over to collect my license with a bike in one hand, a wheel in the other and me trying to balance my helmet, glasses, pump, and various tools. I ended up dropping my helmet, accidentally kicking it, looking like a child throwing a tantrum.

In the background, there’s a crash, it’s the last lap, the pace is quick and the crash sounded expensive (that unmistakeable sound of carbon on tarmac). Both riders get up, dazed. Nothing too serious; a bit of ripped Lycra, and a few cuts and grazes but nothing too serious. This was my perception until they throw a couple of awkward punches…

Rule number 1: Cyclists shouldn’t fight… they look silly…